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Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs) is a name given to a range of conditions including dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia and can be linked to other conditions such as speech and language difficulties and ADHD.

They are sometimes referred to as Specific learning differences or may still be considered under the more generalised heading, dyslexia. Frequently, the individual difficulties co-occur. A child with a SpLD will demonstrate a significant gap between their potential and their performance in academic subjects.

It is thought SpLDs are of a neurological origin, as many cases run in families and they occur independent of composite IQ. However, having a specific learning difficulty means a child is vulnerable to academic problems and likely to struggle at school and college.

We are still learning the root of these difficulties, but know that there is a genetic component. Similar difficulties are passed down within families or may present as one difficulty in one child and another condition in another eg the older child may have reading difficulties, while a younger sibling experiences attention needs. There is no cure for a SpLD, but with professional support a child can learn to recognise and manage the condition to maximum effect, to enable them to do well at school.

Common features

  • A link with memory and processing difficulties, both auditory and visual.
  • Reading difficulties.
  • Writing difficulties.
  • Motor control, fine and/or gross.
  • Problems with number processing.
  • Organisational difficulties and executive function.
  • Attention and listening difficulties.
  • Processing speed difficulties.
  • Sensory needs.


Specialist teachers and clinicians can diagnose specific learning difficulties with targeted assessments. Some diagnoses cannot be identified before a child reaches a certain age eg a dyslexia teacher tends not to identify dyslexia in a child under the age of 6.  An educational psychologist will compare the child’s test results with normal IQ levels and give a comparison of their potential and actual performance; she will then write a report with tailor-made recommendations, based on your child’s personal learning profile. Every child with a SpLD has a unique profile of skills and difficulties. However, if not supported, a child will quickly lose confidence and may experience both social/emotional and behavioural issues.

How do children do?

The more that is understood about the SpLDs, the more programmes and learning aids appear on the market, these range from very simple toys to full software packages. With supported teaching, from a trained professional, a child with a SpLD can progress well at a mainstream school, or in a more specialist teaching centre. The Good Schools Guide Educational Consultants can help you find the right school for your child with a SpLD.

Further help:

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