What are Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs) ?

SpLDs are neurological disorders that affect the way information is received and processed. Students with SpLDs may experience significant difficulties with certain aspects of learning, as well as the perception and understanding of visual and auditory information. Speech, language and communication impairments and information processing disorders make it difficult for students to communicate or understand ideas. Individuals are affected to different degrees.

The most common SpLDs are (click on the names below for more information):

Helping Students with SpLDs:

  • Making assumptions about what students with SpLDs are or are not able to do is easy if one generalises their symptoms (may be done subconsciously). Most SpLDs are spectrum conditions. Get to know the student’s particular needs in advance- suggest a one-to-one meeting
  • Provide confidential opportunities for individual feedback
  • Avoid drawing attention to or identifying specific individuals with an SpLD within a group environment. Otherwise student may feel alienated
  • Be patient; especially with student’s often frequent inability to process information at regular speed. SpLDs can affect students of any intellectual ability

Suggested Strategies – Lectures: 1381265145-2400px

In lectures, the process of reading, writing, listening and summarising simultaneously, and at speed, can be difficult (and sometimes impossible) for students with SpLDs who struggle to hold ideas in short-term memory, and process them into writing at a slow speed. (Understanding and engaging with content is not the specific issue.)

  • Provide a clear overview of what will be covered, preferably as a hand-out, highlighting the main arguments, key concepts and new/difficult vocabulary
  • Allow time for students to read hand-outs if they are going to be referred to during a lecture / tutorial
  • Be explicit when you are introducing a new theme or concept and clarifying new language, provide as many concrete examples as possible
  • Use a variety of methods, even with large groups, for example, short discussion opportunities in pairs or groups; diagrams or mind-maps- visual material
  • Invite students to record lectures/tutorials or use other technological support, if required
  • Regularly pause to summarise key themes / issues covered (including at the end of the lecture)
  • Avoid asking students to read aloud or calling on specific individuals to respond to questions
  • Use clear overhead projections or slides, keeping content limited
Suggested Strategies – Assignments and written work: PaperAndPencil-2400px
  • Provide essay / assignment questions as early as possible
  • Give specific instructions and use unambiguous language in essay questions
  • Use a clear, concise writing style
  • Keep layout clear and simple. For example, avoid patterned backgrounds; use a clear font (such as Arial) rather than Times New Roman
  • Use printed rather than hand-written notes
  • Avoid lots of dense text – using paragraphs, headings, sub-headings, bullet points etc
  • Print on cream paper, rather than white. The glare of black on white can make text harder to decode
  • Provide references that have electronic copies available, where there is a choice (enables students to use text-to-speech software)