The term Specific Learning Difficulties has been used by educational professionals and institutions to describe varying traits associated with conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Dyslexia, Dyspraxia (also known as Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD)), Developmental Language Disorders (DLD) and Dyscalculia. Other terms used include developmental disorders or differences.
These terms have generally highlighted difference, disability and impairment. Umbrella terms gaining popularity, which is less about impairment, is neurodiversity or neurodivergence. This frames a view that not everyone is impaired by their neurodiverse profile but the challenge or impairments that some people have are partly about the environment they are placed in and the tasks they are asked to do.
About 1 in 8 people in college settings are neurodiverse and some will require additional support inside and outside the college to achieve their full potential. Adjustments or support need to be in a college and course context, personally appropriate and provided in a timely manner.
Students are dimensional and it’s hard to put an individual into a neat box
There is extensive research showing that neurodiverse conditions often co-occur (or overlap) with one another. This means that a student with one diagnosis is quite likely to have challenges in one or more areas, to a lesser or greater degree, but may not necessarily have a diagnosis. There may be several reasons for this, including not having needs recognised, or not completely reaching a diagnostic threshold, or not having access to professionals to provide a diagnosis. Some diagnoses are also more easily obtained and there remains a postcode lottery. Historically there has been a far greater focus on Dyslexia than DCD despite about 25% of people with Dyslexia also having some traits associated with DCD. Someone with ASD is very likely to have attention difficulties and motor difficulties but may not have been screened for either.
Neurodiverse students will each have their own profile of strengths and challenges. Two students with apparently the same diagnosis may have very different profiles in reality. They may also be studying different courses with different course demands. While challenges may be in a number of areas, this may be influenced by the environment they are in (course, living conditions, experiences) and the task demands placed on them.
Some challenges may include:
- Taking legible notes in lectures while listening to information given
- Planning and prioritising their work
- Reading, understanding and critiquing new information
- Working with others in a group setting
- Gaining an understanding of the social rules of college
- Working to deadlines for assignments and/or exams
Delivering early personalised support
The reality for every college is that volumes of students all start together at the beginning of an academic year. Having a method of screening for Neurodiversity and study skills which is quick, accessible and efficient to deliver has remained somewhat of a challenge. It has also been challenging to provide students and staff with immediate and useful feedback to target support. Delivering effective wellbeing support has also become an increasing need.
Paper-based screening tools, while cheap to photocopy, are time consuming and costly to be marked and the data collated. They are also not accessible for those with reading difficulties and provide no feedback to the student. This approach can result in delays in getting information to course tutors that is presented in a meaningful way to target support early on.
How can technology help?
One tool that has been used in a number of colleges is the Do-IT Profiler system. This is an accessible means of ensuring large numbers of students can be screened at one time for Neurodiversity traits including strengths and challenges and mapping study skills. The system delivers an instant person-centred report for the student, guidance for tutors and teachers, and data mapping for the college to target where support is required at the start of the academic year.
It also provides additional assessment tools and resources relating to wellbeing, literacy and numeracy skills and employability skills.
Support for work placements or students with higher support needs
InterAct coaching app for students
Some students require higher levels of support either in college or maintaining a successful work placement. The InterAct Coaching app works with the Profiler system. The student downloads the app on their phone and they are prompted to report how they are doing at a set time, providing information that covers skills, emotional wellbeing and time management. The teacher or student support person can provide personalised feedback back to the student via the app. This allows the staff member to be able to monitor and support a group of students at one time, and also have the evidence of their support in one place.
InterAct coaching app staff view
As the Business Director for Do-IT Solutions, Helen brings a vast amount of knowledge and experience of neurodiversity in college and offender learning, having worked in a variety of roles from being a law lecturer in college to senior leadership in both the FE and Criminal and Youth Justice sector. It was within these settings that she first encountered Profiler and became a champion of its usefulness even before she worked for Do-IT Solutions.
Professor Amanda Kirby
Amanda is co-founder and CEO of Do-IT. She has an international reputation in the field of developmental disorders and is a qualified GP and holds a part time chair at the University of South Wales. Other areas of note include: Author of Adult DCD/Dyspraxia checklist, the only recommended checklist in European Guidelines 2016 for DCD/Dyspraxia. She developed The Dyscovery Centre, a clinical centre for children and adults with learning difficulties and ran this for more than 15 years. She has worked in adult mental health services for several years and is an International expert, researcher and clinician in learning difficulties for more than 20 years and has also published 100 peer reviewed papers and 8 books in the field, translated into 5 languages. She has also acted as an advisor on accessibility e.g. Harry Potter books /DWP/Autism bodies.
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