Thanks to Gavin Reid, educational psychologist and author of Special Needs Assessment Profile (SNAP) SpLD, for the following article.
Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs)
In every classroom in every school there will be a considerable number of children experiencing some form of specific learning difficulty. These can include: literacy difficulties (dyslexia), movement and coordination issues (dyspraxia), numeracy problems (dyscalculia), handwriting issues (dysgraphia), speech and language problems (Specific Language Impairment) and auditory processing difficulties (APD).
SpLD and Attention Issues
Due to the nature of the challenges experienced by children with SpLD, many may also have attention issues and some may in fact be mistakenly identified with ADHD. Some others however may have ADHD as this can co-occur with any one, or combination, of the SpLD’s mentioned above.
SpLD and the overlap
What can be of some concern is that a number of children who are experiencing some form of SpLD will not have been assessed or identified and this can lead to unfulfilled potential and accompanying issues with self-esteem and learned helplessness. Furthermore, there is strong evidence of overlap between different SpLDs and this can be very prevalent and will have implications for both assessment and identification.
Screening is an important and perhaps essential first step in the process of identification. If appropriately linked to intervention this may be all that is necessary. There are several specific screening tools for each of these SpLDs. Some examples include: the Dyslexia Screening Test; Dyscalculia Screener and the Movement Assessment Battery. Additionally, the Special Needs Assessment Profile (SNAP) has served schools for several years, taking a broader perspective by screening for a wide range of specific difficulties, linking screening with intervention and encouraging collaboration between home and school.
The overlap between SpLDs can be tricky to disentangle and it is useful for teachers and schools to acquire a matrix of the prominent conditions that may be preventing the pupil from progressing.
Identification: Further Assessment and Testing
While screening can perform a useful function, it may be necessary in some cases to engage in further and more specific assessment. This can be performed by a specialist and appropriately qualified teacher, or an experienced psychologist. They can access a battery of tests that can yield information that combined with other factors – such as those gathered from screening, interviews or observation – can point to a more formal diagnosis.
Assessment should always link with intervention. This is arguably the main purpose of an assessment – whatever form the assessment may take. This can take the form of specific and specialised programmes or approaches that have been researched as appropriate for specific conditions. The key point is that intervention does not necessarily mean money! More awareness, adjustment in teaching, skilful and appropriate differentiation in the presentation of learning, can all be successful and relatively cost-free adaptations.
Barriers to Learning
Often a label is connected to a diagnosis and a diagnosis might be (mistakenly) related to a ‘cure’. The term – cure – is often linked to a ‘quick-fix’ treatment. It is however, misguided to use this term or indeed to harbour a ‘quick fix’ attitude in relation to any SpLDs. The term barriers to learning is more appropriate, as it puts the onus not on the child but on the learning context. By identifying and minimising the barriers to learning, the child can feel more comfortable in the learning situation and will usually respond more effectively to the intervention offered.
Using the barriers to learning notion can also cater for the diversity found among the SpLD population. It is acknowledged that seldom does ‘one size fit all’and it is important that the right type of information is gathered through screening and assessment, as well as information on the learning context and the learner’s specific profile. This information can pave the way for effective intervention and more successful outcomes.
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