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Specific Learning Disabilities


A child with a specific learning difficulty is as able as any other child, except in one or two areas of their learning. For instance, they may find it difficult to recognise letters, or to cope with numbers or reading.

There are many different types of specific learning difficulty, but the best known is probably dyslexia. In dyslexia, the child has difficulty with spelling and reading. It may be difficult for parents and teachers to realise that a child has this sort of problem, especially if their development has progressed without concern in the early years.

Often, the child will appear to understand, have good ideas, and join in storytelling and other activities, as well as other children, and better than some. Sometimes it can take years for adults to realise that a child has a specific difficulty.

Specific difficulties can make lessons challenging for a child.

•They may struggle keeping up with classmates, and may come to see themselves as stupid, or no good.
•They may find it difficult to concentrate on lessons and, because they may not be able to follow them properly, they may complain of lessons being `boring'.
•The child may search for other ways to pass the time and to succeed.
•They may try to avoid doing schoolwork because they find it impossible to do it well.

Doing badly in school can undermine their self-confidence. This can make it harder for the child to get along with other children and to keep friends. Children with specific reading difficulties often become angry and frustrated, so behavioural problems are common. If they don't get suitable help, the problems may get worse. Older children may become disillusioned, fail exams or get into serious trouble - both at school and outside.

A specific learning difficulty is not a mental illness. However, children with a specific learning difficulty are more likely to develop mental health problems, for example anxiety, or have additional developmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorders and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), than other children.

Parents can discuss their concerns with the teacher or Special Educational Needs Coordinating Officer if there is one in your child's school.

Schools should have the Special Educational Needs `Code of Practice', drawn up to help them to recognise and help children with this type of problem.

If there are concerns, the school may offer extra help using different ways of teaching to suit the child’s specific needs. If this is not enough, then they can offer interventions that are additional or different from those provided as part of the schools usual curriculum and strategies.

If a child continues to make little or no progress, despite these interventions, an assessment of the child may be triggered. This will take into account the views of parents, as well as professionals involved such as an educational psychologist. Once the assessment has taken place, appropriate advice can be put in place describing what type of additional help the child will benefit from.

If the child's learning problem has resulted in possible emotional or behaviour problems, due to frustration or loss of self-confidence, more specialised help may be needed. The child's school or a child psychiatrist will also be able to help. If necessary, the family physician can refer the child to the local child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) who will be able to offer help and support.

Apart from other measures mentioned above, trivial things like child's distance from the white/black board, using a specific coloured paper, dividing home work or curriculum into tiny measurable pieces etc can help.

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