Speech by The Hon Bill Shorten MP

Bill Shorten Parliamentary Speech on Dyslexia

Location: Parliament House, Canberra

I wish to draw the House’s attention to dyslexia and what is being done in Australia to assist people with learning difficulties. Dyslexia literally means difficulty with words. Symptoms of dyslexia vary immensely, but it often manifests itself in difficulty learning to read and spell words. Young children may begin speaking later than usual or have problems learning new words. Once children begin learning to read they may struggle with learning the connection between letters and sounds. They might reverse words or write letters in the wrong order. These difficulties can also extend to mathematics or learning new languages.

Dyslexia can occur among people of any intelligence and is not an intellectual disability. Accurate and early diagnosis for dyslexia is crucial, yet many students are not diagnosed until later primary school years. It can be difficult to diagnose younger children who learn to understand writing with the support of memory or illustrations rather than reading the words. For this reason, accurate diagnosis requires a range of standardised tests. With the right help, people with dyslexia can learn to read and write well. Treatment requires flexibility and patience from schools, teachers and institutions. Individual assistance is crucial to enable people with dyslexia to learn at their own pace. Dyslexic students can also benefit from having additional time to complete work and having appropriate assessment. By shifting the focus of school to the content and not its form, students can in fact thrive. Support can come from taped tests, audio books and computer programs which assist in reading and writing.

While the states and territories have primary constitutional responsibility for education, and therefore for assisting students with dyslexia, the federal government can also play an important role. The government has provided an additional $20.2 million over five years to extend the Australian Early Development Index. Under this program, children starting school for the first time will be assessed for their skills in language, cognition and communication, amongst other development indicators. This delivers valuable information for teachers, communities and families. It can also assist literacy support services to target appropriate support for students with dyslexia. We have also provided $2 billion through the literacy, numeracy and special needs program to support the most disadvantaged students. This will obviously include students with dyslexia.

We still do not know much about dyslexia. However, we do know how important it is to provide the right assistance as early as possible. Undiagnosed dyslexia can be a frustrating and upsetting experience for individuals and their families. If untreated, it can worsen over time and, as such, undiagnosed dyslexia has a huge impact on the workforce. We can defeat dyslexia and its challenges can be overcome.