Specific learning difficulties

A learning difficulty is not the same thing as a learning disability.

A specific learning difficulty (SpLD) means that someone has a difference or difficulty with one or more certain parts of learning.

Having a SpLD does not mean that children and young people cannot achieve and succeed in learning. But it may be harder for them to succeed in school and they might need greater effort and different skills. They may also need greater and different support in the classroom.

A learning disability is a condition that affects somebody’s ability to learn new knowledge or skills. Learning disabilities can range from mild to severe in how much they affect a person, and they do not necessarily relate to a low IQ. Many people with learning disabilities can live independently and have jobs and families, while others may need care and support throughout their lives.

Voice of children and young people with SpLD

We spoke to children and young people in Kent who have SpLD and asked them how they feel:

"I don't know what to say, and can't use the right words"

"Don't ask me to read aloud or in front of my friends"

"People don't listen to me"

"I say I don't know because I don't know how to explain"

"Sometimes I do things to get in trouble to avoid talking or asking for help"

"I don't understand, you're saying too much to me"

"Others ignore me or walk away when I'm talking"

Children and young people in Kent's voice as told to professionals

Types of specific learning difficulties

The most common SpLD are:

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition which affects parts of the brain which control attention, impulses and concentration. It can have an impact on school, peer relationships, self-esteem and family life without appropriate treatment.

The signs of ADHD are different in every person but they may include some of the following:

  • a short attention span and being easily distracted
  • making careless mistakes, for example, in schoolwork
  • appearing forgetful or losing things
  • being unable to concentrate on tasks
  • excessive talking
  • acting without thinking.

For additional support and guidance you can visit:

Dyslexia is a common specific learning difficulty that can cause problems with reading, writing and spelling. Unlike a learning disability, intelligence isn't affected.

The signs of dyslexia are different in every person but they may include some of the following:

  • difficulties with reading and writing
  • poor spelling and/or handwriting
  • writing letters in the incorrect order
  • difficulty understanding written information
  • difficulty planning and organising tasks
  • difficulty with time perception.

Watch this video from the British Dyslexia Association to see find out about dyslexia.

For additional support and guidance you can visit

Dyspraxia, also known as developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD), is a common disorder that affects movement and co-ordination, such as tasks requiring balance, playing sports or learning to drive a car. Dyspraxia does not affect your intelligence.

The signs of dyspraxia are different in every person but may include:

  • problems with activities that require any kind of physical movement or coordination, such as playground games
  • navigating around the house, including going up and down the stairs
  • writing and drawing, or doing craft activities
  • tying shoelaces or buttoning up clothes
  • using cutlery
  • sitting still.

Watch this video created by Abi who has dyspraxia, explain what dyspraxia is and how she deals with it in her day to day life.

For additional support and guidance you can visit:

Dyscalculia is a term used to describe specific learning disability that affects a child's ability to understand, learn, and perform maths and number-based operations.

The signs of dyscalculia are different in every person but they may include:

  • a poor understanding of number and estimation
  • weak mental arithmetic skills
  • difficulty in remembering mathematical facts and procedures, even with extensive practice
  • taking a very long time over calculations
  • difficulty counting backwards
  • the inability to tell whether answers are right or nearly right.

Watch this video to learn about dyscalculia.

For additional support and guidance you can visit

Dysgraphia is a term that refers to trouble with recognising written words, letters and the sounds they make. As a result writing, spelling and forming words is challenging for those with dysgraphia.

The signs of dysgraphia are different in every person but they may include:

  • unclear, irregular or inconsistent handwriting
  • writing very slowly
  • mixing styles and upper/lower case letters
  • inconsistent letter and word spacing
  • unusual or cramped grip or position while writing
  • incorrect spelling.

Watch this video to learn more about dysgraphia.

For additional support and guidance you can visit

Support from your education setting

If you have any worries about your child or young person, you should talk to their teacher or the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO).

If they feel that your child or young person has SEN, extra learning support will be put in place. Over time they will learn more about your child or young person, and will go through a 4 part process called the 'assess, plan, do, review cycle' (the graduated approach).

