The diagnosis that changed a little girl’s life
WHEN Adele Leslie was just six years old and in Prep the difficulty she faced learning to read led her to suffer depression. She refused to go to school and decided her dreams were no longer possible.
Adele has dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia. The Australian Dyslexia Association describes dyslexia as a persistent difficulty with reading and spelling, which affects about one in 10 people.
Adele has to work much harder than the average student to decode and understand symbols used for reading, writing and mathematics. When she reads, the words sometimes appear to her to "turn around like a doorknob".
Even though both her parents are learning support teachers, the reason for Adele's problems were not immediately obvious to them or her school teachers.
Mrs Leslie said for the first two years of school Adele made little progress in her schoolwork and her mental health deteriorated.
"It caused a lot of frustration and anxiety," she said.
"After 18 months she was quite depressed. We are still trying to help her overcome this damage. Such is the impact of school."
It took research, reaching out for help, some intuition and even her mother undertaking a training course to find the cause of Adele's problems and turn her life around.
"We were the ones to identify in term one of Prep that something was amiss," Mrs Leslie said.
"She was really struggling with acquiring letter and sound correspondence. There were many other signs as well such as difficulty with rhyming and singing nursery rhymes. We knew she was very bright in other areas."
Adele's parents contacted SPELD, an organisation aimed at ensuring better support for people who struggle with literacy, and Dyslexia Support Australia.
To obtain a private diagnosis Mr and Mrs Leslie were quoted as much as $2400. Eventually they went to the University of Southern Queensland Psychology Clinic where they gained a cheaper and quicker result.
"Specific learning disabilities can be diagnosed as early as five years old. Unfortunately many parents are told to wait until their child is seven or eight," Mrs Leslie said.
Gaining a diagnosis made a big difference particularly for Adele because it helped her understand what was going on in her brain and why things were so much harder for her.
It was not because she was dumb but because her brain worked differently, Mrs Leslie said.
"We read books together and watched videos on what it meant to have a specific learning disability," she said.
Mrs Leslie trained in a program called Cracking the ABC Code so that she could work intensively with Adele at home "to try and fill in the gaps and catch her up" and it helped improve her mental health.
"It is an explicit, synthetic phonics approach which is the best way to teach reading according to the research," she said.
"Adele responded really well to me teaching her at home. We had to print and make all our own resources and print decodable readers from the internet.
"When she was finally able to read her first decodable reader her confidence improved so much she said 'now I can read Harry Potter!' because that's what her older sister (Stella) was reading at the time."
Adele moved to Warwick Central State School, which offers a structured support for literacy, under the guidance of specialist dyslexia teacher Julie Unwin.
Ms Unwin said her programs were individualised because there was nov one fix-it for teaching people with dyslexia, though the earlier children were diagnosed the earlier strategies could be introduced to help them.
"Dyslexia is not a disability, it's a different way of learning," she said.
She said the condition was common, affecting about one in every five people, and much more complex than just turning words around.
She said she drew on her students' other senses and strengths when developing individual programs and programs were most successful with parent participation.
Mrs Leslie said setting individual goals meant Adele worked at her own pace to improve her work rather than comparing her achievements to that of others.
"Adele has made huge improvements this year in reading, spelling and maths. She still gets really tired from working so hard but she's getting there," she said.
This year for Book Week Adele dressed up as Little Miss Hugs and won the costume parade for her class.
Her prize was a book and she chose a Goosebumps book and has been determined to read it by herself.
"Central has given her the confidence to try," Mrs Leslie said.
Getting the help she needs has changed the eight-year-old's life enormously.
The Year 2 student now wants to go to school, her anxiety and depression are much improved and her prospects are much brighter.
"She's a happy kid more often than not these days and while she knows that schoolwork is hard, she challenges herself rather than avoiding the work now," Mrs Leslie said.
"We have greater hope now for what the future holds for her, but more importantly so does Adele.
"In prep she told us 'I can't be a mum because I can't read my kids books' and 'I can't be a nurse or policewoman because they need to be able to read'.
"Adele now talks about being a principal of a school that helps kids with dyslexia."
October is Dyslexia Awareness Month. Mrs Leslie said she hoped Adele's story would help even one family with a child with dyslexia get the help they need.
Signs to look out for if you think your child has dyslexia:
Difficulty acquiring and using oral and written language
Difficulty with sounds in words
Difficulty mastering the alphabetical and decoding symbols
Slow, inaccurate laboured reading
Difficulty learning to spell accurately
Limited reading comprehension
Weak memory for lists, directions, or facts
Needs to see or hear concepts many times to learn them
Distracted by visual or auditory stimuli
Downward trend in achievement test scores or school performance
Inconsistent school work
(Australian Dyslexia Association)