Understanding learning difficulties

​​​Your child may have problems with reading, writing, maths or paying attention in class. If this continues for a long time, it could mean they have a learning difficulty.

A learning difficulty can be caused by environmental or physical factors that affect your child’s learning. This may include:

  • long absences from school
  • financial disadvantage
  • undiagnosed visual or hearing impairments
  • emotional issues.

A learning difficulty can also be caused by a neurodevelopmental condition.  This means your child’s brain works in a different way, it can affect how they behave and/or process information. Some common examples of these are:

Dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia are sometimes called specific learning difficulties or learning disabilities.

If you think your child may have a learning difficulty, speak to your child’s teacher.  You can also find out more about getting assessed for a learning difficulty.

How a learning difficulty can affect my child’s education

Your child can learn, achieve and reach their full potential with the right support.

Children with a learning difficulty caused by environmental or physical factors can reach age-appropriate levels when supported by quality teaching programs. The early identification of a learning difficulty, combined with the introduction of effective intervention and support, is essential to success.

Children with a learning disability or neurodevelopmental condition can learn ways to help reduce its impact.


Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty in reading.

A reading difficulty means your child may have difficulty in being able to spell or recognise and decode words. It can affect a child’s reading comprehension and understanding in other learning areas. It can limit their vocabulary and general knowledge.

Dyslexia is the most recognised form of learning disability.

Signs of dyslexia:

In lower primary, signs can include:

  • difficulties with oral rhyming, dividing words into syllables, blending and separating sounds in words
  • delayed speech and language development
  • limited vocabulary and use of non-specific words, for example, sort of, stuff, thing
  • poor memory for names of people or objects
  • difficulties learning letter names.

In mid to upper primary school, signs can include:

  • a reduced ability to identify and use individual sounds in words
  • difficulties remembering verbal information or instructions
  • difficulty understanding what is read and in retelling or summarising a text
  • confusing similar words when reading
  • obvious differences between verbal and written ability.

In secondary school, signs can include:

  • poor reading and spelling skills
  • needing to re-read material many times to understand
  • difficulty in remembering details of what is read or heard
  • disorganisation and difficulties with planning
  • avoiding reading and writing tasks.


Dyscalculia affects the understanding and learning of mathematics.

Many children have difficulties with maths. But it’s the level of difficulty and how they cope with different teaching methods that indicates whether your child has dyscalculia.

Signs of dyscalculia

In lower primary, signs can include:

  • difficulties organising objects and sets of items logically
  • difficulties recognising printed numbers
  • poor counting skills
  • difficulties remembering maths facts.

In mid to upper primary school, signs can include:

  • good counting but poor calculation skills
  • difficulties with measurement
  • difficulties remembering common maths facts
  • anxiety and a negative attitude towards maths.

In secondary school, signs can include:

  • difficulties learning maths concepts
  • difficulties with mental maths
  • difficulties finding more than one way to solve a maths problem
  • a poor perception of time and difficulties following  a schedule.


Dysgraphia is a specific learning difficulty in written expression, handwriting and spelling. Your child may have difficulties in all or one of these areas.

Children with dysgraphia may be able to talk about their ideas, but have difficulties with:

  • the mechanics of handwriting (motor-based dysgraphia)
  • organising and expressing their ideas in writing (language-based dysgraphia).

Signs of dysgraphia

In lower primary, signs can include:

  • good reading but poor writing skills
  • awkward pencil grip
  • avoiding writing, drawing or colouring tasks
  • immature drawing and colouring
  • poorly formed letters
  • poor spacing and sizing of letters and words in handwriting.

In mid to upper primary school, signs can include:

  • writing being slow and hard work
  • finding the process of writing difficult and tiring
  • immature handwriting
  • poor sentence and paragraph structure.

In secondary school, signs can include:

  • hard-to-read handwriting
  • slower handwriting than their peers
  • finding it hard to put thoughts into written words
  • an obvious gap between oral and written language skills.

Visit the AUSPELD website for more information about dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition. It affects parts of the brain that control attention, impulses and concentration. 

In most cases ADHD is a lifelong condition. 

Signs of ADHD can include: 

  • difficulties focusing on or getting started on individual tasks​ 
  • being easily distracted
  • losing or misplacing things ​
  • acting without thinking things through 
  • difficulties planning and organising 
  • difficulties managing emotions such as frustration and boredom.

Visit the ADHD Australia website for more information about ADHD.

Reasonable adjustments

If your child has a learning difficulty, your child’s teacher will work with you to make reasonable adjustments to support your child's participation. Reasonable adjustments are based on your child’s learning difficulty.

Difficulties with reading

Reasonable adjustments may include:

  • setting practical rather than reading-based tasks
  • allowing extra reading time
  • small group work to build reading skills
  • using assistive technology such as a camera or voice recorder.

Difficulties with writing

Reasonable adjustments may include:

  • allowing extra working time
  • using a computer
  • using assistive technology such as text to voice software
  • providing classroom instructions in short and simple sentences
  • providing an oral presentation instead of a written report.

If your child has difficulties due to underdeveloped motor skills, they may also need to see an occupational therapist for advice.

Difficulties with mathematics

Reasonable adjustments may include:

  • allowing extra working time
  • using assistive technology
  • providing classroom instructions in short and simple sentences.

Difficulties with attention and concentration

Reasonable adjustments may include:

  • encouragement when paying attention and staying on a task
  • developing signals to remind your child to refocus
  • following a predictable procedure in class
  • speaking slowly and providing classroom instructions in short and simple sentences
  • using visual reminders to keep the task front of mind.


Support and advice about learning difficulties

If your child has learning difficulties, there are support organisations and services to help you and your family.