Children’s learning difficulties

Written by Ellen Hoggard

Ellen Hoggard

Counselling Directory Content Team

Last updated on 6th April, 2022

A person with learning difficulties may be described as having problems developing their knowledge and skills to the normal level expected of their peers, and others the same age.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 10% of the UK population is affected by dyslexia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) affects approximately three to 9% of school-aged children and young people. There is, however, no definitive record of how many people in the UK have learning difficulties. This is because they are a ‘hidden’ problem, meaning they’re not immediately known to others, or even to the person themselves.

What’s the difference between a learning difficulty and a disability?

Generally, learning difficulties do not affect the general intelligence (or IQ) of an individual. A learning disability is a condition that affects the learning and intelligence of an individual across all areas of life.

When a person has a learning disability, it means they may find it harder to learn life skills than other people. The problems themselves may vary for each individual, but generally include aspects such as learning new things, communication, reading, writing, or personal care. The severity of learning difficulties can also vary. A person with mild disabilities can mean they are able to live independently with minimum support. More severe disabilities may need 24-hour care and help to perform daily tasks and life skills.

Counselling for learning difficulties

Learning difficulties can affect a person a great deal. This includes their education, work-life, relationships and general daily life. The challenges of a learning difficulty can be difficult to cope with. Children may feel they’re underachieving or are not as clever as their peers, but not understand why. This confusion and lack of understanding can lead to feelings of frustration, anger, anxiety or stress. Sometimes extra support can help - like speaking to a counsellor. This gives the person the opportunity to talk about how they feel and learn ways to cope.

A counsellor can also help those involved understand that there are many methods of support available. They can show you that you can live a very happy, successful life, despite the difficulty.

Counselling at an early age can give the child the techniques needed to manage the learning difficulty, and cope with their feelings. Occupational therapy can be a helpful method for children who experience difficulty with motor skills, while solution-focused counselling can be appropriate for older children. Other techniques such as group and play therapy can help children develop social skills, which are often associated with learning difficulties.

What are specific learning difficulties?

Specific learning difficulties (also know as SpLDs) is an umbrella term, used to cover a range of difficulties including:


Dyslexia is perhaps the most common of the SpLDs. While dyslexia is commonly thought of as just affecting reading and spelling, at its core, it's about processing visual and auditory information differently. Children may have difficulty spelling, but dyslexia can also cause struggles with memory, perception of time, organisation and sequencing.


Dyspraxia, also known as developmental coordination disorder (DCD) is a relatively common disorder. Affecting between five and 10% of the UK population, dyspraxia affects the motor coordination in both children and adults. The difficulties presented by DCD can vary between individuals. They may change over time, depending on their daily lives, and persist into adulthood. Dyspraxia can affect a person’s coordination. This makes the functioning of everyday life difficult, such as in education and employment.

Children with DCD may experience difficulties in educational and recreational activities, such as self-care, writing, typing and riding a bike. Often, these continue into adulthood, as well as having difficulty learning new skills, like driving a car and DIY tasks.


Dyscalculia is difficulty understanding numbers and symbols. It’s characterised by the individual having difficulty understanding simple number concepts and basic numeracy skills. But this isn’t finding maths hard or not knowing larger sums and numbers. Dyscalculia is a difficulty understanding numbers at a basic level, such as telling the time and understanding quantity, money and cost.


ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) can make people feel restless, impulsive and hyperactive. Children with ADHD often struggle to concentrate for long periods of time.

If you’re looking for more information on ADHD, please visit our fact-sheet.

SpLDs have also been linked with pre-existing difficulties, such as Autism.

Children with SpLDs often find mainstream school and educational environments a struggle. They may feel as though they’re not as smart as their peers and as a result, they may experience low self-esteem and lack confidence in their own ability. The important thing to remember is that this isn’t true. It is totally possible for someone with a learning difficulty to achieve their full potential. There is plenty of support and resources available to help them do exactly this - and more.

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