Dyslexics ignored by the ignorant
A parliamentary inquiry has been told that dyslexia and other learning difficulties are often completely missed by teachers, with expensive tests required for any specialised help.
Emotional parents pleaded with MPs on Wednesday to fund more teacher education and external tests for children affected by the learning differences, some of which can easily be missed by busy teachers.
Single mother Therese Eberhard borrowed money and applied for a grant to fund a $500 test for her dyslexic daughter. Her school had told Eberhard that her daughter had emotional issues, but the test proved she was dyslexic.
"She had a horrible time with a reading recovery teacher, it traumatised her, she was told to read faster, faster, things like that, she was being told that she was wasting the teacher's time," she said.
"I'm not out to fix her, I just want to make her life easier."
READ MORE: 'Systemic barriers' hurt dyslexic kids
The inquiry into dyslexia, dyspraxia, and autism spectrum education began on Tuesday and is set to run for several sessions, with 91 oral submissions to be heard by the education and science select committee.
Dyslexia is a neurological difference estimated to effect around 10 percent of the population - or around 70,000 students. It makes reading and writing incredibly difficult.
Eberhard had filmed a video of her daughter having a breakdown due to the stress
"It makes me feel like a baby," the tearful child could be heard saying, describing a situation in which a teacher challenged her to read simple words out in front of her class, before switching to other children when she faltered.
"These were like young kids' words, like 'cat" or 'at'. [...] It makes me sound dumb because everyone is reading it."
"I really wanted someone to think I was clever."
Following the diagnosis things have improved to a degree, but teachers were still under-resourced to really deal with her dyslexia, Eberhard said.
"They don't know how to address it, they don't know how to teach dyslexic kids. They don't need to be dumbed down, they need to be stimulated."
Dyslexia was only recognised by the Government in 2007, much later than in many other countries. Submitters said popular literacy programs like reading recovery did more harm than good, reinforcing bad self-esteem in learners for whom reading wasn't just something they hadn't caught on to yet.
"How are teacher's supposed to recognise dyslexic children when it took my own child a four hour multiple perceptive testing session to diagnose dyslexia?" asked submitter Amanda Drumm, who repeatedly challenged the MPs present to fund external testing.
Her son was picked up as having literacy problems at a standard test all six-year-olds receive, but the dyslexia diagnosis did not come until he was nine, when a friend suggested they try an external test.
"There are children that are going undiagnosed, they are dropping out of school, they are giving up. It is not acceptable. It should not be acceptable in the society we live in," Drumm said.
"Teachers are not able to pick this up."
Drumm said while a neurotypical child could remember a word after seeing in ten times, it would take a dyslexic child a thousand viewings.
Susan Warren, CEO of educational group COMET Auckland, echoed this concern with an inequity of funding.
Poor kids were going undiagnosed while more able parents were able to send their children to the professionals.
"Parents talked to us about having paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to have their child's issues identified, and/or to send their child for support," she said.
"There are parents who couldn't possibly pay that.
Louise Green, National President of the teachers' union NZEI, also saw a problem in early screening.
"The screening part is really difficult, because there're differences in access. Parents have to usually go to a psychologist, and getting access to a psychologist is really hard, because there are long waiting lists and they can cost quite a lot of money."
"Some children get access to the screening process, others don't. There are some indicators that teachers can be aware of, but that has to happen during the initial teaching training program, and also ongoing professional learning."
A teacher submitting yesterday told the inquiry he had received a single hour of special education training during his teaching degree.
"What we really want is some early tools that help us to identify these things and be proactive," Green said.
"That's the secret, to get in early."