Below are the amazing sponsors that have generously donated prizes to the Make it a Red Letter day competition . Please have a look at...

Our amazing Sponsors and Prizes

18:35:00 Dyslexia Australia 0 Comments

Below are the amazing sponsors that have generously donated prizes to the Make it a Red Letter day competition. Please have a look at their websites and see what they have to offer you.

Ghotit was founded by people with dyslexia. Ghotit’s mission is to improve the overall quality of life of a person with dyslexia. Ghotit is not a treatment for dyslexia. It’s a set of services that assists adults and kids to overcome their writing and reading difficulties by helping to convert their poorly spelled written limitations to mainstream English.

You can learn more at their website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Spectronics is Australia’s largest supplier of special needs software and assistive technologies. We prefer to think of our range as “inclusive learning technologies”, being those technologies which foster real success and real inclusion in educational or community-based settings.

They have donated 2 C-Pen Scanner & Reading Pens, a totally portable, pocket-sized device that reads text out aloud with an English human-like digital voice.

They have also donated a subscription to Wordshark 5 and Numbershark 5, programs that help anyone improve their numeracy skills and understanding combining motivation and enjoyment with a structured learning process.

You can learn more at their website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

A great tutoring system for children, teenagers, or adults who struggle with spelling, reading, and writing due to dyslexia or a learning disability.The Barton Reading and Spelling System is a Structured Literacy program that is Orton-Gillingham influenced. Our multi-sensory, direct, explicit, structured and sequential intense intervention program is research and evidence based.

They have donated 2 of their Level 1 - Phonemic Awareness Packs.

You can learn more at their website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter

Harvey Norman is a multi-national retailer of furniture, bedding, computers, communications and consumer electrical products.

They have donated an iPad Air. iPad is an immersive Multi-Touch experience. It’s a faster, simpler and more engaging way to do the things you love.

Reading Doctor® computer software and tablet apps make it easier for anyone to teach students to read and spell. Our teaching tools are designed to teach students using synthetic phonics - the most effective way of teaching kids to read according to scientific research.

They have donated a Reading Doctor software package

You can learn more at their website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter

Cracking the ABC Code

Cracking the ABC Code provides a range of resources and strategies for assisting students improve their literacy skills.
The Cracking the ABC Code programs are suitable for use parents and teachers.

They have donated resources and assessment.

You can learn more at their website or follow them on Facebook.

Outside the Square

This is a community project driven by parents and educators passionate about social justice and education reform. We intend to empower children with dyslexia in education by closing the research-to-practice gap in our schools. Outside the Square was designed to get ‘blanket’ awareness in schools as a first step to change.

They have donated a 3 sets of Outside the Square Professional Development DVDs.

You can learn more at their website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter


The Learnersaurus Literacy programs have been developed to provide an alternative approach to literacy learning for students who have not responded to classroom teaching, and other interventions, in order to develop their literacy skills.

They have donated a Prepasaurus Pack and a Best Seller Trio.

You can learn more at their website or follow them on Facebook and Instagram


Nessy has been making fun, educational software for children since 1999. During this time Nessy has gradually developed a reputation for exceptional quality and in recent years has been winner of the prestigious Educational Resources Awards three times in a row. Nessy programs are now used in schools worldwide.

They have donated a Nessy Learning Pack.

You can learn more at their website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter

Little Learners Love Literacy

Little Learners Love Literacy passion is to ensure that children starting school are taught phonemic awareness skills and alphabetic knowledge as the foundation of learning to read. Learning to read is so important - it is the pathway to life long learning.

They have donated a Sound Swap Game

You can learn more at their website or follow them on Facebook.


Entry ID:  012 Name:  Alexa Age:  8 Recipient:  Principal

012 - Alexa's Red Letter

15:24:00 Dyslexia Australia 0 Comments

Entry ID: 012
Name: Alexa
Age: 8
Recipient: Principal


Dear Fellow Dyslexics, This letter is to somone who can change the world.  That person’s you. I know the world can change. I’ve seen it d...

