Spotlight: Learning with a disability 

April 27, 2021

Learning with a disability - three children playing with female tutor


We believe that through determination and commitment, learning with a disability shouldn’t limit progress. 

Read on to explore different types of learning difficulties and discover how the right tutor can support your child to reach their full potential. 

We spoke to both one of our Explore members and Learning Centre Director Bethany about their experiences of learning difficulties and the challenges they conquered to get them to where they are today. 

Meet Olivia

Explore member Olivia 

You can see her above, proudly holding her first Explore prize for her hard work! Here Olivia’s mum, Jacqui, tells us about Olivia’s learning journey…

“Olivia was born with Dysautonomia, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Hypermobility Type, Small Fibre Neuropathy, Reflex Anoxic Syncope and Postural Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS)… to name a few conditions!

She has been very poorly for 10 years and has missed at least 3 years of school – probably more – because of the pain she is in on a daily basis. She fell behind at school and my parents helped us catch her up because of the school she had missed. 

They went into one of the Explore Learning tuition centres on a whim after shopping and spoke to the amazing staff and found that the amazing manager there, Bethany, knew all about PoTS as she too had the same condition! We were totally blown away, as for 10 years we had never spoken face to face with someone who had the same condition! 

It melted our hearts and filled us with the hope that Olivia could overcome her health worries one day and live a normal life just as Bethany was!

Olivia also suffers from sensory issues, anxiety, ADHD, and Dyspraxia and she was overwhelmed with joy that she had found her POTSY twin and this gave her the courage to go to the centre.  

At first, Olivia had me promise to stay in the café next door, and she attended most of the tuition sessions in her wheelchair which was never an issue, as the staff always accommodated her and made her feel safe and happy. 

I can’t explain what a big step this was for Olivia to do this, but with the help of the amazing staff, she found not only the energy but strength to let me leave her, safe without the worry that if she passed out, she would be ok as her POTSY bestie Bethany knew just what to do if that happened!

Olivia started to catch up quickly at the centre then… Covid and lockdown began!

As you can imagine, this shook Olivia to the core as she now had to do her tutoring online. She was distraught as she needed consistency and didn’t like the thought of sessions online with tutors who she wasn’t as close to.

The amazing Bethany immediately put Olivia’s mind at rest and did some sessions with her, which Olivia loved, but then different tutors started to take the sessions… Olivia was so nervous and overly worried but once the sessions started she, to my amazement, quickly adapted and loved each and every one of them. She continued smashing her sessions every time!

I was totally amazed at how well she adapted to the change, as this is something that she has struggled with all her life and I literally couldn’t believe my eyes to see her so confident and comfortable with all the incredible staff that she had over the lockdown. 

Olivia has caught up and excelled with the work all the amazing tutors have taught her over the last year. 

I cannot begin to explain the difference they have made. To see her finally confident in all aspects of all subjects was amazing. She originally struggled with maths and English, not only because of her health issues but also due to a lack of confidence from the years of school that she has missed out on. This confidence boost literally fills my heart with joy. This is all down to the amazing maths and English tutoring and the expert tutors that have made this journey so great. 

I cannot recommend Explore Learning highly enough, if it wasn’t for them Olivia wouldn’t be where she is today. Thank you so, so much – this experience has been more than we could ever have dreamed of.”


Meet Bethany 

Explore Learning tutor Bethany

Here’s the famous Bethany that encouraged Olivia to be courageous from the first moment she entered the learning centre. Here she tells us about her own struggles and accomplishments…

“I got poorly when I was 12, so I experienced a big part of my education disability-free. I wasn’t always happy to go to school – would much rather have been curled up on the sofa with a book – but for the most part, I enjoyed it. We bounced around from school to school as my dad was in the Air Force (Germany to England to Norway and back to England again) and I was always excited to start at a new school. 

We stopped moving when I was 8 and I settled into life in one place. By the time Year 7 rolled around, I was ready for the academic challenges ahead.

When I was 12, I started having back pain. I kept dancing, kept playing cricket, kept acting like a normal pre-teen right up until I couldn’t. The back pain spread to my shoulders, then to my hips, then to my knees and ankles and toes until every inch of my body was so sore, I couldn’t think. 

