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New 'dys' learning difficulties project to launch in France

An initiative to help identify and assist children aged between six and 15 with learning difficulties is to start in Occitanie early next year

The initiative, if successful, will be rolled out across the rest of France.

This is encouraging news for parents of children with one of the “dys” conditions, including dyslexia and dyspraxia, plus attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), who have been battling for years to get more help.

In 2018, a report by independent health advice body the Haute Autorité de Santé said around 8% of children are concerned and they need better access to healthcare.

The government has now made les troubles spécifiques du langage et des apprentissages (TS LA) a public health priority

This initiative does not cover children with autism, who are being treated separately. It has been difficult for parents to get their children recognised as having learning difficulties.

Teachers are not trained to recognise the different conditions and, though they often realise something is wrong, they cannot always give appropriate advice.

Once a problem is recognised, it can take a long time to get a medical diagnosis, which is necessary before a child with learning difficulties can get financial help with treatment or the allocation of a teaching assistant in schools. They often need several appointments to get the appropriate diagnosis and it can be difficult to know who to go to – a speech therapist, psychologist, neuropsychologist, or more than one of these.

Once a medical diagnosis is in place, it can take months to get an appointment with a Maison Départementale des Personnes Handicapées (MDPH), which registers the child’s condition and allows assistance.

The process can take two years.

This can be a very distressing time, particularly if the child is unhappy at school. Some readers have told The Connexion they have chosen home schooling as a result but are now worried because President Macron has announced that education out of school will be banned from September 2021, other than for health reasons (as yet undefined).

Alain Demange, a member of the association Dyspraxies France Dys in the Haute-Garonne, said dyspraxia was not recognised until 2005: “If you have dyspraxia, you have difficulties with physical co-ordination, which can be controlling a pen to write, tying shoelaces, riding a bike or learning to drive.

“It is rare for two people to have the same symptoms and it is often combined with other neurological conditions.”

'Parents often know there is something different about their child, but do not know what to do'

Their teacher and GP may never have heard of their condition. He said people get in touch with his association for advice but he knows that many others either do not know such associations exist or do not want to get involved.

The Occitanie initiative is backed by the regional health authority and run by Occitadys, an association of doctors and specialists, family associations and the education department. Laurent Raffier, head of the project, explained how it will work: “There will be someone in each department who parents can contact to get advice about what to do in their particular situation.

There will be someone in each department to advise the family what steps to take and which medical professionals to see

“We are planning to introduce our first advisers in five departments in early 2021, three more mid-year, and five at the end of the year.”

He hopes that will mean parents will not waste time making appointments with the wrong medical specialists, as it can be so difficult to find the right doctor without help.

Many of the necessary visits are not reimbursable and Mr Raffier says that, on average, medical consultations cost parents €2,000 over one to two years.

With the new initiative, many of these costs will be reimbursable.

Mr Raffier said the organisation is working with education authorities to help teachers: “Often the teacher realises there is a problem because there is disruptive behaviour, which can affect the whole class. “This is not part of the child’s condition but arises because he or she is anxious that they are not fitting in."

“Once the teacher understands why the child is behaving ‘badly’ or not learning easily, they will be better able to deal with the situation. We will then need to equip teachers with the facilities to help the pupil concerned."

“At present, we are working on a range of aids in a special kit which is already being experimented with in a few schools in Toulouse.”

An estimated 4,000 children in Occitanie will be helped every year

Mr Demange said the work of Occitadys has given him immense hope for improvement in the future.

“It will help parents if they can have an adviser to turn to and be put in touch with the best people straight away. And it is encouraging that all the different professions are working together on this project.”

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