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January 2021




People with disabilities do best when we live in our communities and make our own choices. All people with disabilities should have the support we need to live in the community — but many people with disabilities are still stuck in institutions. 

For decades, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been fighting to get out of institutions and back into our communities. But a lot of resources explaining the history and policy of institutions are not accessible to the people who need them most. That’s why we’ve released two toolkits about institutions. 

The first one, Institutions: the Old, The New, and What We Should Do, focuses on the history of institutions from the 19th century to the present, and what we can do to make community living possible for everyone. This toolkit answers important questions like:

  • What is an institution? What is living in the community?
  • When did institutions get made, and what were they like?
  • What rules and laws help us live in the community?
  • Why is living in the community better than living in institutions?
  • What are new institutions like? How are they different from the old institutions? How are they the same?

When new institutions open, people often say that they will be great places for people with disabilities. But they end up hurting people with disabilities. Our second toolkit, The Cycle of Institutions, explains how institutions get opened, closed, remade, and opened again… and again. This toolkit answers important questions like:

  • What is the cycle of institutions?
  • What are state schools, ICFs, group homes, and intentional communities?
  • How are these places different from institutions in the past? How are they the same?
  • How can you tell that a facility is an institution?

Institutions: The Old, The New, and What We Should Do

Institutions: The Old, The New, and What We Should Do is available in two versions:

  • Our Easy Read Edition. The Easy Read version has 7 parts, plus a separate section with additional links and a section with Words to Know. The Easy Read version uses pictures along with large text, and has more white space.
  • A Plain Language Version without accompanying graphics. It includes a full glossary of all the words used in the toolkit.

Easy Read Edition

The Easy Read Edition is split into parts. Click on the title of any of the parts below to download it:

You can also download the entire Easy Read edition by clicking here. Plain Language Version

Click here to download the Plain Language version of Institutions: The Old, The New, and What We Should Do.

The Cycle of Institutions

The Cycle of Institutions is available in two versions:

  • Our Easy Read Edition. The Easy Read version has 5 parts, plus a separate section with additional links and a section with Words to Know. The Easy Read version uses pictures along with large text, and has more white space.
  • A Plain Language Version without accompanying graphics. It includes a full glossary of all the words used in the toolkit.

Easy Read Edition

The Easy Read Edition is split into parts. Click on the title of any of the parts below to download it:

You can also download the entire Easy Read edition by clicking here. Plain Language Version

Click here to download the Plain Language version of The Cycle of Institutions.

Support for this toolkit was provided by The Community Living Policy Center at Brandeis University. Funding for this center is provided by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (grant number 90RTCP0004). However, the contents of this brief do not necessarily represent the policy of the federal government.

a view of tall autumn trees from below

Dear friends,

October is coming to an end, and we wish we could say that Halloween was the scariest thing happening this week. But with COVID cases surging and threats to the Affordable Care Act on the horizon, the disability community is facing dangers that are all too real. Plenty of us are feeling fatigue set in after an incredibly difficult year — but we’re not giving up. People with disabilities across the United States are speaking up by voting in this year’s election, and when our voices are heard, we have more power to make change. ASAN has spent this month educating our community about voting and civic engagement, and we know that whatever the next battles may be, people with disabilities will advocate for our rights as fiercely as ever. No matter what comes next, we’re in this fight together.

One of the first things we did this month was release a statement against the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. As of this week, Barrett has been sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice. This puts our community’s rights in danger, especially with a Supreme Court case coming up about the Affordable Care Act. Regardless of the outcome of that case, ASAN will keep fighting to protect access to healthcare for all people with disabilities. 

With the election coming closer, we spent a lot of time this month putting out accessible information on voting. Voting can change who makes policies at the local, state, or federal levels  — and that affects our daily lives as people with disabilities. We’ve been sharing information and resources about voting under guardianship, making a plan to vote, and how and why to vote. As we approach election day, we encourage you to review your options to vote. It’s also important to remember that with more people voting by mail this year, it may take more time to count all the ballots. We may not know the final election results on Tuesday night, but ensuring that we count every vote is more important than quick election results. When the disability community votes, and when we make sure that every vote is counted, we’re saying that every voice matters.

