UC researchers funded $350,000 for Better Start for dyslexic children

Professor John Everatt

University of Canterbury researchers looking into strategies for addressing dyslexia and related language learning disabilities have been awarded $350,000 in funding by the National Science Challenge, A Better Start, in partnership with the child health research charity Cure Kids.

The 18-month research programme, led by UC College of Education, Health and Human Development Professor John Everatt, will investigate how culturally responsive and research informed interventions that improve literacy in struggling readers (such as those with dyslexia) can also support improvements in children’s self-concept (self-efficacy and resilience) and reduce negative behaviour.

Reading problems are linked to poor educational achievement, negative emotions, poor self-concept and behavioural problems, Prof Everatt says. The US National Institute of Health considers dyslexia and related language learning disabilities a major challenge to public health and societal welfare.

Early identification and intervention – as investigated in the A Better Start Science Challenge: E Tipu e Rea, Preschool and Year 1 Literacy learning projects – is vital to prevent the negative consequences of learning difficulties, Prof Everatt says.

“However, early detection may not be possible in all cases: for example, where resources are not yet available. There is a need to deal with the consequences of early experiences of learning failure and to prevent children’s social and emotional wellness being adversely affected.”

The UC research team, which includes principal investigator Prof Everatt, Dr Amanda Denston, Associate Professor Jane Prochnow and Tufulasi Taleni, focuses on developing skills in reading and wellbeing.

“We will develop strategies for reading and spelling that can be used across multiple learning contexts and advance text level achievement. It will also build resilience in students, improving their wellbeing and giving them strategies to deal with future difficulties,” Prof Everatt says.

“Literacy learning difficulties can be found across all groups, but there is a greater impact among those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, individuals who identify as indigenous, and children from immigrant backgrounds. Acknowledging cultural and language backgrounds is important in the development of successful interventions.”

New Zealand data indicate Māori and Pasifika children – particularly boys – are more likely to struggle to reach their potential in literacy learning. Therefore, this research will focus on the benefits for Māori and Pasifika boys. Whānau engagement to support their children’s reading in positive ways will be sought through Talanoa and hui.


About Dyslexia

Dyslexia refers to problems learning to read and spell that are related to language problems (phonological processing weaknesses) and can occur despite learning opportunities that are successful with other children. 



- University of Canterbury