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Working to overcome dyslexia

THE Department of Education and Training estimates that about 20 per cent of students struggle to achieve effective literacy skills. And although many can be viewed as instructional casualties, some experience literacy failure as a direct consequence of dyslexia, where sufferers have trouble with reading and spelling. As dyslexia has a neurological basis it is considered a disability, often one that can last a lifetime. Dyslexia is commonly associated with difficulties in phonological awareness and processing – the ability to hear and manipulate the separate sounds within words (phonemes). Problems can be detected orally in young children but because it is often overlooked, dyslexia becomes more apparent when a child has difficulty learning to read in the early school years. A child with dyslexia often puts in 150 per cent effort for 50 per cent of the result when compared with the literacy output of others in the class. Awareness of dyslexia is brought to wider community attention thanks to groups such as the Dyslexia-SPELD Foundation, which provide a range of services including public education programs and family support throughout Western Australia. Dyslexia-SPELD Foundation executive officer Mandy Nayton is a practising psychologist and qualified teacher who, together with other qualified foundation staff, assesses children, teenagers and adults struggling with the acquisition of effective literacy skills, recommending appropriate class-based and individual strategies. Ms Nayton said dyslexia had a strong hereditary component and seems to affect more boys than girls within the classroom environment, limiting opportunities at school and beyond. “The reading disorder becomes disabling as the student can’t access the same opportunities as others, particularly reaching higher education, as the ability to read and write fluently are absolutely essential skills to have in higher academia and in society,” Ms Nayton said. Working with the School of Psychology at the University of Western Australia, the foundation has held post-graduate courses on effective teaching of students at risk of literacy failure during the past 12 months, and demand has been strong. In addition, UWA is seeking participants for its dyslexia research project to identify risk factors for language and learning difficulties. Ms Nayton said the foundation was funded partly by the Department of Education and Training, corporate and private donations and through service delivery. More financial support was needed for a long-overdue refurbishment of its existing premises in South Perth, she said. Other services provided to the community by the foundation include free information evenings, coun-selling, advice and support, psycho-educational assessements, seminars and workshops, tutoring referrals, computer software and training, newsletters and a reference library.

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