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Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training

Raising awareness of Specific Learning Disability

In the best case scenario a prospective student with a disability will contact the disability office prior to enrolment to present information about their disability or medical condition and to discuss the supports that can be made available to them by the organisation. Through this process the need for broader disclosure (to course coordinators or academics) is explored in the context of what is required to facilitate successful participation in the students chosen studies (keeping in mind that disclosure is not mandatory and only becomes necessary when reasonable adjustments are required).

However early presentation to academic or disability services is not the norm for students with a non-diagnosed specific learning disability. There are several reasons for this that are directly connected to the general lack of awareness of exactly what a specific learning disability is within Australian society. Australian based research with adults in tertiary education who have non diagnosed specific learning disabilities highlights the very real and persistent fears many adults experience when returning to education. These fears include revisiting their earlier education experiences where lack of awareness by educators left them feeling labelled as intellectually incompetent and as academic failures amongst their peers.

The lack of awareness about specific learning disability and the fears associated with labelling are very real barriers to students disclosing their learning difficulties. Addressing these barriers across the organisation can assist to normalise specific learning disabilities and raise awareness for students, academics and support staff. Raising awareness can also provide a safety net for students who are not yet informed about why they are experiencing difficulties. Through awareness the students have a chance to seek out assistance and talk about their difficulties before they prematurely leave their studies and reinforce their personal sense of academic failure.

Education providers can raise awareness about Specific Learning Disabilities by:

  • Providing professional development for academics about the prevalence and indicators of SLD
  • Equipping academic and teaching staff with the skills to have the conversation with students about what they are seeing (perceived cognitive capacity interrupted by a learning deficit).
  • Providing professional development for academics on inclusive and universal design approaches to teaching and assessment methods.
  • Speaking to new groups of students and highlighting the prevalence of non-identified learning disabilities and what the diagnosis means and what support strategies can be provided.
  • Sharing the technological solutions available across the organisation for students who have difficulty getting thoughts to paper or comprehending everything they read.
  • Providing information on the student portal about SLDs and who to contact to talk further about learning difficulties students may be experiencing.
  • Hanging posters in the student computer spaces – Ask for assistance if you would like to use text reading or voice activated software on the computer.
  • Introducing an assessment sticker system for students with SLD – the sticker is attached to assessment tasks to alert assessors to focus on content more than grammar and spelling.