ABC's 'Behind The News' story on Dyslexia 




Intelligence masks Dyslexia and Dyslexia masks intelligence"



Students with dyslexia suffer from self doubt and may go to extreme lengths to hide their difficulties. If they haven't received adequate remediation by the end of year three, Their chances of every catching up become slim. This is why early identification and quality intervention is so important.

As soon as a child begins showing signs of falling behind in reading - like they're just not getting letters and words, and clearly not liking reading becaise of this,  it is important to have them closely looked at. This is usually an assessmeny by an Educational Psychologist or Speech and Language Pathologist).

Well intentioned but misguided advice from educators like "Some kids just read later" or "Don't worry, some boys take longer to read" are to be politely accepted but completely ignored. I say this as a once-primary school teacher, and with the greatest respect for teachers. However, like I once was, they are unfortunately limited in their knowledge by insufficient pre service training in the area of reading development and learning difficulties. 

If you see a problem, it's time to seek an assessment. Nowadays, experts can identify markers of reading failure (like developmental dyslexia), even before children begin formal reading instruction. Poor ability to work with speech sounds (phonological awareness) and slow verbal recall of the names of things (rapid automatised naming) are just two markers of potential difficulties with later reading development. We do not have to wait for a child to experience one or two years of reading failure before identifying the problem and going to work on it. 


By High School, un remediated students are often frustrated and demoralised. They are frustrated by the fact that they process information, read and write much more slowly than their peers and therefore become overwhelmed by the quantity of work expected. No matter how hard they try, their written work rarely reflects their ability. They have likely had many well-intentioned, but misinformed teachers accuse them of being lazy or inattentive and not working to their potential.


Students with Dyslexia may be talented in areas like oral expression, problem solving, big picture thinking, intuition and insight, computing, mechanics, grasping mathematical concepts (in spite of having difficulties with simple computation and recall of basic number facts). Teachers must be better taught to acknowlegde their strengths and not only focus on their weaknesses.


(Adapted from Speld SA Newsletter, Spring 2012)


Dyslexia remains largely misunderstood by the community, even though it affects somewhere between 3 and 10 percent of all learners. It is estimated that about one in five people may have dyslexic-type difficulties even though not all will cross the diagnostic threshold and receive an identification of dyslaxia. Sadly, there is no specific support for dyslexic students in South Australian Government schools.


Students with Dyslexia and their families are mostly left to their own devices. If the school can manage some extra support for these students, it is usually provided by non-specialist volunteers or teacher aides who have little or no training in the area specific learning disabilities. Unfortunately, many of these wonderful people, although well intentioned, lack the training or experience to understand the  complex cluster of difficulties that make up dyslexia. As a result, they struggle to use the remediation programs that have been provided to them to their full potential.

Steve Dykstra, PhD is a very well regarded Adolescent Psychologist and a founding member of the Wisconsin Reading Coalition says:

"Dyslexic kids aren't qualitatively different than other children. They need more of what all children need, delivered more skillfully, with greater care and intensity. As far as I can see, there is nothing they need which is different than what any child needs.

If you understand developmental dyslexia, you can begin to understand how the brain learns to read  (and what's happening when it can't). Only from learning about dyslexia did I learn what every teacher should know about the reading process. If you don't understand dyslexia and your approach to teaching reading doesn't account for dyslexia very well, then your approach to teaching reading will likely be wrong for all students, not just children with dyslexia. 

Some schools invest heavily in computer-based programs that claim to re-wire reading circuits in the brain, sitting students at computers for a set number of sessions per week. Unfortunately, there is little independent research to prove that these programs work despite the millions of dollars well-meaning schools have spent on them. If your child's school is considering implementing a program for their struggling readers that sounds like it might be a little too flashy, a good place to get some independent information on its efficacy might be the Maquarie University Special Education Centre  (see NOMANIS) or When Educational Promises Are to Good to be True.

Too many dyslexic students in our schools think they are dumb and that they will never learn to read, spell or write. What these kids need to know is that they are in fact  intelligent (average to above average for their age), but learn in a that many classroom teachers don't know how to teach.

