Skip to main content

Specific Learning Differences


BDA Silver Organisational Membership

 BDA Silver Membership


What are Specific Learning Differences(SpLDs)?




Dyslexia is a combination of abilities and difficulties; the difficulties affect the learning process in aspects of literacy and sometimes numeracy. Getting through required reading is generally seen as the biggest challenge at higher education level due in part to inability to skim and scan written material. Marked and persistent weaknesses may be identified in short-term and working memory, speed of processing, sequencing skills, auditory and /or visual perception, spoken language and motor skills.

Abilities can include good visuo-spatial skills, creative thinking and intuitive understanding; enabling technology is usually found to be very beneficial.




Students with dyspraxia are affected by an impairment or immaturity of the organisation of movement, often appearing clumsy. Gross and fine motor skills (related to balance and co-ordination) and fine motor skills (relating to manipulation of objects) are hard to learn and difficult to retain and generalise. Writing is particularly laborious and keyboard skills difficult to acquire. Pronunciation may also be affected and people with dyspraxia may be over/under sensitive to noise, light and touch. They may have poor awareness of body position and misread social cues in addition to those shared characteristics common to many SpLDs.




Dyscalculia is a learning difficulty involving the most basic aspect of arithmetical skills. The difficulty lies in the reception, comprehension, or production of quantitative and spatial information. Students with dyscalculia may have difficulty in understanding simple number concepts, lack an intuitive grasp of numbers and have problems learning number facts and procedures.

These can relate to basic concepts such as telling the time, calculating prices and handling change and estimating and measuring such things as temperature and speed.


Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder


Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) exists with or without hyperactivity. In most cases people with this disorder are often off task, have particular difficulty commencing and switching tasks together with a very short attention span and high levels of distractibility. They may fail to make effective use of the feedback they receive and have weak listening skills. Those with hyperactivity may act impulsively and erratically, have difficulty foreseeing outcomes, fail to plan ahead and be noticeably restless and fidgety. Those without the hyperactive trait tend to daydream excessively, lose track of what they are doing and fail to engage in their studies unless they are highly motivated. The behaviour of people with AD(H)D can be inappropriate and unpredictable; this, together with the characteristics common to many SpLDs can present a further barrier to learning.


How do these SpLDs affect learning?


The following are recognised as characteristic effects of dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties on the learning process. The range of characteristics will differ from person to person.

  • Lack of confidence.
  • Difficulty in becoming fluent in a new skill to the point where it becomes automatic, for example reading, writing and driving a car.
  • Taking longer to complete tasks than other students.
  • Difficulties in organising work and other aspects of their lives.
  • A poor sense of passage of time, mixing up dates, times and appointments.
  • Poor short-term memory leading to difficulties in carrying out instructions or copying from the board and remembering what has just been read and/or said.
  • Difficulties retrieving words when speaking and mispronunciations caused by difficulties in discriminating sounds or motor problems.
  • Directional confusions, getting easily lost and having problems using maps or finding their way to a new place.
  • Poor motor control resulting in a range of difficulties including controlling a pen leading to untidy handwriting with many crossings out.
  • Errors when reading and spelling such as confusion or omission of sounds and/or muddling words.
  • Difficulties in retaining the visual image of words, signs, symbols and formulae.
  • Difficulties in reading text caused by visual distortions such as blurring or moving letters.
  • Difficulties in comprehension despite appearing to read fluently.
  • Difficulties in sequencing letters in spelling, or numbers and signs in maths, difficulties taking messages, remembering phone numbers and dialling them accurately.
  • Problems with sequencing such as instructions and mathematical procedures, sequencing of numbers or letters and difficulties using dictionaries, encyclopaedias and directories.
  • A short attention span and poor concentration.
  • Particular susceptibility to stress which may be associated with deadlines or examinations.
  • Noticeable inconsistency between what can be achieved on a “good” and “bad” day.

(Source: DfES Specific Learning Difficulties Working Group: Draft Interim Report (July, 2004))




- General advice and guidance

- Initial screenings and external referrals for diagnostic assessments

- Information about funding to cover the cost of a diagnostic assessment

- Information about the Disabled Student Allowances

- Individual dyslexia/study skills support

- Examination arrangements

- Dyslexia stickers for marking consideration

- Notetaking, library assistance

- Liaising with Departments and academic staff



Further information

British Dyslexia Association - for dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia

'Being Dyslexic'

The Dyspraxia Foundation

Dyscalculia and Dyslexia Interest Group

ADDISS - Attention Deficit Disorder Information Service

Attention Deficit Disorder Association


Dyslexia Action, Coventry


 Contact us