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Revised AUSPELD Understanding Learning Difficulties Guides now available!

TGreen cover for Understanding Learning Difficulties: A Practical Guide picturing child and teacherhe first AUSPELD Understanding Learning Difficulties: A Practical Guide was published in 2014 and rapidly became a must-have title for any educator or allied professional supporting students with learning difficulties or specific learning disorders. The two guides, one for teachers and one for parents, provide readers with an in-depth understanding of learning difficulties and specific learning disorders. The guides also share advice and practical information on the best approaches to use with students who have learning difficulties or diagnosed specific learning disorders.

After almost five years, the guides have now been revised to ensure they reflect current, evidence-based practice. Additional information and several new tip sheets have also been added to the latest edition.

Hard copies of the revised guides can be purchased here.


Red cover from AUSPELDs Understanding Learning Difficulties: A guide for Parents - Revised edition


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LETRS – Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling

LETRSLETRS is a research-based professional development that leads to more effective instruction and improved student outcomes. The course is now available in Australia as a two-year course of study incorporating online coursework, in-person workshops, accompanying print resources and online support.

LETRS courses commence on the following dates:


Queensland Thursday 11th July
New South Wales Saturday 13th July
Victoria Monday 15th July


Courses in South Australia and Western Australia are already in progress and new dates will be released soon.

A LETRS brochure can be downloaded here and course dates are listed here.

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Understanding Learning Difficulties Course – Now Online

The Understanding Learning Difficulties e-Learning course was designed by DSF (Dyslexia-SPELD WA) and is proudly supported by AUSPELD. This online learning program consists of six interactive modules that systematically cover: an introduction to learning difficulties and learning disorders; the cognitive processing skills implicated in learning; and, the response to intervention model. Participants will also learn about how to reduce the incidence of literacy and numeracy difficulties, remediate learning difficulties and put in place appropriate support strategies and accommodations.

The e-learning course was designed to equip teachers, school psychologists, speech pathologists, specialist tutors and parents with the knowledge required to support students with learning difficulties throughout their education. To find out more about the e-learning course please visit the DSF ULD course page.

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DSF e-alert – Learning Disorders and the NCCD

This DSF e-alert focuses on the NCCD and what it means for students with learning disorders.

Sign up for the AUSPELD/DSF e-alert parent newsletter here


Relevant Legislation

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) and the Disability Standards for Education 2005 (DSE) require that all Australian students with disability must be able to access and participate in education on the same basis as their peers. Under the DDA, disability includes:
“A disorder … that results in the person learning differently…”


Reasonable Adjustments

Adjustments may be necessary in order to ensure that students with disability have access to education. These adjustments are based on the professional judgements of teachers, in consultation with the student and/or their parents, guardians or carers. Students with learning disorders (including Dyslexia, Dysgraphia and/or Dyscalculia) are eligible for adjustments to ensure they have access to education. Adjustments may include the provision of text-to-speech and speech-to-text assistive technologies, extra time to complete written tasks and/or intensive intervention using a structured and systematic evidence-based program (see below for further information).

Appropriate adjustments for students with Reading Disorders (Dyslexia) can be found here.



The Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability (NCCD) is an annual collection of information about Australian school students who are receiving adjustments due to disability. The data collected from the NCCD is used by teachers and schools to improve understanding and inform planning. Students with a learning disorder who require adjustments in the classroom (as defined according to the DDA) are included in the NCCD.


Available Resources

The NCCD website includes information about how the NCCD should be integrated in the continuing process of teaching and learning in school. The website also includes a range of resources and tools to assist teachers and schools in planning and implementing the NCCD. Information about learning differences, learning difficulties, learning disabilities and the NCCD is available here. Another relevant resource is a podcast series featuring students, parents, teachers and experts in specific areas related to the NCCD.DSF CEO Mandy Nayton, OAM, was interviewed recently for the NCCD podcast on Classroom Adjustments: Specific Learning Needs Dyslexia and Classroom Adjustments: Specific Learning Needs Dysgraphia. The podcasts focus on potential educational adjustments that can be made in class for students with learning disorders. To listen to the podcasts, click on the links provided or search for “Classroom Adjustments” in Apple podcasts, SpotifyGoogle podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts to listen via your mobile device.

