The organisation SPELD describes dyslexia as a specific learning disability (‘SLD’) that makes it far harder to learn to read, write or do number work. It is a processing difficulty that makes achieving success in literacy and numeracy a real challenge.
It was not until 2007 however that the New Zealand Government recognised the existence of dyslexia, in a statement called “Ministry improves understanding of dyslexia”.
After denying for decades that the condition existed, and with no centralised data collection, no standardised assessment, and no official screening, in 2007 the Ministry of Education said it would put greater emphasis on assisting students who struggled with reading and writing, including those identified as dyslexic. Anne Jackson, deputy secretary (schooling), said dyslexia was a term used to refer to a group of students with a range of persistent reading and writing difficulties or disabilities.
The Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand (DFNZ) claims to support a broad spectrum view of dyslexia. This is supported by much of its online content. It says that common themes are that dyslexia is an “alternative or atypical way of thinking”; that it has a proven neurobiological basis; and that it occurs across a range of intellectual abilities.
The definition used by DFNZ is that dyslexia is: “A specific learning difference which is constitutional in origin and which, for a given level of ability, may cause unexpected difficulties in the acquisition of certain literacy and numeracy skills.”
They go on:
“Dyslexics tend to be top-down rather than bottom-up thinkers, meaning they learn from getting the big picture or the overall idea or meaning first, and then fill in the specific details. Dr Shaywitz identifies a range of strengths for dyslexics in higher level thinking processes, high learning capacity; exceptional empathy; and noticeable excellence when focused on highly specialised areas from medicine and law through to public policy, architecture and science. Reflecting these strengths, dyslexics are often high level conceptualizers who manifest “out-of-the-box thinking” and are frequently the ones who provide new insights”.
Ultimately, the DFNZ says, dyslexia can be characterised as a “learning preference” – based on individuals preferring to receive, process and present information in ways that make more sense to the dyslexic brain. These are often oral, visual or multi-sensory rather than via the written word.
There are differences in educational participation and achievement in New Zealand between native (Maori) and later settler New Zealanders. This makes overall data analysis more complex.
Between 10% and 14.2% (one in seven) of New Zealanders have dyslexia, including between 70,000 and 80,000 schoolchildren.
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