Work with people with dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia helps identify research priorities

Monday 20 November 2023

Professor of Neurogenetics Silvia Paracchini set up the Specific Learning Difficulties Network (SLDN) to accelerate and coordinate research efforts around the UK into dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia. In October, the project conducted workshops and interviews with people diagnosed with a specific learning difficulty to help prioritise areas of study. Specialist educators, parents, community leaders and people with SLDs provided their insights, and later their feedback, on particular research questions the SLDN can use to develop research plans and grants.

The two-phase, co-produced study collected stakeholders’ initial feedback, insights and lived experience across four established themes. This was shared with SLDN researchers, who then transformed the prioritised themes into research questions. These research questions were returned to stakeholders to gain final feedback and embed the co-productive and iterative approach.

Stakeholders’ top research priority is understanding the knowledge and skills education professionals require to identify early signs of learning difficulties and provide optimal support for people affected. This includes work to understand and optimise educational interventions and environments at each age and stage, helping those with SLDs achieve the best possible outcomes.

An interesting view from consultees was that examining non-academic interests and hobbies that children with SLDs tend to have could aid understanding of the conditions and, in turn, how to mitigate and overcome their negative impacts.

The effectiveness/efficacy of technologies and apps for dyslexia or dyscalculia is another area that stakeholders feel merits urgent study. This includes how technologies can best be designed and applied to help people overcome their difficulties. For example, what makes the MONZO app easier to use than the HSBC app for dyscalculics?

Dyscalculia is significantly less recognised and accommodated than dyslexia despite it affecting around one in fifteen people (6%). Dyscalculics and others said work was needed to examine the daily difficulties dyscalculics face and the impacts on life skills and concerns like financial literacy and exposure to financial abuse.

Lastly, investigating the types of employment people with SLDs go into and the barriers that exist across the spectrum of work types and roles could yield insight into the impacts, strengths and areas of potential or difficulty associated with the conditions.

This co-produced list of research questions will be used to guide research plans and funding applications over the next few years. “Doing research that does not benefit the stakeholders would be pointless,” said Professor Paracchini. “The workshops have been an opportunity to start this dialogue and understand what lines of research will make a difference. Listening to different perspectives not only has been extremely interesting but has also identified concrete ideas that will guide our work”.

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