Appropriate adjustments for students with Written Expression Disorders (Dysgraphia) can be found here.

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David Kilpatrick Tour for LDA

Recent Advances in Understanding Word-Level Reading Problems: Assessment and Highly Effective Intervention

Renowned reading researcher, psychologist and author, David A. Kilpatrick, will present a series of presentations around Australia in August, 2019.

The presentations will focus on how children learn to read words and why some children struggle. Understanding word-level reading development and its problems will guide both assessment and intervention.

More information is available on the Learning Difficulties Australia website.

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2019 DSF Language, Literacy & Learning Conference Wrap-up

The second DSF Language, Literacy and Learning Conference was held at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre on Thursday April 4th to Saturday April 6th, 2019. More than 850 delegates and 90 speakers from WA, interstate and around the world contributed to this incredible event. The response from delegates, speakers and exhibitors has been overwhelmingly positive. One-half of attendees scored the conference 10 out of 10! – with the conference receiving an overall ranking of 9.1/10 from the delegates surveyed.

The conference was preceded by a full-day of masterclasses, parent workshops and technology sessions for those keen to access additional training from a number of DSF’s visiting experts. Across the six keynote addresses and 65 breakout sessions, workshops and symposia, the conference provided valuable information, insights and networking opportunities for teachers, principals, school psychologists, speech pathologists and occupational therapists.

The outstanding keynote sessions presented by Professor Stanislas Dehaene, Professor Simon E. Fisher, Professor Daniel Ansari, Professor Kathy Rastle, Dr Yana Weinstein-Jones and Mr Tom Bennett were very well received. We are grateful to the keynote speakers for sharing their expertise.

AUSPELD is a proud supporter of the Language, Literacy & Learning Conference and would like to thank the Ian Potter Foundation, the Perth Convention Bureau, the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) and all other Conference sponsors for joining us in supporting this exceptional event.

We are looking forward to the next conference in 2021.

To receive notifications about the latest conference news, please register your email via the conference website

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Revised AUSPELD Understanding Learning Difficulties Guides to be released in January

Cover image for AUSPELDs ULD GuideMany teachers, principals and families will be familiar with the two AUSPELD Understanding Learning Difficulties Guides, originally released in 2016. The teachers’ guide was designed to provide primary and secondary school teachers throughout Australia with a greater awareness and understanding of the significant impact learning disorders can have on students, and to provide information relating to the components of high quality instruction, evidence-based intervention and effective accommodation. The guide for parents was subsequently released and converted to an engaging and informative web-site for those parents keen to access the contents via the internet. This remains available at We are delighted to announce that a revised version of the Teachers’ Guide and a revised version of the Parents’ Guide will be available in January. These Guides will include updated information and new sections focused on up-to-date research findings and such topics as Developmental Language Disorders and Developmental Coordination Disorders. There is additional information on recommended strategies and programs as well as updated information sheets (on the enclosed CD). The Guides will be valuable resources for teachers and other professionals working with students with learning challenges. To pre-order a copy (or copies) of one or both Guides please complete this form.

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2019 Literacy, Language and Learning Conference – Registrations Now Open!

The biennial Literacy, Language and Learning Conference is set to take place from the 4-6th of April, 2019.

The conference provides a unique opportunity for educators and practitioners to hear about current research and evidence-based approaches to teaching and intervention in the field of language and literacy acquisition. DSF, with the support of AUSPELD, has put together an incredible line-up of keynote speakers who will share their expert knowledge in the areas of reading acquisition, oral and written language development, numeracy skills, effective learning strategies and behaviour management.

The Conference will also provide delegates with a choice of more than 60 breakout sessions over three-days. The variety of topics covered by session speakers will ensure that this is an incredibly valuable and informative event for teachers, educational psychologists, speech pathologists and other allied professionals.

Visit the conference website to register today!

A ‘Call for Papers’ is currently open to people who are interested in speaking at the Conference. Expressions of Interest from potential session speakers will be accepted until the 14th of September and full abstracts will need to be submitted by the 28th of October. Please download the Call for Papers flyer for further information about applying to become a session speaker at the 2019 Literacy, Language and Learning Conference.

