Specific Learning Difficulties, (SpLDs): the Chinese Menu Model.

Specific Learning Difficulties tend to be separated into a few distinct diagnoses, for example: –

  • Dyslexia – problems with literacy.
  • Dyspraxia – co-ordination difficulties.
  • Dyscalculia – problems with number.
  • Attention Deficit Disorder – concentration and focus weaknesses.
  • Autistic Spectrum Disorder – difficulties with communication and interaction.

Factors to be aware of when children are diagnosed with a SpLD :-

  1. When a child is diagnosed with one SpLD, for example dyslexia, they are likely to experience additional SpLDs, for example, dyscalculia. 
  1. Certain underlying weaknesses are common across most SpLDs, for example, a weak memory: –

Children with SpLDs will experience memory problems for different reasons: –

  • The child may experience problems with concentration and attention. When the teacher is delivering instructions, the child may not be listening because they are distracted by, for example, the noise of other children’s pens or the teacher’s shoes squeaking. 
  • The child may experience a sensory processing issue and not retain information because: the classroom feels too hot, their tie too tight, their jumper too scratchy, their chair too hard or the light too bright.
  • The child cannot understand what the adult is saying and therefore doesn’t remember information. The teacher may be talking too quickly and so meaning is lost, (slow processing), or the child cannot understand the vocabulary the teacher is using and her sentences are too long and complex, (a language weakness)
  1. The diagnosis of the different SpLDs will change over time: –

The child may be diagnosed as having a language problem and delayed speech before starting school. Their poor understanding of the different speech sounds leads to a slower development of literacy in KS1 and they are diagnosed as dyslexic. In KS2, as a result of their literacy difficulties, classroom work is very effortful and the child finds it difficult to focus to the required level, so is diagnosed with an attention deficit. 

  1. The effect of the SpLD on the child will depend on their personality and how much support they receive: – 
  • The child may be very popular, with peers and teachers sympathetic to their needs.
  • They may have alternative talents to boost their self-confidence: sport, drama, dance, music and art, in addition to any individual interests.
  • Their family is supportive and proactive, helping the child to find solutions to the problems they encounter.
  • The child’s school may make excellent provision for pupils with SpLDs, with all staff trained and knowledgeable.
  1. The child’s diagnosis will depend on the professionals involved: – 

Speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, educational psychologists and specialist teachers will all assess the child from a different perspective and may make different diagnoses.

Problems may occur when adults make assumptions about what the child’s SpLD diagnosis means, failing to realise that every child presents differently. 

‘He can’t be dyspraxic; he’s in the school football team.’

‘She’s not attention deficit; she can concentrate when she feels like it.’

‘He’s not dyslexic, just lazy. He can read really well.’

‘Strange that she doesn’t have any problems at school, only at home.’

It may be easier to compare a child’s SpLD with a Chinese meal, in which smaller portions of different types of food make up the whole. For example: –

Child ‘A’ may have: a poor working memory, slow processing, be excellent at Drama and Maths, prefers to word process their work, panics when asked to read aloud, is very disorganised and has social interaction difficulties = Medium portions of egg fried rice, sweet and sour spare ribs and dumplings; small portions of prawn crackers and crispy seaweed, but a large portion of chicken chow mein.

Child ‘B’ has slow processing, a reasonable working memory, is very popular, doesn’t know her times tables and cannot tell the time, but can read Music, enjoys Spanish and History, but has untidy presentation = Medium portion of egg fried rice; small portions of noodles, dumplings, sweet and sour sauce and crispy seaweed, with supersized portions of beef chop suey and prawn crackers.

Key point – All children are individual.

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