Specific learning difficulties info

We have an interest in all specific learning difficulties and this section of the website is designed to provide more information for anyone with an interest.

We also have links with professionals in a range of fields. Please contact us if you require further information or would like referral to any of our contacts.

Please contact us if you come across any interesting information that may be useful for us to include on this page. Or to tell us anything additional you would like to see included here.


There are a lot of myths surrounding dyslexia. Many believe that dyslexia only affects literacy; many believe that if you can read you can’t be dyslexic and some have controversially questioned its existence.

There are a great many famous dyslexics including Henry Ford, Agatha Christie, Richard Branson, Albert Einstein, Walt Disney and Steven Spielberg.  We like to think of it as a learning difference rather than a difficulty.

When we conduct assessments we use the below definition to inform our diagnostic decisions.

'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.'

In addition to these characteristics, the BDA acknowledges the visual and auditory processing difficulties that some individuals with dyslexia can experience, and points out that dyslexic readers can show a combination of abilities and difficulties that affect the learning process. Some also have strengths in other areas, such as design, problem solving, creative skills, interactive skills and oral skills.

The British Dyslexia Website www.bdadyslexia.org.uk provides additional information on dyslexia and allows you to search for tutors and assessors nationally.

Young Dyslexics is designed to raise awareness of dyslexia and it is aimed at young people www.youngdyslexics.co.uk

The Dyslexia SPLD Trust provides useful research based information and FREE resources www.thedyslexia-spldtrust.org.uk

All of the team who conduct assessments are fully insured members of PATOSS and we find their website an invaluable source of support to inform our assessments. Whilst you need to be a member to access all areas, there is some useful information available to everyone. www.patoss-dyslexia.org

Visual Stress

Visual Stress is sometimes referred to as Irlen® Syndrome, Mears Irlen Syndrome or scotopic sensitivity.

It is not detected by standard visual eye tests. Visual perception is the ability to interpret or give meaning to what is seen. Difficulties with visual processing affect the way visual information is interpreted or processed in the brain. Academic work and work performance, behaviour, attention, concentration and the ability to sit still may all be affected.

Problems often occur under conditions of glare, fluorescent or other bright lighting, high contrast, black/white contrast, smaller print size and long periods of work or study.

Individuals who have visual stress may suffer from any of the following: slow reading speed, inefficient reading, and poor reading comprehension, inability to read for any length of time without looking away from the page or taking breaks, poor handwriting, strain or fatigue, difficulty with depth perception and difficulties with bright lighting.

Visual stress may also affect energy levels, attention span, concentration, motivation, productivity and classroom/work performance. Some individuals may be underachievers who may have been told that they “should try harder”. Other individuals may have been misdiagnosed ADD/ ADHD, or other learning difficulties. It can occur in isolation or co- occur with other Specific Learning Difficulties, the most commonly found co- occurrence is with Dyslexia.

There is a lot of useful information on www.irlen.org.uk and http://irlen.com

Further Reading Irlen, H. (2010) The Irlen Revolution. New York. Square One


Like dyslexia there are a lot of myths surrounding dyspraxia, people are often surprised when someone with dyspraxia can drive, ride a bike or play sport and whilst it can affect all of these and more besides, it is more complex than this.

What is dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia, a form of developmental coordination disorder (DCD) is a common disorder affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination in children and adults. It may also affect speech. DCD is a lifelong condition, formally recognised by international organisations including the World Health Organisation. DCD is distinct from other motor disorders such as cerebral palsy and stroke, and occurs across the range of intellectual abilities. Individuals may vary in how their difficulties present: these may change over time depending on environmental demands and life experiences.

An individual’s coordination difficulties may affect participation and functioning of everyday life skills in education, work and employment.

Children may present with difficulties with self-care, writing, typing, riding a bike and play as well as other educational and recreational activities. In adulthood many of these difficulties will continue, as well as learning new skills at home, in education and work, such as driving a car and DIY.

There may be a range of co-occurring difficulties which can also have serious negative impacts on daily life. These include social and emotional difficulties as well as problems with time management, planning and personal organisation, and these may also affect an adult’s education or employment experiences.

Many people with DCD also experience difficulties with memory, perception and processing. While DCD is often regarded as an umbrella term to cover motor coordination difficulties, dyspraxia refers to those people who have additional problems planning, organising and carrying out movements in the right order in everyday situations. Dyspraxia can also affect articulation and speech, perception and thought.

What causes dyspraxia?

Although the exact causes of dyspraxia are unknown, it is thought to be caused by a disruption in the way messages from the brain are transmitted to the body. This affects a person’s ability to perform movements in a smooth, coordinated way.

See The Dyspraxia Foundation Website www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk or the NHS Choices Website www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Dyspraxia-(childhood)/Pages/Diagnosis.aspx for more information.


