When it comes to receiving educational support, students with specific learning needs are often left behind. There are a myriad of reasons for this including a low classroom resources or a lack of support staff at school, to the student masking their struggles to fit in so their needs go undetected.
Since the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was published in 2013, the language we use to talk about learning difficulties has changed. For the most part, the names of neurodivergent conditions have become more generalised to include a greater spectrum of experiences.
In many ways, receiving a diagnosis can be helpful because it gives students language and a category to understand and talk about their unique experience of life. However, when talking about learning needs, the language we use can inadvertently stereotype and limit our children.
While Anxiety, Autism (ASD), and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are medically known as ‘disorders’ and ‘deficits’, using these terms as statements of identity can contribute to the low self-esteem and alienation that children and teenagers experience as they try to learn effectively in a non-inclusive world.
Learning difficulties are widely misunderstood as behavioural problems. This means that the learning needs of children who don’t exhibit disruptive behavioural symptoms go unidentified. For those who do exhibit behavioural symptoms, treatment is aimed at discipline or lifestyle changes to correct behaviours instead of addressing the underlying neurobiological causes.
Children who experience neurodivergent conditions learn pretty quickly that the world is not friendly towards those who play too loudly, or can’t sit sill, or who experience sensory overwhelm. They learn to compensate for or mask their struggles which makes it even harder to recognise that they need support.
Learning challenges are far more common than many people think. Current studies estimate that 1 in 5 people are diagnosed with dyslexia, 1 in 25 Australians are diagnosed with ADHD and 1 in 70 are diagnosed with ASD. This does not include the many Australians who doctors believe are undiagnosed.
Dyslexia affects a student’s ability to decode single words. MRI studies have shown that in people with dyslexia, there is less blood flow to the language processing areas of the brain meaning that phonics (how letters translate to sounds) are much harder to understand. Students with dyslexia often have a very inquiring mind, outstanding creative thinking skills and possess a broad vocabulary which enables them to mask their difficulties by using synonyms to explain a text, covering up that they are struggling to read the exact words.
Dysgraphia and dyscalculia are similar to dyslexia, though diagnoses are slightly less common. Dysgraphia affects a students’ handwriting ability. These students are often called ‘lazy’ or are told that they spend too much time typing and not enough time writing by hand. Students find this frustrating because their written work doesn’t show the full breadth of their knowledge which causes their grades and self-esteem to suffer.
Dyscalculia affects a student’s ability to understand numbers, remember basic numerical facts, and understand formulas to confidently apply them to problems. These students are often held back because of their struggles with maths instead of being given the dedicated support they need.
The autism spectrum is non-linear which means that the learning challenges and needs of each student can be vastly different. When learning environments do not take this into account and do not offer sufficient one-to-one learning support, a student’s ability to become a confident, independent learner is hindered. Moreover, students experiencing ASD are often the target of bullying and discrimination in school settings especially when their school pathways are interrupted by a lack of appropriate support.
ADHD refers to a range of difficulties that affect a student’s executive functions such as concentration, switching between mental tasks, discerning relevant information, working memory (holding several facts in mind while working on a task) and impulse control. These skills are foundational for higher-order thinking skills such as critical thinking, abstract thinking, organisation and planning.
Students experiencing ADHD are often hyper focused and able to devote extraordinary attention to a task. Like students with dyslexia and ASD, they may understand and link concepts quickly, but may also quickly lose interest in a task if their engagement is unsupported. While there is evidence that lifestyle changes can help children to focus or better regulate their emotions, there is no evidence that ADHD is caused by poor parenting, too much TV, food additives, or sugary drinks.
Not all experiences of ADHD are the same. The hyperactive subtype (the ‘H’ in ADHD) is how many people understand ADHD. Like students diagnosed with ASD, they are often bullied because they may behave impulsively or have difficulty regulating their emotions. The inattentive subtype (which used to be called ADD),and the combination subtype are often stereotyped as ‘forgetful’ and ‘unfocused’ so the learning needs of these students are unmet because they are misunderstood as students who don’t put in any effort.
Every student has gifts and passions that are unique to them and we need to value every student’s contributions to function effectively as a society. Importantly, this acceptance will go a long way towards creating inclusive environments for all learners.
Nepean Tutoring is proud of our ability to provide a range of services to suit every student’s learning needs. We boast an array of tutors who have experience supporting and mentoring students from Kindergarten to Year 12 and beyond, helping them to become confident learners who draw on their strengths to overcome their challenges.
At Nepean Tutoring, our tutor matching process ensures that we find the perfect tutor for your child. Our tutors take care to develop a tailored learning approach that recognises each student’s strengths and uses a supportive, positive approach to develop their skills.
Since 2012, our tutors have helped countless students to organise their studies, to create healthy study habits, to understand challenging concepts and problems, and to improve their literacy and numeracy skills. If you’re looking for quality educational support for your child’s learning, contact Nepean Tutoring today for a free consultation.
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