Jackie French's Red Letter

10:08:00 Dyslexia Australia 0 Comments

Dear Fellow Dyslexics,

This letter is to somone who can change the world. That person’s you.

I know the world can change. I’ve seen it done.

I wish I could say it will be easy. It wont.

I wish I could say that school will be easy. It probably wont.

But I can promise that this is probably the worst it’s going to get. I can also promise that there are people who can teach you to read and write as easily as I now can. (I still cant spell, or notice typos, but my computer can. It cant write books thogh.)

Jackie's two passions are books and wombats  (Photo: first person who tries to help may not know how to. They may even make things worse, and make you think you’re dumb. (Your’re not).

You may have to try two or three or even flour times till you find the right people to teach you. Just don’t give up. Please.

Because reading is magic. Reading can change your life. Reading helps you understand your world, yourself and what you and the world one day may become.
Diary of a Wombat -

You are important too. Some people say dyslexics are more intelligent. I don’t know if that’s true. But if you’re dyslexic you have two choices: you can give up, or be determined, learn to focus, learn to work. Because we’ve had to do that, dyslexics who don’t give up tend to be very, very good at what we do. Talent is common. Genois is talent plus determination. There’s a good chance you’re going to have that.

2015 Senior Australian of the Year (Jan. 24, 2015 - Source: Stefan Postles/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Dyslexics also know what it’s like to be different. That compassion you learn from that is perhaps the greatest wealth anyone can have.

Don’t give up. You’ll get there. 
Don’t ket people shove you into being artists either, just because yiou’re better at art that reading when you’re are ten. 

You’re going to be great at MANY things. It’ll just take time to get there.

Keep at it. Because one day you’re going to soar.

Love, Jackie


Entry ID:  011 Name:  Charlise Age:  10 Recipient:  Senator Murray Watt

011 - Charlise' Red Letter

19:59:00 Dyslexia Australia 1 Comments

Entry ID: 011
Name: Charlise
Age: 10
Recipient: Senator Murray Watt


My daughter is dyslexic.  A forgotten disability poorly understood by the education system these children battle in.  The International Dysl...

Amanda's Red Letter

12:15:00 Dyslexia Australia 0 Comments

My daughter is dyslexic.  A forgotten disability poorly understood by the education system these children battle in.  The International Dyslexic Association believe 20% o the population may have dyslexia.  Correlating to between 3 - 5 children in every classroom.  

My daughter will graduate a local primary school next year with around a Year 2 reading level. This flows on to every subject because of the reliance on text and lack of understanding from teachers. The humiliation for her is immeasurable. She is intelligent, funny, thoughtful and creative and yet is considered dumb, slow, backward and lazy in a classroom setting. My daughter and many, many children are being let down by the education system and governance in this country.

No one is accountable for my daughters' illiteracy.  She will leave primary school having been failed and move to high school again where she will be failed.  She will have come in contact with hundreds of educators in her schooling and yet not one has shown an ability to teach her to read.  She wants to be a veterinarian.  How will I make this possible for her?

While politicians argue back and forth about money and hang on to Gonski.  I will be here in rural Queensland with little to no literacy services battling to get my daughter to become functionally literate.

It is not good enough.



I would like to take you on a journey; the journey my daughter has travelled since she started school 7 years ago. My darling girl ent...

Meet the Team - Maree Evans

10:27:00 Dyslexia Australia 0 Comments

I would like to take you on a journey; the journey my daughter has travelled since she started school 7 years ago.

My darling girl entered her first year of school like most other students, full of wonder and curiosity. She was eager to learn and excited about what each new day would hold. This excitement though soon gave way to self-doubt as we began the process of learning sight words. We would practice them every day until she knew them confidently, yet once she was tested at the end of each week by her teacher she could recall only half or less. So we would practice again and again but she could never retain them. I was assured that she was probably just a bit slower and she would ‘get it’ eventually. By the end of Prep she was starting to refuse to go to school in the mornings, but we got through it and assured her it would get easier.