This difficulty is more than simply “untidy” writing; it affects peoples’ ability to write effortlessly. The act of handwriting demands a complex set of fine motor skills which have to be co-ordinated with information processing. For people with dysgraphia, writing legibly remains elusive (if not impossible), and this worsens when people are placed under time pressure.

Many people with dysgraphia are able to write, but this requires a higher than usual degree of concentration and working memory. Written work is often: very poorly formed, difficult to read, a mixture of cursive and block letters, not on the line, with letters of varying sizes and not presented according to convention (for example work may be right hand justified, rather than left hand justified).

Dysgraphia can sometimes cause physical pain and often limits a person’s ability to express their thoughts when writing, which makes it difficult for people to achieve their potential.

Dysgraphia in isolation is rare and as with so many Specific Learning Difficulties there is a lot of overlap. We make the distinction between dyslexia/ dysgraphia/ dyspraxia based on the areas that occur across the range of specific learning difficulties and then consider how specific to writing the individual’s difficulties are.

See www.dysgraphia.org.uk and http://www.brainhe.com/staff/types/dysgraphiastaff.html for information.

www.nha-handwriting.org.uk The National Handwriting Association is a charity whose aims are to raise awareness of the importance of handwriting as a vital component of literacy.


Research suggests that dyscalculia is a specific learning difficulty (SpLD) that affects a person’s ability to acquire arithmetical skills. It can manifest itself as a person’s inability to understand basic number concepts and/or number relationships, recognise symbols, and comprehend quantitative and spatial information. Many people liken the effects of dyscalculia with numbers to that of dyslexia with words, and while there are many characteristics that overlap, there is no proven link between the two.

Research suggests that, like many SpLDs, dyscalculia has varying levels of severity and can affect different areas of mathematical calculations. These difficulties can have an adverse effect on many day-to-day activities such as dealing with finances, following directions, managing a diary and keeping track of time. However, it is important to remember that many people can struggle with maths and numbers, but this does not mean that they have dyscalculia.

It is estimated that between 4% and 6% of the population suffer with dyscalculia. However, this research is based on data from children, and figures relating specifically to the adult population are non-existent. For this reason, and because of limited understanding and recognition of dyscalculia, many people go undiagnosed.

The difference between Dyscalculia and Dyslexia and maths is as follows:

Dyslexia and maths a learner may calculate a sum 3 + 2 = 6 when it is pointed out to them that they may have misread the + as a x they are able to calculate the maths, a person with dyscalculia may not as they don’t have the underpinning number concepts.

There is more information available on the British Dyslexia Association Website
More information and some resources and recommended reading are available from


Specific Language Impairment

What is SLI?

Specific Language Impairment or SLI is a type of speech, language and communication need (SLCN).

Children with SLI are usually as able and healthy as other children in all ways, with one exception; they have enormous difficulty talking and understanding language. This is their main area of difficulty.

Children with SLI are all very individual.

They may:

• Have difficulty saying what they want to, even though they have ideas
• Talk in sentences but be difficult to understand
• Sound muddled; it can be difficult to follow what they are saying
• Find it difficult to understand words and long instructions
• Have difficulty remembering the words they want to say
• Find it hard to join in and follow what is going on in the playground

Some more information is available by clicking the link below


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a group of behavioural symptoms that include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

Common symptoms of ADHD include:
• a short attention span or being easily distracted
• restlessness, constant fidgeting or overactivity
• being impulsive

ADHD can occur in people of any intellectual ability, although it is more common in people with learning difficulties. People with ADHD may also have additional problems, such as sleep and anxiety disorders.

Symptoms of ADHD tend to be first noticed at an early age, and may become more noticeable when a child's circumstances change, such as when they start school. Most cases are diagnosed in children between the ages of 6 and 12.

The symptoms of ADHD usually improve with age, but many adults who are diagnosed with the condition at a young age will continue to experience problems.

Signs in children and teenagers
The symptoms of ADHD in children and teenagers are well defined, and they are usually noticeable before the age of six. They occur in more than one situation, such as at home and at school.

The main signs of each behavioural problem are detailed below.

The main signs of inattentiveness are:
• having a short attention span and being easily distracted
• making careless mistakes – for example, in schoolwork
• appearing forgetful or losing things
• being unable to stick at tasks that are tedious or time-consuming
• appearing to be unable to listen to or carry out instructions
• constantly changing activity or task
• having difficulty organising tasks

Hyperactivity and impulsiveness
The main signs of hyperactivity and impulsiveness are:
• being unable to sit still, especially in calm or quiet surroundings
• constantly fidgeting
• being unable to concentrate on tasks
• excessive physical movement
• excessive talking
• being unable to wait their turn
• acting without thinking
• interrupting conversations
• little or no sense of danger

These symptoms can cause significant problems in a child's life, such as underachievement at school, poor social interaction with other children and adults, and problems with discipline.

