Govt finally accepts dyslexia exists

By Angela Gregory

Dyslexia, that's d-y-s-l-e-x-i-a.

It's taken a while for the Ministry of Education to get its head around the word but affected families and the Dyslexia Foundation are celebrating long-sought recognition of the needs of those identified as having the reading and writing disability.

It came yesterday in the form of a statement titled "Ministry improves understanding of dyslexia".

After denying for decades that the condition existed, the ministry said it would put greater emphasis on assisting students who struggled with reading and writing, including those identified as dyslexic.

Anne Jackson, deputy secretary (schooling), said dyslexia was a term used to refer to a group of students with a range of persistent reading and writing difficulties or disabilities.

The Ministry of Education recognised that more needed to be done to identify such students as early as possible and to provide them with effective interventions based on their specific needs.

"We are also developing a resource for teachers that outlines strategies for working with students with reading and writing difficulties," Ms Jackson said.

She added that the ministry had recently completed an analysis of international research into dyslexia, looking at various international definitions of dyslexia as well as scientific attempts to locate and describe the causes and symptoms associated with it.

A Pt Chevalier family know the symptoms all too well and suspect there must be some genetic link, with two sisters and one brother all dyslexic.

Christine Winterton said all her children had suffered from the disability and she suspected her husband did as well.

Mrs Winterton welcomed the ministry's recognition of dyslexia and hoped her youngest two, still at school, would get more support, having already spent thousands on private tutors for all three.

Some teachers had been supportive but others would not recognise the disability, she said.

Her eldest, Elizabeth Winterton, 17, was now at university studying design despite struggling at school.

Elizabeth's problem was masked for some time as she memorised stories read out to the class until she was about 10, when it became obvious she couldn't read properly.

Marie, 15, benefited from Elizabeth's diagnosis and got support earlier but still finds learning difficult.

"It's really frustrating. I don't know how to spell words and have trouble pronouncing them ... essays are a nightmare."

Her school does, however, allow a reader-writer for exams so she can have questions read out to her and the answers she supplies are written down on her behalf.

Marie is relieved dyslexia has been officially acknowledged so she is no longer left to "feel dumb".

Liam said he had struggled to not get muddled even over little words like "of" and "off'.

The ministry's move has provided a jump start to next week's dyslexia awareness week.

Dyslexia Foundation chairman Guy Pope-Mayell said the announcement would be life changing for over 70,000 children who struggled with dyslexia in New Zealand.

"Dyslexia will no longer be a hidden disability in New Zealand and all dyslexic New Zealanders can feel proud that their way of thinking has been recognised."

Mr Pope-Mayell said New Zealand now had the opportunity to adopt international best practice on classroom initiatives to remove the severe disadvantage that dyslexic children experienced.

"By recognising that they must support the dyslexic child's strengths in order to make a difference to their learning outcomes, the ministry is opening the door to new classroom strategies that are designed for visual thinkers."

What is Dyslexia?

No one can agree on a precise definition but the term covers a range of persistent reading and writing difficulties.

Symptoms can include reversing the order of letters in a word or mixing up words in a sentence.

The Dyslexia Foundation estimates 70,000 New Zealanders are affected.

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