When we got to Grade 1, things didn’t get easier. She developed major separation anxiety, begging me not to leave her at school. Her teacher told me she wasn’t improving in reader levels and her reading comprehension was low. I was told I needed to read to her more and make sure she did her readers every day. I assured the teacher we were already doing that; we had been reading to her since she was a baby. I asked if dyslexia was a possibility and I got the look that I would come to know very well. The look of condescension. I was told that if I just read to her more and if she tried harder she would do better. So we read even more. We read street signs, recipes and anything else we came across. This just made my daughter withdraw more and she started to hate herself.  My vivacious, confident little girl was disappearing before my eyes, making worrying comments such as “I should just walk off a bridge”. She wished she could just disappear forever. As a Mum this was so hard to hear. My sweet, innocent 6yr old child, feeling so bad about herself that she didn’t want to be here. She would also go into rages; smashing things, screaming, crying and lashing out at me physically. We began seeing a psychologist who suggested we get cognitive testing done as it was very clear she was an incredibly bright little girl, and the reading struggle she was experiencing didn’t make sense.  We found a paediatric educational psychologist who conducted testing and found she was indeed very bright. Her performance scores however were 2 years behind her chronological age and much lower than her cognitive testing predicted. With this she was diagnosed with ADHD-Inattentive Type and severe anxiety, no mention of dyslexia.

Grade 2 started with major school refusal and lots of self-doubt. Even with a great teacher my daughter was still struggling, and now she had started running after me when I dropped her at school. She would refuse to let go of me and cry when I tried to leave. Her amazing teacher would meet us at the gate every morning and walk her to class, showing her photos and music on her phone to help her overcome her anxiety. I was spending hundreds of dollars a week on occupational therapy, psychology sessions and various ADHD programs. Though some of these things helped a little nothing improved her reading and spelling.

We moved to a new town and a new school for Grade 3 and this is when things truly fell apart. Her reading levels just weren’t improving; she detested reading and would avoid it with all she had. She still loved being read to and never had any trouble with her listening comprehension. Her teacher told me constantly that she needed to apply herself more, she needed to try harder, she needed to do more homework, and she needed to take responsibility for her learning. I always heard what my daughter needed to do but never what the school and I could do to support her. I went in search of more answers as I just knew something wasn’t right, she was a bright girl and the reading and spelling struggles just didn’t add up. My research led me to dyslexia time and time again but no-one would listen to me. We had wasted thousands of dollars on alternative therapies that had done nothing to help her and I was stonewalled at every mention of dyslexia as a possibility. Her paediatrician told me that she didn’t believe in learning disorders. The educational psychologist told me dyslexia no longer existed. The teachers told me she was simply manipulating me.

So by grade 4 things were pretty dismal and my once happy girl was an anxious mess. She would lie under my car so that I couldn’t leave in the mornings and would run away from the school grounds regularly. She told me frequently that she wished she could just disappear. Most mornings and afternoons were full of tears and angry outbursts. She hated school, she hated life and she hated herself. My girl was completely crushed and broken and no-one would help us, no-one cared.

We decided to move interstate in a bid to find better support, and fortunately for our family it payed off. We found an amazing school that listened to our concerns and genuinely cared about my daughter’s well-being. They had already incorporated multi-sensory learning techniques and used a phonics based reading program. They admitted to not knowing much about dyslexia, but they were open to my concerns and supported me getting an assessment done. It was during this year that I found Dyslexia Support Australia and the Australian Dyslexia Association, groups that support evidence based education. By the end of this year we had had an assessment done and it was confirmed that she had moderate dyslexia as well as dysgraphia.

Finding out that she had dyslexia was a relief for me, I now felt that I knew how to help her. Unfortunately, the school didn’t know a lot about dyslexia, but to their credit they are doing lots of professional development and learning all that they can. Most importantly they support her and focus on her strengths, building her up instead of tearing her down. We use an evidence based system at home and she is making steady progress and improvements in her reading and spelling.

