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Module 5: Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia

What do we mean by Specific Learning Differences?

Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia, along with ADHD/ADD, are classed as specific learning differences (SpLDs).

Dyslexia affects the area of the brain that deals with language, leading to differences in the way information is processed and affecting the underlying skills needed for learning to read, write and spell.

The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) adopts the following definition of dyslexia:

Three female students and one male study stand around a laptop working on a task together

Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed. Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities. It is best thought of as a continuum, not a distinct category, and there are no clear cut-off points. Co-occurring difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia. A good indication of the severity and persistence of dyslexic difficulties can be gained by examining how the individual responds or has responded to well-founded intervention”. BDA (2020)

Students with dyslexia can often perform a range of complex tasks, such as solving complicated problems in electronics or design, yet cannot do the seemingly simple: learning to read and spell, organising writing, taking notes, remembering instructions, telling the time or finding their way around a location. A way of regarding this pattern of strengths and weaknesses is as a cognitive or learning style. In fact many dyslexic students themselves experience their dyslexia as a difference in the way they think or learn.

Dyspraxia is a specific learning difficulty that affects the brain’s ability to plan sequences of movement. It is thought to be connected to the way that the brain develops and can affect the planning of what to do and how to do it. It is often associated with problems of perception, language and thought. The effects that dyspraxia has on a person’s ability to function in a day-to-day environment, as well as in a learning environment can vary, depending on the degree of difficulty.

The Dyspraxia Foundation describes dyspraxia as: “…a form of developmental coordination disorder (DCD) is a common disorder affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination in children and adults. It may also affect speech. DCD is a lifelong condition, formally recognised by international organisations including the World Health Organisation. DCD is distinct from other motor disorders such as cerebral palsy and stroke and occurs across the range of intellectual abilities. Individuals may vary in how their difficulties present: these may change over time depending on environmental demands and life experiences.” (Dyspraxia Foundation

Some students with dyspraxia will experience difficulties with their gross motor skills which can affect their ability to balance and learn skills of coordination. They may also experience clumsy gait, poor posture and a tendency to bump into things or trip over things. They may also experience challenges with memory and processing and planning and organisation, similar to those experienced by students with other specific learning differences. These are all factors that can affect a student during their studies, especially during lectures and practical sessions.

It should be noted that students with dyspraxia are also likely to be able to develop their own strategies to overcome any difficulties. Tutors will therefore need to be mindful of the difficulties a student with dyspraxia may be facing and if necessary, communicate with them about alternative teaching or assessment methods that may be more suited to the individual student.

Dyscalculia is a term that’s used to refer to various conditions that cause people difficulties with learning maths. There isn’t as yet a standard definition of dyscalculia and research into this specific learning difference is at a relatively early stage in comparison with dyspraxia and dyslexia for example. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM 5 (APA, 2013) it defines developmental dyscalculia as a “specific learning disorder, an impediment in mathematics, evidencing problems with: Number sense, Memorisation of arithmetic facts, Accurate and fluent calculation and Accurate math reasoning.”

What is clear is that students with dyscalculia will have difficulty with counting, understanding relationships between numbers and mastering the standard maths operation of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing.

It is important to understand that often maths anxiety and difficulties with maths can be as a result of dyslexia for example, rather than specifically dyscalculia.

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