Learning Disability Week: How Educators Can Make a Difference

Learning Disability Week runs from the 17th to the 23rd of June. The learning disability charity, Mencap, organises this annual event. It aims to improve the quality of life for individuals with learning disabilities. 

Learning Disability Week is close to the hearts of many teachers and educators. The theme is “Do you see me?” It focuses on being seen, heard, and valued. Let’s explore more about it and how tutors can play a crucial role this week and in the weeks beyond. 

Learning disabilities and learning difficulties: the difference

Learning difficulties and learning disabilities may seem like interchangeable terms. Yet, both are distinct terms identifying a unique range of learning challenges. A learning difficulty does not impact a learner’s intellect or IQ. It can be overcome by adapting learning styles, presenting information, or giving learners more time for academic tasks. 

Learning disabilities may need support from others and sometimes from equipment. There are different types of learning disabilities: mild, moderate, severe, or profound. Conditions can include Downs Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Syndrome. A pupil with a learning disability may have more than one and have individual conditions. 

Understanding common learning difficulties

Tutors need to recognise and understand different learning disabilities. By doing so, they can offer support that meets each learner’s needs. This approach helps all pupils thrive and feel valued in their learning environment. 

Learning disabilities are specific neurological disorders that affect a pupil’s ability to read, write, spell, do maths, and perform other learning-related tasks. Neurodiversity encompasses all specific learning difficulties (SpLD); many co-occur or overlap. 

Tutors are likely to work with learners with undiagnosed learning difficulties. This might be because their symptoms are not yet recognised or they are on long waiting lists for diagnosis. 

Common learning disabilities

Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that affects learning and processing information. It is neurological and occurs independently of intelligence. Common characteristics include reading, writing, memory, and/or visual processing difficulties. Dyslexic learners often have different perspectives and strengths in problem-solving and creativity. 

Dyscalculia

This is a specific and persistent difficulty in understanding numbers and maths. Challenges include counting, understanding concepts, and understanding graphs or charts. 

Dyspraxia 

This neurological disorder affects an individual’s ability to plan and process motor tasks. It is also known as developmental coordination disorder (DCD). It does not affect how intelligent a pupil is, but it can make it more difficult for them to learn. There is evidence of a link between poor motor coordination and problems with executive functions, including organisation, planning, and working memory.

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It exhibits inattention, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, or a combination of all three. Learners may lack focus, have poor time management, be restless and/or act without thinking. ADHD often co-occurs with other specific learning difficulties, especially dyslexia.

Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome

Autism spectrum disorders affect social communication, behaviour, and sensory processing. Asperger’s Syndrome is a milder form of autism, often associated with high intelligence and intense interests.

Same condition: unique challenges

Remember that each learner’s experience with these learning difficulties is individual. Support should be tailored to their specific needs. One thing that many tutors forget to do when thinking of ways to help a learner is to ask the pupil. The learner will understand their needs and emotions better than you will and are the experts on how you can help them. 

How tutoring helps 

The number of pupils with special educational needs (SEN) has increased over the last five years. With recent government statistics showing that 15 to 20% of pupils are neurodivergent, you will likely be tutoring pupils with learning difficulties. Tutoring is beneficial for pupils with learning difficulties. It enables them to develop different strategies for tackling challenging concepts. Making a personalised learning plan helps pupils with learning difficulties.

Key considerations for educators

There are some important considerations for educators when working with learning difficulties. 

Learners with neurological conditions often take longer to process information than neurotypical learners. Sometimes, this is because many have a smaller working memory capacity than the 7 +/- 2 items that neurotypical learners are said to have. This can make it difficult for them to meet the memory demands that typical learning activities need.

Tutoring tips for neurodiverse learners 

  • Review the previous tutoring session to recap and help with understanding.
  • Use a mix of learning methods that cater to different learning styles and needs. 
  • Time pressures can put learners with learning difficulties under extreme pressure. Offer extra time or modify the task.
  • Present complex information in small, sequential steps so learners can better understand and retain it. 
  • Over-learning helps avoid boredom or demoralisation. Make overlearning activities active and fun. 
  • Develop a multi-sensory tutoring approach so a learner’s brain can process and store information.

Supporting your learners 

Educators play a crucial role in supporting learners with disabilities. Tutoring is about reinforcing content and instilling confidence, and self-belief. Take time to:

  • Understand specific needs: Take time to understand the individual learning needs of each learner.
  • Adapt teaching methods to accommodate diverse learning styles. 
  • Give personalised guidance and encouragement to help learners thrive.
  • advocate for accessibility: Accessible resources and accommodations ensure an inclusive learning environment.
  • Promote self-advocacy: Encourage your learners to advocate for themselves. This empowers them to express their needs and preferences. 

Understanding your learners

Recognising and meeting your learners’ special needs is key to effective tutoring. 

  • For ADHD learners, this might mean allowing more movement during sessions, as some think better while moving. 
  • For autistic learners, routine and predictability in tutoring sessions are key. Sharing plans and providing a similar structure for each session may work best. 

Learning disabilities (such as ADHD and dyslexia) often mean that these learners have challenges when planning projects, organising, or managing time. Educators can help by providing: 

  • charts
  • folders
  • checklists
  • calendars with deadlines
  • post-it notes 

Unlock potential through patience and support

Tutoring learners with learning disabilities or difficulties can be challenging and requires patience. Yet, tutoring is highly rewarding.  Pupils with learning difficulties are capable of performing well in school. Many go on to study for degrees at university, embark on professional careers, or set up businesses. 

It is important for educators not to limit their expectations because of a label. Believe in the potential of your pupils. With your help and skills, you can encourage them to achieve their best during Learning Disability Week, and beyond. 

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