We still have a long way to go, her mental health has been severely affected by this journey. It makes me so angry that she has had to suffer the consequences of a system that doesn’t understand her or know how to help her. She has missed out on so much of the joys of childhood because her anxiety does not allow her to enjoy these things.  I firmly believe had she been diagnosed and given evidence based intervention when she first started to struggle her mental health would not have been so negatively affected.

This is why a lot of parents who have been hitting brick walls for years are so frustrated and doing everything they can to advocate for change. We don't want to see another family go through this, or another child fall through the cracks like ours did. Until you have lived with the consequences of the apathy and ‘wait to fail’ models used by so many schools you just can't understand the pure heartache and distress it causes.

It is time for those in a position to effect change to finally start listening and take action. Letting our children suffer constant failure and negative mental health when we know how to help is not acceptable. Every child deserves to go to school with a sense of happiness and belonging, and the ability to look back at their school days as some the best days of their life.

We want:
1. Undergraduate teachers to have adequate teacher training for learning difficulties and evidenced based ways to teach literacy.
2. Early, explicit and systematic phonics based literacy instruction and intervention.
3. Recognition and support for students with dyslexia, including accommodations for exams in years 11 and 12.

Will you be the person that stands with us to make a positive change to thousands of students and their families that are crying out for your help?



Entry ID:  010 Name:  Eliza Age:  17 Recipient:  The Reader (everyone)

010 - Eliza's Red Letter

10:31:00 Dyslexia Australia 0 Comments

Entry ID: 010
Name: Eliza
Age: 17
Recipient: The Reader (everyone)


Entry ID:  009 Name:  Casey Age:  8 Recipient:  SA Education Minister Hon. Susan Close & School Principal Hello, My name is...

009 - Casey's Red Letter

19:24:00 Dyslexia Australia 1 Comments

Entry ID: 009
Name: Casey
Age: 8
Recipient: SA Education Minister Hon. Susan Close & School Principal

My name is Casey. I'm 8 years old and I am dyslexic.
I found out I was dyslexic at the start of the year.
I find it hard with spelling and reading and maths.
I get confused.
I sound words out but never get it right.
Maths I just don't understand it as quick as everyone in my class.
I feel a little bit embarrassed cause if I don't get it right people will laugh at me.
I find it hard to remember the hard things I've learnt, my brain forgets.
I don't like having it, it confuses me.
Teachers can tell us what to do and sometimes I don't understand. I ask them to explain a bit more but I feel a little scared asking.
When my class mates are talking about work that we have already done but I've forgotten it. I feel different, I feel scared to tell them. 
My favourite subjects at school is PE. I like PE because I can be active and move around. I like Art because I can be creative.
At home I like riding my bike, riding my scooter, riding my skate board and rip surf. I like doing Lego, I like building all the stuff.
I would like to have more time at school to finish my work so I don't haveto rush it.
Maybe if teachers can give me more instructions I will get it a bit better.
I've been lucky with my teachers because they are all nice and helpful. I don't know if they understand what it is like to be dyslexic, I don't understand.
I would like to be not embarrassed with my friends.
I used to think I was dumb but I'm not. I'm just slower than my classmates and that's ok.
Thank you very much for reading my letter. I feel very brave that I've done this and really pleased that I've done this too.
l hope you understand more about what it's like to be dyslexic.
Thank you
From Casey
Age 8


Entry ID:  008 Name:  Megan Age:  10 Recipient:  Head of School & Director of Primary My artwork spells out the word ‘fly’ with red...

008 - Megan's Red Letter

18:09:00 Dyslexia Australia 0 Comments

Entry ID: 008
Name: Megan
Age: 10
Recipient: Head of School & Director of Primary

My artwork spells out the word ‘fly’ with red origami butterflies. Each butterfly has words on them representing my feelings and emotions towards having dyslexia. I have chosen the Head of my School and the Director of Primary to be recipients of my artwork for “Make it a Red Letter Day” which is for Dyslexia Awareness.


Entry ID:  007 Name:  Zoe Age:  10 Recipient:  SA Education Minister - Hon Susan Close

007 - Zoe's Red Letter

17:30:00 Dyslexia Australia 0 Comments

Entry ID: 007
Name: Zoe
Age: 10
Recipient: SA Education Minister - Hon Susan Close


Sailors with disABILITIES founder, David Pescud, has donated our Triumph over Adversity prize.  A Sydney Harbour Sailing Package fo...