Depending on your child or young person's needs they may receive the following specific support.

The educational setting will offer additional support if your child or young person has difficulty with mathematics. It could be they do one or more of these things:

  • copy from a worksheet, screen, board or follows others
  • do not remember facts about numbers
  • have difficulty applying logical or critical thinking to a maths problem
  • use their fingers to count more than using a pen and paper.

The support they offer could include:

  • acknowledgment and encouragement of good verbal contributions whenever possible
  • encouraging the use of different coloured pens to highlight work and provide markers
  • supplying additional teaching resources including:
    • checklists
    • storyboards
    • taskboards
    • word maps
    • working walls.
  • using number games, or programmes such as Numicon to support counting
  • using visual programmes such as Number Shark to target gaps in their learning.

The educational setting will offer additional support if your child or young person has difficulty with their memory. It could be they do one or more of these things:

  • can follow the first step of instructions and then struggles afterwards
  • cannot complete their homework, even if it's explained
  • copy or follow others
  • do not often ask for help or are highly dependent on adult support
  • fail to complete tasks
  • have anxiety
  • have poor organisation skills
  • are easily distracted
  • struggle with the pace of learning and teaching.

The support they offer could include:

  • a detailed explanation of the 'bigger picture' when a new topic is introduced
  • aiming to provide a 'check-in' support rather than constant individual attention
  • allowing extra time for the pupil to write down written instructions or give assistance
  • asking them to take part in memory activities or games to help develop their memory
  • chunking instructions one step at a time and check understanding throughout task
  • encouraging the use of different coloured pens to highlight work and provide markers
  • homework tasks and important instructions are provided in pictoral or written form
  • providing opportunities for repetition and overlearning
  • supplying additional teaching resources including:
    • checklists
    • storyboards
    • taskboards
    • word maps
    • working walls.
  • support through extra time or providing a personal copy to have on their desk
  • visual support and reminders, including a multisensory approach.

The educational setting will offer additional support if your child or young person has difficulty with their reading, writing and spelling. It could be they do one or more of these things:

  • avoid engagement and are disruptive in class
  • cannot process visual clues
  • copy often from a worksheet, screen or board
  • do not like to read out loud and have anxiety when asked
  • frequently spell words wrong
  • have difficulty with learning phonics beyond the simple alphabetic code
  • have poor organisation skills
  • have poor word recognition
  • read slowly or inaccurately
  • struggle writing, where it takes a lot of effort.

The support they offer could include:

  • allowing and encouraging alternative methods other than handwriting when recording work and giving them extra time to read and absorb information
  • checking the suitability of their chair or desk, posture and paper placement
  • encouraging and supporting word processing for written work where possible
  • highlighting or ticking the correct parts of the word rather than errors
  • marking written work on content rather than spelling
  • providing left or right-handed pens and pencils as appropriate
  • not asking them to read in front of others unless they want to
  • substituting an alternative task, including working on NESSY or Wordshark for spelling tests
  • teaching touch-typing
  • teaching strategies to help track words on the page
  • the reduction of written homework requirements
  • using of a scribe or voice recording for some tasks
  • using colour to highlight spelling patterns
  • using dyslexia friendly software, for example CLICKER
  • using inbuilt accessibility features of tablets, phones or laptops, for example speech to text functions.

For additional support and guidance read the mainstream core standards which sets out how education settings should be supporting your family.

Find an education setting

If your child has an education, health and care (EHC) plan, they should still be able to get support from mainstream education settings.

For children who need specialist input to progress their learning and who would struggle to take part in mainstream school life, you can request for your child to attend a specialist resource provision (SRP).

Social care support

If your child or young person is aged between 0 to 18 years old, you may be able to receive social care support.

A member of our Disabled Children's or Young People's Team will assess your child's and family's needs. This means we will talk to you about your situation and find out what you are worried about or what changes you would like to make in your life.

Find out how you can ask for social care support.

Additional support

You may also find extra support from local charities and groups near you on our local directory or via our SEN need type information pages.