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story | Wisha Jamal, Contributing Reporter
photo | Peh Yi Lin, Visuals Editor
Over this past summer, the team at the Centre for Teaching & Learning (CTL) has worked tirelessly to develop a new financial aid program for testing learning disabilities. The CTL is a facility on campus that is not often discussed but oversees issues that affect all students: everything from the peer tutor program to accommodation for learning disabilities like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia. This financial aid program, that has been under wraps until now, was a consequence of one student’s struggle with dyscalculia.
Kanako Sugawara ’20 always suspected that she had dyscalculia, which is a learning disability which involves a difficulty understanding number-related concepts. In her words, it is the “mathematical equivalent of dyslexia.” Like many others, she felt herself caught in a “gray zone.”
She said, “I’ve always had trouble with Math, ever since primary school. I didn’t think it was very severe but I knew something was off. I knew there was something wrong with the way I was processing it but I never had a name for it. But then I heard of dyscalculia during my Psychology class and that’s when I realized that maybe I have this.”
Her story is not unique. Many learning disabilities, especially cases that aren’t very serious, are detected later in life. When she finally found a name for what she was struggling with, Sugawara decided to get tested this past summer.
After endless emails, phone calls and “a lot of frustration,” she discovered that the test costs 400 SGD at the National University of Singapore’s Clinical and Health Psychology Centre. Moreover, it is administered by the psychiatry clinic whose services are not covered by student health insurance. For someone in the “gray zone,” she felt “stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
Sugawara said, “I was not going to pay 400 SGD to get a negative.”
It was at this point that she contacted the CTL at Yale-NUS. “They said they’d do whatever they could to help me and after some back and forth I got the aid. And since then, they’ve basically set up a new financial aid system for people who still need to take tests, because they detected or developed the learning disability later in life, for example, adult ADHD.”
Professor Catherine Sanger, Deputy Director of the CTL, further explains that this system, now in effect, is an essential prong of a multi-tiered process. Students who face difficulty learning are first asked to discuss their problems with an Assistant Dean or the Counselling Center. She said if following those conversations, “students determine that neurological-psychological assessment is warranted, they need to go to the University Health Centre and explain that they want to be assessed for learning disabilities and accommodations.”
If the doctors at the University Health Centre (UHC) assent to assessment, and at that point, the student feels that they do not have the funds or insurance to cover the cost, they can email the CTL to obtain the Financial Support Request Form. This form, along with a UHC Referral Letter, then has to be submitted to the CTL via email or in person at their office in Elm Level Mezzanine.
While the center only takes a week to review applications once they have received all relevant information, how fast a student is reimbursed depends on how fast they make the relevant appointments and get tested. Moreover, whether an application is accepted at all, regardless of full or partial reimbursement, depends on the student’s financial need.
According to Ms. Sanger, this system is one of many steps that have been taken to improve learning accommodations for students since 2016. Previously, there was “not a single office or person responsible” for meeting the needs of students. Since then, the college has created the role of the Learning Accommodations Coordinator — a post awarded to the Deputy Director of the CTL — who now oversees the implementation of learning accommodation schemes.
Ms. Sanger said that she hoped this change “will enhance the experience of students and faculty alike, and make it easier to meet all students’ learning needs.”