With COVID-19 killing tens of thousands of people with disabilities in institutions, it’s clearer than ever that we need to end institutionalization and make sure all disabled people can live in the community. Our two new Easy Read and plain language toolkits explain why our society has kept deadly institutions around this long, and how we can get rid of them. The first toolkit talks about the history of institutions, what research tells us about living in the community vs. an institution, and what new institutions look like. The second one explains the cyclical nature of institutions, how institutions “rebrand” themselves, and how to break the cycle. 

We’ve also been preparing for another change this fall: ASAN’s annual gala is going virtual! We’re hosting a variety of events, from Twitter chats, to panels, to film screenings. All video or streaming content will have captions. Tickets are sliding scale. We would love to see you there!

During these next few months, lots of change will continue to happen. We encourage you to take care of yourself and your communities in this difficult time. The disability community has been using mutual aid and powerful advocacy to get through this pandemic. We will use those same strategies and skills to keep up the fight for our rights and our liberation — for as long as it takes, until all of us are free. Remember to vote if you haven’t already, and know that no matter what comes next, we’ll face it together.

In solidarity,

Julia Bascom
Executive Director
Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Support our work

ASAN Opposes Supreme Court Nominee Amy Coney Barrett

2020 Virtual Gala invitation


Many autistic people are still not receiving the good quality care they need, according to a new report from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the regulator of health and social care services in England. The report, which is about the state of care in 2019/20, highlights the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the sector.

This simply cannot continue and underlines the urgent need to invest in mental health and social care support for autistic people:

The State of Care report is the CQC’s annual assessment of health and social care services in England, including those that cater for autistic people, over the past year. It looks at care both before the outbreak of coronavirus and during the pandemic. To put the report together, the CQC looked data gathered from inspections of services, along with other information including from people who use their services, their families and carers.

What the report says

One of the most important findings is that, the number of hospital inpatient wards for autistic people and/or people with a learning disability found to be poor quality has increased. Many autistic people continue to live in mental health hospitals, despite Government promises to change this. The report highlights that inspectors found poor care in many of these wards. Overall, the proportion of services rated as inadequate rose from 4% to 13%, which is extremely worrying.

The report also finds that as a result of the pandemic, existing problems in social care have been not only “exposed, but exacerbated.” These challenges included access to PPE, testing, staffing and less coordinated support than that available for the NHS. The CQC says that a long-term funding solution must be implemented for the social care sector, which remains in need of both investment and workforce planning. Whilst the Government has made short-term interventions to stabilise the system during the pandemic, the need for a longer-term plan still needs to be tackled and these issues must be “urgently” addressed. We strongly agree with this and are calling on the Chancellor to invest in the social care support that autistic people and their families need. 

Our response

Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society, said: “This damning report shows a worrying increase in the number of hospitals found to be poor quality. This simply cannot continue. 

“Autism is not a mental health condition. It’s wrong that hundreds of autistic children and adults are living in mental health hospitals, often inappropriately, many miles away from home and unable to see family and friends.

“But without the right mental health and social care support in the community, too many autistic people really struggle, eventually hitting complete crisis and facing being put in a hospital that doesn’t meet their needs.

“The Government must put this right by investing in mental health and social care support for autistic people, and crucially reviewing the Mental Health Act so that autistic people aren’t inappropriately sectioned. Only this will end this vicious cycle.”

Further information



Heather Cook  •  Follow October 8, 2020

You watch your kid trying to do homeschool online, but they can’t focus, stay on a call with the teacher, or get work done. You’re frustrated and want to help, but you’ve tried what the experts suggested, and it’s not doing much.

The following tips have been amassed from the repeated comments of many autistic people I’ve encountered, as well as my own experiences as an autistic woman and high school teacher. We’ve struggled with the same things your kid is going through, and have learned what works for us. That said, everyone on the spectrum has different strengths and challenges, so not all of these will help; try some and see what works for your student.

Calm the nervous system

Learning takes quite a bit of cognitive energy, and that doesn’t go well with being wound up, shut off, anxious, or upset. When you’re on edge, you don’t get your best work done, either. Quite a bit of bouncy, frenzied, or unresponsive behavior comes from a disorganized nervous system. Reorganizing it involves making sure each of the senses have enough input without getting overloaded.

1. Identify which senses need extra stimulation (if your student is wiggly, they might need more proprioception — the body’s awareness of where it is in space), and which senses need less (do sounds hurt?). Then look for different ways to stimulate or reduce the senses that need it. For example:

2. Let your student stim, jump around, climb, swing, spin, roll, rock, brush their skin with something scratchy or soft, flap their hands, or whatever else helps their body feel good. These things may look odd, but can be incredibly calming and organizing to an overloaded nervous system.

