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Kids With Invisible Learning Difficulty Flourishing During Home Learning

Australian parents are divided over whether or not to send their kids back to school, with many concerned their children will fall behind -- but for some being at home has been a blessing in disguise.

Speaking to 10 daily, mother-of-three Clare Henebery said having the kids home from school has been challenging, but it has greatly beneficial for her nine-year-old son Jake, who has dyslexia.

Henebery explained Jake was diagnosed when he was seven and is also thought to have dyscalculia -- the mathematical equivalent.

Having him at home has opened her eyes to how far behind he is at school.

"Every day we've cried," Henebery said.

"At school his friends are lovely and they think they're helping him. He copies others so he gets through the day with some work produced.

Clare Henebery with her daughter Taylah and son Jake. Image: Supplied

"Without that assistance [from friends, while he's at home], it's all on him and purely his ability with no input from anyone else."

Henebery has taken time off from work as a data analysis to be home with Jake for a couple of weeks while he adjusts to remote learning.

When Jake is in the classroom the teacher will often walk through the instructions for the lesson ahead before the kids go off and do their work, but Jake will forget those instructions.

"That's part of dyslexia, he is treading water every time," Henebery told 10 daily.

"Now that he's at home I'm there and can go through each instruction individually while offering constant help and reassurance."

Jake, who is in Grade 4, is performing at a Grade 1 or 2 level in maths but this was not known before this period of isolation. Teachers have now modified tasks and lessons specific to Jake to ensure they are achievable, Henebery noted.

"Now teachers have realised he can't do all that stuff... because he was copying his friends they thought he was doing okay," she said.

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Another positive of remote learning is Jake's access to technology. One of the difficulties children with dyslexia face is the ability to write words on paper, but being able to type them is helping Jake reap the rewards.

"He's been able to get his ideas down onto an iPad. But if he's asked to write something down at school he barely gets through two sentences," Henebery said.

"After this is all over we will continue using tech."

Jake has been seeing a weekly tutor since Prep, which has set the family back financially. Henebery claims there's little help in terms of funding for children with this particular learning difficulty.

"Everything you do is out of your own pocket," she said.

Jake has been using technology to help with his writing skills while at home. Image: Supplied

Neither Gonski funding or state funding directly targets students with learning difficulties, the nation's Dyslexia Association claims.

A government report on funding, released in 2016, stated: "Since dyslexia is an unverified disability, it will not be included in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and is not eligible for any subsidies or financial assistance. However, educational institutions expect a 'diagnosis' from an educational psychologist before granting any adjustments."

Henebery had nothing but praise for Jake's teachers, who scrambled to put together a remote learning plan to help him get by during the pandemic.

"His teacher is amazing and has been modifying the work to make it achievable for him. She [his teacher] makes sure there are voice-recorded instructions to accompany the written instructions and everything else she can do," Henebery said.

"There are a lot of parents who are going to realise how much their kids are struggling and it's no one's fault. It will be an eye-opener."

A recent report from the Federal Government claims being at home is a risk to educational outcomes, nutrition, physical movement, and social and emotional well-being of students.

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One of the papers suggests disadvantaged students in Year 5 will lose 1.5 weeks worth of reading education and nearly three weeks of numeracy.

Year 9 students would lose 2.3 weeks of reading and 3.3 weeks of numeracy which equates to a third of a term, adding to fears that kids will fall behind during the pandemic.

But it has a lot to do with the child's situation at home, as well as whether they have access to the right resources.

And for kids with learning difficulties, having that constant one-on-one time they don't get in the classroom has proven essential.

Kim Neil, whose 10-year-old son Jesse also has dyslexia, described isolation as "the biggest gift".

"He is happier than he has been in ages," she said.

He is so much less stressed, and I am so much less stressed as I don’t have to constantly battle with him about going to school," Neil said.

Like Henebery, Neil cited the importance of technology and the positive influence it has had on Jesse's learning.

Kate Neil with her son Jesse who was diagnosed with dyslexia earlier this year. Image: Supplied

"I didn't understand how much trouble he was having writing. It takes him so much effort but whenever he freezes at home, I can say 'do it on the computer' and it helps decrease his stress levels," she said.

The idea of going back to school makes Jesse feel anxious but Neil says he has a great group of supportive friends and will be looking into any additional learning support she can give him.

"They've started doing some small group lessons where they focus on auditory memory work," she said.

"He has a great issue with teachers who give verbal instructions. He'll forget them."

Neil also highlighted the lack of support for kids with dyslexia. She has been forking out for Jesse to see a speech therapist every week and "struggling to pay it" -- not to mention the cost of having Jesse assessed, which was done through a university.

"In order to be diagnosed, you need to have a minimum of six months intervention which makes it impossible for some families [financially]," Neil said.

She said her own family had been forced to scrimp and save to afford it themselves.

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Neil cannot fault her son's school though and heaped praise on his "amazing" teachers who are working around the clock to tailor to his needs.

"I feel like they're under-resourced for people with learning difficulties. It's not their fault, it's a systemic issue."

She also expressed how she believes this period of isolation could open a door for kids, like her son, to have more diversity in their learning.

"It shows diversity in learning is possible and honestly is a blessing for my neurodiverse child."

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Contact the author: elyons@networkten.com.au