Inquiry into learning disorders in schools draws flood of stories from families on emotional, costly fight for aid.

The mother of a boy with dyslexia had to extend her mortgage to get him assessed, only to be told by his classroom teacher she could do nothing for him.

Her story of a "long, upsetting and expensive" road to getting a diagnosis was among one of more than 400 submissions written by parents and professionals for the parliamentary inquiry into learning disorders at schools.

The inquiry will focus on students with dyslexia, dyspraxia, and autism spectrum disorders, thought to affect around 70,000 children nationwide.

It will investigate current screening in schools, identify the best educational practice, and look at why uptake of help for NCEA exams under Special Assistance Conditions is much higher at schools that draw students from wealthier communities.


One concerned mum wrote how after a frustrating first year at school, her child was finally referred to an educational psychologist at a cost of $1200 - which she couldn't afford. It was the first of two times she asked the bank to extend her mortgage to get help for her son.

Dozens of others who made submissions raised the same concern: getting their children diagnosed was expensive, and for some, prohibitive.

"The cost of getting help ... is unacceptable - there are most definitely children slipping through the cracks," wrote Belinda Walsh.

Another submitter, a special education teacher, wrote how many parents were homeschooling students due to lack of support, paying huge sums for private tutors; or having to pick their children up early.

"This is asking a lot of parents who only get a break when the child is at school and they also do not have the supports in place to help them."

Several parents said school became so stressful for their children they would vomit in the mornings to avoid going.

One wrote that her son's personality "completely changed. His asthma was much worse ... No child should have to suffer this."

Most parents asked for free, early diagnosis and support for schools and teachers, including better education for educators around special needs.


Green MP Catherine Delahunty, who requested the inquiry, said she had read the majority of submissions and believed more had to be done to ensure schools truly were inclusive.

The way special education was funded - partially through an operations grant that had nothing to do with how many needy children were at the school - needed to change.

Ms Delahunty said many of the children were ending up illiterate, stressed, with low self-esteem, and headed straight for the justice system.

"That is not fair. So, yes, it's going to cost more to ensure there's the right support but the cost will be at the right end."

The inquiry will now move to hearing oral submissions.

Charlie shines through his struggle

Six-year-old Charlie Sayers knows the alphabet in several languages. Photo / Supplied
Six-year-old Charlie Sayers knows the alphabet in several languages. Photo / Supplied

Charlie Sayers can't have a conversation, yet he already knows the alphabet in several different languages.

"He finds them soothing. He loves Arabic and Greek and Thai -- we spend a lot of time on YouTube watching alphabet videos," says his mother, Tansy Sayers.

Charlie, 6, is autistic and epileptic, and struggles with talking. His mum says the family are lucky in that they got speech therapy through the Wellington Early Intervention Trust when Charlie was tiny -- but now that he's at school, there's little support.

For example, it took 18 months just to get an observation, Mrs Sayers says. That therapist has now quit. At the time she left she had more than 80 children on her books.

The lack of resources for children with speech issues made up the bulk of the Wairarapa mother's submission to the parliamentary inquiry on learning difficulties, in which she said communication was a human right.

"Imagine if a large group were having limited access to assisted hearing, or mobility -- that wouldn't be okay," Mrs Sayers said. "It's only because many families ... don't have the energy to fight that the Government gets away with it."