What are Specific Learning Difficulties?

The information on this page is not designed to replace the specialist advice your health professional can give you. If you have any questions please contact us for a list of the health professionals in your area that are friendly or have experience with these disorders.

Attention and Learning Difficulties

The term "learning difficulties" means a disorder in one or more of the basic processes involved in understanding spoken or written language. Put another way, it impedes the ability to store, process or produce information. It may show up as a problem in a persons ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or do maths despite having at least average intelligence.

The term "learning difficulties" does not refer to people who have learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing or physical handicaps, metal retardation, emotional disturbance or of environment culture or economic disadvantage. A "learning difficulties" can occur with or without problems in attention.

It has been found that in all research results from the UK and Scotland that working with a child on a one to one basis is and has been very successful and implemented into the main stream education system in those countries. Children with learning difficulties benefit from remedial exercises given by qualified educators in a one on one sitting at school.

Learning difficulties are caused by the brain - not vision. Remember, any therapist should hold a relevant qualification from a reliable institute. In addition they should have a referral service and provide access to a variety of reference materials. Many vision therapy methods have no medical basis and can even cause a delay in getting assistance that sufferers need.

Williams-syndrome is a rare genetic condition (estimated to occur in 1/7,500 births) which causes medical and developmental problems. It causes symptoms similar to a SLD but is not.

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Common Attention and Learning Difficulties include:

  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD): This involves a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity to a greater degree than expected developmentally. Such symptoms must have been present prior to age seven, impairment from the symptoms must be present in at least two settings, and there must be clear evidence of interference with developmentally appropriate social, academic (education), and /or occupational functioning. For more information on ADD click here
  • Attention Deficit Hypo-activity Disorder (ADHD): ADHD is a neurological deficiency, in the frontal lobe section of the brain. True ADHD is a hereditary condition in chromosome 2, the amount of cracks in the gene, will determine the severity of the disorder but can also be caused by an accident, severe knocks to the head (while growing) and with time, may heal the neurons, so they contact again and function as normal. For more information on ADHD click here
  • Auditory, Memory and Processing Disability: This describes problems people have in understanding or remembering words or sounds, because their brains fail to understand language correctly. This can often be mistaken, by parents and doctors, as a hearing problem, but in fact, the individual with this disability is not able to process or memorise information.
  • Central Auditory Processing Disorder: The individual with a central auditory processing disorder (CAPD) has difficulty listening to or comprehending auditory information despite having normal peripheral hearing sensitivity. For more information on Central Auditory Processing Disorder click here
  • Conduct Disorder: Conduct Disorder is a repetitive and persistent pattern of behaviour in which the basic rights of others, or major rules and values of society are violated. For more information on Conduct Disorder click here
  • Dyscalculia (dis-kal-kyu-lee-uh): This causes people to have problems doing arithmetic and grasping mathematical concepts. While many people have problems doing math, a person with dyscalculia has a much more difficult time solving basic math problems than their peers. For more information on Dyscalculia click here
  • Dysgraphia (dis-gra-fee-uh): This is a writing disorder that causes people to have difficulty forming letters or writing within a defined space. People with this disorder need extra time and effort to write neatly. Despite their efforts, their handwriting may be most illegible. For more information on Dysgraphia click here
  • Dyslexia (dis-lek-see-uh): This is a reading disability typified by problems in expressive or receptive, oral or written language. Problems may emerge in reading, spelling, writing, speaking or listening. People with dyslexic often show talent in areas that require visual, spatial and motor integration. For more information on Dyslexia click here
  • Dyspraxia (dis-prak-see-uh): This is a disorder of movement involving impairment of the ability to carry out skilled activity in the absence of paralysis or other impairment of primary motor pathways, controlling movement. In other words, the body will not easily carry out what the brain wants it to do. Children with dyspraxia know what they want to do but may find it difficult to work out how to perform the activity. Associated with this there may be problems of language, perception and thought. Children who have an additional learning difficulty may have these problems to a greater extent. For more information on Dyspraxia click here
  • Hyperlexia (hi-per-lek-see-uh): This is a syndrome observed in children who have the following characteristics: precocious ability to read words far above what would be expected at the chronological age or an intense fascination with numbers or letters; significant difficulty understanding and using nonverbal learning disability; difficulty in reciprocal interaction. For more information on Hyperlexia click here
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD): ODD is a psychiatric disorder that is characterised by two different sets of problems. These are aggressiveness and a tendency to purposefully bother and irritate others. It is often the reason that people seek treatment. When ODD is present with ADHD, depression, Tourette's, anxiety disorders, or other neuropsychiatric disorders, it makes life with that child far more difficult. For Example, ADHD plus ODD is much worse than ADHD alone, often enough to make people seek treatment. For more information on ODD click here
  • Scotopic Sensitivity syndrome (sko-top-ik): These individuals exhibit an unusual sensitivity to specific frequencies and wavelengths of the white light spectrum. Block print on a white background, for example, may lend to cells in the retina becoming over stimulated and sending incorrect signals to the brain. For more information on Scotopic Sensitivity syndrome click here
  • Fragile X: Fragile X is a condition that displays similar to ADHD For more information on Fragile X click here

