Useful tips

October 13, 2006

Gary Day attempted to write about students with learning differences and disabilities in his usual witty and urbane manner (Columnist, September 29). As the co-author of the staff information document that he was so sarcastic about, I am moved to offer a contrasting point of view.

We were asked to produce the document by a senior member of staff who felt the need for a quick-reference guide to the types of student we encounter. I am sure most readers are aware that numbers of students who are mentally ill or have been identified with Asperger's syndrome, to name but two kinds of neurodiversity, are increasing.

Day seems surprised that such a document includes advice on dealing with students in distress. I have frequently encountered colleagues who express anxiety about coping with such students. It is not surprising that dyslexic and dyspraxic students, for example, become distressed at times, in view of the academic and personal organisation demands of higher education. We are not suggesting that lecturers become counsellors - simply that some may benefit from basic tips on counselling skills.

We are obliged by law to make adjustments for disabled students. The presence of these students challenges us to revisit our assessment approaches. Is disability a problem for the "defective" student, or is it a problem for the institution - an opportunity to deliver truly accessible, academically demanding courses?

David Pollak
De Montfort University

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