Bridging the Gap


12-year-old Ella Barnes is flourishing at school. But it wasn’t always the case. SPELD NZ’s Financial Assistance programme enabled her to have an assessment and then get the targeted, individualised support she needed to overcome her learning difficulties.

Ella has many talents. She’s in a chess club and two dance groups, plays netball and performs in ballet competitions. She’s also very artistic. But what her mum, Ellena, is most happy about is Ella’s newfound love of reading.

“One of my favourite things is to walk past her bedroom door and see her in bed absorbed in a book,” says Ellena.

It might seem like such a simple activity for anyone whose child is neuro-typical and doesn’t struggle at school, but for Ella, it’s been a long and difficult path to developing a love of reading.

By the end of her first year at school, Ella still couldn’t sound out many of the letters in the alphabet. In Year 2, reading was a slow, laborious task, and despite help from her school and mum, she struggled badly.

“She would pause a lot and sigh or take a deep breath, like every word was an effort,” says Ellena. “I also noticed she would skip lines and I’d have to redirect her back to the right place.

I have one regret – it’s that I didn’t do it sooner.  But better late than never!

“Ella’s always held very high standards for herself. But despite having a very clever, creative brain, she still seemed to struggle when it came to education. I had to help her a lot with homework projects in the early days. Ella had great ideas but didn’t really know how to execute them, and would then become overwhelmed and deflated. She was unsure of her abilities and lacked confidence.”

Ella slipped further and further behind. Ellena raised her concerns at parent/teacher interviews but, as is all too common, Ella’s primary school lacked the resources to cater for the specific needs of individual children.

But when Ella began Year 5, there was a glimmer of hope. A teacher reassured Ellena that Ella was capable of much more than her school marks showed, and encouraged her to get her daughter assessed through SPELD NZ.

“Paying the assessment fee was one of the reasons I held back so long on getting it done,” explains Ellena.  “But when I found out that SPELD would contribute $300 towards Ella’s assessment, I was relieved. This funding made all the difference for us being able to go ahead with it. We’ve also been fortunate to receive funding each term to help cover some of the cost of her one-on-one tuition. I am so grateful to SPELD for the financial support.”

Ellena says the SPELD NZ one-on-one lessons have been fantastic. “Her teacher Helet bases her learning around Ella’s favourite things: her skill of crafts, doing puzzles, games and word finds. All the homework is enjoyable because it’s things she loves to do.”

And Ella’s progress has been amazing. After six months of SPELD NZ support, she moved up 18 months in her writing and comprehension.

“I want other parents to know that if you feel something isn’t right with your child’s learning, don’t rely on the school or teachers to fix it,” urges Ellena. “And if they tell you your child is doing fine and you truly believe something is lacking, take the initiative and get it checked. I have one regret – it’s that I didn’t do it sooner. But better late than never!”

Personal Story - Ryan Attwood