Jodi Clements 2Jodi Clements is president of the Australian Dyslexia Association and researcher at the University of Tasmania.

The biggest challenge facing those with dyslexia?

Often those with dyslexia are misunderstood since many people are not informed as to what dyslexia is and what it isn’t. Individuals with dyslexia can learn they just learn differently.

Is the condition increasing and if so by how much?

I think that there has been a rise in identification in Australia during the past four years. It is difficult to know by how much as we do not have any reliable statistics.

How many children/students have the disorder?

The Dyslexia Working Party document estimated up to 10 per cent of the Australian population are affected. With an increase in awareness this may be a conservative percentage.

Early intervention is the best approach – are you seeing this happening?

The research is slowly spreading into schools and there is a wealth of national and international research that supports early identification and evidence-based intervention. I am seeing intervention occur in schools where a teacher has been ADA trained. The ADA trained teachers role is to liaise with all early year teachers and provide the necessary tools to screen and where necessary provide intensive targeted instruction early.  General classroom teachers also require up skilling in direct, explicit and systematic literacy teaching so that this can be delivered to the whole class as early as possible. This then allows every child to have access (or a response) to high quality literacy teaching in an inclusive environment. Children who require further instruction who are not progressing at the expected rate should then have access to the same instruction but delivered more intensely either in a small group or one to one. All children should be regularly assessed and monitored for progress by the school. Where there is evidence of continual and persistent difficulties, reasonable adjustments need to be made.  In some cases children may require assistive technology in order to access the curriculum fairly and equitably.

Is there progress with any new initiatives coming from the Federal Government?

The new disability model for students with identified needs will hopefully provide a model that will assist schools to offer intensified and targeted teaching to those students who have a learning disability including those children with dyslexia. Personally, I prefer to view dyslexia as a “learning difference” over “disability” however it will be this model of disability that allows schools to access funds. 

What is a priority in your opinion?

Teacher training is a priority. Teachers need to be up skilled in evidence-based practices and have access to scientific reading research. They need to understand how an individual learns to read and spell and why some children struggle. Teachers must have access to quality training courses so they can feel confident to screen children in their class and determine who may be at risk and respond to their individual needs using inclusive practices. Teacher training in my opinion is a must! It is of little use to have a child identified as having dyslexia outside of the school if the teachers in the school are not trained to know what dyslexia is nor how to educationally assist the child. This is one of the very real issues that parents and schools are faced with.

Is Australia keeping up with what is happening in other countries or are we slipping behind in treatment and identification?

I think the arrival of the Australian Dyslexia Association has helped increase positive awareness of dyslexia. I feel that whilst Australia lags behind the US and UK in the identification and treatment of dyslexia, ADA have been able to put dyslexia on the agenda. I don’t think Australia is slipping behind, I think we are growing stronger as we open up opportunities for schools and teachers to be trained in this area of expertise. I remember just a few years ago being told by a teacher that they could not use the word dyslexia! Now we have dyslexia recognised by the Education Department. Dyslexia is also recognised under the Disability Standards 2005 and Human Rights Commission. These accomplishments alone have shown that Australia is on the way up. However we still have a long way to go.

What are you speaking about at the Learning Difference Convention?

I will be exploding the myths associated with dyslexia. I will discuss how to identify dyslexia in a classroom and why early intervention is vital. My audience will have a chance to be involved in a dyslexia simulation to feel and experience how dyslexia affects written language. This will lead into discussion on the secondary effects of unidentified dyslexia and why early identification and understanding is the key. Strengths associated with learning differences such as dyslexia will be presented. It is hoped that all who attend my talk will leave with a deeper understanding of dyslexia, practical ideas for minimising the negative effects of dyslexia in the classroom and how the environment may well shape a “disability” more so than the underlying cause itself.

Jodi Clements will be a guest speaker at the Learning Differences Convention being held in Sydney on August 6-7.