3. Try a weighted lap blanket, weighted vest, or simply holding anything heavy, like a pile of textbooks. The added muscle resistance can be relaxing.

4. Add aromatherapy essential oils to the study room. Different scents can calm, invigorate, or help focus. Let your student help choose ones that work for him. If he doesn’t like the scent, it doesn’t matter what it is “supposed to” do, it won’t help.

5. Background music can be helpful for some, but if your student is trying to study, read, or do anything that involves language, make sure the music does not have words — no singing. The brain has to work overtime to sort out two sources of language input at once, which can interfere with learning and drain energy and endurance faster. Try classical music, nature sounds, or ambient (think spa music).

6. Is your student a wiggler? Try sitting her on a wobble cushion or replace her chair with a yoga ball that she can bounce on while working. Either will activate core muscles and achieve the proprioceptive input the wiggling is trying to get.

7. Some people report headaches or irritability from fluorescent lights, so try replacing CFL bulbs with something else and see if that helps. Take advantage of any natural lighting you have, which is gentler on the nervous system than artificial lights.

Set up your environment for success

When too much is going on around you, it can be difficult to concentrate. However, how much is “too much” varies from person to person. For many autistic people, how much we can tolerate without side effects is much less than for neurotypicals. In fact, things that others consider white noise or minor distractions may be literally impossible to ignore.
Try to make the study area as calming and distraction-free as possible.

1. Let your student work in a room alone with the door closed.

2. Turn off the television or stereo in the next room if it can be overheard, or try wearing ear protectors to reduce sounds.

3. Dim or brighten lights to suit your student’s personal comfort level. This might be much dimmer than you are comfortable with, so resist turning on more lights.

4. The glare on glossy textbooks and screens make reading difficult and even cause headaches. Try putting a matte screen protector or colored film (translucent report covers or notebook dividers work well) over them to reduce eye strain and increase endurance.

Make taking breaks OK

After only about 20 minutes of sitting, blood starts to drain from the brain and pool in the butt. Getting up and moving frequently, even for a few minutes, keeps us all thinking more clearly and feeling good.

1. If your student feels the need to get up and move, walk away from the computer, jump around, or get a snack, please let them. It may appear like they’re not focusing, but short breaks can help them stick with it long enough to finish.

2. Optometrists recommend looking up from the computer or book for 20 seconds to a minute, several times an hour, and focusing on something more than 20 feet away (which is usually outside) to reduce eye strain and associated headaches.

3. Brain Gym exercises are easy and quick ways to stimulate different parts of the brain to work better together. Doing these at break times can help refocus.

4. Connect with nature. Even something as small as looking through a window to watch tree leaves rustle in the wind can have a calming effect on the nervous system. Repeated exposure increases the benefits.

5. All this moving may look as if your student is not concentrating, but classrooms of still, silent children do more for teachers’ sanity than children’s learning. While at home, take advantage of the ability to experiment with what best facilitates your student’s success.

6. On that note, teachers often insist kids look at them when they talk, but unless she needs to interpret visual information, use sign language, or read lips, there is no actual correlation between attention and the direction someone is looking. You can drive and follow your kid’s argument in the backseat just fine. If your student is not looking at the screen, it doesn’t necessarily mean she’s not paying attention. Ask her a question about the material if you want to check for comprehension.

7. Also, make not taking breaks OK. If your student gets engrossed in his work and doesn’t want to quit, try not to force him out of it unless it is really necessary. He’ll get a lot more done, more willingly, even if it means adjusting a routine or plan.

Let them rest afterward

Autistic brains are great at some things, but often tire more quickly from social activities (yes, video school counts), and we need more downtime to recuperate. If you ask us to go straight from school to activities or therapy to family time in short order, it is more likely to produce unwanted behaviors than to teach us how to be social.

1. When school is over for the day, let your student have some downtime to use as they choose. Don’t make this a reward that needs to be earned; it is just part of the plan.

2. Especially when things did not go well, that is likely a sign she needs the downtime more than ever. Taking away her chance to recuperate when that is exactly what she needs most will make both of your lives more difficult for the rest of the day (or longer).

3. Remember that you’re not on your best behavior when you’re tired and stressed, either. We get to that point faster than you do, and social time gets us there much faster.

