Specific Learning Difficulties (SPLD)

Specific Learning Difficulties affect the way information is learned and processed. They are neurological (rather than psychological), usually run in families and occur independently of intelligence. They can have a significant impact on education and learning and on the acquisition of literacy skills.

SpLD is an umbrella term used to cover a range of frequently co-occurring difficulties, most commonly known as:

  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia or Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD)
  • Dyscalculia
  • Dysgraphia

As with any disability, no two individuals experience the same combination of difficulties and some people may exhibit signs of more than one SpLD.

Some common characteristics of SpLDs:

  • Memory difficulties.
  • Organisational difficulties.
  • Writing difficulties.
  • Visual processing difficulties.
  • Reading difficulties.
  • Auditory processing difficulties.
  • Time management difficulties.
  • Sensory distraction: an inability to screen out extraneous visual or auditory stimuli.
  • Sensory overload: a heightened sensitivity to visual stimuli and sound; an inability to cope with busy environments.

Credit: British Dyslexia Association


Dyslexia is a neurological difference and can have a significant impact during education, in the workplace and in everyday life. It is a specific learning difficulty which primarily affects reading and writing skills. However, it does not only affect these skills. Dyslexia is actually about information processing. Dyslexic people may have difficulty processing and remembering information they see and hear, which can affect learning and the acquisition of literacy skills. Dyslexia can also impact on other areas such as organisational skills

As each person is unique, so is everyone's experience of dyslexia. It can range from mild to severe, and it can co-occur with other specific learning difficulties. It usually runs in families and is a life-long condition.

It is important to remember that there are positives to thinking differently. Many dyslexic people show strengths in areas such as reasoning and in visual and creative fields.

Credit: British Dyslexia Association


Dyscalculia is a specific and persistent difficulty in understanding numbers which can lead to a diverse range of difficulties with mathematics. It will be unexpected in relation to age, level of education and experience and occurs across all ages and abilities.

Mathematics difficulties are best thought of as a continuum, not a distinct category, and they have many causal factors. Dyscalculia falls at one end of the spectrum and will be distinguishable from other maths issues due to the severity of difficulties with number sense, including subitising, symbolic and non-symbolic magnitude comparison, and ordering. It can occur singly but often co-occurs with other specific learning difficulties, mathematics anxiety and medical conditions.

About 6% of people have dyscalculia. Studies into the causes of dyscalculia are about 30 years behind research into dyslexia. However, it is thought that the lack of number sense that is often common to people with dyscalculia is connected to the function of the left intraparietal sulcus which deals with numbers, and the front lobe, which deals with reasoning. It can therefore be hereditary but also connected to certain developmental conditions like Foetal Alcohol Syndrome.

An estimated 25% of people have maths learning difficulties which can be caused either by other neurodiverse conditions such as dyslexia or external issues such as a traumatic learning experience related to maths or school absence etc. 60% of individuals with dyslexia will have difficulties with maths.
Credit: British Dyslexia Association

Dyspraxia (DCD)
Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), also known as dyspraxia, is a common disorder affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination in children and adults. This condition is formally recognised by international organisations including the World Health Organisation.

DCD is distinct from other motor disorders such as cerebral palsy and stroke. The range of intellectual ability is in line with the general population. Individuals may vary in how their difficulties present; these may change over time depending on environmental demands and life experience, and will persist into adulthood.

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, 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.

Credit: British Dyslexia Association


Dysgraphia is a term that refers to trouble with writing. Many experts view dysgraphia as challenges with a set of skills known as transcription. These skills — handwriting, typing, and spelling — allow us to produce writing.

For example, people with dysgraphia may write more slowly than others. That can affect how well they express themselves in writing. Plus, they tend to have trouble with spelling because it’s hard for them to form letters when they write.

Dysgraphia isn’t a matter of intelligence. The challenges are often caused by trouble with motor skills. Those skills can improve with help. And people with dysgraphia may also be eligible to use accommodations at work or at school.

Credit: Understood.org