It was exhausting – I was eventually diagnosed when I was 16 with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Hypermobility Type. When I was 17, I was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E) and by 18 I’d made a hobby out of collecting diagnoses – Fibromyalgia and Postural Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS) had joined the party and I was having to fight through exhaustion and brain fog for the entirety of my GCSEs and A-Levels.

The hardest thing I experienced whilst disabled and in education was the vigour with which I was forced to fight my own corner. 

There were many teachers who didn’t believe me, empathy was scarce, and it took a long time to receive the help I needed. I struggled without mobility aids or accommodations until enough was enough and I moved to a school that was better suited to supporting my needs. By this point, I was halfway through my A-Levels and I had lost the ability to handwrite.

This new school was your average local academy but had a much more nurturing environment and each year group had a pastoral manager who worked closely with us to make sure we were all as happy as could be. I started using a walking stick daily and a wheelchair for longer outings, and for my A-Level exams I was allowed extra time, rest breaks and the use of a laptop. 

My favourite thing about this was that I was still able to complete my exams in the same hall as the rest of the year.

I never felt left out and the support from my friends and family was immense. This is what got me through to the end.

I was disappointed with my A-Levels, whilst I achieved great results despite my illnesses, I felt I hadn’t reached my full potential. I had a deferred place to study Genetics with an idealistic dream to help find a cure for EDS but I soon decided this would never be realistic. 

I took a year out to work hard on my health – I tried physiotherapy and hydrotherapy and went on courses to learn how to manage my symptoms.

I tried all different types, doses and combinations of medication and eventually, I felt I had enough of a handle on things to go to university. I worked hard, met friends for life and my wonderful girlfriend, and graduated with a First-Class degree in Business. 

I had a support worker throughout who advocated for me every step of the way and I couldn’t be more grateful. I’m now building a life for myself working in a job which I love – and at one point, I never thought it would be possible.

Things changed for me when I stood up and demanded I be treated better. I stopped being so timid and shy, and my real personality started to shine back through.

Things changed when I allowed myself the help I needed. Using a wheelchair was never ‘giving up’ – how could it be, when it gave me the freedom to go shopping with my friends and visit the zoo with my family?

Things changed when I changed them, and they’re still changing now. I’ve come to accept that whilst I cannot control my illnesses, I can control the way I think about them, and that changes everything!

These experiences have made me the person I am today. 

The determination I have steadily learnt and the power I have gained from never giving up enables me to shape children into fearless learners every day. My hopes are that they too can then go on to conquer challenges and succeed with anything they desire.”


Supporting students with disabilities 

At Explore Learning we know that every child’s strengths and challenges are different. So whether your child has a suspected or diagnosed Special Education Need and Disability (SEND), or is excelling academically and needs a challenge – we tailor our curriculum and approach so that it’s right for them.

Whether it’s online or in our learning centres, amongst many other areas, we have strategies and free resources to help support children with:

  • Concentration
  • Academic progress and retention
  • Social interactions and confidence
  • Audio and visual processing
  • Balance, coordination and motor skills
  • Phonological processing and spelling
  • Organisation and sequencing
  • Attitude towards learning


Learning centre Manager Tash, explains the approach all Explore staff take when supporting children with SEND:


How does disability affect learning?

A learning disability affects the way a child understands information and how they communicate. People with even a mild learning disability can have difficulty understanding new or tricky information. This can potentially interfere with a child’s maths, writing and reading.

SEND tutor Emma

Emma Underwood has worked at Explore for 3 years, previously supporting learning in a Special Educational Need and Disability (SEND) school helping children with skills for learning and life. Here she explains from her experience how disabilities affect learning:

“Sometimes diagnosing a learning disability will come from being recognised in the classroom at an early age and the level of support needed will depend on the needs of the child. Learning disabilities are not something that can be ‘fixed’, but there are various ways and strategies that we can use to support children with disabilities to unlock their full potential. We all need to empower children to grow in confidence, have positive mental health and live as independently as possible.”


