Specific Learning Difficulties

SpLD is an umbrella term used for specific learning difficulties, with a neurological basis, that effect particular aspects of learning. Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Dyspraxia and ADD (ADHD) are all classed as SpLD’s. It is not unusual for more than one of these to co-exist with others.


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 (Rose 2009).

Individual profiles of dyslexia vary considerably as does an individual’s response to these difficulties. The impact of dyslexia on learning and life can range from mild to severe. It may often go unnoticed if a person uses effective compensatory strategies. It may become more noticeable at times of transition e.g. Moving from one key stage to another, GCSE’s to A levels, starting University or new employment.

Dyslexia affects:

  • The ability to learn to read accurately and fluently

  • Spelling

  • Hearing particular sounds within words

Dyslexia can also affect:

  • Short-term memory

  • Speed of recalling names or labels

  • Maths

Dyscalculia and Numeracy Difficulties

Dyscalculia is a common condition that affects the ability to acquire numerical skills. Difficulties understanding the concept of number and the structure of the number system prevents acquisition of basic arithmetic skills at the expected age. Dyscalculia is a deficit in the core capacity to process numbers; it is of neurological origin and affects about 5% of school age children.

Numeracy difficulties may occur as a consequence of other learning difficulties. About 25% of the UK population have severe numeracy difficulties. The National Numeracy Strategy (DfES, 2001) offers the following definition: ’Dyscalculia is a condition that affects the ability to acquire arithmetical skills. Dyscalculic learners may have difficulty understanding simple number concepts, lack an intuitive grasp of numbers, and have problems learning number facts and procedures. Even if they produce a correct answer or use a correct method, they may do so mechanically and without confidence.’ (DfES, 2001, p2).

Dyscalculia is commonly associated with:

  • Difficulties counting accurately

  • Counting using fingers

  • Poor knowledge of the value of a number

  • Difficulty grasping new procedures and concepts

  • Poor sequential memory for numbers and operations

  • Slow speed of processing numerical information

  • Difficulty recognising patterns in numbers

  • Weak understanding of place value

  • Difficulties using the number line or number square


Many people have poor handwriting, but dysgraphia is more serious. Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder that generally appears when children are first learning to write. Experts are not sure what causes it, but early treatment can help prevent or reduce problems.

Dysgraphia is a specific learning disability that affects written expression. Dysgraphia can appear as difficulties with spelling, poor handwriting and trouble putting thoughts on paper. Dysgraphia can be a language based, and/or non-language based disorder.

Writing requires a complex set of motor and information processing skills. Not only does it require the ability to organize and express ideas in the mind. It also requires the ability to get the muscles in the hands and fingers to form those ideas, letter by letter, on paper.

Common features of Dysgraphia are:
Signs of Dysgraphia

  • Generally illegible writing

  • Inconsistencies in writing, e.g. mixtures of printing and cursive writing, upper and lower case, or irregular sizes, shapes, or slant of letters

  • Unfinished words or letters, omitted words

  • Inconsistent position of letters on the page with respect to lines and margins

  • Inconsistent spaces between words and letters

  • Cramped or unusual grip of the writing instrument, especially

  • holding the writing instrument very close to the paper, or

  • holding thumb over two fingers and writing from the wrist

  • Strange wrist, body, or paper position

  • Talking to ones-self whilst writing, or carefully watching the hand that is writing

  • Slow or laboured copying or writing

  • Large gap between written ideas and understanding demonstrated through speech.

  • Difficulty organising thoughts on paper


Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is an umbrella term to cover motor coordination difficulties. Dyspraxia is a common disorder affecting fine and/or gross motor skills and additional difficulties with:

  • Planning

  • Organising

  • carrying out movements in the right order

Dyspraxia may also affect:

  • articulation and speech

  • perception

  • thought

Dyspraxia frequently co-exists with other Specific Learning Difficulties such as:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)

  • Dyslexia

  • Language disorders

  • Social, emotional and behavioural disorders

DCD/dyspraxia is present in about 5% of the population with boys more frequently affected than girls.