Cognition and learning

Information and support around thinking and learning.

Learning difficulties

SpLD – Specific Learning Difficulty

This is the overall term used to describe particular difficulties such as dyslexia or dyspraxia. Often, a child has more than one type of learning difficulty, so their needs can be difficult to assess and understand.


Dyslexia is the most common type of specific learning difficulty. Around 1 in 10 people have this difficulty. It mainly affects reading and spelling, but it can also cause difficulties with mathematics, memory and organisation. Find out more about dyslexia from the British Dyslexia Association.


Dyscalculia is a condition that affects the ability to acquire arithmetical skills. Learners with dyscalculia find it very difficult to grasp basic concepts around number and lack confidence with calculations. Find out more about dyscalculia from the Dyscalculia Information Centre. 


Dyspraxia is also known as Developmental Coordination Difficulties. It is a condition that causes problems in motor skills and coordination. It means children may find it difficult to balance, play sports or do tasks that require dexterity.

Signs of learning difficulties

You or your child’s teachers may notice some indicators that your child needs support, such as:

  • falling behind with their work, even when adaptations are made to support them
  • slower to learn to speak or understand spoken language
  • low self esteem
  • frustration about learning
  • reluctance to go to school or do homework due to anxiety
  • poor coordination for example, falling over or walking into objects or people
  • poor memory
  • more disorganisation than others their age
  • finding small, fiddly tasks very difficult
  • poor handwriting for their age
  • difficulties concentrating
  • being exhausted from learning at school.

Support for your child at school

You should not need a diagnosis for your child to get support. The school should make adjustments according to their learning needs.


Adapting school work according to the learning needs of individual children. For example a dyslexic child could receive fewer words to learn for a spelling test.

Reasonable adjustments

Schools can make adjustments for pupils to participate in appropriate assessments. For older children, they can gather evidence for access arrangements such as extra time in exams.

Other support

  • Smaller groups for learning.
  • Staff training about learning difficulties and ways to support.
  • Assistance with reading or writing.
  • Using a laptop or tablet instead of handwriting.
  • Sensory toys.
  • Special equipment such as pencil grips, writing slopes and so on.
  • Wobble cushions.
  • Topic notes in advance such as lists of specific vocabulary.
  • Extra time to complete work or homework.
  • Information and instructions broken down into smaller steps.
  • Visual prompts.
  • Opportunities to give answers verbally rather than in writing.
  • Use of manipulatives - 3D maths resources such as multilink cubes - to support numeracy.
  • Additional communication between school and parent carers to discuss the student's progress.

More information

Schools can seek advice, support and training from the Learning and Behaviour Advisory team.

Further information is available on the Tools for schools website.