Learning difficulties

Students come in all sorts. There is rarely an answer that you can give to one parent that would satisfy others. We spend a lot of time learning about the individual needs of our students, and it is complicated to explain how we work with particular “types” of students. We have tried to address some of the more common questions that we are asked about students with learning difficulties.

Frequently asked questions

Q: Do you accept students with learning disabilities?

A: Over the years we have taken several students with various learning disabilities. Almost every independent school does. Generally the students and parents have been very happy. However, you should be aware that we are not set up for managing students with specific learning disabilities. There are no staff specially qualified in disability management and there is no school psychologist or even school nurse. (Several staff are qualified in first aid.)

Q: Why do parents send students with learning disabilities to you if there are no specially trained staff?

A: Sometimes they cannot get into a special development school because their child is not “sufficiently disabled” or sometimes the parents do not accept that their child needs any special program.
Sometimes parents feel that their child will progress better if they in an environment with “normal” students. We have certainly found this to be the case. We have found that a student’s learning disability can be perpetuated by the way others react to it. When they are treated just like other students their disability improves beyond belief.

Q: How well does it work for them?

A: It depends on the problem. On the whole, parents and their students have been exceedingly pleased. Sometimes, but quite rarely, there has been concern from the staff here that a particular child, although happy, is not adequately supported by our resources. We discuss this with the parents and they decide on staying at Alia or trying another setting.

Q: What sorts of disabilities have you dealt with successfully?

A: Sometimes there is argument over if or what disability a student might have. Here is a quick list of some instances that we remember.

  • Tourettes Syndrome: we have only dealt with one student with Tourettes Syndrome; a fairly mild case. The yipping noises disappeared over about a term. The carefully designed environment does it. We didn’t apply any real therapy to the student.
  • Dyslexia: most students with dyslexia, in our opinion, are of well above average ability. So far, almost all of the students with dyslexia have managed really well. Perhaps they weren’t severe cases.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): most students with ASD, in our opinion, are also of well above average ability. All were very different. Generally excellent outcomes right from the start.
  • Mild developmental delay: this can mean anything from serious shyness to immaturity to very slow learning. Sometimes such students simply need some peaceful time and/or some opportunity to hear what others have to say and/or to be specifically shown some standard techniques of learning. Parents mostly say that the improvements are immediate and excellent. From the teachers’ observations, improvements are slow but definite. Academic results have varied from excellent to parents being delighted that confidence and socialisation skills have dramatically improved with only moderate academic improvement.
  • School refusal: this is not a disability. All of these have been very different students. Everything from bored and resistant right through to absolute refusal to be in a classroom unless mum is sitting in the room with the student. We do brilliantly with the students who were once good academics but got bullied. Once we did have to let mum sit in the class for weeks, but that was because the student really was very traumatised. (We didn’t think it would work out; but it did!)

Q: What sorts of disabilities have you dealt with unsuccessfully?

A: Most of the above, but generally we do well.

Q: What causes matters to work unsuccessfully?

A: Sometimes the problem is just too tough, or there are multiple problems, or we just get it wrong.