Thousands of Māori with dyslexia aren’t being diagnosed – experts

Experts believe thousands of Māori living with dyslexia aren't being diagnosed because of barriers to getting tested.

The latest figures show they make up less than 4% of those who are being assessed by leading provider SPELD NZ.

Harley Broughton, a Māori father of two, spent the first years of his childhood not knowing why his mind worked differently to others.

"Even writing my name was difficult. I remember one time we had a test in class and I didn't know what I was doing. I leaned over to my mate, I copied what he was doing including his name, and the teacher told me off for that," he said.

"When it came to reading, it was mind boggling for me."

He is among one in 10 New Zealanders living with the learning impairment that impact's a person's ability to read, write and spell.

"This teacher just thought that i wasn't listening and misbehaving. She didn't know how to approach someone like me because she didnt understand," he said.

"Back then we had a black board and she'd say, 'put your name on the black board, go sit in the corner'. That's how it was every day for me."

Getting a diagnosis relies on having an assessment, which can cost up to $1500.

For many Māori, that is out of reach.

"Māori are disproportionately disadvantaged by our current regime in New Zealand," said dyslexia specialist Mike Styles.

"It would be in the tens of thousands of people in New Zealand who are missing out. And here's the thing. It is an equity issue for Māori. And it is, I believe, a treaty issue."

Pākehā made up the overwhelming majority of those who SPELD NZ assessed for dyslexia in 2021, while Māori made up just over 3%.

People from families earning more than $70,000 were also more likely to get a test at 40%, and those earning less than that made up just over 14%.

These are SPELD NZ's latest figures, but the organisation expects 2022's figures to be the same.

Executive officer Jeremy Drummond said even though the organisation was not-for-profit, the costs remained a huge barrier.

"We try to keep our services as affordable and accessible as possible, but we know that the cost of an assessment may well be beyond the means of an average family," she said.

"What we do try to do is we fund-raise for subsidies to help families, so we'll subsidise up to $400 for an assessment."

Education Minister Jan Tinetti said the disparity was unacceptable.

"I think it's disturbing that we're seeing those figures, we would like to see more Māori accessing the ability to be able to get a diagnosis," she said.

That could soon be a possibility, with work underway to develop the country's first te reo Māori screening tool.

Mike Styles is working with Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Wairarapa to bring it to life.

"Everything will be in te reo. the instructions will be in te reo, the tasks will be in te reo, and it'll have to be administered by a competent and confident te reo speaker," he said.

Jeremy Drummond is also calling for teachers to receive more support in order to identify learning difficulties earlier.

"To have the initial teacher education focus a bit more strongly on some of those specific learning difficulties would really help.

"Poor old teachers aren't taught about specific learning disabilities in any specific way when they're doing their training."

Harley Broughton eventually accessed support thanks to his mum.

She challenged his school teacher and principal to get her son the support he needed, and when that failed she sought help outside of the school.

Harley was tutored by a dyslexia specialist.

"This lady, she was awesome, she was very patient which I appreciated. Because that's what I needed. It was like a big weight lifted off me, off my shoulders. She not once lost her temper and I'll never forget her.

"My mum has also always been at my side, and got me the help I needed."

There's now hope more Māori like him won't have to miss out.


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