Understanding the genetic and cognitive processes behind learning disabilities can help teachers optimise learning for pupils, according to new research.

The study, by Dr Yulia Kovas from the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London and Tomsk State University, and Professor Brian Butterworth from UCL, outlines the causes of specific learning disabilities (SLDs) and the best way to tailor individual teaching for individuals with an SLD and education professionals.
 
Up to 10% of the population are affected by SLDs, such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and autism – about 2-3 pupils in every classroom.
 
By reviewing current understanding about the neural and genetic basis of SLDs, Dr Kovas and Professor Butterworth were able to clarify what causes them to develop in order to improve teaching for pupils and also training for school psychologists, clinicians and teachers.

Understanding differences
 
Dr Kovas said: “By developing an understanding of how individual differences in brain development interact with formal education and adapting learning pathways accordingly, we can ensure greater educational success will be achieved for all learners.
 
“Societies that have achieved universal access to education face a new, even more difficult challenge; that of creating educational systems which allow each individual to fully utilise their unique genetic profiles in order to make the most of education.  This can only be achieved through individualising educational practice to each learner. A promising approach involves the development of technology-enhanced learning applications that are capable of adapting to individual needs.”
 
The study, published in the journal Science, also indicates that children are frequently affected by more than one learning disability.
 
“While these conditions in isolation already provide a challenge for educators, an additional problem is that specific learning disabilities also co-occur far more often than would be expected,” added Dr Kovas. “For example, in children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, 33 to 45% also suffer from dyslexia and 11% from dyscalculia.”