Better Represent Learning Disabilities with the SLD Survey
Specific learning difficulties (SLD) affect an array of fundamental skills, including reading, writing and numeracy. Conditions in these areas are each reported in up to 10% of children however some, such as dyslexia, have a higher profile – and often receive more research attention and funding as a result. Dr Silvia Paracchini (St Andrews) and Dr Michelle Luciano (Edinburgh) have been awarded grants from the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Medical Research Council to establish the Specific Learning Difficulties Network (SLDN), which aims to address this problem.
The SLDN will bring together researchers from different areas, including psychology, genetics, education, and cognitive neuroscience, as well as teachers, clinicians, and policymakers. The network will be officially launched later this year, at a meeting in Edinburgh from 3rd-4th November. The primary focus of the Network is better coordinate the research agenda around learning difficulties starting from the perspective of those directly touched by these conditions.
To better capture the perspective of individuals with learning difficulties, Paracchini and Luciano have launched a survey to compare experiences in getting diagnoses and support across different conditions and UK regions.
High quality data in large cohorts are key to making progress in diagnoses, intervention, and mitigation strategies for SLDs, however resources are unevenly distributed across conditions. Studies with large sample sizes focusing on dyslexia, for instance, have allowed for meaningful analysis of the condition, and accessibility and accommodating options are offered to affected students. Meanwhile, dyscalculia and dysgraphia, which are as common as dyslexia, remain less researched and, consequently, less recognised and supported.
Timing is a critical factor, with earlier interventions associated with higher effectiveness – demonstrating the importance of awareness around SLDs. Lack of resources and investments also affects our understanding of the long-term effects of these conditions and their comorbidities throughout the life-course.
SLDs cause and are caused by a variety of factors, more than be analysed by only one field – and decades of experience have shown that the different approaches of various disciplines reinforce one another when used collectively. Advances in SLD research cannot be made by an individual research group. Instead, multi-team efforts are required to assemble the large-scale multi-dimensional data necessary to understand the causes, manifestations, and long-term effects of SLDs.
The SLDN has quickly gathered interest from key stakeholders including charities, advocacy bodies, and cross-party parliament groups, which points to its importance and position as the first organisation of its kind in this space. In addition to the participations of experts from different disciplines, this meeting will include roundtable discussions with representatives from charities (e.g. Dyslexia Scotland), policymakers (including members from the teams of prominent MPs), and the education sectors.
The team is particularly interested to know what is working better and what is particularly challenging with the aim to inform and focus the research priorities of the next five years. If you or a young person you care for have received a diagnoses for dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia, consider sharing your experiences via the survey. Visit the survey here.