Schools are leaving thousands of South Australian children in despair by failing to address learning disorders and using discredited reading programs, a key lobby group says.

Dyslexia SA says the problem is so acute that children falling years behind in reading are vomiting with anxiety on the way to school and threatening self-harm and suicide.

It says teachers cannot recognise or address learning difficulties, so parents have to pay for costly private learning assessments for diagnoses.

Even then, principals regularly tell parents there are no resources to help to dyslexic children as it is not a disability that attracts funding to individual students.

Dyslexia SA treasurer Leanne James, who has a severely dyslexic son at a public school, said his anxiety over reading was “so bad that he would vomit in the car on the way”.

Yet teachers never told her how badly he was struggling and he showed no improvement until, years later, she paid $12,000 for intensive tuition with a private speech pathologist.

“It begs the question, what happens to the kids with parents who can’t afford it?” Ms James told

The Advertiser’s Literacy Roundtable.

“What happens to the parents that just think schools know what they’re doing?”

Almost all schools teach reading through phonics — the “decoding” of words into their component sounds — and the State Government has announced it will trial a phonics test for Receptions in 50 schools to identify those needing help.

But Dyslexia SA said all public schools also used “running records” — sets of books and reading assessments that encouraged the outdated “whole language” method, based on guessing words from context — that did not tell teachers why students were struggling.

A small number of schools also paid for commercial reading programs with no evidence base, Ms James said.

One Adelaide mum said she paid the “huge cost” for a private learning assessment that found her son, 12, was dyslexic and five years behind his peers. The boy told her he was “good for nothing” and “wanted to kill himself”.

“I am so angry with myself for not realising sooner … I am even more angry at the school for not saying anything,” she said.

Education Department executive director of learning improvement, Susan Cameron, said principals were given the best advice that emphasised phonics as one of six key pillars of reading. She said reports of schools using unproven programs were always investigated, while the “running records” were not meant to be a diagnostic tool. Dyslexic children benefited from general funding for learning difficulties, she said.

Parent groups called for schools to provide consistent, evidence-based education for parents about helping with reading, but Ms Cameron said schools in different socio-economic needed different approaches to engage parents.

3 February 2017

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Schools Fail to Address Dyslexia