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Summary: Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia (Specific Learning Difficulties)

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What do we mean by Specific Learning Difficulties?

Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia, along with ADHD/ADD, are classed as Specific Learning Difficulties (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.

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.

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. 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.


Common issues with dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia may include the following:

  • General organisation, timekeeping, attendance etc – organisation and timekeeping may be affected. Students may appear rushed or disorganised.
  • Student life / social activities – students may avoid certain environments and activities, concern about peer comments (“clumsy”, “stupid” etc)
  • Research and reading – planning and organising research, slow reading speed and poor comprehension, with many students needing to read and re-read texts to gain understanding.
  • Composition, referencing and proof reading – Planning, structuring, writing or calculating and proof-reading can all be impacted. Typing and writing speed may be slow. Writing style may be succinct and factual. .    
  • Exams, timed assessments and practical work – students mayneed extra time for processing instructions or thoughts and completing them.   
  • In class
    • Group workFollowing instructions when time pressured. Reticence about expressing ideas. Keeping up with discussion.
    • Presentations – Organising and presenting thoughts in a coherent manner may prove challenging for some students.  
    • Lab work – Concentrating and following instructions.

Points for Reflection

  • What, if anything, might tutors do to support students with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs) when they first arrive at University?
  • How might you create the environment within which students with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs) feel comfortable disclosing the anxieties and difficulties they face?
  • What changes to your teaching could you introduce to support students with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs) in playing a full part in your course?
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