We look forward to seeing you there!



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Identifying Dyslexia in the Early Years

Parents and teachers often report feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information currently available, and widely circulated, on the topic of dyslexia. Views on everything from the causative factors, the most effective interventions, the reported advantages, and even whether or not dyslexia exists, are widespread and frequently contradictory.

One area that promotes quite passionate commentary, and clearly divergent views, relates to the age at which a Specific Learning Disorder (SLD) in reading (commonly known as dyslexia) can be diagnosed. An analysis of this commentary suggests that a popular misconception associated with the identification of dyslexia (and other SLDs) is that they cannot be diagnosed until eight years of age. This ‘myth’ has prevailed in the wider community despite the circulation of extensive information explaining why this belief is incorrect.

Children can be diagnosed with dyslexia well before they turn eight if they have struggled with the acquisition of skills in reading (and spelling) for an extended period of time despite the provision of high quality instruction and appropriate intensive intervention. This will be explained in greater detail a little later in this article.

Another ‘myth’ associated with the diagnosis of dyslexia is that it can be identified through a simple screening process or via the completion of a checklist. This is simply not the case. In the event that the screening or checklist is reviewed remotely (i.e. by someone who is not assessing the child face-to-face) then the results of such an ‘assessment’ should be discounted.

The definition of dyslexia recognised by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), AUSPELD, the NICHD (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) and DSF suggests that dyslexia is:

  • Neurobiological,
  • Characterised by poor reading accuracy and/or fluency,
  • Often associated with phonological (and/or orthographic) processing difficulties,
  • Unexpected in relation to the amount of effective instruction and intervention provided, and
  • A contributing factor to low levels of vocabulary and general knowledge, as well as poor reading comprehension.

This definition is also in line with the diagnostic criteria for a specific learning disorder (in reading) outlined in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM 5) (see table below).

As is evident from this definition, Dyslexia is viewed as a persistent and enduring difficulty acquiring and developing reading and spelling skills. Consequently, it can only be diagnosed once a child has been provided with reading instruction of sufficient quality and duration, that the fact that they are struggling to read accurately and fluently is viewed as surprising.


How is Dyslexia diagnosed?

Specific Learning Disorders (SLDs) occur in the areas of reading (dyslexia), written expression (dysgraphia) and mathematics (dyscalculia). They are considered to be one of a number of developmental disorders and are diagnosed through:

  • A review of the individual’s developmental, medical, educational and family history,
  • The results of standardised testing across a number of domains including academic achievement (e.g. reading accuracy, fluency and comprehension / spelling / written expression, etc.); cognitive processing and cognitive ability; and,
  • An evaluation of how well the student has responded to a minimum of six months’ intervention targeted at his/her area of weakness.

In the diagnosis of dyslexia, it is important to establish that the student has received intervention designed to improve skills in reading (accuracy and fluency), for a minimum of six months. The inclusion of a well-designed structured, synthetic phonics program (such as Sounds~Write, MiniLit, MacqLit or Reading Mastery) would generally be expected.

In most cases the assessment will be carried out by a psychologist, with knowledge and experience in education. The written report should provide information outlining the likely functional impact for the student in the classroom and also offer clear recommendations for both intervention and accommodations.


At what age can a diagnosis of Dyslexia be made?

Many schools screen children prior to year one (aged four, five and/or six) to identify the students at risk of ongoing language, learning and literacy difficulties. Early screening, conducted by the classroom teacher or a speech pathologist, is of enormous value but its purpose is not to identify students with dyslexia. Its purpose is to identify students in need of early intervention and support and to ensure that steps are taken to put this in place as quickly as possible. At this stage the emphasis is often on building the foundation skills necessary for successful literacy learning.

Once structured reading instruction commences – usually in Foundation / year one – there may be some students who continue to struggle despite the early support provided. These students will require explicit, intensive instruction to avoid falling further behind their peers. With this level of intervention, most students will make excellent progress but in some cases a more individualised response will be necessary.

