Long waits for extra tutoring

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 07:36 11/04/2014

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Children with learning difficulties could slip through the cracks due to a shortage of specialists assessing and assisting them.

The demand for help for Kiwi children struggling with learning disabilities is increasing, with service providers reporting long waiting lists of children that need to be seen.

The New Zealand Dyslexia Foundation estimates one in 10 New Zealanders experience a learning difficulty, with more than 70,000 schoolchildren affected.

The small number of specialists who assess and diagnose learning difficulties have reported a growing workload, which education psychologists say is a concern.

Learning Disabilities Association of New Zealand has two registered assessors in Palmerston North with waiting lists three months long.

President Bill Glassey, who is based in the city, said he would assess one or two children a week - many of them referred by schools - for learning difficulties, such as ADHD, dyslexia or apraxia.

Assessments, estimated to cost between $200 and $500, are used to identify the nature and extent of a child's challenges.

Volunteer organisation Speladd, which helps with learning difficulties, assessed 70 learners last year, 28 so far this year and has a long waiting list.

Speladd assessor Rachel Bradley said children from families throughout the socio-economic spectrum suffered from learning difficulties and needed extra support.

But the system to support pupils with learning difficulties was under-resourced, she said - something the Ministry of Education and NZQA launched investigations into last year. "Something we can do is help people around the children understand them better so they're not seen as stupid, lazy or naughty, and that includes friends, family and teachers."

If children don't get an educational psychologists' report, they may struggle to get the subsidised systematic assistance they need, according to resource teacher Liz Kane. "If they don't get it, they'll continue to struggle unless someone advocates for them," she said.

Kane looks after 15 schools throughout Manawatu, working with students struggling to learn at the same rate as their peers.

She also does professional development for teachers aimed at assisting them with children with learning difficulties. There was a lack of knowledge about learning difficulties among the teaching fraternity, and although most teachers could recognise when children were struggling and modified the running of their classroom accordingly, more needed to be done to educate teachers and children's support systems, Kane said.

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Speladd is hosting a training and tutoring course next month in a bid to educate teachers and parents on how to recognise and work with struggling children.

President Elizabeth Manson said building an understanding of what a child might be battling with would help them in the long run.

"The changes children experience are dramatic . . . a child is suddenly happier, and more self-confident, they're starting to ask questions where normally they wouldn't have."

- Manawatu Standard

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