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What help is available for children with learning difficulties?

IF YOU have a child who has learning difficulties in a French school it can be a worry to know who to turn to and what help is available.

There are systems in place to assist children, but it can be a struggle to get what your child needs.

The Fédération Française des Dys, FFDYS has 5,000 affiliated families who all have a member with a Dys condition such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and dysphasia. 

It offers support and campaigns to increase awareness and help in schools. 

FFDYS president Nathalie Groh says that Dys conditions have only been recognised officially since around 2000. 

“We are beginning to make progress and there is more assistance in schools than a while ago but there are still many improvements to be made. 

“Teachers have almost no training in this area and we would like to see a module introduced into university teacher training courses. At present families have to prove they have a condition which needs assistance and we would like to see this approach reversed so that the schools offer special needs teaching to anyone they see has difficulties. We don’t think you should have to go to the doctors before you get help.” 

The first step any parent should take if they are worried their child may have difficulties is to contact one of the associations belong to the FFDYS which you can find on www.ffdys.com

“All our members know what it is like to be in that situation and are more than ready to help anyone who contacts them. We can help by explaining exactly what has to be done and advising which doctors are specialised in that field in your area.” 

Tracy Severne, who is English and lives in Lavaur, Tarn, has a 10-year-old boy who is dyslexic. She said that getting in touch with her local association was a lifesaver. “At the time, my son Louis was seven years old and the teacher told me that he was having problems learning to read and write and that he was so active and turbulent in the classroom that she had to send him out into the playground during lessons to run around to get rid of some of his energy. 
“She advised me to go and see a psychometrician. At the time I didn’t know what that was but I had a suspicion my son might have dyslexia as he sometimes got his letters mixed up. So I did some research on the internet and rang the association. The lady spent an hour on the phone with me and told me exactly what to do and who to see.” 

In France you have to prove you have a medical condition such as dyslexia before you can get a special programme adapted to help your child. Your GP should be able to send you to the relevant specialist which could be a speech therapist (orthophoniste), a psychologist (psychologue), or a neuropsychologist, (neuropsychologue). 

Whoever you see may refer to you to someone else to get another diagnosis. Once you have an idea of the help you may need you can then ask for one of two types of programme: a PAP (Plan d’Accompagnement Personnalisé) or a PPS (Projet Personnalisé de Scolarisation). 

The PAP was introduced in 2015 and is designed for those who have long lasting learning difficulties and need special assistance at school. 

It is a written document which outlines the procedures to be used for the pupil which could, for example allow him to use a computer in class or have texts to read that are in a bigger print size. 

The child has to be seen by the school doctor (médecin scolaire) and then the education team will draw up a plan for that child. It also gives the right for special treatment during exams for example by allowing more time. Mrs Groh says the PAP is a step in the right direction as it is less bureaucratic than previous programmes. However there is still a wait to get the necessary medical appointments due to a lack of school doctors. 

The PPS is more difficult to obtain but Mrs Severne says that for her it has been the key which has unlocked the door to get invaluable help. 

“It was a struggle. We had to get four medical reports from a speech therapist, a psychologist, an optometrist and a psychometrician and then take these to a child neurologist who did more tests and then gave the final diagnosis. We discovered that Louis had severe and mixed dyslexia. It was a relief to put a name to his problem.” 

She visited the Maison Départementale des Personnes Handicapées (MDPH) the body which can give a PPS, however she had to return to the child neurologist for a medical certificate which he was at first unwilling to give. Once she took that to the MDPH they issued her the PPS. 

“It is just a piece of paper which outlines Louis’ condition and his special needs,” she said. “But it is a passport to help.” 

“We were able to get an AVS (teaching assistant) for half of the school week who was able to sit with Louis and guide him through the work. 

“We have even been given a computer with voice recognition and a printer for him. Once you’ve got in the system the help is there. Louis is doing really well now and everything is in place for him. 

“But it is really difficult to get there and we had lots of hard times. My advice to any parent is if you see signs of difficulty, get a diagnosis. Be persistent and be true to your maternal instinct. If you are given a diagnosis you are not comfortable with go and see another doctor and stand up for what you think your child needs.” 

Mrs Severne continues her battle to improve conditions for her son and for others in the same situation. 

“I’ve been to conferences and seen parents crying in desperation and think I have a duty to share my experiences.” You can contact her on squeaks7@yahoo.com

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