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Co-occurring difficulties : 1. Specific learning difficulties

1. 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 very much from person to person. 

On the next few pages you will find a list of difficulties which can sometimes co-occur.

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:

  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia or Development Co-ordination Disorder (DCD)
  • Dyscalculia
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) 


See also the about dyslexia page. 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.

This can create problems with:

  • memory
  • speed of processing
  • organisation 
  • sequencing.


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) and 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 

Research suggests 50% of people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder will also have dyspraxia.

Abagail’s Story

Abagail was assessed by Dyslexia Action when she was 7 years old. She is now 12 and has been having lessons at Dyslexia Action Nottingham, since she was diagnosed.

“When I was assessed, and they told me I was dyslexic, I felt like it was something new; a new thing that been made up, because no one had told me about dyslexia before."

On these pages you’ll find useful and up-to-date information about what dyslexia is and how it affects people

Learn more about how Dyslexia Action can help and find useful information about getting help at school, college, university or work and information about useful learning tools, assistive technologies and encouraging children to read.