Learning Problems


Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. Dyslexia refers to a group of symptoms which result in people having difficulties acquiring and using written language.

The International Dyslexia Association (2002) defines dyslexia as:

“a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction”. (www.interdys.org)

Brain imaging studies have shown that there are differences in the way the brain of a dyslexic person develops and functions. It is now widely believed that there is a genetic basis to dyslexia and it is common for dyslexia to run in families. Dyslexia is common and current statistics suggest that 5-10% of Australians are dyslexic.

Some of the signs of dyslexia may include difficulties:

  • Reading, writing and spelling
  • Identifying the separate speech sounds within a word (Phonological processing)
  • Learning letters and corresponding sounds (Phonics)
  • Organising written and spoken language
  • Remembering spoken instructions
  • Word finding
  • Memorizing number facts (e.g. times tables) and completing maths operations
  • Reading quickly enough to comprehend
  • Sustaining reading for any length of time
  • Understanding directional instructions (left/right and up/down)
  • Learning a foreign language

Not everyone who has trouble learning to read has dyslexia. If you are concerned that you or another member of your family has dyslexia it may be worth considering a comprehensive assessment to determine the nature and extent of the difficulties. This assessment can then form the basis of the most appropriate intervention and support. Remember that there are many effective strategies and interventions that can be put in place to assist a person with dyslexia to reduce the impact it has on their everyday lives.

See our Dyslexia page for more information about this learning problem.

Written Expression Difficulties - Dysgraphia

Dysgraphia is a specific learning disability that affects how easily people acquire written language and how well they use written language to express their thoughts. It results in significant difficulties in hand writing mechanics and sometimes spelling. Dysgraphia is usually classified as a condition separate to dyslexia but often accompanied by it.

Maths Problems - Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia is a specific learning difficulty that affects the ability to acquire, either arithmetic comprehension or computation skills. People with dyscalculia may have difficulty understanding simple number concepts, understanding visual-spatial aspects of certain maths problems, lack an intuitive grasp of numbers, and have problems learning number facts and procedures.

Auditory Processing Difficulties

Auditory processing difficulties result when an individual hears sounds (i.e. has normal hearing acuity) but cannot process them correctly. Auditory processing difficulties can result in problems in paying attention to, remembering and utilising auditory information for academic and social purposes. Difficulties in this area may have a negative impact on language acquisition, school performance and social skill development. Auditory processing difficulties can interfere directly with speech and language, but can affect all areas of learning, especially reading and spelling. When instruction relies primarily on spoken language, the individual with an auditory processing disorder may have serious difficulty understanding the directions. Auditory processing disorders need to be diagnosed by a specialist audiologist.

Executive Functioning

Executive functioning is a term psychologists use to describe the many tasks our brains perform that are necessary to think, act, and solve problems. Executive functioning includes tasks that help us learn new information, remember and retrieve information we've learned in the past, and use this information to solve problems of everyday life. About 15% of children have some problems with executive functioning. Many children with dyslexia have difficulties with executive functioning. About 30% or so of children and adults with ADHD also have problems in this area. Executive functioning problems can run in families. Executive functioning weaknesses can be seen at any age but become more obvious as children reach mid to upper elementary grades.


A developmental disorder related to Dyslexia, is that of Dyspraxia. Dyspraxia can affect speech and/or written literacy, as well as motor planning and coordination. Dyspraxia describes symptoms of clumsiness, awkwardness, and poor motor coordination.

The term has been associated with brain injury and neurological illness, but developmental Dyspraxia occurs only in cases of otherwise healthy children i.e. with no other reason or explanation for the apparent symptoms. Dyspraxia of speech presents as significantly limited or unclear speech; a child's ability to clearly and correctly produce sounds and create words is affected. It is thought that the problem lies in the brain and muscle pathways involved in transmitting and storing speech. Other characteristics include persistent clumsiness, poor motor coordination and control, lack of movement fluency, and an inability to apply learned motor-skills in different settings. Symptoms are sometimes thought of in two distinct categories; those effecting the planning, sequencing and co-ordination of motor-skills, and those that effect fluency, speed and skill. Problems with visual perception and spatial awareness are also possible. Dyspraxic children tend to have short attention spans and are delayed in reaching developmental milestones (e.g. lateness to walking). Dyspraxia is therefore associated with neurological immaturity.

Children with Dyspraxia may find interacting with peers difficult, leading to social isolation and low self-esteem. Those unable to develop coping strategies and compensate for physical deficits may exhibit behavioural problems. Due to such psycho-social effects, academic achievement and family life can suffer also. Early diagnosis and intervention is highly desirable, significantly increasing effectiveness of treatment strategies. Physio-occupational therapy and speech pathology interventions can help children significantly in managing and overcoming their difficulties. Ultimately, addressing Dyspraxia remains a complex issue, wherein the skills of a specialist are imperative.

Non-verbal Learning Disability

People with non-verbal learning disability (NLD) have difficulties mainly in the non-verbal domain, including motor skills, visual-spatial skills and interpersonal skills. These difficulties affect the ability to learn both academic skills and life skills. Academic problems are most commonly seen in reading comprehension and in mathematics. Strengths are usually in the verbal and auditory areas, such as attention and rote memory.

  • News and events

    • Learning Keys can now offer Adelaide's bedwetting service, providing assessment and treatment of bedwetting (Nocturnal Enuresis).
    • We offer individualised vocational assessments and counselling, providing a range of compatible occupational and career choices
    • View the "Supporting Students with Specific Learning Difficulties" handout from the recent presentation Learning Keys provided in partnership with MindMatters to school teachers
  •      Learning Keys on Facebook