Dyslexia funding needs recognition

PRECIOUS SKILL: A sculpture of a girl reading a book in front of the Dyslexia Foundation in Worcester St.
PRECIOUS SKILL: A sculpture of a girl reading a book in front of the Dyslexia Foundation in Worcester St.

After 60 years of living with dyslexia, JACK AUSTIN still confuses left and right. He says young and old with the learning disability need support to reach their potential.

Most of us can read and write reasonably well after our years at school and lifelong experience.

But it can be dffreent when lerttes seem cnfoused and lckanig in snense. One can be sarmt but dylsxesia makes it hraedr to laren and rmemeber, epsicelaly if lfet and rghit, or is it write, can get mixed up. Nxet day that word can look qiuet dffirent. It taeks more tmie to get tihgns dnoe too.

That's why those with dyslexia, young and older, need assistance to best develop their potential. The spread of abilities is the same for those with dyslexia as for the population as a whole. What is not the same is the way the brain processes some inputs.

Research has shown dyslexia is related to neurological distinctions, when compared to the average learner.

Dyslexia can run in families, which underlines the biological facets of this learning disability.

Assistance is best provided one on one after an assessment by a person with appropriate training, and then teaching from a teacher with the specialist teaching skills dyslexia requires. In New Zealand matters are definitely improving, although only gradually.

Thus it was sad to read about the family returning to America because they were frustrated about the lack of support for dyslexia in our schools. Since the Ministry of Education recognised dyslexia and other Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) in 2007, the ministry has published a guide for schools and professional development has been available to teachers.

Schools have shown admirable eagerness to take advantage of those opportunities, so there is more understanding in our schools now.

Unfortunately, the recognition has not come with any additional funding to cater for the needs of those with dyslexia/ Specific Learning Disability.

Speld NZ has been around since the early 1970s, training teachers and assessors to work with individuals and lobbying for their cause. However, as a not-for profit organisation we have had to rely on grants and payment by parents and other individuals to provide specialist assessment and teaching. Increasingly Speld and schools are working more collaboratively to increase achievements for students with dyslexia. Early recognition is beneficial, for success, for self esteem, and to provide supports that make a difference as soon as possible. Good practice and effective interventions and remedial teaching is data based.

In 2011 Speld NZ carried out a pilot programme to demonstrate how methods of assessment and tuition could be carried out in partnership with schools to improve the educational outcomes of those with dyslexia/SLD. The results were analysed by Dr Karen Waldie of Auckland University and showed statistically significant gains for students. The results of this study are in the process of being prepared for formal publication, but a short report can be found on the Speld NZ website.

As John Everatt says, the needs of those with dyslexia should be dealt with in a mainstream classroom. However, experience shows that many individuals will always need some additional one- to-one support, especially when their needs have not been recognised at an early stage and they have fallen behind what they are capable of. We look forward to the day when there is funding to assist these often very able students to realise their potential through receiving the help they need within every school.

As an aside, after 60 years of sitting down to meals I still confuse left and right for knife and fork, and tying shoelaces is a whole other lateral confusion.

Jack Austin is a Dunedin-based registered educational psychologist.

The Press