Involve your student in these decisions

No one likes to be micromanaged, and we all work better when we feel we have some control over when and how we work. That is no less true for an autistic kid or teen.

1. At the beginning of each school day, agree on what you both think is a reasonable amount of work to get done. When it is done, even if it is faster than expected, don’t push for more. Let your student rest or play.

2. Agree in advance on acceptable rest and play options. Make sure some of them are off-screen, but they don’t all have to be. Unstructured free play is essential to healthy brain development.

3. Ask your student’s input on any changes you propose, and ask him later how they feel. You might be surprised about what helps.

Not all of these suggestions will work for both your student and you, and even the ones that do work won’t work all the time. I hope I have offered some ideas for removing impediments that might be preventing your student from working, and added to the toolbox of resources your family can draw upon.



Published on 12 August 2020

The Government has published guidance on the support autistic people who are unwell with COVID-19 in inpatient care should be able to get.

We have outlined the key points that affect support for autistic children and adults in inpatient care, for example in a mental health hospital, who have one of the following:

  •  any symptoms of COVID-19
  • a confirmed case of COVID-19
  • an underlying health condition which makes them part of the ‘extremely vulnerable’ group – also known as the ‘shielding’ group.

What has changed?

Testing: If an autistic person is suspected to have COVID-19 , they should be tested straight away and health professionals should keep the person under regular observation to make sure their symptoms don’t get worse.

Shielding: If you or the autistic person you support is also part of the ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’, or ‘shielding’ group, they should be prioritised for an ensuite room. This is to protect them from the virus. Hospitals should reorganise their layout and staff to make sure extremely vulnerable people are protected. If an ensuite room isn’t available, people should be put in a side bay/ward as quickly as they can to reduce the risk of getting coronavirus, or if they have the virus, of passing it on.

People who have COVID-19 will have to self-isolate as much as possible in inpatient care to stop the virus from spreading.

What if I or the person I support gets coronavirus and becomes really unwell?

  • If this happens, you or the person you support may be transferred to acute care in a hospital. Staff in the hospital and the commissioners should work together and follow their regular guidelines on transferring patients from inpatient care. They should explain what is happening and help you or the person you support to prepare for it.
  • Health professionals caring for the person you support must continue to avoid restrictive practices where at all possible. You or the person you support might find it helpful to use ourHealth Passport, which helps autistic people communicate their needs to doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals.
  • If important decisions need to be made, they should be discussed with you, or the person you support directly as well as family members or carers. All the relevant information should be accessible, so everyone understands what’s happening. 

How should mental health hospitals stop the coronavirus from spreading?

  • If someone has symptoms or a confirmed case of COVID-19, they need to self-isolate and get tested immediately.
  • If an autistic person has symptoms or a confirmed case of the virus, staff in the service should draw up a management and isolation plan for that person. This should take into account things that might be difficult for an autistic person, for example if a staff member wears personal protective equipment (PPE), which could be frightening.
  • You have to be told if another person on the ward has been confirmed with COVID-19. Staff should also tell you if any changes have been made to the way they care for you or the person you support because they’re trying to stop the virus from spreading.
  • Autistic people might find it difficult to understand social distancing rules, especially in an environment like a mental health hospital. If you, or the person you support, do struggle, staff in the service must carry out case-by-case reviews, using legal guidance about how to support individuals.

Continue Reading …


Published on 20 August 2020

As the science about the spread of the coronavirus has developed over the last few months, the Government’s view on the importance of face coverings has changed. The science now shows that if people are in enclosed spaces, for example on a train or in a shop, face coverings can help protect people from getting and transmitting coronavirus if most people wear one.

Many autistic people will be able to wear a face covering and we have heard from lots of people who have prepared themselves for this change. But for some autistic people it will be too hard. This might be because of the sensory differences autistic people experience, or they might become really distressed or want to remove their mask. So, there are important exemptions in place for autistic people who will struggle to wear a mask.

We are working with autistic people to develop information and tips for you if you want to wear a mask.

From 31 July, face coverings are now mandatory and should be worn in public indoor venues unless you have a legitimate reason not to wear one.

