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Thursday, 3 May 1973
Page: 1731

Mr McVEIGH (Darling Downs) - Speld deals with children who have specific learning difficulties, and it is from these words that the composite word 'Speld' is derived. Doctors have been aware for some 30 years of minimal brain disfunction and the resulting specific learning difficulties which are relatively new entities to the educationist. It has been estimated that at least 10 per cent of the primary school population suffer from varying degrees of deviation in learning and behaviour. Speld aims specifically to assist children who have an average or above average intellectual capacity - in other words, high IQ - but who suffer from subtle misfunctioning of the central nervous system, particularly with regard to perception, integration and expression. Children with glasses and hearing aids are commonplace today. These children are not ridiculed for their problem. It is now essential that people realise there are children who cannot recognise letters, figures or shape forms because of purely physical disfunction. This is difficult for us to understand but nonetheless it is true.

Many of these children have for some years been a heartbreak to their parents and a dreadful loss to the community. This disaster has been caused through misunderstanding. The children were thought to be lazy and unco-operative when in fact all that was needed was specialised, understanding, remedial teaching with special equipment and other facilities. These children do exist. There are already more in the community than can be assisted and if one takes the statistical figure of 10 per cent of the primary school children in Australia there are thousands in Queensland and at least 1,200 in the Darling Downs area.

Learning to read is part of the wider development of communication skills. Reading is a complex cognitive process requiring visual, auditory and motor skills to enable a child to recognise words and symbols, to associate them with the appropriate sounds and to invest them with meaning derived from previous experience. When a child has not fully developed one or more of these abilities he is likely to be unusually slow in learning to read. This delay is often accompanied by emotional disturbance. This reading difficulty is known as dyslexia and it has been found that there are varying degrees of this complaint. The term 'dyslexia' was originally used to describe a localised brain damage affecting a person who was previously an excellent reader. The same term also applies to children who have severe reading retardation and have never been competent readers. It has been found that dyslexia has no common symptoms because some children who have all the characteristic features of dyslexia are in fact good readers while others who read badly have no such signs.

It has been generally recognised by teachers, psychologists and neurologists that the best way of dealing with specific reading difficulties is to have special remedial education. It is generally recognised that a person's basic motivation and disposition are formed prior to attaining the age of 6 years. For this to be a workable project there would have to be an assessment of the child's reading skills and an examination of the functions that underline them - visual and auditory perception, association processes, language development and visuo-motor skills such as handwriting. It is necessary that a child with specific learning difficulties be identified as early as possible so that remedial measures can be begun without delay. So that a child with specific reading difficulties will not have his intelligence based solely on this, 2 assessments must be made, one for reading attainment, the other for general ability, the results of which can be compared to reveal inconsistent performance.

The medical examination which is carried out on all students when they first enter school is not sufficient because they are not old enough to get a proper view of whether they are going to have learning difficulties. During the first years an experienced teacher should be able to notice children who have different development from the other students in the class. When children show any social difficulty this is a possible indication that they may have either a sight or hearing problem. This should be brought to the immediate attention of the school medical officer. Teachers will also notice any difficulty in reading during the first few years, but a full screening will be necessary. Between the ages of 7 and 8 years is a good time for the screening and remedial treatment can begin immediately. The fact that these children have specific learning difficulties does not mean they should be sent to a special school. These students often benefit from the ordinary school where they are stimulated by their peers. The trouble with the ordinary schools is that they do not have enough remedial teachers; each primary and secondary school should have at least one trained teacher for the students. The acquisition during initial teacher training of a basic knowledge of how to teach children to read provides an invaluable foundation on which to build.

Therefore the aim of Speld is to advance the education and general welfare of children and others who are handicapped by specific learning difficulties. This term refers to a lack of a particular skill which seriously retards a child's educational progress. This object can be achieved only by a greater public awareness of the problem and needs of children who have these problems. Several ways of bringing this matter to public notice are to hold meetings and discussions amongst parents who face this problem. This is hoped to relieve some of the emotional strain placed on the family when a child has these difficulties. The Speld association is striving to have facilities set up to aid these people. These facilities would include clinics where an early diagnosis and if necessary remedial teaching could take place. It is also hoped to have included in the teacher training scheme a course of instruction to equip teachers for early recognition of children with difficulties.

