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Specific Learning Difficulties/Differences

The image of the umbrella shows the different conditions that come under the term Specific Learning Difficulties/Differences (SpLD).

We will look at each one in turn, without getting scientific, and also the strand of difficulty within each condition, to help you understand what you or your child may have difficulty with.


Definition of dyslexia

The British Dyslexia Association has adopted the Rose (2009) definition of dyslexia:

Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed. Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities. It is best thought of as a continuum, not a distinct category, and there are no clear cut-off points. Co-occurring difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia. A good indication of the severity and persistence of dyslexic difficulties can be gained by examining how the individual responds or has responded to well-founded intervention.

Dyslexia is recognised as having challenges in some of the following areas, and no two dyslexics are the same but may have similar traits:


  • Working memory

  • Speed of processing

  • Auditory processing (listening to instructions and spoken information)

  • Phonological awareness (sound/letter correspondence)

  • Verbal memory

  • Verbal processing speed

  • Spelling

  • Writing

  • Reading

  • Visual tracking 

  • Visual disturbance (or visual perceptual)

  • Visual memory

  • Maths

  • Spoken language

  • Planning/organisation

  • Needing to talk before the information is forgotten

  • Forgetting what has been read

  • Unable to hold onto a string of information, when speaking or writing

  • Writing letters/numbers the wrong way round

Take a look at some ways to support a child or adult on Me & My Strategies page for ideas, which relate to multisensory methods.

It is well known that dyslexic individuals can be very creative, and often excel in areas relating to art, drama, and entrepreneurial skills.

I have included some fabulous and useful books about dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties in my Shop, so please take a look and see if any would be useful to you or someone you know (such as a teacher or teaching assistant).


Developmental Dyscalculia involves having no, or very little, number sense, whereby an individual does not have the ability to understand very simple concepts of number.

If, say, 5 counters were placed in front of you, you will probably automatically be able to see (without counting) that there are 5 counters, no matter how they are put down in front of you.  A dyscalculic learner will struggle to recognise that there are 5 counters and will have to count each individual counter, and may have to repeat the counting.  I have witnessed this in a classroom with a young learner aged 11, as well as with other children.

Having dyscalculia is not the same as having general difficulties with mathematics, or even maths anxiety.  Like dyslexia, dyscalculia is not a disease and cannot be cured, can be hereditary and can remain into adulthood, although it is not yet understood if all do.

Dyscalculic individuals have challenges in the following areas:

  • A poor sense of number (as in the counters example)

  • Inability to estimate the size of quantities

  • Inability to understand the 4 numerical operations (+ - x ÷) and their concepts

  • Inability to understand or make number bonds (e.g. 6 can be made using the numbers 1+5, 5+1, 2+4, 4+2, 3+3, 0+6, 6+0)

  • Counting in a sequence

  • Number patterns (e.g. what comes next in a sequence?)

  • Working memory

Maths plays a large part in our lives and is important to help calculate bills and everyday expenses, successfully complete exams at school or work, estimate whether we can afford items on a cafe or restaurant menu, working out the size and cost of a new carpet, or the cost of paint or wallpaper for a room, for example.  For a child, dyscalcula would mean not being able to count pocket money to see if they had enough for a new toy, or comic, perhaps.

I have added a couple of great books in the Shop section about Dyscalculia, as well as Dyscalculia Assessment.

Professor Brian Butterworth is a leading authority on Dyscalculia and his book, added to my Shop, is very interesting especially if you teach or support a child/adult with dyscalculia (or maths difficulties).

Dyspraxia/Developmental Coordination Disorder

Dyspraxia, also known as Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), affects fine and/or gross motor skills coordination in children and adults.  Other areas to be affected can include memory, movement, perception, processing, planning and organisation, and it can also affect speech and language.

Dyspraxia/DCD can make learning and living very challenging, whereby many skills, that other people take for granted, have to be taught, learned and practised (or overlearned, as we sometimes refer to repeatedly learning something).

Individuals with DCD can find challenges in the following areas:

  • Organising themselves and equipment

  • Hand-eye-foot coordination (for example P.E., running, jumping, skipping, climbing, ball activities, riding a bike)

  • Poor posture, body awareness, awkward and effortful movements, hypermobility

  • Sequencing

  • Handwriting (including writing sentences)

  • Poor short-term verbal and visual memory (following instructions, copying from the board, listening to stories)

  • Awareness of time

  • Processing information may take longer

  • Attention

  • Forming friendships 

  • Poor self-awareness/poor hygiene

  • Realising potential danger

  • Extremes of emotions

  • Sensitivity to heat, light and sounds

  • Working memory

  • Speaking

DCD can co-exist alongside other specific learning difficulties/ differences, such as dyslexia, autism, dyscalculia, ADHD, and Developmental Language disorder (DLD).

A dyspraxic individual can show strengths to include:

  • Kindness

  • Tenacity

  • Sensitivity

  • Polite

  • Keen to please

  • Empathetic

  • Creative

  • Enjoys creative activities and drama/singing

Further information can be found at

Medical diagnosis would have to be through a GP, in the first instance.  A cognitive assessment to highlight difficulties in working memory and speed of processing would be undertaken by an educational psychologist or specialist teacher.

If there are concerns relating to speech and language, A GP should be contacted to make a referral to a speech and language therapist (SLT), and a teacher could refer the individual to a speech and language therapist (SLT) at school.


Dysgraphia is often referred to as a difficulties associated with handwriting, spelling and organisation and page presentation. 

Although dysgraphia is not listed as a specific learning difficulty in the SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) code of practice, some people link dysgraphia with dyspraxia and dyslexia, and the Dyspraxia Foundation uses the term 'handwriting difficulties' (Dept. for Education: Understanding Neurodiversity A Guide to Specific Learning Differences).

It is difficult to diagnose dysgraphia as there may be other specific learning differences/difficulties occurring alongside the difficulties with written expression, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD. 


What is important to think about is how any learning difference or difficulty affects an individual in their daily lives, whether at school or at home.  At school, a child can be referred on to a SpLD (specific learning difficulties/difference) Assessor or an educational psychologist to assess the difficulty and find out whether it is motor, orthographic, or perceptual in nature.

As an adult, even though we have the use of computers to help overcome difficulties with writing, individuals may still need support with organising writing or proof reading.  If you know someone who struggles with writing, ask if they need support even if it's being kind and listening to them or to see if they would like to talk to a professional to get advice.


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