About Specific Learning Difficulties

'Specific Learning Difficulties' (SpLDs) is a term used to describe a range of difficulties including:

  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia/DCD
  • Dyscalculia
  • Attention Deficit Disorder                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

The term 'SpLD' is different from 'global learning difficulties' where someone may have a more general problem with learning. However, other difficulties are sometimes referred to as being SpLDs such as: speech and language, Tourettes, etc.

The 2005 Disabled Student Allowances SpLD Working Group gives the guidance below about each SpLD and how this can impact for older learners:                          


"Dyslexia is a combination of abilities and difficulties; the difficulties affect the learning process in aspects of literacy and sometimes numeracy. Coping with required reading is generally seen as the biggest challenge at Higher Education level due in part to difficulty in skimming and scanning written material. A student may also have an inability to express his/her ideas clearly in written form and in a style appropriate to the level of study. Marked and persistent weaknesses may be identified in working memory, speed of processing, sequencing skills, auditory and/or visual perception, spoken language and motor skills. Visuo-spatial skills, creative thinking and intuitive understanding are less likely to be impaired and indeed may be outstanding. Enabling or assistive technology is often found to be very beneficial."

The main difficulties I see in children and adults include:

  • having to reread text in order to retain its meaning, such as including books, emails and reports
  • sometimes finding it challenging to break down and sound out unfamiliar words when reading
  • taking time to process what is being read
  • finding to put your thoughts onto paper and perhaps having to go through a long editing process
  • finding it hard to remember verbal instructions
  • finding it hard to take notes in class or copy from the board at the same speed as other people
  • spelling being weaker in a piece of free writing when compared to a spelling test
  • having to work very hard to achieve good grades                                                                                                                                                                                


"Dyscalculia is a learning difficulty involving the most basic aspect of arithmetical skills. The difficulty lies in the reception, comprehension, or production of quantitative and spatial information. Students with dyscalculia may have difficulty in understanding simple number concepts, lack an intuitive grasp of numbers and have problems learning number facts and procedures. These can relate to basic concepts such as telling the time, calculating prices, handling change."

The main difficulties I see in children and adults include:

  • finding it hard to calculate the right money in a shop (perhaps giving a £10 that will 'cover' the cost of the shopping)
  • finding it hard to check that you have been given the right change
  • taking longer to learn to tell the time and finding the 24 hour clock confusing
  • having little concept of time, leading to overestimating or underestimating what you can do in a certain period of time)
  • taking longer to learn your times-tables and perhaps never really mastering them                                                                                                                              

Dyspraxia / Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD)

"A student with Developmental Coordination Difficulties (known as dyspraxia in the UK) may have an impairment or immaturity in the organisation of movement, often appearing clumsy. Gross motor skills (related to balance and co-ordination) and fine motor skills (relating to manipulation of objects) are hard to learn and difficult to retain and generalise. Writing is particularly laborious and keyboard skills difficult to acquire. Individuals may have difficulty organising ideas and concepts. Pronunciation may also be affected and people with dyspraxia/DCD may be over/under sensitive to noise, light and touch. They may have poor awareness of body position and misread social cues in addition to those shared characteristics common to many SpLDs."

The main difficulties I see in adults include:

  • a history of perhaps being called clumsy or uncoordinated
  • taking longer to ride a bike, learn to drive or tie shoe laces
  • finding new skills challenging to master, e.g. make-up, shaving, DIY
  • poor organisation skills, such as easily losing items, planning a meal from scratch, folding up clothes
  • an overwhelming feeling when trying to stay on top of things, which can lead to anxiety, stress and/or depression
  • taking time to process what other people are saying to you
  • slow writing speed and illegible writing
  • finding your way around new places                                                                                                                                                                                             

For dyspraxia assessments for children, please see the 'Links and resources' page regarding Jigsaw Occupational Therapy


Attention Deficit Disorder 

"Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) exists with or without hyperactivity. In most cases people with this disorder are often ‘off task’, have particular difficulty commencing and switching tasks, together with a very short attention span and high levels of distractibility. They may fail to make effective use of the feedback they receive and have weak listening skills. Those with hyperactivity may act impulsively and erratically, have difficulty foreseeing outcomes, fail to plan ahead and be noticeably restless and fidgety. Those without the hyperactive trait tend to daydream excessively, lose track of what they are doing and fail to engage in their studies unless they are highly motivated. The behaviour of people with ADD can be inappropriate and unpredictable; this, together with the characteristics common to many SpLDs, can present a further barrier to learning."

The main difficulties I see in children and adults include:

  • becoming bored quite easily
  • being easily distracted by noise and/or movement
  • finding it hard to focus on the less interesting parts of a project
  • finding it hard to stay still and feeling as if you are being controlled by a motor
  • interrupting other people, perhaps by finishing off other people's sentences
  • feeling as if you are being driven by a motor


Please note that I can advise you about how to pursue assessments for children aged under 16