Dyslexia – no expectations, no problem!
Dyslexia is a learning difference that makes reading and spelling difficult. Dyslexia is common – over ten percent of the population on its continuum. That’s more than 51,000 Tasmanians. It’s likely you have a friend, family member or work colleague who has dyslexia. But they probably won’t tell you. Perhaps because of fear of being thought to be stupid, or the potential impact on expectations regarding their capability, or it could be because the cause of their difficulty with reading was never identified.
Despite the existence of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cwlth) and the Disability Standards for Education 2005, the education system in Tasmania does not consistently recognise or address the needs of children with dyslexia. If our children are entitled to a free and appropriate public education under the law, why are so many parents paying tutors and speech pathologists to teach their children to read? And why have so many parents had to become private tutors to teach their own children (and other children) who do not receive effective services at school?
The absence of an overarching educational policy framework for dyslexia is a significant contributor. So is the lack of comprehensive pre-service and in-service teacher training about how to respond to dyslexia; and the lack of resources for its identification and remediation.
Because the education system does not provide these resources there is in an over-reliance on parents to support their child’s learning needs.
This is a social injustice. It creates inequity for children.
It means that the provision of resources is dependent on factors associated with children’s family of origin, economic context, and the extent to which the child’s school is willing and able to allocate resources to children with dyslexia. This no doubt contributes to the education divide highlighted in the Educational Opportunity in Australia Report 2020 by Sergio Macklin of the Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute, which tracked 300 000 children from school entry to adulthood and found that disadvantaged students were more than twice as likely as their peers to not be in study or work by the age of 24.
The response a child receives to their literacy challenges should not depend on where they live and how much their parents earn. But this is the truth of the matter in Tasmania, right now.
While there are individually supportive people and professionals, by-and-large Tasmanian parents face a significant struggle for the recognition of the needs of children who have dyslexia. They must traverse a complex terrain of non-integrated systems to have their child’s dyslexia identified and to then obtain support.
The lack of structural recognition of dyslexia is itself a discrimination in the provision of education to children with dyslexia.
Policy recognition of dyslexia is needed. As is mandated teacher education relating to dyslexia and the allocation of resources for the identification, remediation, and accommodation of students with dyslexia throughout our systems of education. The Government’s needs-based funding model is a step in the right direction, but these funds must be applied effectively and can only be useful if children are identified – which in many cases does not occur.
Square Pegs and Connect42 see the results of these deficiencies first-hand: children failing at early ages, disengaging from school, and developing anxiety and poor self-esteem. These children do not understand why they struggle to learn reading when their peers seem to find it easy. They – and others – too-often conclude they are stupid or lazy. Expectations are lowered and failure is accepted. As a result, tragically, people with dyslexia are heavily over-represented in the justice system.
It does not have to be this way.
It must not be this way.
Dyslexia is a neurobiologically-based disorder of the way the brain processes speech sound. People with dyslexia have much to contribute. They are often talented in areas such as problem solving, creativity, leadership, and big-picture thinking – think Richard Branson, Steven Spielberg, and closer to home, Professor Rufus Black.
There are simple assessments that can identify children who are likely to have literacy challenges as early as 3½ years of age. Early intervention is critical – and successful!
How we learn to read is settled science. Instructional methods informed by the #ScienceOfReading must be consistently introduced into all classrooms. The commitment to teaching Tasmanians to access print should not have a use-by date. It should continue throughout school and beyond.
Without structural change, many Tasmanian children with dyslexia will never realise their full potential. This is an unacceptable cost to the individual. It is also an unacceptable cost to our economy and community.
Change needn’t cost the earth. Nudging our existing resources and structures in the right direction by just a degree or two will result in a massive change in trajectory for people with dyslexia.
We need our decision-makers to demonstrate their care by driving systemic, structural change that supports schools and educators to flourish in the delivery of the science of reading.
Not doing this is to accept that a percentage of our children don’t deserve to read. We do not believe that the values of our decision-makers accord with this. We ask for their urgent, equitable reform of the systems they administer.
Amelia Jones & Rosalie Martin are the founders of Tasmanian not-for-profit literacy advocacy groups Square Pegs and Connect42 respectively. October is Dyslexia Awareness Month. This article was first published in The Mercury on 29 October 2020.