Sailors with disABILITIES

09:23:00 Dyslexia Australia 0 Comments

Sailors with disABILITIES founder, David Pescud, has donated our Triumph over Adversity prize. 
A Sydney Harbour Sailing Package for up to 10 people, valued at $4000.00. 

David Pescud is himself dyslexic, like so many other dyslexics he did not let that stop him from achieving success in life. In 1993 when he was ready to retire and sail around the world he heard an appeal on radio from a young paraplegic man who wanted to sail in the Sydney to Hobart Race. This simple appeal set him on course to found Sailors with disABILITIES, an organisation that aims to encourage people with a disability or those in difficult circumstances to see things in a new way through sailing. 

SWD has been helping thousands of people with a disability, disadvantaged children and adults, and their carers every year for over 2 decades now. 

The Winds of Joy program 
This program offers sailing opportunities to children with disability. For many it's a small step on the journey towards accepting their circumstances and believing they can achieve more.

Winds of Change program
Creating Opportunity for Disadvantaged Youth. This program goes beyond the traditional classroom and didactic teaching and instead offer interactive and engaged learning through the medium of sailing.

Winds of Care program
This program is a chance for the amazing mums, dads, grandparents, guardians, brothers, sisters, friends and others who care for disabled and disadvantaged people, to take a bit of time out for themselves.

SWD are always looking for new people to get involved, whether it be through volunteering, sponsorship or a donation

Go to their website to learn more. You can also follow them on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram & Twitter.


Entry ID:  006 Name:  James Age:  9 Recipient:  Federal Education and Shadow Education Ministers and to Kate Jones the QLD Education Mini...

006 - James' Red Letter

18:59:00 Dyslexia Australia 0 Comments

Entry ID: 006
Name: James
Age: 9
Recipient: Federal Education and Shadow Education Ministers and to Kate Jones the QLD Education Minister

I hope that you have the opportunity read James’ letter.  As you read it please try and think about what it would be like, day in day out, to go to school knowing that you will be asked to do something you cannot do; knowing that all your friends are 3 years ahead of you in reading; knowing that teachers don’t have the time (or training) to help you.
Our experience of the education system with a child that has literacy difficulties has been distressing.  Coming from an evidenced based medical background I was shocked and appalled by the lack of evidence based literacy programs in the school and the lack of teacher training regarding the most common learning difficulty in the education system.

I encourage you to talk to parents with dyslexic children to fully understand the difficulties they face day in day out at school.  Ironically many of these children thrive outside in the “real world”; however, as a parent, we have to make sure that they get through school emotionally intact, which is a challenge.  Dyslexia is life long, there is no cure. As with any disability it is the way you adapt that allows you to thrive. With access to assistive technology children such as my son, can thrive, not only in English but in all subjects.  As part of an inclusive education assistive technology is a must.  Sadly it is not a reality.

Please consider mandating evidence based literacy programs in all schools. Using these program educate teachers on how to effectively teach children to read and lastly ensure that accommodation can be used throughout a child’s school life including examinations.

Yours sincerely,

Fiona (James' mum) 


Sarah is a mum of three, including a daughter with dyslexia and dyscalculia.  Sarah is a highly experienced teacher at Bentleigh West Pr...

Meet The Team - Sarah Asome

13:13:00 Dyslexia Australia 0 Comments

Sarah Asome
Sarah is a mum of three, including a daughter with dyslexia and dyscalculia. 

Sarah is a highly experienced teacher at Bentleigh West Primary School (VIC) with a passion for those who learn differently. In 2015 she was awarded ‘Outstanding Primary Teacher’ for Victoria for her services assisting students with dyslexia . She is trained in the Multisensory Structured Language (MSL) approach and is an Associate Member of the Australian Dyslexia Association (AMADA). 

