Better Understanding Dyslexia

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

In the not too distant past, if you couldn’t read or write at a certain age, you were put into a special class at school and made to feel anything but “special”.

I can’t help but think how awful that must have been for children and young people then, who were suffering from, as we know it now, dyslexia.

Dyslexia is defined as a significant, persistent difficulty with reading, spelling and writing skills. It is not a reflection of a child’s intelligence – often dyslexic children are some of the brightest in the class.

The 2016 Budget shows the Government is committed to providing assistance to these young people with learning difficulties.

The National Government is putting an additional $42.1 million of operating funding over the next four years into services for students with special educational needs.  This includes those struggling with dyslexia.

The extra funding will extend the personalised Intensive Wraparound Service for students with complex behavioural and learning needs, enable more students to access the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme, and increase teacher aide hours to support classroom teachers of students with high learning needs.

Feedback from the recent Ministry of Education consultation process in 2015 revealed the current system of additional learning support is too complicated, and people want easier access to appropriate support.

From mid-2016 a new streamlined approach will be rolled out to better support children and young people who are in need of additional learning support. In the meantime, 22 improvement projects are being rolled out across New Zealand, including here in the Wairarapa.

Dyslexia is often not picked up on, or diagnosed, when kids are at primary school.  It can be attributed to behavioural issues, or a kid being disruptive.  It can affect a child’s self-esteem, and can have far reaching and ongoing consequences if not picked up early.  Troubles such as depression, suicide, drug dependency, and crime have been directly attributed to undiagnosed dyslexia as a child.

The Dyslexia Foundation tells us that in New Zealand, an estimated 10 per cent of the population is dyslexic, yet percentages of dyslexic people in our prisons may reach as high as 90 per cent.  That makes for sobering reading.

Last year, Chief Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft spoke out about the prevalence of dyslexia amongst young people in the New Zealand Youth Justice system.  The link between learning difficulties and the pathway into offending is clear.  Add to this lack self-esteem and self-awareness, and things start to look grim.

Greater awareness and direction for those working with the dyslexic child have moved things along considerably in recent years.  The 4D Edge programme, developed and delivered by international consultant Neil MacKay, is now being used in more than 500 schools. The programme is based on 4D thinking, which is described as “extending the common perception of three dimensions to overlay a fourth dimension of creativity”.

Amongst other things, the programme provides guidance for schools on how to create a positive learning environment for students with dyslexia.

Dyslexia is not a disability, nor should it prevent anyone from reaching their full potential.

International studies have shown us that people with dyslexia often have high learning capacity, exceptional empathy, and they are known to be out of the box thinkers.

Leonardo Da Vinci, John Lennon, Sir Richard Branson and Jamie Oliver never let dyslexia get in their way.  We owe it to our young people of today suffering from this to ensure they get all the assistance they need to be their best.  I believe the new money from the Government’s Budget will help support these children with different learning needs.