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Knowing the Signs of a Learning Difficulty

When I was in school, I always got the same feedback - 'work on your time management.' I was told this a dozen times, and not once did a teacher suspect that I had a learning difficulty, or even advise me as to HOW I should improve my time management skills. I did poorly on several exams throughout the years all because I couldn't finish them on time, and it was only when I was 18 and sought out help myself that I got officially diagnosed with dyspraxia. If I had been diagnosed earlier on in life I am sure school would not have been nearly as frustrating, but especially in girls, learning difficulties are rarely diagnosed until a child is already in secondary school.

Undiagnosed learning difficulties not only make schoolwork itself more stressful, but it can lead to a lot of bullying and self-doubt in one's abilities. Identifying characteristics in your child that are remnant of a learning disability can be tough, especially in girls as girls are better at masking behaviour and often present more subtly, but it is important to try as an early diagnosis will not only improve your child's journey through education but their overall self-esteem and social life.

What is a Learning Difficulty?

To quote from the Mayo Clinic, 'A learning difficulty is an information-processing problem that prevents a person from learning a skill and using it effectively.' Many people suspect that learning difficulties would be most common in people that are of below-average intelligence or in people who's neurodivergence is more physically evident, but this is not the case. Learning difficulties such as dyslexia or dyspraxia are actually more common in people with average or above-average intelligence, and so a lot of children go undiagnosed because of this misdirected conflation between learning difficulties and below-average intelligence.

The main areas usually affected by a learning difficulty are Reading, Writing, Maths and Non-verbal skills, so let's take a look at each of these:


The main thing people with a reading-related learning difficulty struggle with is the ability to perceive a word as separate distinct sounds. This not only makes 'sounding out' more difficult, but can make it harder to use their working memory to recall what they have just read, reading at average speed, understanding the themes, picking up on subtext and spelling. Dyspraxia can make it harder to process and retain information so children with this disorder may need extra time to really absorb what they are reading. Those with dyslexia may jumble up letters and words and so they may need a combination of extra time and specialised equipment to 'sort' letters and words into the right order.


Writing requires many different skills as you need the ability to process information visually and audibly, and then put those thoughts to paper using information and motor skills. People with difficulties that affect written expression may write in slow, laborious handwriting, it may be illegible, ideas may be confused and spelling, grammar and syntax might be below par. A lot of people with learning difficulties benefit from typing instead of writing by hand as it is easier to read, quicker to type and better for correcting mistakes.


Maths related learning difficulties, especially dyscalculia, may cause problems with skills such as using symbols, understanding how numbers relate to each other, calculating problems, difficulty telling the time, memorising basic calculations such as times tables, difficulty with direction, recognising sequences, understanding word problems and mental maths. Children with these issues might be reliant on finger-counting. Allowances may include the use of calculators, extra time, breaking down problems into smaller steps, extra tutoring of core concepts and hands-on projects.

Non-verbal Skills

Nonverbal skills in people with learning difficulties don't tend to suffer until later on in childhood when visual-motor and visual-spatial skills become more necessary in our social and academic lives. Children with these issues may have a hard time recognising and reacting to others facial expressions and non-verbal queues, using appropriate language, dressing appropriately (eg. wearing shorts in winter, a winter coat in summer), fine motor skills (such as writing, sewing, tying shoelaces etc) physical co-ordination (children with these tendencies usually struggle in PE and sports activities), reading comprehension, attention, planning, organisation and forethought.

It is a lot easier to recognise a difficulty with non-verbal skills inside the home than others such as maths or reading/writing, so whilst at home try to look out for cues such as;

- having difficulty following instructions

- struggles with short term memory (even something said a few seconds ago)

- lack of co-ordination whilst walking, constantly bumping into things, difficulty holding a pencil, tying shoelaces, crossing the road

- constantly losing or misplacing items

- Difficulty with the concept of time (eg. cannot look outside and give an accurate guess, or read a clock)

- resists doing homework, needs a lot of help and acts out at school with emotional outbursts

What Can You Do?

If you feel your child may have a learning difficulty, it is important to get them evaluated - services are available not just with a doctor but your local school will often have tests they can perform to get the evaluation process started. It is also important to get eyesight and hearing tested to rule those out as a potential cause. Getting feedback from teachers on your child's academic performance and behaviour will aid the evaluation process. Even if your child does not have a learning difficulty, they may be discovered to have ADHD or an anxiety-related disorder which would inadvertently contribute to poor performance in school.

It is important that you do not put off an evaluation due to a fear of how your child may feel about themselves knowing they have a learning difficulty as it will help them in the long run, and a lot of children when diagnosed are just happy to know that what they have been struggling with at home and at school isn't due to a lack of intelligence or effort.

All difficulties are different so treatment varies, but every single child with a learning difficulty will benefit from tutoring - these children need more time to go over certain aspects they may find difficult and often require one-on-one teaching that they will not get in the classroom.

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2 comentarios

Hi! Thank you for this post, as a dyspraxic diagnosed late in life and a mother of a dyspraxic child, I really appreciate that you are spreading awareness!

However, there is a big difference between a learning disability and a learning difficulty- and dyspraxia, dyslexia, and dyscalculia are all learning difficulties. Sorry for being pendantic! :)

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Elizabeth Corke
Elizabeth Corke
10 may 2021
Contestando a

Hi Anastasia, we appreciate the feedback! These distinctions are important to make so I am more than happy to update this post. You learn something new every day ⭐️

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