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About Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD)

Persons with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) are of average to superior intellect and can be as smart or smarter than their peers, but they may have difficulties specifically with reading, writing and maths. It is estimated that 10-15% of the general population have SpLd.

In Hong Kong and in Britain the term SpLd refers to “Specific Learning Difficulties”.  The term is interchangeable with the US usage of SLD “Specific Learning Disabilities”.  The term Special Educational Needs (SEN) includes children with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLd) as well as those with Intellectual Differences, Autism Spectrum Disorders, AD/HD and those with physical, visual, hearing or speech and language deficits. 


What is a Learning Disability/Difficulty?

SpLD is a term used to describe a neurological condition that interferes with an individual's ability to store, process or produce information.  Dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia are SpLD and result a difference in the way a person's brain is "wired".  


Specific Learning Difficulties are not emotional disturbances, intellectual differences, or vision or hearing impairments. 


Persons with SpLD are generally of average or above average intelligence, and struggle in one or two areas where they need remedial educational help.  SpLD by definition, means that a person's skills in a particular area are lower than would be expected by looking at the person's overall IQ.   People with SpLD often have an uneven learning profile such that an “average” IQ score frequently masks a combination of both exceptionally low and exceptionally high skills. 

Common Signs of Specific Learning Difficulties

Symptoms of SpLD can be seen in all students at some time during their development. However, a child with learning differences will have a group of these symptoms that do not disappear over time.  The most common symptoms include: poor reading, writing or math skills, difficulty discriminating between/among letters, numbers or sounds, difficulties with sequencing, following directions, memory and attention.

If parents, teachers, and other professionals discover a child's learning disability early and provide the right kind of help, it can give the child a chance to develop skills needed to achieve in school and beyond.  Read more about the characteristics by age that may point to a learning difference

Testing and Diagnosis for SpLD

Specific Learning Difficulties are diagnosed through assessments of an individual’s developmental, medical, educational, and family history.  An assessment or “Psycho–educational evaluation” consists of a battery of tests that will provide information on your child's overall abilities, particularly learning style, information processing abilities, and academic skills.  A significant part of this assessment is the IQ test which helps to clarify the student's strengths and weaknesses.


The most widely recognized IQ test is the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC). In addition to the IQ test, the examiner might do specific tests to evaluate the student's cognitive abilities, typically tests of memory and organizational skills.

The other parts of the psycho–educational evaluation assess the student's academic skills: reading, written language, and math. There are many standardized tests that can be used to obtain this information. Studies might include informal measures but should also involve standardized tests that provide objective scores that can be compared to grade level expectations as well as to the student's intellectual potential. Testing should also allow comparison of the student's performance under timed and untimed conditions.

In addition to test data, the evaluation includes a clinical interview as well as questionnaires and rating scales completed by parents, teachers, and the student and an observation of the child in his classroom by the clinician. These data help to identify whether attentional and/or emotional issues might be contributing to or resulting from the learning difficulties. (Adapted from LD Online


Positive attributes of SPLD

Julie Logan, professor of entrepreneurship at the Cass School of Business in London, published a 2007 study in which she found that over a third of US entrepreneurs surveyed self reported as dyslexic.  The strategies used by successful dyslexic entrepreneurs include: delegating, verbal communication skills, grasp of the big picture, persistence and link to a mentor.   See “Unusual Talent: a Study of Successful Leadership and Delegation in Dyslexia Entrepreneurs” by Professor Julie Logan, Cass Business School, City University London.

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