Symptoms in adults
In adults, the symptoms of ADHD are more difficult to define. This is largely due to a lack of research into adults with ADHD.

ADHD is a developmental disorder; it is believed that it cannot develop in adults without it first appearing during childhood. However, it is known that symptoms of ADHD often persist from childhood into a person's teenage years, and then adulthood. Any additional problems or conditions experienced by children with ADHD, such as depression or dyslexia, may also continue into adulthood.

By the age of 25, an estimated 15% of people diagnosed with ADHD as children still have a full range of symptoms, and 65% still have some symptoms that affect their daily lives.

The symptoms in children and teenagers, which are listed above, is sometimes also applied to adults with possible ADHD. However, some specialists say that the way in which inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness affect adults can be very different from the way they affect children.

For example, hyperactivity tends to decrease in adults, while inattentiveness tends to get worse as the pressure of adult life increases. Also, adult symptoms of ADHD tend to be far more subtle than childhood symptoms.

Therefore, some specialists have suggested the following list of symptoms associated with ADHD in adults:

• carelessness and lack of attention to detail
• continually starting new tasks before finishing old ones
• poor organisational skills
• inability to focus or prioritise
• continually losing or misplacing things
• forgetfulness
• restlessness and edginess
• difficulty keeping quiet and speaking out of turn
• blurting out responses and often interrupting others
• mood swings, irritability and a quick temper
• inability to deal with stress
• extreme impatience
• taking risks in activities, often with little or no regard for personal safety or the safety of others – for example, driving dangerously

More information on signs and to get a diagnosis for ADHD is available on NHS Choices http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder/Pages/Symptoms.aspx and ADISS Website http://www.addiss.co.uk/

ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder)

An autism spectrum disorder (including Asperger syndrome) is a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.

• It is a spectrum condition which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways.
• More boys are diagnosed with an ASD than girls: a ratio of 4:1.
• Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support.

• A small percentage – perhaps 2% of people with an ASD , who are sometimes known as ‘savants’– may have a particularly special talent, for example, with numbers, in music or in art.

• Leo Kanner (1943) defined autism as:
Aloofness/ lack of social responsiveness
Obsessive desire for things to be kept the same
Brilliant rote memory
Language that lacks communicative intent
Oversensitivity to sensory stimuli
Preference for repetitive play/ activities

• Hans Asperger (1944):
Lack of co-ordination and motor clumsiness
General normal language development and abilities

• Lorna Wing (1979) Diagnostic Criteria:
Triad of Impairments
Inflexibility of thought or behaviour
Social language and communication

http://www.autism.org.uk/ is a useful source of further information

Further reading:
The following book was written by a young man with Asperger Syndrome and gives a very useful overview.

Luke Jackson (2002) Freaks, geeks and Asperger Syndrome London: Jessica Kingsley

Tony Atwood is also very useful for gaining background information
Attwood, T. (2008). The complete guide to Asperger syndrome. London: Jessica Kingsley

Specific Learning Difficulties and Mental Health

This is one our current research focuses and we welcome any information as we are aware that undiagnosed and unmet need has an adverse effect on mental health and wellbeing and we are keen to ensure that awareness is raised as part of our mission to diagnose and support learners with Specific Learning Difficulties.

• 70% of the prison population have mental health needs.
• 36% of children and young people with Learning Difficulties/ Disabilities have mental health needs compared to 8% who do not.
MIND the mental charity http://www.mind.org.uk Provides some useful information on mental health.

Young Minds http://www.youngminds.org.uk/for_parents/worried_about_your_child/dyslexia_dyspraxia/about_dyslexia_dyspraxia provides some useful information on supporting children and young people.

Auditory Processing Disorder

Auditory processing disorder (APD) is a hearing or listening problem caused by the brain not processing sounds in the normal way.

It can affect your ability to:
• pinpoint where a sound is coming from
• tell which sound comes before another
• distinguish similar sounds from one another – such as "seventy" and "seventeen"
• understand speech – particularly if there's background noise, more than one person speaking, the person is speaking quickly, or the sound quality is poor
• remember instructions you've been told
• enjoy music

The NHS Choices http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/auditory-processing-disorder/Pages/Introduction.aspx and APD UK http://www.apduk.org.uk/ provide further information

Other Useful Links

Please note that all links are provided for the purposes of providing additional information. Literacy Solutions cannot accept responsibility for the external sites we provide links to or the information found there. The provision of the link does not imply our endorsement of anything on external sites. Where we are able to refer an enquiry to an external service provider this does not imply that we have personally quality assured that provider and therefore cannot take responsibility for any external service providers. We do however welcome feedback on any external service providers.

Dyslexia testing Lancashire – dyslexia teacher – Irlen Testing provided by Sara Graham Dyslexia Consultant of Literacy Solutions