It is not mandatory to wear face coverings in:

  • Eat-in restaurants and pubs
  • Gyms

The Government has said that you don’t need to wear a face covering if you have a legitimate reason not to, which includes:

  • Young children under the age of 11 (Public Health England do not recommended face coverings for children under the age of 3 for health and safety reasons)
  • Not being able to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability
  • If putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress
  • If you are travelling with or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
  • To avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to yourself or others

If you do wear a face covering, there are times when you are allowed to remove it when you’re asked to:

  • In a bank, building society, or post office for identification
  • By shop staff for identification, for example when buying age-restricted products like alcohol
  • Speaking with people who rely on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound. Some may ask you, either verbally or in writing, to remove your covering to help with communication.

It won’t be compulsory for shop or supermarket staff to wear face coverings, but many staff will wear masks, or be behind screens.

On public transport

In England, the rules are that you have to wear a face covering on public transport unless you have a good reason not to. The Government has given some examples of when you don’t have to wear a face covering, which include:

  • if you are younger than 11 years old
  • if you can’t put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability
  • if putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress
  • if you are travelling with or helping someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
  • to avoid harm or injury to you or others.

This means that if you or the person you support is autistic and finds putting a face covering on really hard or distressing, you don’t have to wear one. The Government’s list isn’t exhaustive, which means there could be other reasons why you don’t have to wear a face covering too.

We have told the Government that transport staff and the public need to know about these exemptions so that you or the person you support aren’t challenged by staff, the public or the British Transport Police. We have produced an information sheet that you can share with transport staff if you are asked why you are not wearing a face covering and you can also download our I am Autistic card.

What to do if someone asks you why you’re not wearing a face covering

You do not need to prove that you are autistic to be exempt. But, we recommend you download and print our information sheet that you can share if you are asked why you are not wearing a face covering and you can also download our I Am Autistic Card. 

If you are challenged and would prefer to use the non-branded exemption cards you can

If you are challenged or harassed because you are not wearing a face covering, try and speak to a staff member or show them your I am Autistic card. If you don’t feel comfortable or safe to do so, you can report this to the police. It’s not okay for people, whether that’s the public or staff, to challenge people aggressively.

Individual places’ rules on face coverings

We have been hearing some businesses are going beyond the Government guidance and telling everyone they have to wear a face covering, even if it’s not an enclosed space. This is wrong – as they should be allowing you not to wear one as a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act 2010.

Read More …


Published on 07 September 2020


The coronavirus outbreak has affected everyone. But it’s left many autistic people and their families completely stranded. Our new report, supported by four other leading autism organisations, highlights the often disproportionate and devastating impact the mental health, wellbeing and education prospects of hundreds of thousands of autistic people and their families.Read our report

Together with Ambitious about Autism, Autistica, Scottish Autism, and the Autism Alliance, we are calling on all governments in the UK to create an action plan to protect autistic people and their families from any future waves of the pandemic – and to address existing inequalities by investing in support and services.

Sign our open letter

Please sign our open letter to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak MP, calling on him to invest in autistic people’s futures, ahead of the Spending Review this autumn.

We found that: 

  • 9 in 10 autistic people worried about their mental health during lockdown; 85% said their anxiety levels got worse
  • Autistic people were 7 times more likely to be chronically lonely than the general population*; and 6 times more likely to have low life satisfaction** (comparisons using ONS data)
  • 1 in 5 family members responding to the survey had to reduce work due to caring responsibilities
  • 7 in 10 parents say their child has had difficulty understanding or completing school work and around half said their child’s academic progress was suffering.

Thank you to the 4,232 autistic people and families in the UK who responded to our survey during June and July. Your responses show that coronavirus and the lockdown deepened existing entrenched inequalities. The disruption, uncertainty and pace of change triggered huge levels of anxiety and for some was made worse by the withdrawal of support from social care, education and mental health services.

The Government’s Coronavirus Act temporarily weakened many of the duties on councils to provide support. But even before these powers were created, or in areas where they never came into force, we heard of people losing their mental health, education and social care support services – sometimes with little notice. On top of this, many autistic people reported having huge difficulties shopping for food. The new rules about going into shops alone (without support), new layouts and the rules on masks left many feeling overwhelmed and, in some cases, like they couldn’t go out at all.

While these concerns led to anxiety for most autistic people, the impact was felt most strongly by those with higher support needs, autistic women and non-binary people. This research was led by the National Autistic Society, as part of a project funded by the Pears Foundation, with a number of other autism charities supporting.

