What are Learning Difficulties?

First of all, what is a learning difficulty (LD) NOT? It's not "dumbness" or a lack of intelligence. Neither is it a problem of "mental retardation" – in fact, children with LDs can often be MORE intelligent than their peers!

A LD is a specific neurological disorder such as dyslexia, dycalculia or dyspraxia which prevents a child from learning to the best of his ability. Such a difficulty will affect how they read, write, spell, think and organise themselves. LDs are for life and normal schooling methods don't always help. However, the good news is that we have made vast advances in how to diagnose and treat LDs since Oswald Berkhan identified dyslexia way back in 1881 and the Victorians talked about "word blindness"!

So how many children suffer from LDs? Some say that as many as 10% of children in the UK have some specific learning difficulty involving reading and spelling. Recent figures from the US claim that 4% of children suffer from reading difficulties, the vast majority of whom are boys. These figures are disputed and some observers say that changes in teaching methods and lower standards in schools have skewed them. However, what is certain is that the numbers of children struggling with LDs in school is significant.

So what are the most common learning disorders? The one you probably hear about most often is dyslexia. This is where a child has difficulty processing language, especially when it is written. They will find it hard to decode reading texts and learn the spelling rules. Dyscalculia, meanwhile, involves difficulties in dealing with mathematical concepts, computation and sequences. Learning the times tables and processing multi-step maths problems are tough for dyscalculics. A child with dysgraphia will find it hard to form his letter and struggle with handwriting in general. All of these difficulties and disorders may involve problems with visual and auditory processing, visual-spatial awareness and organisational ability. They may also accentuate poor attention and concentration.