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Reading difficulties and dyslexia – support for children and students

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If you’re concerned that your child has reading difficulties at home or in school, find out what you can do to help them, and what the next steps are to get support.

About dyslexia

Dyslexia is one cause of reading difficulties. It’s a specific type of literacy learning disability that people are born with. Dyslexia is not due to:

  • a sensory impairment (such as weaknesses in vision or hearing)
  • severe behavioural, psychological or emotional issues
  • a lack of motivation or interest
  • poor teaching
  • a lack of reading experience
  • difficulties with English language skills
  • low intellectual ability.

Students with dyslexia have unexpected and persistent difficulties in literacy because of an underlying neurodevelopmental disorder. It involves genetic, cognitive and environmental factors.

Find out more about dyslexia on the SPELDSA website.

Activities to support literacy development in the early years

You can engage with your child to support literacy development, even before they start school. Activities that promote vocabulary development, oral language skills, and sound awareness skills are beneficial.

Access free activities you can do at home from Five from Five – Effective, evidence-based reading resources.

Help for your child at school

If you feel your child is experiencing difficulties in the classroom or with reading or writing generally, speak with your child’s educator first.

The educator will be able to identify specific areas of concern and gaps in learning. They will also be able to make suggestions about strategies to try, both at school and home.

Some children may need more targeted intervention than general classroom instruction and supports. The school may suggest a small group intervention program that is both more intensive and explicit, using step-by-step instruction targeted at specific areas of need.

If the child needs more help after interventions have been in place for some time, the school can access specialist support staff (psychologists, speech pathologists and special educators) through Student Support Services. The school will ask your permission before accessing these services.

Identifying risk of learning difficulties

Early screening of children and students means that those who need intervention and support are identified early and steps are taken to put these in place as soon as possible.

See identifying dyslexia in the early years (PDF 223KB) from SPELD Foundation.

If you have a concern about your child, you can use these screening checklists from Specific Learning Difficulties SA (SPELD SA):

When to consider assessment

If your child appears to have speech or language related difficulty (speaking, understanding, and communicating information) then we recommend assessment by a Speech Pathologist.

If they continue to struggle at school even with targeted intervention, we recommend assessment by a Psychologist, ideally one with educational or developmental training.

Formal diagnosis

A formal diagnosis of dyslexia should only be made by a qualified professional. The most appropriate person is a Psychologist with educational expertise.

The professional should do a comprehensive assessment to:

  • work out a profile of learning strengths and weaknesses
  • exclude other causes of reading difficulties.

The accurate diagnosis of dyslexia or other reading difficulties allows recommendations to be made about the types of interventions and supports that will help that child or student to progress in their reading and writing.

Don’t wait for a diagnosis

Interventions for struggling readers should be implemented as soon as concerns are raised, rather than waiting for formal diagnosis. A diagnosis of dyslexia should only be made after a child or student has been given appropriate reading instruction for at least 6 months.

Many children make fast progress once they’re given appropriate instruction. This suggests that their difficulties are the result of gaps in their knowledge and skills, rather than a specific learning disability.

External support programs for families

There are programs that claim to cure or help with dyslexia. Be aware that a more expensive program does not always mean a better program.

The best programs and products:

  • teach children the relationships between the sounds of speech (phonemes) and the alphabet letters (graphemes) we use in written language – these may be called phonics-based programs
  • teach concepts and skills in a step-by-step way
  • slowly build new learning onto what the child already knows
  • move at the child’s pace
  • allow for lots of revision and practice
  • are multisensory, meaning that practice with sounds and letters will have a child saying sounds and letter names aloud (hearing), reading (seeing) and writing (feeling) all at the same time.

For more information about evidence-based intervention programs see:

Contact your child's school for more information.