Autism Spectrum Disorders:

Autism is a developmental disability. A person with autism will have significant difficulties in several areas of their development. The areas most affected are communication, social interaction and behaviour. This developmental disability may have a particular pattern called autism, or there may be varying amounts of disability in other areas of development which result in patterns called Asperger syndrome or Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified (PDD - NOS). This whole area of developmental disabilities is referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorders. People with these disorders are affected differently, but all require specialised assistance and support.

  • Autism: Autism is a very complex disorder; and the needs of these individuals vary greatly. After 50 years of research, traditional and contemporary approaches are enabling us to understand and treat these individuals. It is also important to mention that parents and professionals are beginning to realize that the symptoms of autism are treatable--there are many interventions that can make a significant difference. For more information on Autism click here
  • Autistic Disorder (Childhood Autism): Many autistic infants are different from birth. Two common characteristics they may exhibit include arching their back away from their caregiver to avoid physical contact and failing to anticipate being picked up (i.e., becoming limp). As infants, they are often described as either passive or overly agitated babies. For more information on Autistic Disorder click here
  • Asperger Disorder (syndrome): Some children present with what appears to be typical autism, but go on to develop language and other skills, and by adolescence have all the features described by Asperger. Distinction between Asperger and autism: absence of delayed early language development in Asperger. For more information on Asperger Disorder click here
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD): Rare condition with a period of normal development until at least 24 months of age, followed by rapid neurodevelopmental regression resulting in symptoms of autism. Occurs usually between 36 and 48 months. The major signs include loss of previously acquired normal language, social play, cognitive and motor skills. Alongside this is the onset of stereotypical, repetitive behaviours. In autism clinical regression often occurs as early as 15 months. - difficult to distinguish. For more information on Childhood Disintegrative Disorder click here
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not otherwise Specified (PDD - NOS) / Atypical Autism: Is not a distinct clinical entity with a specific definition. It is a diagnosis by exclusion of other autistic spectrum disorders - e.g. when symptoms of autism are only partially present or where the age of onset was over 36 months. For more information on Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not otherwise Specified (PDD - NOS) / Atypical Autism click here
  • Rett Disorder (syndrome): Development disorder affecting girls. It is classified under PPD. After a period of early normal development during the first 12 months of life there is then a period of rapid deterioration, especially the loss of purposeful hand movement skills (replaced by stereotypical hand movements such as wringing or clapping; loss of social engagement, cognitive skills and both receptive and expressive language skills are severely impaired, poor truncal or gait coordination). For more information on Rett Disorder click here


  • Dexamphetamine: Dexamphetamine acts directly on the brain as a stimulant and is part of the amphetamines group. Dexamphetamine is most useful in children whose symptoms are causing moderate to severe impairment. For more information on Dexamphetamine click here
  • Efalex: This is a natural product. It is a patented combination of Efamol Evening Primrose Oil, Fish Oil (tuna), Thyme Oil and Vitamin E (as a natural antioxidant). For more information on Efalex click here
  • Glyconutrients: There have been two studies to date, using a glyconutritional product with children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Both of these studies revealed that the number and severity of symptoms of ADHD, such as hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention, as well as oppositional defiance disorder symptoms and conduct disorder symptoms decreased with the addition of these glyconutritional supplements to the children's diet. For more information on Glyconutrients click here
  • Methylphenidate: Includes Brands: RitalinĀ® & Concertatm. Methylphenidate are a central nervous system stimulant. Its mode of action in humans is not completely understood, but it is thought to exert its stimulant effect by activating the brainstem arousal system and cortex. The mechanism by which Methylphenidate produces its mental and behavioural effects in children is not clearly established, nor is there conclusive evidence showing how these effects relate to the condition of the central nervous system. For more information on Methylphenidate click here
  • Secretin: Children are given a series of injections of secretin to overcome digestive problems and increase skills (e.g. language). Not all children who have tried secretin have shown increase in skills as some other reported. For more information on Secretin click here