Up to 10 percent of the population are affected by specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and autism, translating to 2 or 3 pupils in every classroom, according to a new review.
The review — by academics at UCL and Goldsmiths — also indicates that children are frequently affected by more than one learning disability.
The research, published today in Science, helps to clarify the underlying causes of learning disabilities and the best way to tailor individual teaching and learning for affected individuals and education professionals.
Specific learning disabilities arise from atypical brain development with complicated genetic and environmental causes, causing such conditions as dyslexia, dyscalculia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder and specific language impairment.
While these conditions in isolation already provide a challenge for educators, an additional problem is that specific learning disabilities also co-occur for more often that would be expected. As, for example, in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, 33 to 45 per cent also suffer from dyslexia and 11 per cent from dyscalculia.
Lead author Professor Brian Butterworth (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience) said: “We now know that there are many disorders of neurological development that can give rise to learning disabilities, even in children of normal or even high intelligence, and that crucially these disabilities can also co-occur far more often that you’d expect based on their prevalence.
“We are also finally beginning to find effective ways to help learners with one or more SLDs, and although the majority of learners can usually adapt to the one-size-fits-all approach of whole class teaching, those with SLDs will need specialised support tailored to their unique combination of disabilities.”
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