In Australia, especially in regional areas such as the North Coast, there is a severe lack of funding and support available for children with specific learning disabilities.
A specific learning disability (SLD) is when the affected person has difficulty in a certain learning process, and they are often categorised into three main groups: dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia. People with dyslexia struggle to interpret and read words, people with dysgraphia find it difficult to write clearly and coherently, and people with dyscalculia struggle to perform mathematical calculations.
These conditions affect a surprising number of people – according to the Australian Dyslexia Association, 10 per cent of Australians have dyslexia.
And while there are several non-profit organisations dedicated to supporting children with SLDs, government support has been lacklustre at best, according to locally-based literacy support specialist, and a tutor experienced in supporting people with dyslexia, Melinda Marshall.
Structured literacy approach needed
‘Children with dyslexia and dysgraphia need a structured literacy approach in order to learn to read and write successfully. Unfortunately, this sort of approach hasn’t typically been available in schools,’ Ms Marshall told The Echo.
‘Early identification of reading and writing difficulties is so important’, she says.
‘Sadly, many people with dyslexia and dysgraphia grow up with poor self-esteem, because their difficulties were not identified and addressed. But the truth is, these difficulties have nothing to do with intelligence, and people with reading and writing difficulties can learn to read and write well, with the right educational approach and enough time.
‘As students get older, it’s important that they are encouraged to access [help] to level the playing field – like extra time for assignments and access to technology.
Students also need confidence
‘Students also need to have the confidence to ask for the accommodations they need and persistence to get the technology to work for them.
‘People with learning difficulties deserve recognition for the fact that they are often working twice as hard as everyone else. They deserve the right support so that they can demonstrate their talents and achieve their goals.’
According to Sonic Learning, an Australian group of ‘health and education professionals working to bring you the very best research-backed learning programs available’, no state or territory government in the country provides funding specifically for people with dyslexia.
Local NSW MP, Tamara Smith, suggests that a major part of this issue is a general lack of resources for teachers, citing a drop in the number of specialists able to support children with learning disabilities in public schools.
‘Teachers are overworked and underpaid, and they simply don’t have those experts to rely on any more.’
The NSW Greens education shadow spokesperson, and former teacher, told The Echo, ‘I don’t believe that you can possibly become skilled enough to adapt your teaching plans to support all needs without that extra support.
‘So, I believe what you have now is that for students with diverse needs – their needs are just not being met.’
She says the cost is ‘devastating’ to society with an entire cohort not being adequately supported to achieve their life goals.
She says, ‘What a terrible failure, as a society, in terms of the lived experience of people with a disability’.
Dyslexia tutor, Melinda Marshall suggested visiting www.codereadnetwork.org for those seeking assistance with dyslexia.
• Gryffyn Pelling is a year 10 work experience student from Mullum High.