A comprehensive assessment may be of value to assist in determining the profile and needs of the student. It may also be of importance to determine whether the student has a language impairment (speech pathologist) or learning disorder (psychologist) and, more importantly, to identify and recommend appropriate instructional and resourcing strategies.

In the event that a child is assessed for a possible Reading Disorder (Dyslexia), consideration is given to the quality and consistency of early reading instruction, in addition to the nature and duration of any intervention specifically targeting the development of reading skills. How well the student has responded to at least six months of intensive (either small group or one-on-one) intervention in reading is of central importance in the diagnostic process (see Criteria A below). Given that at least six months of intensive, targeted intervention needs to have been provided, it is unlikely that dyslexia can confidently be diagnosed until mid/late year one (assuming all diagnostic criteria are met).

Diagnosis using the DSM-5


Ongoing difficulties in the school-age years learning and using at least one academic skill (e.g. reading accuracy/fluency; spelling accuracy; written expression competence and fluency; mastering number facts). These difficulties have persisted and failed to improve as expected, despite the provision of targeted intervention for at least six months. This intervention should be recognised as evidence-based and delivered by an experienced and qualified person.


The difficulties experienced by the student will be assessed using standardised achievement tests* and found to be at a level significantly lower than most students of the same age. Sometimes students are identified with a learning disability even though they are performing within the average range. This is only the case when it can be shown that the student is achieving at this level due to unusually high levels of effort and ongoing support.


The difficulties experienced by the student usually become apparent in the early years of schooling. The exception to this is where problems occur in upper-primary or secondary school once the demands on student performance increase significantly. For example – when students have to read extended pieces of complex text or write at a more sophisticated level under timed conditions.


Specific learning disabilities will not be diagnosed if there is a more plausible explanation for the difficulties being experienced by the student. For example – if the student has: an intellectual disability; a sensory impairment; a history of chronic absenteeism; inadequate proficiency in the language of instruction; a psychosocial condition; or, not received appropriate instruction and/or intervention

*Standardised achievement tests are tests that have been developed by experts and trialled with large numbers of students to check their validity. They are only delivered by practitioners who have been trained to use the tests and score and interpret the results achieved.

All four criteria must be met for a diagnosis to be made and the level of severity is determined as being mild, moderate or severe.


Final Comments:

It is certainly possible to identify a student at risk of literacy learning difficulties from as early as four or five years of age and it is important to do so. Early identification provides schools and allied health professionals with an opportunity to intervene early and prevent, in most cases, long term difficulties. It is, however, not possible to confidently diagnose dyslexia until sometime after the student has been provided with both systematic reading instruction and appropriate intervention. This could be as early as year one but is dependent on the criteria related to Specific Learning Disorder diagnosis being met. It is always important to screen and intervene first – and assess and diagnose second.


For more information:

Understanding Learning Difficulties: A Guide for Parents shares information about dyslexia and other learning difficulties and can be accessed online for free.

Understanding Learning Difficulties: A Practical Guide provide principals, teachers, school psychologists and speech pathologists with a greater awareness and understanding of the significant impact learning disabilities can have on students, and to outline the most effective remediation and accommodation strategies available to them in the classroom. The guide is available to teachers through Scootle.


This article was written by:

Mandy Nayton
AUSPELD President, Dyslexia-SPELD Foundation WA CEO / Educational and Developmental Psychologist

Gemma Boyle
Dyslexia-SPELD Foundation WA Senior Psychologist

Note: this article was taken from The DSF Bulletin – Volume 53 (Winter 2017).

A printable version of this article can be downloaded here.

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Why we support the Year 1 Phonics Check

Read AUSPELD’s submission supporting the national Year 1 Phonics check recently sent to all State and Territory Education Ministers…

Last week, state and territory education ministers met to discuss the proposed Phonics Check – a 5-7 minute “Check” of student progress. AUSPELD (The Australian Federation of SPELD Associations) supports the implementation of the Phonics Check in Australia because of its potential to identify students at risk of literacy failure. The reasons for this support are outlined in a letter sent to the Ministers prior to the meeting. Please read – AUSPELD Letter to Ministers – Support of the Year 1 Phonics Check