Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) have been defined as 'a particular difficulty in one area of learning in a child who performs satisfactorily in other areas' (Worthington, 2003). I prefer to think of them as learning differences as the word difficulty or disability implies that something is wrong with the student. Nothing is wrong with these students - they just learn differently to the majority of other people. They also possess many strengths and talents that set them apart from other people, but these are often forgotten.
SpLD is an umbrella term used to cover a range of frequently co-occuring difficulties including:
- dyspraxia (DCD)
SpLDs can also co-occur with difficulties on the autistic spectrum although ASD is not classed as a SpLD.
It is often difficult to decipher a student's unique blend of differences. There are numerous cross overs and it is common for someone to have more than one SpLD. For example:
- about 50 percent of students with ADHD also have dyspraxia
- approximately 40 to 60 percent of students with ADHD have or develop ODD
- up to 35 percent of students with ADHD are likely to have a reading disorder (Barkley, 2013)
- approximately 25 percent of students with ADHD have a specific maths disability (Aro, 2014; DeRuvo, 2009; Mayes & Calhoun, 2006)
Particular issues may exacerbate other issues and problems tend to imitate each other meaning that many students are misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all.
Overall, more boys than girls are diagnosed with Specific Learning Difficulties. This is still a hot topic for debate as people are beginning to realise that the ratios are probably closer than the statistics suggest as girls aren't often as easy to diagnose.
More boys than girls are diagnosed with ASD. It has been said that the ratio could be as high as 10:1, but it has been suggested that a ratio of 4:1 is more accurate. Many girls are never diagnosed because their difficulties can present much differently to boys. For example, when boys have problems reading social cues and body language, knowing the right thing to do in public, waiting their turn, and developing empathy for others they tend to act out in aggressive ways that get adult attention. Girls, on the other hand, tend to suffer in silence and appear shy and passive. Girls with ASD typically use their average to above-average intelligence to hide their social difficulties. They learn as many social rules as they can and apply them fairly convincingly. Often, they put a permanent smile on their face and constantly try to please others. Some social scientists believe that girls are better at developing ways of camouflaging their disorder because they are socialised to be passive.
In ADHD, the developmental trajectory for girls is the opposite of boys. Boys tend to have more severe symptoms when they are younger and their hyperactivity decreases significantly following puberty. Girls' symptoms, on the other hand, intensify as estrogen builds in their systems meaning that they often experience more severe symptoms once they hit puberty. Boys tend to experience the typical presentation of hyperactivity whereas girls tend to be hyper-talkative, hyper-social and hyper-emotional rather than physically hyperactive. Before puberty, girls can often appear to be passive students - daydreaming and being reluctant to draw attention to themselves or ask for help. Consequently, their intellect and abilities are often underestimated.