Currently she is delivering Professional Learning across Victoria for the ADA and has presented at numerous conferences Australia wide. Sarah appeared in "Outside The Square" a DVD used for professional development in relation to dyslexia and explicit literacy and language instruction. In her current role she is involved in screening students in their first year of school and providing intervention, before they ‘fail’. 

Sarah also provides substantial support to dyslexia support groups and is a founder of the Dyslexia Victoria Support (DVS). She is currently continuing her own professional learning through postgraduate study in relation to dyslexia.

Sarah is our Media Relations contact for the Make it a Red Letter Day campaign. You can find her details on the contact us page.

Entry ID:  004 Name:  Tilly Age:  6 Recipient:  The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia Tilly is 6 years old and wrote...

004 - Tilly's Red Letter

19:26:00 Dyslexia Australia 0 Comments

Entry ID: 004
Name: Tilly
Age: 6
Recipient: The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia

Tilly is 6 years old and wrote this all by herself. She wants it to reach the Prime Minister so he understands how hard it is for her and other dyslexic children to learn to read, write and spell.

To The Prime Minister

Why are you writing?
There are things that are hard for me. I want more things that can help us with dyslexia.

What are the challenges of having dyslexia at school?
Reading and writing and take away and concentrating and maths , listening

What are you good at and what amazing talents do you have to offer?
Drawing and sometimes writing. And sometimes I am good at listening. Bike riding

How do you think school could be made better for you as a dyslexic learner?
Easier and more help.

Tilly – 6yrs old


Entry ID:  005 Name:  Caden Age:  9 Recipient:  State & Federal Education Ministers and Shadow Ministers

005 - Caden's Red Letter

19:12:00 Dyslexia Australia 0 Comments

Entry ID: 005
Name: Caden
Age: 9
Recipient: State & Federal Education Ministers and Shadow Ministers


My Red Letter – from Leanne James, mother and advocate This is my red letter to the Federal and State Ministers and Shadow Ministers for E...

Meet the Team - Leanne James

15:48:00 Dyslexia Australia 2 Comments

My Red Letter – from Leanne James, mother and advocate

This is my red letter to the Federal and State Ministers and Shadow Ministers for Education, the Chief Executive of DECD in South Australia, the Director of Teaching and Learning in DECD and my school principal – in the hope of change and because the right to read shouldn’t be this hard!

I am the mother of two boys.  My eldest son of 11 years was confident and eager to learn at preschool and in the early years of primary school.  How did I know he was doing well?  The teacher told me he had reached level 15 of Running Records by the end of year 1 and this is where he needed to be.  At the time I had no idea that Running Records was a form of literacy testing.

My youngest son, now 9 years old, didn’t appear to be hitting the same benchmarks as my oldest boy in the early primary years.  He couldn’t write his name when he left preschool, he struggled with basic readers in reception, but like most parents I thought - he just needs more time.  It wasn’t until the end of year 1 that I questioned the teacher.  I knew students were meant to achieve level 15 in Running Records by the end of this grade and my son was only at level 4.  He hadn’t moved off this level for over six months.  There was no mention in his report that something might be wrong, nor had the teacher requested a meeting with me to discuss any difficulties.  I asked the question “could something be wrong as my son is nowhere near level 15”.  I was shocked in receiving the negligible response, with a shrug of the teacher’s shoulders, of “I don’t know”.  The Running Records testing couldn’t give my son’s teacher any information about why he couldn’t read, nor could the teacher give any advice on learning difficulties and what parents could do for help.

Through the sheer motivation of a mother’s instinct, I spent the summer holidays researching every bit of information I could about why kids can’t read.  Again and again the word dyslexia appeared. I was shocked to learn that 1 in 5 children will experience dyslexic type learning difficulties!  My son started year 2 and I approached his new teacher about testing for dyslexia (this was going to cost $1000 through a private educational psychologist).  She told me, “if you can afford it get the test done as soon as possible”.  I did just that and my suspicion was confirmed – dyslexia.

