Research into Specific Learning Difficulties Published in New Guide

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People who think they may have a specific learning difficulty, such as dyslexia, should undergo dual tests, including reading from different coloured paper, researchers at the University of Worcester say.

Staff in the University’s Disability and Dyslexia Service found that using a combination of an on-screen test and face-to-face tests with a qualified tutor, was the best way to identify someone who may be suffering from dyslexia, dyspraxia or Meares-Irlen Syndrome (visual stress). As a result, the number of people being falsely identified has been cut from about 8% to 2% at the University of Worcester.

Sarah Nichols, lead author of the research and Academic Support Tutor at the University, said: “Naturally we want to identify anybody who needs support as rapidly as possible, and our combination of tests is very good at this; much better than either tutor-screening alone or the on-screen test alone. But it can be really distressing for someone to get an initial diagnosis of dyslexia or dyspraxia at screening and then to find out after a full assessment that they do not have the condition. We are keen to do everything to minimise this distress too, so we’re pleased that experience since 2008 has shown that our research results are confirmed in practice.”

The research was carried out with 74 students and compared the use of the Disability and Dyslexia Service tutor-delivered tests with a computerised test, the Lucid Adult Dyslexia Screening test (LADS). The tutor-delivered tests include reading text on different coloured paper, reciting numbers in a set sequence, and writing at speed.

Anyone identified as potentially having a specific learning difficulty, following the tests, should then undergo a full assessment by a qualified tutor.

“Initially we were just trying to determine whether it was best to use the existing tests, carried out face-to-face with a tutor, or to invest in the LADS software in order to carry out initial screening,” said Sarah, who has more than 30 years experience working with people with learning difficulties. “But after analysing the results we found the best results were when both sets of tests were used, which is something no-one had identified before.”

The research has now been published in Supporting Dyslexic Adults in Higher Education and the Workplace, a guide for use in the HE sector.

“Ideally we would like to see tests carried out much earlier in a person’s life, ie while they are at school or college,” Sarah said. “It’s amazing how many people come to us later in life not knowing that they have dyslexia or dyspraxia and therefore never having had access to the support they needed in order to learn.”