My fight to beat dyslexia with french smartphone app
Dyslexia can be a barrier to learning, to qualifications, to social interaction ... but now a neuropsychologist and speech therapist says that is all history
Béatrice Sauvageot has put her 30 years of experience into developing a smartphone app that, she claims, can help anyone in what she describes as the “dys constellation”.
That means anyone with dyslexia (difficulty reading), dysorthographia, dysgraphia (both involve difficulty with spelling and/or writing), dyscalculia (difficulty making sense of figures), dyspraxia (difficulty with coordination), and dysphasia (difficulty speaking).
Nearly a quarter of people (24%) have one of these learning disabilities, she said.
“On a scan, you can see which brains have the disorders. In fact, having a brain like this is a major plus. It means heightened senses – it is why their senses get overwhelmed and scramble things.
“What they need is training so that their skills can keep up with their senses and emotions. We do it by producing games which stimulate skills they need, like concentration, memory, and cerebral flexibility.”
Ms Sauvageot is noted for developing the neurological alphabet bilexia, which can be more easily read by dyslexics.
Anyone with an android smartphone can download the Dysplay app from the website puissancedys.org and play with it. The first stages of the games are free. Continued use will incur fees.
She said: “It works for children, adolescents and adults, even if they don’t speak French.
“It is being translated into Spanish and English but we’ve noticed that even non-French speakers progress using the French version.”
Following successful tests at Oxford University, the app is now fully reimbursed by one mutuelle health insurance firm, Malakoff Médéric, which provided development funds for the project. It is hoped that, eventually, the French state health body Cpam will follow.
Ms Sauvageot said: “Dyslexics, especially women, suffer from exhaustion, eczema, auto-immune conditions, stomach pains, fibromyalgia, stress, and even cancer.
“We have to stop talking about ‘dys’. It’s a horrible term, and stressful for parents because it’s not understood, not tolerated in schools.”
Some younger people develop coping strategies, making it hard to spot, but adults are starting to “come out”.
“All sorts of people, even CEOs of big companies, have struggled all their lives. And as they come out and get help, they want to change the way things are done.” The inflexible French education system is partially responsible, she says, for “dys” people not getting the help they need.
“Education has to be fun, engaging, and encouraging. We see that learning happens by positive reinforcement, you need encouragement.
“In the current system, people are even frightened to admit they are dyslexic.
“It’s sad to see children discouraged, but the Ministry of Education has recognised the app, and teachers have been told to let kids play with it.
“We think it’s a revolution: a revolution in an approach to children. We don’t want to re-educate ‘dys’ children, or change them, just equip them.
“We want all children – ‘dys’ or not – to learn reading and writing in a fun, engaging way.”
Ms Sauvageot lives in Paris, where she runs courses for “dys” children and adults.
She also runs residential seven-day courses in Antibes.
“The residential courses are designed for children and parents to attend together. It’s the holy grail, it’s very strong. It’s reimbursed by Cpam and the time off is counted as sick leave. What happens fast is that the children start making friends, leaving the parents free to interact, and suddenly no one is alone any more.
“Parents and children have treatment sessions for six hours a day, and it lasts for seven days. It’s open to anyone.”
To book a place, or get more information about the courses in Paris or in Antibes, see puissancedys.org/stages.
Ms Sauvageot said: “We deal with everything. We even deal with the school afterwards, so that the work can continue.
“People can get it funded in various ways. We’re happy to point them in the right direction, and they can pay in instalments.
“We have a team of volunteers who can respond in several languages.
“The half-day and one-day sessions in Paris are free.
“People who did the course in Antibes meet up again at the sessions in Paris and it’s very positive for them.
“People say they have their lives back, a huge weight is lifted, parents have rediscovered their children, restarted their lives. It’s a wonderful thing.”