Learning Difficulties

Learning Difficulties 

What are learning difficulties? 

There is often some confusion over learning disability and learning difficulties. A person described as having a “learning difficulty” may have specific processing certain forms of information e.g. the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing and reasoning of mathematical ability e.g. dyslexia, dyspraxia or Attention deficit an hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)., these vary significantly between individuals and are presumed to be due to central nervous system dysfunction. 

What are the common features of learning difficulties? 

Most learning difficulties are categorised as verbal or non-verbal learning difficulties. 


  • The child may have difficulty with speaking and writing words. Some people with verbal learning disabilities may be able to read or write well but have trouble with other aspects of language e.g. they may be able to read a sentence or paragraph perfectly but have difficulty ‘making sense’ of it i.e. comprehending the information. They are unable to put what they have read into their own words. 


  • The child may have difficulty with the physical act of writing because the brain has difficulties coordinating the many simultaneous tasks required e.g. from moving their hand to form letter shapes to remembering the correct grammar required in a sentence. 
  • The child may have difficulties processing and understanding what they see e.g. having trouble making sense of visual details like numbers on a blackboard, confusing the ‘+’ for ‘-‘ in Maths. 
  • The child may have difficulties understanding abstract concepts such as fractions, they may learn a task when presented in one particular way but struggle if the wording is slightly altered

Some difficulties often (but not always) experienced by the child with learning difficulties include:

  • The child may have a slow vocabulary growth, and often have difficulties finding the right word. 
  • They may struggle with rhyming words. 
  • The child may have difficulties learning numbers, the alphabet, days of the week, colours and shapes etc. 
  • The child may be extremely restless and easily distracted. 
  • They may have difficulties interacting with peers. 
  • A person with a learning difficulty may be described as having specific problems processing certain forms of information. 
  • Fine motor skills may be delayed. 
  • Gets confused and has difficulties with number sequences and confuses arithmetic signs (+, -, x, /, =). 
  • The child can be slow to remember facts. 
  • The child may be slow to learn new skills, relying heavily on memory. 
  • The child may be impulsive and have difficulty planning
  • The child may experience poor pencil grip and subsequent handwriting difficulties.
  • The child may have difficulties learning how to tell the time. 
  • The child may have coordination problems and appear unaware of physical surroundings. 
  • They may be unable to complete tasks within a given time. 
  • The child may reverses letters or confuses words. 

Some strategies that support the child with learning difficulties include:

  • Multi-sensory approach Using a multi-sensory approach to learning (i.e. using as many different senses as possible such as seeing, listening, doing and speaking). 
  • Visual strategies Visual aids and instructions can assist with reading, spelling and task completion.  Helping the family and the education setting to use visual strategies (e.g. picture time-tables and picture sequences to help follow instructions). 
  • Visual cues  Can be used to help sequencing tasks or the components within a task. 
  • Visual modelling  This is used in conjunction with a verbal cues which help the child improve their ability to follow instructions.
  • Communication assessment: Providing information to those involved with the child about the child’s exact level of the understanding, so that the language used is at an appropriate level for the child to understand. 
  • Goal setting Establish goals with child and with parents/carers small achievable and language goals to help develop the child’s speech and language skills. 
  • Problem solving Specifically solving techniques for each task rather than expecting the child to be able to transfer the technique from one task to another
  • Story mapping Have the child put bullet points on paper first to help then with the story flow.
  • Independence: Strategies to foster independence in learning, as well as self-care, time management, and resource management. Providing the family with strategies, activities and ideas that can be used during the day to help develop the child’s speech and language skills. 
  • Management strategies: Providing the child with strategies to manage in situations when they don’t understand (e.g. teaching them to put up their hands when, asking for help, asking for the question to be repeated, teaching some standard questions to ask when needed). 
  • Liaising  And working with educational staff to provide information to be incorporated into an education plan and/or implementing ideas/suggestions, activities to help improve the child’s speech and language skills and ability to access to the curriculum. 
  • Fun games Teaching skills in a fun, play-based way. 

If left untreated, the child with learning difficulties may develop other problems including:

  • Difficulties following instructions within the home, nursery or school.
  • Vocabulary the child may not be able to express themselves effectively due to limited vocabulary, this can lead to confusions and frustration. 
  • Socialisation the child may find jokes and humour difficult to understand they
  • They may be slow at learning to talk Speech may be intelligible and clarity may be poor making communication difficult.
  • The child may develop poor self-esteem and confidence when they realise their skills do not match their peers. 
  • Bullying when others become more aware of the child’s difficulties. 
  • They may struggle with fine motor tasks  E.g. writing, drawing and cutting). 
  • Self-regulation and behaviour may be poor The child may be unable to regulate themselves appropriately to settle and attend to a specific task for an extended period of time. 
  • Accessing the curriculum The child may be on an adapted curriculum because they are unable to attend to tasks long enough to complete assessment criteria. 
  • Anxiety and stress The child may in struggle in a variety of situations increasing their anxiety and stress which impacts on their learning and makes it difficult for them to reach their academic potential. 
  • Academic performance They may struggle to develop their literacy skills such as reading and writing and coping in the academic environment. 
  • Academic assessment Completing tests, exams and academic tasks in higher education may be difficult without use of assistive technology or a scribe