Difference between learning difficulty and disability

We spoke to a Specialist Teacher for Children with Specific Learning Difficulties to explain the difference, here’s what she said: 

“Learning disabilities and learning difficulties are both important parts of understanding how we interact and process the world around us, but there are some key differences between the two that changes how children are supported in their learning.

Learning disabilities are characterised by difficulty of learning new skills and understanding information and new ideas. They usually impact an individual’s ability to work independently, but range widely in terms of complexity.

Some examples include:

  • Down’s Syndrome
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Rett Syndrome

Learning difficulties are educational or emotional conditions that affect a person’s ability to learn specific concepts or get along with others and follow convention. They do not affect an individual’s general intelligence, and act more like a filter, changing how they perceive the world around them.

In either case, both learning objectives and teaching methods need to be tailored to help a child achieve success.”


Common types of learning difficulties

Reading (Dyslexia)

“Our brains can see and understand the world in different ways- one of those ways is called Dyslexia”

Dyslexia is a common learning difference, that is estimated to affect around 1 in 10 people in the UK. It is a neurological difference, which can cause brain processing disorders in how it processes everyday tasks and the information that it sees and hears. Everyone’s experience with dyslexia will be different which is why our expert tutors take the time to get to know each child as an individual.

 “Each person with dyslexia will experience the condition in a way that is unique to them and as such, each will have their own set of abilities and difficulties.”- The British Dyslexia Association

Dyslexia primarily affects reading and writing skills, however, it can also affect coordination, organisation and memory. This can present challenges on a daily basis, from difficulties in remembering information to the acquisition of literacy skills. 

As everyone’s dyslexia looks different, it can be challenging to identify. However, it is important to remember that there are also so many positives to thinking differently! Those with dyslexia can show strengths in problem-solving, verbal reasoning, creativity, and big-picture thinking. From Albert Einstein to Richard Branson, dyslexic thinking has changed the world! 

It is important to remember that there are also so many positives to thinking differently! Those with dyslexia can show strengths in problem-solving, verbal reasoning, creativity, and big-picture thinking. From Albert Einstein to Richard Branson, dyslexic thinking has changed the world! 

To help your child realise their dyslexia superpower try reading ‘Xtraordinary People: Made By Dyslexia’ by Kate Griggs together. 




Writing (Dysgraphia)

Dysgraphia affects information and motor processing, which impacts many aspects of writing. Those with dysgraphia may find it challenging to recognise written words, and understand the relationship between letterforms and the sounds they make. Writing, spelling, and forming words can all be challenging for anyone with dysgraphia.


Maths (Dyscalculia)

Developmental Dyscalculia often co-occurs with other specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia or dyspraxia. Dyscalculia can affect the ability to acquire mathematical skills; dyscalculia learners may have difficulty understanding number concepts, lack an intuitive grasp of numbers, or have problems learning number facts.

 There is no singular ‘diagnosis test’, although a person with dyscalculia may:

  • Have difficulty counting backwards.
  • Find it challenging to remember basic facts, despite many hours of practice and learning.
  • Be slower to perform calculations.
  • Have difficulty with mental arithmetic.
  • Have high levels of mathematics anxiety.
  • Forget mathematical procedures, especially as they become more complex. 




Language (Dysphasia/Aphasia)

Aphasia is a communication disorder that occurs when one or more of the language controlling areas of your brain are damaged. Aphasia is a medical term referring to the full loss of language, whereas Dysphasia is a medical term referring to the partial loss of language.

“Aphasia will affect people in different ways and no two people will have exactly the same difficulties. It doesn’t affect intelligence as people with aphasia still think in the same way but are unable to communicate their thoughts easily”Stroke Association UK.

People with aphasia often have trouble with the 4 main ways people understand and use language:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Listening
  • Speaking


Learning with a disability - student learning icon


We support members with both a diagnosed or suspected Special Educational Need. If your child has an Education Health and Care Plan (or a Statement that will be moved to an EHCP) we will adapt their activities to work towards specific goals. You may be waiting for a diagnosis and looking for ways to help your child – at Explore Learning we can support you during this time.

We believe that every child can be fearless. Our tailored approach is specifically designed to support children with a diverse range of special educational needs and disabilities.

Speak to our experts today to discover how we can help your child.


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