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Co-Occurring Difficulties

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Specific learning difficulties

It is quite common for people to have dyslexia alongside other specific learning difficulties. These are called co-occurring difficulties and they include things like ‘dyspraxia’ and ‘attention deficit disorder’.  Like dyslexia, co-occurring difficulties can vary in severity, and this is one of the reasons why the impact of dyslexia varies so much from person to person.

Dyslexia is one kind of specific learning difficulty.  There are other kinds too, some of which are better understood than others. Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs) affect the way information is learned and processed. They include:


ADHD- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder


Dyslexia involves a specific difficulty in processing the sounds of words which primarily affect the ability to learn to read and spell. Although weaknesses in literacy are often the most visible sign, dyslexia often also affects the way information about spoken words is:

  • processed

  • stored

  • retrieved

 Creating problems with:

  • memory

  • speed of processing

  • organisation

  • sequencing

You can access a free Dyslexia Explained book from Nessy 


People with the specific learning difficulty known as dyscalculia have a difficulty in processing number concepts and mastering basic numeracy skills.

The most visible signs include weaknesses in:

  • learning number facts and procedures

  • telling the time

  • understanding quantity

  • understanding prices

  • understanding money.


Dyscalculia can also affect the way some kinds of information is:

  • processed

  • stored

  • retrieved.

This can create problems with:

  • memory

  • speed of processing

  • time perception

  • organisation

  • sequencing


Dyspraxia is an impairment which affects fine and/or gross motor coordination – it particularly affects the planning, organisation and timing of movements.  Single movements or tasks may be done well, but it is harder to co-ordinate several different movements or tasks, especially when there is time pressure.

Dyspraxia is also called Development Co-ordination Disorder (DCD). Its effects can be mild, but can also affect participation and functioning of everyday life skills in play, education, work and employment.

Signs in children:

• Difficulty controlling movements such as throwing, catching, bat and ball games, running, jumping, balancing and riding a bike.

• Movements can be slow and hesitant.

• A lack of confidence in tackling new skills.

• Difficulty with writing and art work.

• Problems with conceptual skills such as mastering jigsaws, sorting games (when younger), analysing scientific or mathematical problems.

Additional signs in adulthood:

• Learning new skills such as driving a car, DIY, household chores, cooking and self-grooming.

• Research by Kaplan et al suggests that 52% of children with dyslexia also have features of dyspraxia.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) & Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention deficit disorder involves specific difficulties in the control of attention.  This may be seen as difficulties in concentrating or maintaining attention, difficulties in selecting or prioritising the important information to attend to, and sometimes difficulties in shifting from one thing to another when needed.

Signs of Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder include being:

  • inattentive / restless / impulsive / erratic / unpredictable / presenting inappropriate behaviour

  • blurting out inappropriate comments / interrupting excessively

  • unintentionally aggressive / failing to make effective use of feedback.

If no hyperactivity is present, the term attention deficit disorder (ADD) is often used. This often shows itself as particular problems with:

  • listening skills

  • remaining focused - may appear 'dreamy'

  • being easily distracted and missing key points

  • losing track of what they are doing

Other conditions which can occur:



Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people and the world around them.

Autism can be seen on its own, or alongside other conditions, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities.

Signs of autism include:

  • unusual behaviour; 

  • inflexible thinking;

  • over-reliance on routines;

  • lack of social and communication skills

Asperger’s Syndrome


Asperger Syndrome is the term often used to describe those at the high functioning end of the Autistic Spectrum. It typically involves significant difficulties with social interaction, communication and flexible thinking. People with Asperger’s Syndrome may have learned to largely conceal their problems but still find any social interaction very challenging and panic easily when they cannot cope.

Emotional Behavioural Disorder (or Difficulties) - EBD


Some children’s behaviour or emotional responses are different from generally accepted norms, which can interfere with a child's own learning or the learning of their peers.

It is important to note that some people show signs of EBD as a result of unrecognised specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia. It is therefore very important to look to see what lies behind emotional or behavioural difficulties and address those issues.

Visual Stress


Some people experience discomfort when looking at bright lights, certain patterns or strong contrasts and may also find some kinds of printed pages hard or uncomfortable to look at.  This has been called Visual Discomfort, Visual stress or Meares-Irlen syndrome. When severe, this can cause headaches, migraines or seizures.

Coloured lenses or coloured filters can reduce glare and discomfort and make reading easier for some people.

Visual stress is not a cause of dyslexia – it is found as much in people who read well, as in those with reading difficulties.



Further Reading

What are the signs of Dyslexia?

How is Dyslexia Diagnosed?

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