France is one of the few countries in Europe where dyslexia is counted as a medical condition.
No single definition of dyslexia has been adopted in France but one widely referred to is offered by the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM, 2007), where it claims that:
Dyslexia is a constitutional impairment of the symbolic function, which specifically affects letter-sound (grapheme-phoneme) correspondence, rendering it difficult to memorise and to synthesise in practice.’
The National Dyslexia Support Organisation, APEDYS France (Association Nationale d’Associations d’Adults et de Parents d’Enfants Dys’), meanwhile, defines dyslexia as:
‘ ..a persistent difficulty in the learning of reading and the achievement of fluency amongst intelligent children, normally educated and without pre-existing sensory impairments and / or psychological difficulties.’
Spelling and writing are classified separately in France, under ‘Dysorthographie’. The Federation Française des Dys (the national umbrella organisation covering all types of Specific Learning Difficulties: dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD etc.) tends to avoid the intelligence/reading discrepancy and, rather than a definition, lists difficulties associated with dyslexia which are persistent, with no reference to measures of intelligence. This latter approach is that which seems to underpin the protocols for the identification and diagnosis of dyslexia followed in the French education system.
For instance, the possibility of dyslexia will be brought up once a child has had 18 months of learning and has started to read and write. If the child is having problems and their eyesight and hearing is fine, then a parent needs to go to the local GP or a school doctor and ask for a referral for a Bilan de Langage. This is an assessment of language skills (including skills measured through phonological testing) carried out by a language therapist that investigates a child’s vocabulary, how well they write and whether they can speak clearly.
While France has traditionally lagged behind countries such as the UK in its provisions for children with dyslexia, there is now the system for diagnosing dyslexia whose cost (for the initial test at least) is reimbursed. Where direct support from a speech therapist is required, where such practitioners are private, their fees can generally be reclaimed through social security by the child’s family.
Sometimes, in theory at least against the background of education cuts, the school in-house Special Educational Needs (SEN) teacher may offer some support, but these sessions are not usually coordinated with the speech therapist, and they do not replace the speech therapist sessions.
If problems persist for more than two years after the initial identification (which is never earlier than the Cours Élémentaire Deuxième Année (E2) year (7 yr olds)), then a move towards a formal diagnosis of dyslexia can be made. This is a ‘response to intervention’ model, rather than the old discrepancy model.
A commonly used test battery for dyslexia assessments for 6-10 year olds is the EVALEC, (Evaluation de la lecture et des competences liées), a computerised system of tests covering reading accuracy and speed, phonological awareness, working memory, and rapid-naming skills.
If a child is considered to have severe problems, they should be referred to a Centre Referent for further help and support. These are usually found in the bigger cities of France and have a neuro-psychologist, educational psychologist and special needs teacher among their staff. Where more severe cases of dyslexia are identified by the local ‘maison départmentale des personnes handicapées’, then the pupil might be referred for placement in a mainstream primary or secondary school with a dyslexia resources base.
The rights of French citizens with dyslexia to be educated in mainstream schools has been covered by the more general legislation of 2005 enshrining this right (in principle) for all those with a ‘handicap’ to be educated.
In 2011 updated legislation from 2005 confirmed the legal right of dyslexic students to appropriate access arrangements in examinations subject to assessment by a locally nominated or university medical service doctor. A commonly used assessment tool for adolescents and adults is the EVALAD (Evaluation du langue écrit et des competences transversals), much like the EVALEC but aimed at older learners. Dyslexic students do not qualify for a disabled students bursary, however, as although dyslexia is considered a medical condition in France, it is not officially categorised as a disability.
In France, figures show that 5%-10% of the population is affected by dyslexia, while 8% of children in school age have a learning disability such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysorthography and Dysgraphia. This works out as about 5,360,000 with dyslexia.
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