Skip to content
Special Educational Needs & Disability Information, Advice & Support Service

Learning Disability or Difficulty?

In this section, we’ve provided overviews of some conditions commonly classed as learning difficulties.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is the name given to a group of behaviours which include hyperactivity and inattentiveness. Its cause isn’t known, though the condition seems to run in families. People with ADHD are normally diagnosed as children, between the ages of 6 and 12. 

Many people with ADHD ‘outgrow’ the condition during adolescence.  However, around a third to a half of people with ADHD continue to experience the symptoms into adulthood.

People with ADHD benefit from early identification of the condition by healthcare professionals.  Appropriate support and behavioural therapies can be put in place to avoid under-performance at school and the problems that can lead on from this.

Signs of ADHD include the following:

  • Inattentiveness
  • Short attention span 
  • Easily distracted or bored 
  • Seeming forgetful 
  • Inability to persevere with tasks 
  • Hyperactivity and impulsiveness: Constant fidgeting 
  • Inability to concentrate 
  • Talking too much or interrupting others 
  • Inability to wait their turn 
  • Acting without thinking 
  • Little or no sense of danger

ADHD Support and Links

NHS Choices

The National Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service (ADDISS) is a charity that provides people-friendly information and resources on ADHD.


Developmental Dyscalculia is sometimes described as ‘maths dyslexia’. It is a specific learning difficulty which makes learning basic arithmetic facts, processing numbers and carrying out calculations difficult.

Signs of dyscalculia include:

  • A poor sense of number and estimation
  • Weak mental arithmetic skills
  • Difficulty in remembering mathematical facts and procedures, even with extensive practice
  • Taking a very long time over calculations
  • Difficulty counting backwards
  • Inability to tell whether answers are right or nearly right

Dyscalculia Support and Links

Understanding of dyscalculia is in its early stages, so there is little research or support available. The following link may help:

The British Dyslexia Association: Dyscalculia: provides more detailed information and some useful links.


Dysgraphia is a condition that affects the ability to recognise and decipher written words and the relationship between letter forms and the sounds they make. As a result, writing, spelling and forming words is challenging for anyone with Dysgraphia.

People with Dysgraphia will likely struggle to write neatly, and their letters, numbers, words and punctuation will often appear jumbled. Dysgraphia itself does not affect intelligence but can often present in people with learning disabilities.

Children with Dysgraphia will likely need additional support at school to avoid falling behind. One to one support on a daily basis has proven effective in helping children to overcome the condition’s associated difficulties. 

Signs of Dysgraphia

  • Unclear, irregular, or inconsistent handwriting
  • Writing very slowly
  • Mixing styles and upper/lower case letters
  • Inconsistent letter and word spacing
  • Unusual or cramped grip or position while writing
  • Incorrect spelling


Dyslexia is a common learning difficulty which affects between 5 - 10% of the UK population.

It causes difficulties with:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Spelling

It is usually diagnosed in children when they start school.

Dyslexia is a lifelong condition, but unlike a learning disability, it doesn’t affect the ability to understand and learn new information.

The signs of dyslexia are different in every person, but they may include:

  • Reading and writing very slowly
  • Poor spelling and /or handwriting
  • Writing letters in the wrong order, or the wrong way around
  • Difficulty understanding written information
  • Difficulty planning and organising tasks
  • Dyslexia often occurs together with conditions like Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia.

Dyslexia Support and Links

If you are concerned that your child may have dyslexia, first talk to their school teacher.

You may also visit your GP to check for any underlying health issues that might be affecting their learning.

If your child doesn’t benefit from extra support at school, you can request a specialist assessment. This will be carried out by an educational psychologist or dyslexia specialist.

There are lots of local support groups for people with dyslexia, but these are a good place to start:

NHS Choices: Dyslexia
More detailed facts about the symptoms, diagnosis and management of dyslexia.

British Dyslexia Association
Comprehensive information, guidance and support for people with dyslexia, their parents, employers and teachers.


Dyspraxia is a form of Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination in children and adults, often occurring alongside Dyslexia.

Current research suggests that it is due to an immaturity of neurone development in the brain rather than to brain damage. People with dyspraxia have no clinical neurological abnormality to explain their condition.

People with Dyspraxia may find the following difficult:

  • Tasks requiring balance such as playing sports
  • Tasks requiring fine motor skills such as writing

It is a lifelong condition, though it can ease over time.

Dyspraxia is more common in males and is thought to affect up to 3% of the population. Although Dyspraxia doesn’t affect a child’s intelligence, it can make learning more of a challenge for them.  They may need extra support at school.

Signs of Dyspraxia

Problems with activities that require any kind of physical movement or coordination – such as:

  • Playground games
  • Navigating around the house
  • Going up and down the stairs
  • Writing and drawing
  • Doing craft activities
  • Tying shoelaces
  • Buttoning up clothes
  • Using cutlery
  • Sitting still

Dyspraxia Support and Links

The Dyspraxia Foundation 

NHS Choices provides more information on Dyspraxia in Children.