The local branch of Speld has been active over the last few years in providing books for special education centres, Speld books for municipal libraries and other equipment necessary for the training of these students. Other projects have been adult reading and writing courses and mini seminar for the early diagnosis of specific learning difficulties. Up to the present, there has not been general recognition on the part of the Australian genera] public for the needs of children of normal and above normal intelligence who require usually for short periods, remedial assistance. There are no authoritative figures available at the present but it is known that Queensland has only 30 remedial teachers in the Queensland Department of Education, there is a need for 300.

Realising the need for more remedial teachers the Apex clubs of Toowoomba, like so many service clubs before them, have taken up the challenge and are trying to raise the sum of $10,000 so that remedial teachers can be trained at the Darling Downs Institute of Technology. I seek leave of the House to have incorporated in Hansard the aims and objects of the local branch of Speld.

Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -


Ai brief resume of our work so far: Projects in 1972, completed or started in Toowoomba: $150 for books for Guidance and Special Education Centre, November 1971. $110 for special Speld books for Municipal Library, February- 1972. $150 for 2 Peabody Kits for Guidance and Special Education Centre, May 1972. $184 for 3 day workshop weekend, April 1972, conducted by Miss Win Apelt, B.A., B.Ed.. Senior Tudor, Schonell Centre. $40 for Mini-Seminar on early diagnosis of s.e.l.d. November 1971. $100 Adult Reading and Writing Course, begun May 1972. $100 for text books and articles for distribution to professionals involved in field of education and interested people, begun June 1972.

Projects In immediate future in Toowoomba

1.   Petition to Parliament for a grant of money to establish a lectureship in remedial education at D.D.I.A.E., in Department of Teacher Education for 160 students.

2.   Audio-Visual Bench for Municipal Library.

3.   Remedial Equipment for Guidance and Special Education Centre.

4.   More special Speld Books for Municipal Library.

5.   Continue Adult Reading and Writing Course.

6.   Feasibility study for establishment of a special class for 6 children with advanced specific early learning problems in Toowoomba.

7.   Feasibility study for building a special centre in Toowoomba.

Long range projects for Toowoomba

1.   A special class in every school with more than 6 diagnosed children with specific learning difficulties.

2.   A remedial teacher visiting every school requiring services of such a specialist.

3.   Continue Adult Reading and Writing Courses where numbers warrant.

4.   A permanent lecturer in remedial education in Department of Teacher Education at D.D.I. A. Ed.

5.   Diagnosis of specific early learning difficulties at kindergarten and, pre-school levels.

Mr MCVEIGH - This is indeed a worthy cause and the clubs should be congratulated on their efforts. I have noted in the education Bill the Minister introduced into the House on 28th March 1973 that the Federal Government is providing an unmatched grant of $40,000 in 1973 to enable the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education to establish a post graduate courses to commence in 1974. On behalf of the residents of Darling Downs I ask: Will the Minister give a grant to the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education for the same purpose.

This is important to the area. The Apex clubs in Toowoomba are dedicated to help in an effort to make the lives of the people so affected rich in the fulfilment of their utmost potential. The distinct needs in this regard are to provide courses in diploma and degree programs for suitable persons to take out majors in remedial and special education; the need for teacher preparation programs to provide a bridging course whereby general teachers, perhaps by independent study, may develop their background knowledge in this area and then take out a diploma or degree in special education after full time attendance at a tertier\, institution; and, the need for all general teachers to have some course work in this area and to provide a wide range of in-service courses for practising teachers to enrol in.

The people of Darling Downs have rallied to the cause, as they always do in the things that matter. I appeal to the Minister for Education to have a good look at the position and determine whether the Commonwealth Government can help the local service clubs of Apex in their efforts to raise from the public the sum of $10,000 to establish this chair of learning - a chair which will be vital to our area, a chair which will enable people to be trained as teachers who will go forth over the whole length and breadth of Queensland, teachers who will be affecting eternity because there is no knowing where their influence for good will be felt and their ability to help these people will be realised.

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