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SLD Symptoms

Research suggests Specific Learning Disorders (SLDs), including dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia, have a neurological basis, and may also have a genetic component.  While estimates of prevalence vary, research suggests that around 5% of children may be affected, with diagnoses ranging along a continuum from 'mild' to 'severe'. 



In essence, dyslexia refers to a pattern of learning difficulties characterised by problems with accurate or fluent word recognition, poor decoding, and poor spelling.   Underlying this is generally a weakness in one or more of the basic psychological processes, especially phonological processing (awareness of the sounds making up spoken words).  Working memory and processing speed may also be affected.  These weaknesses impact the ease and efficiency of learning sound-letter associations, a core skill necessary for reading.    

The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as a:

“specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

Common signs of an SLD in reading (dyslexia)

 Symptoms can vary not only from person to person, but also across age groups.  The British Dyslexia Association provides an extensive list of symptoms, organised by age group.  Common signs in primary school include children who:

  • are slow to identify the connections between sounds and letters
  • don’t recognise familiar words
  • constantly make inconsistent spelling errors, for example, spell a word several ways in one piece of writing
  • leave letters out of words or write them in the wrong order and can’t see the errors
  • have good ideas but take longer than average to do written work
  • make errors in reading or writing that involve reversals or confusions with words (for example, saw|was, stops|spots, does|goes)
  • read very slowly
  • <span">make decoding errors, especially single words in isolation
  • show frustration with, or avoidance of, text tasks
  • appear to be fatigued by the effort needed to complete a reading or writing task
  • lack confidence and appear to be developing a poor self-image

Link to information on screening for dyslexia


 A person with dysgraphia has difficulty with the process of writing.  It may affect the mechanics of writing, or the ability to organise a written response, or both.

Common signs of an SLD in writing (dysgraphia)

  • Difficulty with fine motor skills which may show as trouble forming letters shapes, and illegible handwriting
  • Tight, awkward, or painful grip on a pencil
  • Difficulty following a line or staying within margins
  • Unusual posture, or paper position, while writing
  • Poor spelling, including unfinished words or missing words or letters
  • Difficulty organizing or articulating thoughts on paper
  • Trouble with sentence structure or following rules of grammar when writing, but not when speaking
  • Pronounced difference between the ability to speak about, and write about, a topic

Link to information on screening for dysgraphia


Dyscalculia is more than just 'trouble with maths', it is a difficulty grasping very basic numerical concepts. 

 Common signs of an SLD in maths (dyscalculia)

Common signs of dyscalculia include difficulty:

  • Grasping the concept of quantities such as biggest vs smallest
  • Understanding that the numeral 5 is the same as the word five, and that these both mean five items
  • Remembering maths facts such as multiplication tables
  • Handling money and calculating change
  • Estimating time, speed and distance
  • Telling left from right
  • Reading a clock

Link to information on screening for dyscalculia