SINGAPORE: Parents and experts said that screening for dyslexia should be introduced at the preschool level, earlier than the current screening at Primary 1 and 2 in mainstream schools.
That is because a dyslexic child receiving early intervention could do up to four times better than one receiving help at the age of 11.
The push comes amid renewed calls for a special school catering to dyslexic students.
Nine—year—old Charlene Quek takes over two hours to complete a series of math questions on multiplication —— more than double the time taken by her peers in primary school.
Charlene’s mum, Susan Quek, said: "When she was in K2, we realised she had difficulties writing her own name, and in spelling. We also realised she was very active. So the teacher from K2 advised us to take her to the doctor."
After a series of visits to the polyclinic, KK Hospital and finally, the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS) which conducted a comprehensive diagnostic test, Charlene was diagnosed with severe dyslexia at the age of six and a half.
She has been attending classes at DAS for almost three years and now uses creative methods to cope with her literacy and numeracy challenges. These include the use of manipulatives in math, and the use of colours, markers, skywriting and sandwriting for spelling.
Susan said: "She’s more focused now, because she gets one—to—one attention at DAS. She benefits from the very close learning."
DAS said international research showed that about four per cent of any population will have dyslexia severe enough to warrant intervention. This translates to about 20,000 primary and secondary school students in Singapore alone.
Currently, it said it supports over 2,400 students.
DAS said it plans on expanding, not just the number of students it can cater to, but also the scope of its services. It plans to have a total of 14 centres by 2016, up from the current 11.
While most students seek help between the ages of nine and 11, DAS said intervention should come at the preschool stage.
Lee Siang, chief operating officer of the DAS, said: "Ideally, there should be a large scale programme to identify children at a younger age. MOE has already started this at the P1 and P2 level.
"If we can work with the preschool fraternity, to identify children at risk of dyslexia, I think that would be very good, and a big step towards helping these children much earlier."
DAS said it has its own preschool assessment programme that does not give a diagnosis, but helps identify children who could be dyslexic.
Mr Lee said: "From the results of the past few years, over 80 per cent of students on our preschool programme are subsequently diagnosed with dyslexia, and move on to our Primary 1 programme."
Going forward, this could mean working with large preschool organisations like the PAP Community Foundation childcare centres, NTUC and other private preschool centres.
Separately, the DAS also re—submitted a proposal for a special school for dyslexic children to the Ministry of Education in January after feedback from parents through two surveys it conducted in 2005 and 2011. Its last submission for the proposal was in 2011.
Mr Lee said: "The feedback is that parents wish for a school that is dedicated to dyslexic children —— one with an MOE curriculum, and with teachers who are trained to teach in MOE schools. This has been a constant feedback from parents."
Sheryn Ong, a parent whose child has mild dyslexia, said: "If there is a school for dyslexic children, you and I are the same —— we’re on the same platform. The teacher and student ratio would be a lot less, so the teacher would be able to cope, even though children have different levels of dyslexia."
Other parents however are concerned of a stigma attached to children coming out of a special, rather than mainstream school. They felt that students could remain in mainstream schools, but instead have specially assigned teachers to help them overcome their learning difficulties.
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