Saturday, October 17, 2009

Little Miss Perfect

More than 25 years ago, a customer of mine and his wife were expecting their first child. This man was inherently cheerful: the kind of person you look forward to meeting in a business day. When I heard that the Big Day had come and the child been born, I popped into his office with happy congratulations which had left my lips as I entered. It was too late to register the grey and shocked expression which he could not hide. The child had been born healthy, but with Downs Syndrome. I have always been poor with words in such circumstances and all I could say was how sorry I was, and inwardly berate myself for not having checked if all had gone well before bursting in with a happy smile on my face.

It's something all expectant parents must worry about at least a little: what if Baby isn't perfect? For the vast majority, a counting of fingers and toes and a verbal thumbs up from the medical staff is a happy start to parenthood. The shock can therefore hit perhaps even harder when you learn later in life that Something is Wrong.

For Colleen and I, this happened with our second child Anthony. A bouncing baby and sturdy toddler (I nicknamed him Barrel, which given his adult wiry frame is ironic) he was a happy child who developed normally up to and including starting to talk. Then he went backwards and said less and less. Family and friends reassured us of famous people they knew who were late starters, but the worry started to grow. Cutting short a very long story of two years' worth of visits to specialists and speech therapists, at the age of four we were told he was autistic and enrolled him in the Key, the Johannesburg school for autistic children. His vocabulary at that age was less than a dozen words.

And then the miracle occurred. Autism is not curable (as far as today's science knows) and yet within weeks Anthony's vocabulary came on at staggering speed. After a year's intense speech, occupational and music therapy his development had pretty much caught up with other children his age. Within the next year he was ready to attend mainstream school. Please forgive a brief boast that he graduated with an excellent degree from Bristol this summer and, equally important, he has a large group of friends. He clearly couldn't have been autistic, but the important point I'd like to make is that somehow the teaching and support he received in those two years at the Key changed his life unimaginably for the better.

These memories came back yesterday when I received a press release from Parliament. The Science and Technology committee is investigating two pretty fundamental elements of government policy (1) What actually is the policy? (2) On what evidence is the policy based? This may sound simple: actually it's radical, making the assumption that government policy should be based on things that have been shown to work, rather than (perhaps) political expedience.

The first investigation will look at reading difficulties and dyslexia and how these are addressed today by government policy. The committee is looking for evidence as to how well this works. I include the full press release below: if you feel you can contribute, please do so now: the closing date for submissions is 26th October, just nine days away as I write this.

Basing government policy on evidence seems obvious. Please help make it happen so that even when a child isn't born Little Miss Perfect (or Master Perfect) they still have a good chance in life.

Select Committee Announcement

Committee Office, House of Commons, 7 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA
Tel. No. 020 7219 2794 Fax. No. 020 7219 0896 Email:

No. 04 (08-09): 16 October 2009



In preparation for the establishment of the Science and Technology Committee on 1 October, the former IUSS Committee commissioning work to assess the Government’s use of evidence in policy-making. The Committee wrote to the Government on a number of topics and asked two questions: (1) What is the policy? (2) On what evidence is the policy based? The Government has now replied and having considered the responses the Committee has selected Literacy Interventions for its first Evidence Check.

The first Evidence Check will consist of two sessions on 4th and 9th of November. The Committee invites short submissions by 26 October on the issues that the Committee will be exploring:
— the Government’s policy on literacy interventions for school children with reading difficulties
— the evidence base for the Every Child a Reader and Making Good Progress programmes
— the definition of dyslexia
— the evidence base for diagnosing dyslexia and teaching dyslexic children to read.

Each submission should:
a) be no more than 1,000 words in length
b) be in Word format (no later than 2003) with as little use of colour or logos as possible
c) have numbered paragraphs
d) include a declaration of interests.

A copy of the submission should be sent by e-mail to and marked “Evidence Check 1”. An additional paper copy should be sent to:
The Clerk
Science and Technology Committee House of Commons
7 Millbank
London SW1P 3JA

It would be helpful, for Data Protection purposes, if individuals submitting written evidence send their contact details separately in a covering letter. You should be aware that there may be circumstances in which the House of Commons will be required to communicate information to third parties on request, in order to comply with its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Please supply a postal address so a copy of the Committee’s report can be sent to you upon publication.

A guide for written submissions to Select Committees may be found on the parliamentary website at:

Please also note that:
— Material already published elsewhere should not form the basis of a submission, but may be referred to within a proposed memorandum, in which case a hard copy of the published work should be included.
— Memoranda submitted must be kept confidential until published by the Committee, unless publication by the person or organisation submitting it is specifically authorised.
— Once submitted, evidence is the property of the Committee. The Committee normally, though not always, chooses to make public the written evidence it receives, by publishing it on the internet (where it will be searchable), by printing it or by making it available through the Parliamentary Archives. If there is any information you believe to be sensitive you should highlight it and explain what harm you believe would result from its disclosure. The Committee will take this into account in deciding whether to publish or further disclose the evidence.
— Select Committees are unable to investigate individual cases.

No comments: