What are specific learning differences?
The term Specific Learning Difference (SpLD) refers to a difference or difficulty with particular aspects of learning.
Everyone has a cognitive profile – that means the way in which our brain thinks, remembers and learns. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses in their cognitive profile but overall most brain processes will fall in the normal range. However, when someone has difficulties or weaknesses in just one or two areas in contrast to average or good cognitive skills this is called a Specific Learning Difference (SpLD). While there are common traits present for each SpLD, how they impact on someone’s learning will be different for each person.
It is very important to note that SpLDs do not affect intelligence. You can still achieve academically and have SpLD. Crucially, a person with SpLD will often have many strengths which can sometimes outweigh the weakness!
The most common SpLDs are dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, and it is possible to have more than one SpLD. You can find out more about these below.
Do I have SpLD?
You may already have a diagnosis of SpLD through an Educational Psychologist or Specialist Teacher report. If so, you should already be in touch with Disability Support at NUA, and hopefully applied for Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) when you applied to NUA. If you have a diagnosis and are not in touch with us already, please email Disability Support to discuss the next steps we can take to support you.
If you suspect you might have Dyslexia, Dyspraxia or Dyscalculia, you can make an appointment to see one of our Dyslexia/SpLD Tutors for a screening – this is a simple conversation about the difficulties you are experiencing which will enable us to determine whether you should be referred for a diagnosis and start the journey to receive further support. If you think you have dyslexia, or another SpLD, then you can make an appointment to see one of our Specialist Study Skills Tutors for a screening.
If you suspect you might have AD(H)D please get in touch with the NUA Disability Support Adviser to discuss how we might best help you.
What support is available to me?
Having SpLD does not automatically limit the achievements you can make in your studies. However, the path to achievement may present more challenges to someone with SpLD. For these individuals learning how to overcome their specific challenges is the best way to get ahead not just at University, but also in the workplace.
If you have a diagnosis of SpLD you are able to apply for Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) through which you may be recommended a number of support mechanisms to support you in your studies. This could include seeing a Specialist Study Skills Tutor, and/or receiving assistive technology that will benefit your learning. We encourage everyone thinking about applying for DSA support to do so as early as possible to ensure maximum benefit over the duration of your studies. See the How do I get support page for more information
Dyslexia is a combination of abilities and difficulties:
- It primarily causes difficulties with fluent reading and spelling.
- It can also present challenges in short-term and working memory, speed of processing, sequencing skills, auditory and /or visual perception, spoken language and motor skills.
- However students with dyslexia often have good visual-spatial skills, creating thinking and intuitive understanding.
- You can read more on our Signs of dyslexia page.
Dyspraxia is an impairment or immaturity of the organisation of movement:
- It can affect gross motor skills (related to balance and co-ordination) and fine motor skills (relating to manipulation of objects).
- Writing or learning to type may be particularly challenging.
- It may cause someone to appear clumsy, have poor awareness of body position or misread social cues.
Dyscalculia is a learning difference involving the reception and comprehension of quantitative and spatial information:
- Dyscalculia can cause difficulties in understanding simple number concepts.
- This may impact on concepts such as telling the time, handling money, or estimating/measuring things.
- To find out more watch the video below on dyscalculia, made by NUA student Esme Thomas
Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder:
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) exists with or without hyperactivity and it can be categorised under SpLDs but also under other disability categories.
- In can affect people’s concentration, with particular difficulty commencing and switching tasks, together with a very short attention span and high levels of distractibility.
- They may fail to make effective use of the feedback they receive and have weak listening skills.
- Those with hyperactivity may act impulsively and erratically, have difficulty foreseeing outcomes, fail to plan ahead and be noticeably restless and fidgety.
- Those without the hyperactive trait tend to daydream excessively, lose track of what they are doing and fail to engage in their studies unless they are highly motivated.
Students who experience difficulties relating to AD(H)D are advised to see their GP to discuss medical interventions alongside any reasonable adjustments and learning-based support offered at the University. HCPC Chartered Practitioner Psychologists who have the relevant training, skills and experience are also permitted to assess and diagnose the condition, and this is recommended by SASC (SpLD Assessments Standard Committee).
Sources used to create this page:
- Department for Education and Skills (DfES) (2005) SpLD Guidelines https://www.sasc.org.uk/SASCDocuments/SpLD_Working_Group_2005-DfES_Guidelines.pdf
- Helen Arkell (2019) What is an SpLD? https://www.helenarkell.org.uk/about-dyslexia/what-is-an-spld.php