Many South Australian primary school students with dyslexia will go undiagnosed and receive no assistance.
“We can only get a limited number of testings per school per year and there is a priority on children who have an intellectual disability rather than a learning difficulty,” explains Leonie Robertson, deputy principal and special education co-ordinator at Salisbury Primary School, “For many years there was very little official recognition of students with dyslexia, which was frustrating…there were many discrepancies between what a child was capable of and their ability to read”. Estimates of the prevalence of dyslexia range from 3 per cent to 20 per cent of the population.
The onus of diagnosis and referral to specialist services and education plans is on parents and teachers. ”Referrals can be made by me to the schools leadership who decide whether to seek the support and advice of the eastern Adelaide regions special education consultant” says Vivienne Clayton, a Reception/Year 1 teacher at Paradise Primary. “The education department didn’t move at all until they were pushed” says Vanessa Genrich, whose daughter Ashley was diagnosed with Dyslexia in 2013.
Vanessa noticed her nine-year-old daughter Ashley was having difficulty learning to read and write as early as kindergarten. Ashley was tested by a psychologist in Year 1 and given a preliminary diagnosis of dyslexia. Despite numerous approaches to her teachers, it wasn’t until Vanessa contacted the school’s leadership and asked for an Individual Learning Plan that anything changed. Even with the ILP in place, Vanessa says it was private tutoring costing $50 a week that made the difference and Ashley learned to read in Year 2. “There needs to be more awareness amongst teachers, but certainly a more passionate teacher who was trained to identify signs of dyslexia would have helped,” says Vanessa. Vivienne agreed, “Generally a leader or teacher in the school drives such a priority, usually in response to student and family needs within the school community,” she says.
Several organisations and consultants provide support and advocacy for schools, teachers, and students with dyslexia. The Specific Learning Difficulties Association of SA (SPELD) is a non-profit organisation providing advice and services to support children and adults with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia. DAGBAGS (Dyslexia Action Group Barossa and Gawler Surrounds, and soon to become Dyslexia SA) administers the DAS accreditation program in the areas immediately north of Adelaide. Janice McPhail, Deputy Director of DAGBAGS, says the idea for the group came from parents and a concerned ex-school principal, and is bringing together parents, grandparents, principals, teachers, speech pathologists and learning support staff.
Some schools in SA have declared themselves dyslexia-aware schools, such as O’Sullivan Beach Primary, and some private schools such as Trinity College Gawler have applied for DAS accreditation via DAGBAGS, but many others are not accredited. Online training is available to teachers from the Education Department and workshops are offered by various service providers advertised to schools periodically. Vivienne says she’s had “…support and outside agency reports to support students in my classes previously after they have been given a dyslexia diagnosis”.
There is a concerted movement from advocates such as Neil McKay to make changes to the way the curriculum is taught so that students with dyslexia are also catered for in classroom. Neil is freelance consultant with 26 years of teaching experience and created the concept of dyslexia friendly schools. He is currently engaged in workshops for teachers in the northern areas of Adelaide, he runs a dyslexia support website at www.actiondyslexia.co.uk
Outcomes from a major Federal roundtable policy discussion about supporting students with disabilities and learning difficulties appear to have stalled. Since DAGBAGS chairperson Dr Sandra Marshall participated in the discussion in August 2014 “…there has been no further follow up.” says Janice. They have since been invited to meet with DECD as part of a special education review in 2015.
“It is appropriate that learning disabilities are becoming more widely included in data collection to better understand student populations, adequate recognition of the adjustments needed for students with dyslexia and resourcing to match needs to be considered,” says teacher Vivienne Clayton.
Schools receive a pool of money for children with disabilities and this is allocated as each school sees fit. “DECD provides $12.441 million dollars for learning difficulties,” says a DECD spokesperson. “The funding is provided through the schools resource entitlement statement and the school makes a decision on how the funding is used.” However, schools specifically need “more funding for testing, and money for intervention.” Said Leonie.
Until the reviews and policy discussions have achieved an outcome for students, parents who have, or suspect they have children with dyslexia may like to start understanding how they can help their child with information from websites like http://www.dagbags.org.au and http://www.speld.org.au.
Ashley was diagnosed with dyslexia when she was seven years old. We suspected something was amiss since kindy but we had to push and push for a formal diagnosis to be made and then push for any educational support. Thousands of children are suffering through not being able to learn like their classroom peers. This leads to more anxiety and only adds to the issues caused by dyslexia.
Since Ash was diagnosed she attended private tutoring for a year and now works one on one with a support officer once a week at school. Her tutoring was paid for by government carer support (also very hard to secure). This support changed Ashley’s capacity to learn completely, and now (year five) she has caught up to her peers and is an avid reader and writer. There are still behavioural issues. Like a lot of dyslexics, she has Aspergers syndrome. This makes travelling, going out, and interacting with people challenging for her….and us. We’re getting there and I hope that is evident in what I write.
If your kid is like Ashley, or you suspect dyslexia, follow the links above and subscribe to this page. We’ll share stories. If you don’t try to get help, the risks are enormous. If you do get help, the rewards are countless.
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