According to a 2017 report on school quality, a 5% increase in cognitive capacity could contribute $12-26 billion to Australia’s GDP.
Increasing cognitive capacity by any measure requires improving school quality. Furthermore, maximising the societal benefits of improved school quality means ensuring all segments of society enjoy those improvements. This includes students with learning disabilities, like dyslexia.
Dyslexic students are at least as capable of their peers. They need special education services to reach their cognitive potential. Unfortunately, education systems often fail to help them achieve that potential. As a result, these students experience significant, negative, and lifelong consequences.
Yet these students are not the only ones affected. Read on to learn more about the societal impact of dyslexia.
What Is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a neurobiological learning disability that affects how the brain processes language. Dyslexic individuals have difficulty processing and using letters and the sounds of letters. These letters and their sounds are the building blocks of communication. As a result, dyslexic individuals find reading and writing challenging.
Signs of dyslexia include:
- Difficulty recognising or forming letters after more than two years of learning
- Difficulty recognising words
- Poor spelling
- Difficulty reading fluently
- Poor reading comprehension
- Limited vocabulary development
- Difficulty writing coherently
- Poor grammar
- Difficulty expressing themselves with or understanding spoken language
Importantly, these dyslexia symptoms are persistent. Without special education services, they continue despite students’, teachers’, and parents’ best efforts.
What Is the Societal Impact of Dyslexia?
The struggles dyslexic students face impact these students, their parents, and their teachers. They also impact society, and they do so significantly.
The Prevalence of Dyslexia
Learning disabilities are common, and dyslexia is the most common learning disability. In Australia, 1 in 10 individuals has a learning disability. Eight in 10 individuals with learning disabilities have dyslexia. This equates to at least 2 million Australians with dyslexia.
According to many experts, even that number is a conservative estimate. Many dyslexic students finish school—or dropout—without having their disability identified.
Increasing the identification of dyslexia by using screening tools, like Dystech, is essential to combating the negative societal impact of this learning disability.
Dyslexia and Economics
In today’s knowledge economy, literacy, critical thinking, and access to information are essential. Without special education services, dyslexic students struggle with these skills. As a result, they often struggle to succeed in the adult world. These struggles begin in the classroom.
Children with unidentified dyslexia are more likely than their peers to drop out. 35% of dyslexic students drop out of school. This number is significantly higher than the attrition rate for the overall population. In Australia in 2018, only 15% of students failed to complete 12 years of school.
Students who complete their schooling enjoy their certificate and the education it represents. They also want access to higher education. Dyslexic students who drop out enjoy no such access. Indeed, they are significantly underrepresented in Australian universities.
Dyslexic students also struggle to meet the demands of the adult workforce. Dyslexic students are 5 times more likely to experience unemployment or underemployment.
These educational and economic consequences impact more than individual dyslexic students. In 2018, the Australian government spent $160.6 billion on welfare benefits. Since 2003, this number has increased at an approximate rate of 2.8% per year.
As long as the education system fails to equip learners with the skills necessary to succeed, this spending remains essential. Still, money would be better spent on improving educational outcomes for all students.
Dyslexia and Public Health
Dyslexic individuals and their families face a host of negative mental health consequences. These consequences are most dire when dyslexia remains unidentified.
For dyslexic students, mental health consequences include anxiety, frustration, shame, and loneliness. These feelings contribute, in turn, to a negative self-image and low self-esteem. They can also contribute to severe mental illnesses, including anxiety and depression.
Studies show that as many as 20% of dyslexic students have an anxiety disorder. Rates of clinical depression among dyslexic students also approach 20%.
Of course, these mental health conditions impact dyslexic students and their families. Yet, they also impact society. Between 2013 and 2018, mental health spending in Australia increased from $382 per person to $400 per person. Total expenditure on mental health services in 2018 totalled $9.9 billion.
Under current conditions, these dollars are well-spent. However, improving educational outcomes means they may not need to be spent in the future.
Dyslexia and Public Safety
Related to public health is public safety. Mental health consequences put individuals at greater risk for involvement in the criminal justice system.
Dyslexic individuals are at greater risk for substance abuse and juvenile delinquency. Statistics on the relationship between dyslexia and incarceration are staggering. As much as 30-50% of the prison population is dyslexic. According to the Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand, “There is a clear route to offending, which begins with classroom difficulties caused by undiagnosed learning problems.”
At present, governments spend millions of dollars on improving prisoners’ literacy. Yet experts express concern that these measures are too little, too late. The most effective solution is to improve literacy and address incarcerations before they happen.
Again, doing so requires identifying and providing services to students with disabilities.
Improving Educational Outcomes for Dyslexic Students and Society
The economic, mental health, and public health consequences of unidentified dyslexia are significant. Yet, they can be addressed. Addressing them requires providing dyslexic students with the special education services they need. Providing these services, of course, requires identifying dyslexic students.
To improve educational outcomes and mitigate the societal consequences of dyslexia, governments must:
- Commit to universal screening for dyslexia in schools
- Increase funding for formal testing when preliminary screening measures raise concerns
- Commit to improving teacher training programmes, especially in the area of special education
- Increase teachers’ and administrators’ access to professional development on learning disabilities
Highly accurate screening methods, like Dystech, are available to support these efforts.
Dystech is the world’s first dyslexia screening app to use artificial intelligence. It is quick, reliable, and affordable. It is also among the most accessible forms of dyslexia screening for teachers to use. Teachers can use it in less than 10 minutes. They can do so, moreover, without extra training.
Educating Every Student Builds a Better Society for Every Person
Dyslexic students face significant struggles. Their educational, economic, and mental health outcomes are significantly worse than their peers. Still, their struggles are not—and cannot—be theirs alone. The impact of dyslexia extends beyond individual students and families. Dyslexia produces consequences for society as a whole.
Addressing these consequences means building a healthy society for all. This, in turn, requires screening, testing, and improving educational outcomes for all students. Dyslexia is one learning disability that impacts educational outcomes. Learn more about others, like dysgraphia, on our blog.