Posted on: December 13, 2022
Teachers that understand specific learning difficulties (SpLDs) are better equipped to help students achieve their highest potential. While SpLDs are not related to intelligence, they can have an impact on schoolwork and social life.
Due to varying degrees of severity, an SpLD can sometimes go undetected until adulthood. However, the earlier someone is diagnosed with an SpLD, the more effective their treatment can be.
Read on to learn about the various types of SpLD, and how to recognise them, as well as resources for teachers that provide actionable advice and support.
What is a Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD)?
An SpLD is a neurological condition that affects a person's skills to receive, process and retain information. However, an SpLD is not an intellectual disability. That's because SpLDs only affect specific areas of learning and development.
For example, learners with an SpLD may have difficulty with reading, writing, spelling and mathematics. Still, they may have no problems understanding concepts and ideas as their overall intelligence is typically within the normal range.
In contrast, a young person that experiences an intellectual disability faces significant limitations in every one of their cognitive functions, such as orientation, reasoning, judgment and problem-solving.
Examples of Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs)
The most common specific learning difficulties are dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Regardless of the type, all SpLDs range from mild to severe and can exist alone or alongside other conditions. Moreover, without a diagnostic assessment and appropriate support, children with SpLDs may struggle to perform strongly in their academics.
How do you recognise signs of SpLDs?
While SpLD signs are not always easy to recognise, some common indicators can help teachers identify whether a child is experiencing these difficulties. Below is an overview of some of the most common symptoms associated with specific learning difficulties:
Dyslexia: People with dyslexia have difficulty reading, writing and spelling. This SpLD is most commonly associated with reading words backward or mixing up letters like "b" and "d". However, dyslexia can also present a discrepancy in the abilities of note-taking and pronunciation.
Dyspraxia: A young person with dyspraxia will exhibit difficulty with fine motor skills, such as handwriting and buttoning a shirt. The child may also have trouble with coordination and balance, resulting in clumsiness or falling frequently. Additionally, dyspraxia can also affect a child's ability to plan, organise and complete tasks.
Dyscalculia: This SpLD is characterised by difficulty with math concepts, such as counting and basic arithmetic. A young person with dyscalculia may also find it hard to read clocks and estimate how long it takes to complete a task accurately.
Dysgraphia: A learner with dysgraphia may have trouble writing legibly and often has poor handwriting. The child may also struggle with spelling, even if they can read well.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): This condition causes people to have trouble paying attention, sitting still and controlling their behavior. The symptoms of ADHD usually appear before age 12 but can continue into adulthood.
Teachers play a crucial role in the early identification of learning disabilities, as many symptoms are first evident in the school environment.
In her book Identifying Special Needs, educational psychologist and special education teacher Glynis Hannel provides a checklist for teachers to better identify children with an SpLD, as well as guidelines on how to support and accommodate these students after they have been diagnosed by a licensed professional.
What is an SpLD assessment?
An SpLD assessment is a process that helps identify specific learning disabilities and determine the best educational plan to help a young person with one of these conditions succeed. It usually involves several components, including:
A diagnostic evaluation by a licensed professional evaluates a learner's strengths and weaknesses in each of the major areas affected by an SpLD (e.g., cognitive skills, reading, writing, spelling and math). This is to see if there are any gaps in your child’s knowledge or skills.
A psycho-educational assessment that screens a child's reasoning, memory and language skills — and compares them with those of other children their age.
Understanding standardised assessments and their limitations can help teachers create a thorough plan to best meet the needs of children with SpLDs.
For simple, jargon-free guidance on this matter, read Children Beyond Labels by education consultant Rhian Spence, who goes through 18 detailed case studies of children with learning difficulties.
SpLD Resources from Taylor & Francis
SpLDs are complex and varied, with some children showing symptoms of more than one disorder. However, various resources are available to help teachers and parents better understand SpLDs and how best to support children with them.
Below are a few examples of the many resources available from Taylor & Francis:
Dyslexia and Inclusion by David Grant: This thought-provoking book is filled with recent data and insights on dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and ADHD. It explores how a child's specific learning difference impacts their lifestyle choices to further the knowledge of teachers, parents and other caregivers.
It also looks at how certain SpLDs overlap and uses tangible examples to illustrate these children's challenges in the classroom and their everyday lives.
Dyslexia and Inclusion by Gavin Reid: By providing comprehensive guidance and practical advice on identifying and managing dyslexia, this book helps prepare teachers and education specialists to best support inclusion. In addition, it includes a list of the latest technology, including websites, apps and software that can be useful for learners with dyslexia.
An Adventure with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties by Plum Hutton: This pack includes a storybook and guidebook to help readers understand the practical, social and psychological impacts of dyslexia on children and young people.
A Nasty Dose of the Yawns: For children aged 8-12, follows the life of Zack, who finds reading and writing extremely difficult. It teaches children that overcoming challenges builds confidence and that they can rely on their own strengths to succeed.
Supporting Children with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties, is a guidebook that explores the theory and research around dyslexia and literacy difficulties and covers early identification, assessment and management.
Paired together, both of these resources help readers understand some of the emotional challenges children can face when they feel they are "behind" their peers in reading and writing skills.
The Trouble with Maths by Steve Chinn: This book specifically looks at dyscalculia, offering a complete understanding of the condition and how it can impact a student's life. It also discusses practical strategies for teachers to implement in the classroom and provides information that is relevant to new and experienced educators alike.
With a combination of knowledge, patience and compassion, teachers can make a huge difference in their students’ lives by helping them overcome the challenges associated with any of these conditions.