Dyslexia Empowerment Week

During Dyslexia Empowerment Week in Australia, I am proud to rise to speak on the motion put forward by my good friend the member for Wakefield. It is an opportunity to raise awareness about dyslexia and to dispel some of the myths about this learning disorder that may affect as many as one in 10 Australians—hence the rise of the Light it Red for Dyslexia campaign.

I am doing my bit by wearing a red tie. Words and literature have been an important part of my life. I have an honours degree in English literature, and I taught English for 11 years, so I strongly value the ability to learn. As a lawyer and as a politician, I value precise words and the power that they hold. I can only imagine how difficult it must be when words—the building blocks of our language—are almost unrecognisable, and so meaning is lost. I will endeavour to debunk the three most common misconceptions about dyslexia and then talk about the role teachers and parents can play in helping children with dyslexia.

The first misconception is that people with dyslexia see words back to front. Dyslexia is a reading based learning disability that is neurological in origin. People with dyslexia have difficulty accurately and fluently recognising and decoding words. Imagine for a moment that you are in a classroom in China, but you speak only English. In the classroom, all the writing on the blackboard, on the posters around the room and in the textbooks on the desks is in Mandarin. Imagine how frustrated and confused you would be and, even more importantly, how little you would be able to learn. That is the experience that children with dyslexia have in some classrooms every day. They cannot decipher the writing on the blackboard, on the whiteboard, on the posters and in the textbooks. They may painstakingly decode a couple of words of a sentence on the blackboard, only to have the teacher rub them out and move to the next topic.

The second misconception is that dyslexia is a vision problem. Many children with dyslexia have, at times, used visual aids to assist their reading, including coloured overlays and even reading glasses, but there is no evidence that dyslexia is caused by visual stress.

The third misconception is that children with dyslexia are not intelligent. In fact, most children who suffer from dyslexia have average to above average intelligence. This can compound the problem for children in a classroom setting. A teacher has described it this way: 'Because these children are very intelligent, they know what they don't know.' Imagine yourself in that Mandarin classroom. The majority of children with dyslexia are very aware that they cannot keep up with the rest of the class. They are aware that they cannot decipher the language like most of their peers. This is often the most dangerous aspect of dyslexia. These children can quickly lose their self-esteem. You do not need your peers to call you dumb if you are going to label yourself that way. If not handled well by teachers and parents in the early years, these children can slip into a downward spiral of low self-esteem and educational failure that may eventually lead to unemployment and, sometimes, even transgressions of the law.

What are the best ways teachers and parents can help children with dyslexia? Children with dyslexia need intensive language education which is long term. Unfortunately, there are no educational shortcuts. It is a long, slow process, but the rewards for the children cannot be overstated. I urge people to be wary of the quick fix educational snake-oil salesman saying, 'Buy this product, and you'll be sorted.' It is a long-term remediation process.

The early identification of children with dyslexia is vital. The Acacia Ridge AEDC Response Group is based in my electorate of Moreton. They formed in 2011 in response to the Australian Early Development Census. On Saturday I had the pleasure of opening their 'Play, Learn, Create for 0 to 8s'. This program showcased a variety of educational services in the Acacia Ridge area to inform parents about the services available to help their children. For dyslexic children, their learning needs require an intensive and long-term approach. Early play-based programs such as the Acacia Ridge program are a solid foundation on which to build successful future learning. Dyslexia is a hurdle but it does not have to be a barrier for children participating in school. We as teachers and parents are much better equipped to educate our children than we once were, but there is more to do to ensure that no child with dyslexia falls into the spiral of low self-esteem and underachievement.

I finish by especially acknowledging the wonderful teachers and parents in my electorate of Moreton who put in countless hours of patient effort to ensure that children with dyslexia are given every educational opportunity. I commend the member for Wakefield and all those members speaking in support of this motion. I commend it to the House.