This is where my journey began, however, the initial feeling of hope soon evaporated.  I was told there is no funding for assistance in school for children with dyslexia and I would need to get a tutor.  The Education Department do not even use the term dyslexia – they call it a specific learning disorder and lump it together with a contingent of other language and learning difficulties.  This makes the process of identification and remediation even more difficult for teachers and parents.  My son however, embraced his diagnosis.  He no longer felt like he was dumb and there was a reason and solution to his problems.  If only the remedial process was as easy as the naivety in a child’s mind.

I immediately organised a tutor.  Not having a teaching background, I assumed a qualified teacher would understand how to teach remedial literacy to a student with learning difficulties and I engaged this tutor for two years during years 2 and 3.  However, these years passed without any significant improvement.  I started researching more and more about dyslexia and teaching approaches.  I discovered that dyslexic children need to be taught with an emphasis on synthetic phonics in an explicit, systematic and multisensory way.  I decided to part ways with the tutor and teach myself to teach my son using the Orton-Gillingham approach of the Barton Reading and Spelling System from the USA.  This introduced me to a whole new world of the basics of reading, words like phonemes, graphemes and phonological awareness, which I knew nothing about, soon became my expertise.  My son grasped this method of teaching instantly and I finally started seeing small and steady improvement.

My journey into advocacy started at this point and I became involved with Dyslexia SA.  For two years I had wasted thousands of dollars on worthless tutoring, received no intervention programs from the school and most of all no feedback from the school about what direction a parent needs to take to assist a child with dyslexia.  I quickly realised that teachers didn’t actually know much about dyslexia.  They had very misconceived ideas that dyslexia involved words moving around on the page and there was nothing they could do as a teacher to stop that!  I was more amazed to discover teachers aren’t taught about learning difficulties or how to teach evidenced based literacy effectively in their undergraduate degree.  

By the end of year 3 my son was still reading at a year 1 level with no intervention offered by the school.  Another parent advised me that a well-regarded intervention program called Multi-lit was available for struggling students so I requested if my son could do this in year 4.  Intervention was finally granted after my request and my son is currently working through this at school.  Multi-lit consists of 12 levels and he has one on one assistance for two terms this year.  I have been told that if he reaches close to level 12 (say level 10 for instance) and if other children require the assistance next year then he will not be able to finish the program.  Is close enough good enough for a student three years behind?  

Sadly, my son has now experienced the psychological effects of dyslexia.  Panic attacks before school, faking of sickness to avoid school, evenings locked in his room curled up on this bed crying.  The fear of going to school because, “I don’t understand anything” was taking its toll.  I had lost my cheerful, funny little boy.  He had become withdrawn, anxious and depressed and his self-esteem shattered.  There were mornings where he would cower in the back seat of the car in tears outside the school gates in such distress that he would vomit.  We had to start psychological intervention which was another added expense.

This year, through my advocacy work, I met a Speech and Language Specialist and I commenced working with him and my son.  More testing was done and my son was still three years behind in reading with the biggest contributing factor being trouble with phonemic awareness.  No wonder I had not seen improvement.  Phonemic awareness is the sounds that letters or groups of letters make.  It is the foundation to literacy and gives the ability to decode.  A child cannot progress through the five stages of literacy (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension) without a solid understanding of this.

I had to take a second job to be able to afford two sessions of specialist speech and language therapy a week, that’s $12,000 a year to teach my dyslexic son how to read because our education system could not!  It took only two months for my son and me to learn the basics of phonemic awareness – recognising the sounds of phonemes, the written grapheme and how to decode text.  The improvement was instant and amazing.  My son is now reading decodable novels and classic children’s books by Roald Dahl.  He can name and spell every grapheme – something that most teachers would struggle with – and the jumbled mess of symbols on the paper finally made sense.  He was taught to stop guessing words and to start decoding.  Such simple strategies gave an enormous impact.  I now have my bright and confident boy back with belief in himself and an eagerness to learn.  Going back to the basics of explicitly teaching and “over learning” phonemic awareness was the missing piece of the puzzle.

It has been a very expensive hit and miss process as a parent for the last three years trying to find the “right” help.  It begs the question, “what happens to children whose parents do not have the financial capacity for intervention”?  

