5 Facts About Specific Learning Differences and Neurodiversity
Updated March 2023
It’s Neurodiversity Celebration Week and it has made me reflect on our journey so far. I’ve learnt so much since my youngest’s diagnosis with Dyslexia nearly four years ago. So picking just 5 facts about learning differences was going to be hard. Actually, if it wasn’t for that diagnosis then I would never have requested screening for my older two. Nor would I have had the knowledge or confidence to refer F for his ADHD assessment and subsequent diagnosis.
What if we hadn’t discovered their struggles, especially the ADHD; F’s school certainly weren’t forthcoming, despite what were obvious symptoms. The diagnosis has made a HUGE difference in everyday life at school and at home, but it could have been so different.
As a society, we are now very much more aware and knowledgeable about Specific Learning Differences (SpLD), Neurodiversity (ND) and Special Educational Needs (SEN). And there are some very well-known facts (and myths) readily available to help individuals, families and employers. However, this Neurodiversity Celebration Week, I thought I’d share 5 facts about neurodiversity that aren’t so well known…
Dyslexia & Coloured Overlays
There is no high-quality evidence to support that colour overlays help Dyslexic individuals read. It has been a long-held belief (and still is according to a quick Google search) that overlays can help Dyslexic children to read. When in actuality the truth is that coloured overlays help those with visual stress (also known as Meares‐Irlen syndrome) to read. Around 35-40% of people with dyslexia are estimated to experience visual stress. This, therefore, explains why some researchers led to the conclusion that visual stress may be a cause of dyslexia. However, the truth is, Dyslexia is a neurological condition that affects the way information is processed, stored and retrieved.
ADHD Diagnosis & Symptoms
Did you know that ADHD was not formally recognised as a valid condition in the UK till the year 2000? That for me was pretty shocking. I think for me, the difference a formal ADHD diagnosis makes to the support, knowledge and understanding an individual gets, is truly life-changing.
Furthermore, girls have been hugely underdiagnosed, severely impacting their learning and development. It is now known that girls are more likely to present with inattentive type ADHD. Whilst boys present mostly with hyperactive-impulsive type or a combination of both. Hyperactive and impulsive behaviour is much easier to spot hence why girls and women have been missed for so long. In fact, until the 1990s scientists believed ADHD affected only one female for every nine males. Today, the ratio is now one woman for every two men!
ADHD Common Symptoms
Disability, Difficulty, Difference…
There is a difference between a Learning Disability and a Learning Difficulty, although quite often they are confused with each other.
A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities.
A learning difficulty does not affect general intellect and includes difficulties such as Dyslexia, DCD, ADHD etc. Although ADHD and ASC (Autism Spectrum Condition) are often seen as mental health conditions, they are now known to be neurological conditions and so also come under the umbrella of SpLDs and neurodiversity.
Personally, I prefer the word difference to difficulty. Difficulty to me insinuates individuals have difficulty learning. Whereas actually, it’s more about the brain ‘diverging’ from a neurotypical brain. About learning, but in a different way.
Dyslexia / Word Blindness
The earliest case of dyslexia was reported in the British Medical Journal in 1896 – a Dr W. Pringle Morgan in Sussex, England described in his notes a bright and intelligent boy called Percy, who was ‘quick at games’ and was ‘in no way inferior’ to his classmates, but who simply couldn’t learn to read with any fluency.
Originally problems with literacy were called word blindness. The term dyslexia came in 1887, from the works of the ophthalmologist, Rudolf Berlin.
Neurodiversity and Mental Health
Up to 40% of individuals with a learning disability have mental health issues. Individuals with SpLDs specifically tend to suffer from anxiety, depression, stress, low self-esteem and reduced confidence. This can be due to an individual getting a late diagnosis, so struggling to cope without the knowledge of a diagnosis. Bullying from peers less understanding of their abilities. Or even the day-to-day mental and emotional strain, from dealing with one or more learning differences.
The more I read, the more I find out and realise that this is an ever-changing and evolving subject. Neurodiversity Celebration Week is all about raising awareness. The one thing I have come away with is none of us know all the answers, but it is up to us to learn as much as we can.
Neurodiversity Celebration Week
Neurodivergence is now known to be a ‘Society model’. This means that rather than it being up to Neurodivergent individuals having to change and adapt to the world around them; instead, it is up to society to change and adapt to the ever-changing needs of everyone around us. All human beings are equal and all our differences and abilities should be celebrated, rather than seen as limiting or disabling.
It is up to all of us! So this #NeurodiversityCelebrationWeek let us all commit to learning a little more. To welcome the true diversity that SpLDs provide and the amazing skills they bring.
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