What’s the difference between…
Specific Learning Disabilities
General Learning Difficulties?
Specific Learning Difficulties:
In New Zealand SLD describes a range of learning difficulties experienced by people with average to above average intelligence that have specific difficulties with listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, spelling or maths.
People with dyslexia generally have difficulty expressing their thoughts and ideas clearly when speaking or writing.
- ADHD, ADD – Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – children act without thinking, are hyperactive, and have trouble focusing.
Dyspraxia– effects the brains ability to plan and carry out fine and gross movements (e.g. clumsy and messy handwriting)
- Aphasia – difficulty speaking and understand others (reading and writing).
- Dyscalculia – difficulty completing mathematic calculations.
- Asperger Syndrome – is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), difficulties socializing with others and displays repetitive and rigid patterns of behaviour.
- Irlen Syndrome –Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome(SSS) –difficulty reading and comprehending black text on white background, OHP or projector screens www.irlen.com
General Learning Difficulties:
Are learning difficulties that are expected due to physical or mental difficulties which are easily observed and identifiable.
Include people with learning problems due to…
- Visual impairment
- Hearing impairment
- Motor handicaps
- Intellectual Disability
- Emotional disturbance
- Environmental, cultural or economic disadvantage
Making Maths Fun
Recently, a student came to my office accompanied by his mother. She told me he didn’t like maths and thought the session would be too hard for him. By the end of the session, however, he was saying “I don’t want to go yet, I’m having fun”!
So what is going on here that caused him to initially be so anxious and yet later change his mind?
Everyone enjoys learning when it’s fun but this is not the case if you have a Specific Learning Difficulty (SLD). Experienced by people with average to above average intelligence, Specific Learning Difficulties cover listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, spelling or maths. Generally, the students I work with have dyslexia or dyscalculia.
Dyslexia involves difficulty processing information and expressing thoughts and ideas. It also involves letter/sound relationships, letter reversals and difficulties identifying individual sounds within words.
With Dyscalculia, students have difficulty recognising patterns and general difficulties with number. Identifying the bigger number, or group of objects is confusing. For instance, a‘9’may be seen as ‘bigger’ than ‘20’ which is seen as a ‘2’ and ‘0’. They also have difficulty recalling basic facts and understanding abstract concepts such as odd and even numbers.
Other SLDs, which often overlap with dyslexia and dyscalculia, are:
ADHD – acting without thinking, hyperactive and trouble focusing on relevant information due to sensory overload.
Dyspraxia – ability to plan and carry out fine and gross movements (e.g. clumsy and messy handwriting)
Aphasia – Difficulty speaking and understanding others (reading and writing).
Asperger Syndrome – difficulties socializing with others, repetitive and rigid patterns of behaviour.
Irlen Syndrome – difficulty reading and comprehending black text on white background.
Moving Forward from Anxiety
Students with SLD’s typically experience high levels of anxiety when faced with the prospect of learning something new or fear of failing (low self-esteem). Anxiety causes the body to prepare itself for fight or flight. The fight or flight response reduces or turns off activity the body deems ‘less important’ to basic survival.
When a student’s heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, the body takes over and the brain freezes with fear. The student becomes fixated on avoiding the situation and becomes physiologically unable to learn. Problem solving and creativity is reduced or nonexistent.
Students may display avoidance behaviours including putting their ‘Hoodie’ on, dropping their heads, and/or not talking. They may go to the toilet, say “I’m bored” or “this is boring”, hide under tables, become distracted or distract others. Students may also show signs of anger.
Changing the experience
Students with anxiety want to know what the task clearly involves; no surprises! They need to know that they can succeed and have a clear overview of the task.
The Numicon apparatus and Teaching Handbooks provide a clear and explicit teaching framework to support these students. Students of all ages are keen to touch and explore the colourful multisensory Numicon shapes. Students make visual connections while thinking about mathematical language and relationships. In short they engage with Numicon and the process of enjoying maths.
For students with SLD’s and/or anxiety the main goal is to avoid a sense of struggle or failure. Students with these difficulties will shut down if they think they will fail or the task is too hard. Therefore, it is important to model and give prompts whenever they have difficulty until they choose on their own to try a task without support. It is important that student’s achievements (big or small) are celebrated so they will naturally begin to take more risks and less scaffolding will be required.
Numicon has made a huge difference to my student’s confidence and their enjoyment of maths. Parents are excited and grateful for the changes they see in their child.
SPELD Registered Teacher, B.Ed (Primary)