Intervention in our public schools is administered too late and should occur in the early years. The current testing with Running Records is a poor first line diagnostic reading tool because it relies on the disproven three cueing system. This perpetuates the idea that decoding is less important than other cueing approaches when a child doesn’t recognise a word. This sends all the wrong messages to teachers about which strategies kids should use when reading and perpetuates “whole language” thinking which is out dated and non-evidenced based.  I had another parent from my same school approach me recently for advice through Dyslexia SA.  Her son is in year 6, barely able to read and has just been diagnosed with dyslexia.  I asked if any teachers throughout the years had indicated if something might be wrong – of course the answer was no.  Her son is suffering terrible mental health problems and has had no intervention throughout his schooling years.  It was a scary realisation to me – if I hadn’t of known, by pure chance from having an older son, that a child needed to reach level 15 of Running Records in year one I would be in exactly the same boat.  Running Records certainly doesn’t give information to parents if their child is at risk of learning difficulties.

We have a literacy crisis in Australia.  We are ranked 27th in the world.  52% of 15-19 year olds do not have an adequate standard of literacy to meet the demands of everyday life.  Only 52% of students in South Australia know all the 44 sounds of the English language.  Only 38% of Victorian reception teachers can correctly define phonemic awareness.  If you teach literacy the way you teach a dyslexic it works for everyone.  It’s not about intervention programs for a term here or there, it’s about a paradigm shift in pedagogy.  Literacy experts agree that a synthetic phonics approach to teaching literacy which is explicit and multi-sensory gives the best results.  Sadly, in Australia, we have an ad hoc system of a mixture of phonics and the non-evidenced based whole language method.  We have some schools using the Reading Recovery remedial program which is whole language based and sends dyslexic kids even further behind.  The ways literacy is taught is up to the school so results vary widely.  Whole language teaching and testing must cease!

The Minister for Education, Simon Birmingham, has proposed a phonics screening test.  This test is used in the UK and the USA and has seen literacy standards rise by a third.  Testing for phonemic awareness will help all children and the test results will be forwarded to parents which is the vital information we need to know if our children are at risk of dyslexia.  Teachers will put more emphasis on phonemic awareness as it will be tested.  This will give every child a solid foundation in reading.

I am utterly bewildered that the phonics test is gaining so much opposition from the Labor party and the Australian Education Union because in their eyes, it is more testing on students.  It is the most important test that our children need.  If more testing is an issue then the ineffective Running Records need to be abolished and replaced with the phonics test.  

The teacher of the year in Victoria, Sarah Asome, uses phonics testing and explicit phonics instruction.  She achieved 100% of her students reaching literacy benchmarks in year 1, with these students going on to be 12 months ahead in literacy, all within budget constraints.  The recent Productivity Commission Report into education raised the same issue – we are not teaching evidenced based practices and the education system is resistant to change their ingrained orthodoxies.  In the recent Victorian Branch of the Australian Education Union Journal, there is an article about Sarah Asome and her teaching practices, even information on how to use the Motif Phonics Test – the same test that they oppose using in a statement from their Federal President on their website.

Gonski was never the answer.  Learning difficulties are not included in needs based funding nor are recognised as a disability, when they are under the Disability Discrimination Act.  More funding into learning difficulties will just deliver more of the same – poor one off intervention programs administered too late with no change in teaching practices.  We cannot intervene our way out of effective core instruction.  It is clearly evident why Australia has not improved its education standards despite all the extra funding it has received.  

Dyslexia advocates give a united voice to the government.  We are parents, educators, academics and allied health professionals who know the research.  Through our vision and collective voice we will continue to push for change.  If I could change anything by writing my red letter it would be:

  • Adequate teacher training for learning difficulties and evidenced based ways to teach literacy for undergraduate teachers.

  • Early, explicit and systematic phonics based literacy instruction and intervention.

  • Recognition and support for students with dyslexia, especially accommodations for exams in years 11 and 12.

  • Abolishing Running Records and introducing a phonics check now!