The umbrella term specific learning difficulties (SpLD) is used to cover a wide variety of difficulties. Many people use it synonymously with dyslexia (a difficulty with words), but it is now generally accepted that dyslexia is only one of a group of difficulties that may include
These learning difficulties typically affect a student's motor skills, information processing and memory. However, note that no two individuals have the same combination of SpLD and it is impossible to extrapolate a description from one person to another.
Note also that many students with SpLD, as well as many other students without SpLD, suffer from a visual-perceptual discomfort and disturbance which is sometimes known as Meares-Irlen syndrome. This affects their reading of print on white paper, on overheads and slides, and use of a computer.
It is also important to note that the difficulties described influence the strategies developed by an individual in order to cope with their studies, and that stress and anxiety also have an impact.
Only those who have experienced the challenges of having a specific learning difficulty truly understand the complications and difficulties that arise in a learning situation - and the excitement when someone presents information in a way that matches their thinking style or preferences.
Students who have dyslexia may have a difficulty with the use of both written and oral language. This is due in part to processing difficulties, including visual and auditory perceptual skills, and is not necessarily related to prior education. They may also find some learning tasks cause concern due to difficulties with short-term memory, concentration and organisation.
Dyslexia varies between individuals, and can occur in people of all abilities. Its effects on study can be mitigated by the use of a variety of approaches and strategies.
Dyslexic people often have distinctive talents as well as typical clusters of difficulties.
Dysgraphia is a difficulty in writing, resulting in written work which may be illegible and inaccurately spelled. This difficulty may exist in varying degrees and does not match with either the person’s intelligence, which may be above average, or their ability to read. There is often a lack of coordination and fine motor skills.
Dyspraxia is a developmental disorder that affects coordination. This can impact on movement, perception and thought, so may affect speech, fine motor movement, whole body movement and hand-eye coordination, sequencing and organisation. Dyspraxia can overlap with dyslexia, Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD.
The Dyspraxia Foundation helps people understand and cope with dyspraxia.
People with dyscalculia have a normal language ability for the printed word, but have difficulties with mathematical skills such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and mental arithmatic. They do not notice their common mistakes such as transposing, omitting and reversing numbers.
They also have difficulty with abstract concepts of time and direction, sequences of events and memory for names. They lack 'big picture' thinking, are confused by timetables and may often be late. They may have a poor sense of direction and can get lost.
BBC Skillswise article discusses Dyscalculia and effective forms of instruction.
Dyscalculia and Dyslexia Interest Group (DDIG) has a tutor area which offer a tutor checklist, case study and information leaflet.
Those who have attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) tend to have disruptive behaviours that cannot be described as being of a psychiatric nature. The behaviours are not age appropriate, so an older person may misbehave in a similar way to a much younger peer. Individuals have difficulty focusing their attention to complete a specific task, they can be hyperactive and impulsive and can suffer from mood swings and 'social clumsiness'.
Some research shows that students with hyperactive-impulsive symptoms tend to have more behavioural problems, while those with the inattentive type (ADD) have a higher risk of comorbid depression or anxiety disorders.
Many factors contribute to ADD and ADHD, including neurological factors such as the control of impulses and concentration as well as genetic, inherited and environmental factors.
ADDISS - The National Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service - provides information, factsheets and resources.
Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome (AS; sometimes known as high functioning autism) can exhibit a variety of characteristics along a range of severity. These may include
They may become preoccupied with a particular subject of interest, or develop obsessive routines. Students with AS whose obsessive interests include their subject can be an asset. They have a high attention to detail, and can be punctual, reliable and dedicated.
They may be overly sensitive to sounds, tastes, smells and light. The syndrome is neurologically based but does not necessarily affect intelligence.
Autism is a developmental disability characterised by impairments in social skills, language, and behaviour. However, these difficulties occur at different levels so some individuals have no verbal communication or eye contact with others, while others have limited speech and cope in a social setting.
Autism is neurologically based and has been shown to be strongly genetically determined. According to the National Autistic Society autistic spectrum disorders are estimated to touch the lives of over 500,000 families throughout the UK.