Continue Reading …


Published on 24 September 2020

The Welsh Government has launched a new consultation on its Code of Practice on the Delivery of Autism Services. The Code aims to set out what is legally required of services provided by local authorities, health boards and other public bodies in relation to the support they offer autistic people and their families in Wales. 

This follows our Left Stranded report, highlighting the experiences of autistic people and families during the coronavirus pandemic and calling on the Welsh Government to issue this Code and make improving services and support for autistic people a priority. 

Read the Code

The four main chapters in the Code outline: 

  • arrangements for autism assessment and diagnosis
  • arrangements for accessing health and social care services
  • arrangements for awareness raising and training on autism
  • arrangements for planning and monitoring services and stakeholder engagement

The Code of Practice on the Delivery of Autism Services responds to our calls for clear, legally-binding duties on public services to provide support and improve the services available. And whilst we remain disappointed that a proposed an Autism Act for Wales was rejected by the Senedd last year, we are optimistic that the Code offers the potential to meaningfully strengthen the rights of autistic people and their families in Wales.

Our charity, alongside autistic people and families, will be looking closely at the Code and suggesting ways to further improve and strengthen it, and to ensure everyone has their say.

We will provide regular updates on how to get involved in the consultation, so be sure to follow us on Twitter, like our Facebook page, and sign up for email updates. 




Everyone at ASAN was new to the autistic community at one point. There were times when we felt alone, when we did not understand our disability or know how to communicate our needs. Since then, we’ve learned a lot about the autistic community, neurodiversity, and self-advocacy, and it’s important to us to share that knowledge with others who might just be starting to understand autism. That’s why we made Welcome to the Autistic Community, a revamped resource now available entirely online at autismacceptance.com or as a book here.

The comprehensive new Welcome to the Autistic Community resource covers a variety of subjects all about autism, the autistic community, self-advocacy, and our hard-won rights. It replaces our earlier booklet with the same name, as well as our previous Autism Acceptance Month website — we hope that this new resource will promote autism acceptance all year round! We created Welcome To The Autistic Community for autistic people, especially those who are just finding out that they are autistic. But anyone can use this resource to learn more about autism, self-advocacy, and how to be a good ally to autistic people.

Here’s a sneak peek at what you can find in the new Welcome to the Autistic Community:

  • All About Autism
  • Who Can be Autistic?
  • Autism Facts
  • Autism and Disability
  • Self-Advocacy and the Self-Advocacy Movement
  • Knowing Your Rights
  • Finding And Making Autistic Community
  • Being An Ally

The expanded Welcome to the Autistic Community is available in its entirety at autismacceptance.com, in Plain Language and Extra Space formats. The Extra Space format has more space between lines, as well as shorter paragraphs and sentences, for increased visual and cognitive accessibility. You can also find the new Welcome to the Autistic Community as a book, available here!

There’s lots of great information in the new and improved Welcome to the Autistic Community that we wish we’d been given when we were first learning about ourselves and our place in the community. We’re thrilled to share what we’ve learned with you, and we can’t wait to see what you do with the information. Sharing autistic community and wisdom is really important to us, and we hope that it helps you!Support our work

Date: February 27, 2020 Source: University of Cambridge Summary: Different learning difficulties do not correspond to specific regions of the brain, as previously thought, say researchers. Instead poor connectivity between ‘hubs’ within the brain is much more strongly related to children’s difficulties.

Different learning difficulties do not correspond to specific regions of the brain, as previously thought, say researchers at the University of Cambridge. Instead poor connectivity between ‘hubs’ within the brain is much more strongly related to children’s difficulties.

Between 14-30% of children and adolescents worldwide have learning difficulties severe enough to require additional support. These difficulties are often associated with cognitive and/or behavioural problems. In some cases, children who are struggling at school receive a formal diagnosis of a specific learning difficulty or disability, such as dyslexia, dyscalculia or developmental language disorder, or of a developmental disorder such as attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyspraxia, or autism spectrum disorder.

Scientists have struggled to identify specific areas of the brain that might give rise to these difficulties, with studies implicating myriad brain regions. ADHD, for example, has been linked to the anterior cingulate cortex, caudate nucleus, pallidum, striatum, cerebellum, prefrontal cortex, the premotor cortex and most parts of the parietal lobe.

One potential explanation is that each diagnosis differs so much between one individual and the next, that each involves different combinations of brain regions. However, a more provocative explanation has been proposed by a team of scientists at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge: there are, in fact, no specific brain areas that cause these difficulties.

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