There's nobody to blame, just the need for our community do better in terms of:


Teacher education: about dyslexia pre-service and post-service and the continual improvement of mainstream classroom teaching practices to better accommodate for dyslexic learning styles. Talk to any Australian teacher  and they will tell you that training in teaching students to read and spell was missing from their training. They are crying out to know how to help their struggling readers. They may also tell you that teaching phonics was (and still is) out of vogue in teacher education establishments and the teaching in phonics in schools was shunned when they trained.


The 'whole language' method of teaching, then later, 'balanced literacy' and now, it's most recent, but equally damaging incarnation, 'phonics in context' are all based on misguided ideology and not what neuroscience and psychology have taught us about how reading happens in the brain. Although it's hard to believe, whole language and its grubby offspring remain well embedded in schools (like a tick) despite the fact that all leading reading researchers agree that they are based in incorrect and scientifically unsupported assumptions about reading development. In spite of this, a small band of educators, academics and so called experts continue to ignore the scientific consensus about how to teach reading (not unlike climate change deniers), and cling to these disproven ideologies about how reading should be taught. They minimise, even dispute the importance of structured, synthetic phonics. They ramble endlessly about the importance meaning and developing a love of reading in children and seem to not understand that fluent, comprehending reading involves mastery of a sound-symbol code (aka phonics), and that there's simply no road to proficient reading that doesn't pass through phonics. Like the rest of us, these well intentioned folks do want all children to be able to read, but are still caught up in the highly intuitive, but incorrect hypothesis that the brain learns to read in the same way it learns to speak - by just being immersed in language. Sadly, for our profession, their message is eagerly gobbled up by high level educational decision makers (ex classroom teachers) who dread facing the reality that what they've espoused for their entire career is infact wrong, and responsible for Australia's shocking reading results. 


The research has since proven their ideas idea wrong. Every brain has to learn to read anew. There are no specialised brain reigons ready to learn reading from birth (like there are for language acquisition). Reading is painstaikingly bolted on to every brain (to use Steven Pinker's words) through explicit, structured and sequential teaching that teaches the relationships between letters and sounds in a step by step manner. See "How Phonics got Framed" .


We now need to fill this gap in teacher training as well as coach our wonderful and committed teachers how to teach reading in the way that the research tells us works. Teachers also need to be empowered to identify and refer children who are not responding to classroom literacy instruction. Too many parents of dyslexic learners have heard the words 'don't worry, their reading will click', or 'boys take a bit longer', only to find themselves a few years later with a child who hasn't just clicked, who feels utterly defective and hates school.



Improved funding models for students with dyslexia that recognise and fund dyslexia as a learning disability. Currently, no specific funding is available for students diagnosed with Dyslexia. Some Ministers tell us that funding is available and that how schools spend this is up to them. Unfortunately, this is buck passing and is not a reflection of the real situation.


Sadly, Teachers and Principals have to deliver the horrid news that there is no support to disheartened parents daily. Dyslexia takes away a learner's ability to access the currency in schools - print. It is through print that children show teachers what they have learned. In later primary school and beyond, print becomes the main way information is learned, memorised and shared. A child who cannot process print quickly and efficiently must be remediated, as early as possible, using research proven teaching methods.


This takes specialised training and allocation of staff hours to offer research proven, intensive remediation programs (such as the Playberry Multisensory Language Program, or other Orton-Gillingham based programs)  in schools. While the current situation exists, schools are forced to stretch limited funding to meet a huge need - a need that extends to roughly 1 in 5 students. It's little wonder that schools fall victim to flashy, well-marketed programs that promise to remediate dyslexic learners that have no research proving their effectiveness.


Australia's failure to follow the research on the teaching of reading has come home to roost. In the 2011 PIRLS study, Australian year fours came 27th in the league table of countries, below all other English speaking countries and significantly lower than 21 other countries overall, including all other English speaking countries (except New Zealand). South Australian results sit at the bottom of this heap. The article “Why Jaydon Can’t Read”, written by some of Australia’s most respected reading academics encapsulates the frustration felf by the academic community about this state of affairs. 2014 PIRLS results were a little more encouraging, but not by much.






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