Specific learning difficulties (SLD) describes a person who has a specific difficulty with their cognitive function affecting their ability to learn.
This term encompasses a number of conditions including dyslexia, developmental coordination disorder (DCD or dyspraxia), dyscalculia, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I have chosen to focus on dyslexia and dyspraxia in this post.
SLDs affects up to 15% of the general population and may impact how information is learned, through difficulties with working memory, processing, attention, organisation, planning, time management and sensory perception.
SLDs may overlap, and up to 60% of people diagnosed with dyslexia show evidence of dyspraxia.
Dyslexia is a condition characterised by difficulties with reading, spelling and writing and is not associated with level of intelligence. It may also include a number of difficulties involving more than reading and writing, such as problems with short-term memory, auditory processing, motors skills and co-ordination and visual processing.
Dyspraxia is a disorder characterised by movement difficulties that are not explained by neurological deficits, and significantly interfere with academic achievement or activities of daily living. It may result in difficulty with processing, planning and organisation of movement, speech, writing articulation and time management.
How are SLDs detected and diagnosed?
Diagnosis can occur anytime in life due to a persons underlying ability, severity and significance of the SLD, and how it impacts studies, daily activities, work, behavioural and social skills.
I was diagnosed at the age of 30, after completing GCSEs, A Levels, a medical degree, post graduate MRCPCH exams and an MSc. If I had not chosen to do a PhD, I doubt I would ever have discovered this. I have also read about children and 60 year olds being diagnosed.!
SLDs can be diagnosed by psychologists, paediatricians and occupational health therapists.
Identification of SLDs can ensure strategies and support is implemented to aid learning.
Strategies to overcome SLDs
Following an assessment which identifies the 'problem areas' strategies should focus on overcoming this.
As SLDs essentially causes 'information overload' of the brain, it is important to try break things into smaller manageable chunks.
It is like trying to send a large file via email. The information in the file is there, but because the file is too big you cannot email it across the destination desired. Strategies that can help overcome this include:
Breaking down the large file into lots of smaller files (like breaking information when studying into smaller chunks)
Being a bit patient and allowing extra time for the file to be delivered (taking a bit longer to read and write)
Using different methods to guarantee that information will get to the desired destination for e.g. using recorded post, USB sticks and hard drives (a bit like using words, pictures, mind maps and audio technology to help process information. This is called a multi-sensory approach).
The advantages of SLDs
Many believe there are advantages with having a SLD. People with SLDs are thought to use the right side of their brain more than their left.
The left side of the brain is good for language and analytical skills. The right side of the brain is good for holistic thinking, visual processing, pattern recognition, spatial knowledge and creativity.
It is thought that SLDs can create entrepreneurial advantage.
Notable people with SLDs include Richard Branson, Einstein, Steve Jobs (!), Daniel Radcliffe and Harvey Cushing (neurosurgeon who developed the 'cushing triad hypothesis). Clearly very creative and successful people.
Finally to anyone with SLDs..
Don't ever let someone tell you that your SLD is a problem. Yes, you might have to work harder but you can still be equally, if not more successful then others without SLDs.
It is important to be patient, and to not beat yourself up when going through a difficult patch (easier said then done.!). Having regular breaks, resting, eating well and developing strategies to manage stress is extremely important.