As a toddler, Tobey Turl was often described as spirited and energetic. But when he entered preschool at the age of four and was unable to sit still long enough to learn anything, his exhausted mother decided to seek professional help. They found he had a complex learning profile: dyslexia, oral dyspraxia, sensory processing disorder and a touch of attention deficit disorder. Since then, Tobey has received "a huge amount of occupational and speech therapy, and paediatric physiotherapy, with the happy result that many of his issues have been completely resolved or vastly improved," says his mother, Tara Jenkins. "His profile is now one of a typical dyslexic; specifically, he struggles with processing and has a poor working memory." To give Tobey a further leg up, she sent the boy, now aged 11, to a specialist boarding school in Britain this year. She found it through Dyslexia School Search, an agency that helps families worldwide find schools in Britain that will cater to their child's specific educational needs. Agency founder Sheridan Steen has been dealing with an increasing number of children just like Tobey. Steen, who has a highly dyslexic child of her own, says an estimated 20 per cent of children in Britain and the US have a degree of dyslexia or other learning difficulty. But many children are not diagnosed until quite late, because dyslexia and similar disorders present a varied list of symptoms and are often misunderstood. For example, many people think dyslexics write back to front or upside down, but only a few exhibit this trait. Some have trouble reading and spelling, and others struggle to tell left from right. Some show few signs of difficulty with early reading and writing, but later on have trouble with complex language skills, such as grammar. "Many of these traits will be missed by teachers in a large and pressurised lesson." Children may be labelled as troublemakers when they are just struggling to learn, leading to low self-esteem, says Steen, who was in Hong Kong last month to give a series of talks. Hong Kong-based clinical psychologist Dr Suzanne Meenan says parents often bring their children in for assessment when they see the youngsters losing confidence. This occurs when they struggle to keep up in class, despite working hard. But any professional assessment should include time spent observing the child in their classroom environment, she says. "Seeing a child only in a clinic doesn't provide an accurate enough picture of their behaviour, personality or abilities... That's not indicative of how they experience the classroom," Meenan says. So when Louise sent her eight-year-old daughter, Katherine (both names have been changed), for evaluation, Meenan made sure it was a collaborative process. Besides tests at her clinic, she also observed Katherine at school and was in constant contact with her teachers during that time. Meenan devised a programme for the girl that involved the school, and the results have been significant, Louise says. "Katherine is more confident in her learning, and 12 months on, she is in the middle of her class." Tobey also had a positive experience while attending Kellett School in Hong Kong. Jenkins says: "I couldn't have asked his primary school to have done any more than they did; they were absolutely fantastic." From the age of four to 10, Tobey was under the care of a paediatric professor and his team at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. They created a learning programme for his Hong Kong teachers and therapists, and Kellett incorporated all their recommendations. "I felt each of his teachers was completely committed to tackling his issues and bringing him on as much as they possibly could," Jenkins says. Even so, she wanted the best possible education for him and decided he would have a better chance in Britain, where there were many schools with years of experience dealing with children with learning difficulties. There's another reason, too: Tobey is a talented endurance runner who hopes to race at national and even international levels, Jenkins says. "For someone with ambitions to be an elite runner, England just offers more opportunity." That's why, despite Tobey's steadily improving grades and support from teachers in Hong Kong, she enrolled him in Wellesley House, a boarding school in Kent, England. Steen says many children with learning disabilities in some areas have enormous talent and aptitude in others - science, maths, design and technology, for example - and these should be carefully nurtured. "It is not unusual to find pupils who are part of a school's gifted and talented programme who are also dyslexic," she says. I couldn't have asked his primary school to have done any more Tara Jenkins So if parents are considering sending their child abroad to help overcome their learning difficulties, it is important to find a school that is flexible, embraces differences and welcomes students who think outside the box. "That doesn't mean allowing a child to use their dyslexia as an excuse for not working," Steen says. "A good school will say, 'Yes, you may study mathematics, but because of your dyscalculia [difficulty processing numbers] we are going to show you another way of working.' They will have enough teaching staff available to look again at how that particular child's mind works." But, of course, concerned parents should first seek a professional assessment of their child's difficulties, Steen adds. In undertaking such testing, Meenan argues that it's imperative that each child be assessed as a whole rather than a particular area of concern - dyslexia, dyspraxia and so on. A common referral, for example, is about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. However, there are other issues that mimic symptoms of this condition, but have totally different sources, she says. Because of this, Meenan opts for a "strengths-based assessment, which allows the child and their parents to walk away with an awareness of their strengths rather than just a focus on their difficulties". Meanwhile, Tobey is settling in well in his new school in England, and Jenkins believes she has made the right decision for her son. "There are children who are right for boarding school, and children who are most definitely not. If you have a child with learning difficulties who has the sort of personality and outlook that will thrive at boarding school, and they are keen to go, let them go," she says. "It could be the best thing you ever did."