We are in the process of launching an exciting and important new project! Its full title is Learning about learning difficulties for primary school pupils and their teachers: co-designing and evaluating an evidence-based open access resource in a neurodiversity framework. For everyday use, we will refer to this project as Learning About Neurodiversity at School, or LEANS for short.
This project began on March 1, 2020 and will continue for 20 months. Below, you can find some information on the project aims and phases, based on the original grant application. We will add more information as the project progresses.
Children learn about societal issues, like climate change or religious diversity, at primary school. Organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund and Oxfam provide downloadable resources, ideas for classroom activities, model school assemblies, and information videos to help teachers educate children about key topics for society. At the moment, there is no such resource for talking about how every child approaches learning differently due to differences in their neurology, and how these differences can lead to challenges in their learning and participation in the school environment. This lack of relevant materials on neurodiversity and its relationship to learning contributes to a lack of understanding and consequent challenges in classroom inclusion.
We propose to create materials for teachers to educate primary school pupils about barriers to learning, using the concept of neurodiversity as a framework. Neurodiversity provides a positive framework for talking about conditions and types of difficulties that impact learning, and celebrating differences while recognising needs.
This work is closely allied to several of the “Top 10 research priorities for learning difficulties”, identified in joint work between the Salvesen Mindroom Centre, University of Edinburgh, and James Lind Alliance, particularly those priorities related to training for educational professionals, quality educational environments, and preventing stigma and bullying.
This project has three different phases focused on designing, reviewing, and evaluating neurodiversity resources for mainstream primary schools in Scotland, focusing on children in P5-6 (age 8-11 years).
In phase one (from July-October 2020) we will work with a participatory design team of adults with lived and professional experience related to education and neurodiversity issues. This will include a combination of online focus groups, and collaborative editing of draft materials. The goal of this phase is to generate ideas for the content and format of the school resources and assess the feasibility of different options. The main output of this phase will be a complete first draft of the resources.
In phase two (from November 2020) we will review the draft resources with a range of neurodivergent and typically developing pupils to assess the resources’ accessibility, acceptability and risk of harms. We will simultaneously publish our draft materials online and invite comments from the wider community. At the end of this phase, a finalised resource pack will be developed based on pupil and community feedback, and checked with the original participatory design team.
In phase three we will evaluate the finalised materials’ use in practice in four Scottish primary schools, to see if they are effective at changing pupils’ and teachers’ knowledge of, and attitudes toward, neurodiversity-related barriers to learning. We hope to include a range of schools that may face different challenges or be in different locations (e.g. city centre vs. rural schools), recruiting a total of approximately 80 children across the schools. We will also be collecting information from pupils and teachers about the quality and feasibility of our resource pack (acceptability, accessibility, usefulness and relevance) and its perceived impact in the classroom.
At the end of phase three, we will make a final round of edits to act on key feedback from the evaluation. The main result of this project will be a free-to-use resource pack to educate primary school pupils and their teachers about neurodiversity. We will also be disseminating interim results from the different project phases in research- and practice-focused venues throughout the project.
Fergus Murray of AMASE (Autistic Mutual Aid Society Edinburgh) is a consultant on the project team and also contributed to developing the grant proposal. Neurodiversity advocate and author Siena Castellon, founder of Neurodiversity Celebration Week, is a study advisor and community liaison for this project.
When forming the adult participatory design team, we will actively seek to recruit neurodivergent professionals, experts, and parents, comprising a majority of the total design team.
This research is fully funded by a Salvesen Mindroom Research Centre Scientific Advisory Board Research Grant.
You can access a copy of the original grant proposal here.
In the context of the LEANS project, the term barriers to learning refers to difficulties that children and young people experience in learning contexts because their brains are taking in and processing information in a different way to the majority of the population. These differences may result in challenges with reading and spelling skills, executive functioning, interpreting social signals, coping with busy sensory environments, and more. We often talk about some of these barriers to learning in terms of individual condition labels such as ADD/ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, or developmental language disorder (DLD), but many people may have experiences that cross the boundaries of these conditions, or have needs that haven’t been recognised by an official diagnosis.
There are of course many, many other important factors that can form barriers to children’s learning, but they fall outside the remit of this project and the experience of our team. The LEANS project specifically focuses on barriers related to neurodiversity (see FAQs).
Neurodiversity is the fact that there are many varieties of human brains in the world, just as biodiversity describes the many varieties of animals and plants in the world. Different kinds of brains take in and process information in different ways, resulting in different kinds of human behaviour. These differences mean that people may thrive (or face challenges) in different conditions or environments. No one kind of brain is better than any other – they are all just a part of the richness of human life. We need to understand and embrace these differences in brains if we want to provide the conditions everyone needs to thrive, in education or across our wider society.
If you have any further questions about the project, please contact us at LEANS@ed.ac.uk