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Terms used for types of specific learning difficulty

It will be apparent that the term ‘specific learning difficulties’ covers a group of disorders. Children may have problems in one area of learning, or in a number of different areas. Some disorders have a tendency to cluster together in children, so that spelling difficulties often accompany reading difficulties, and arithmetic difficulties often accompany language difficulties—but any combination can occur.

One of the major causes of confusion to parents is the wide number of terms used for the different forms of specific learning difficulty. To make matters worse, the same term may be used by different people to mean different things. This sometimes reflects the fact that specific learning difficulties are of interest to a wide range of professionals, such as doctors, educators, and psychologists, and that each discipline has its own perspective and its own terminology.

The term dyslexia, as mentioned earlier, was first coined in 1887 to describe isolated reading difficulty. Unfortunately, the word has been widely used in an inconsistent way. Some still use it for specific reading difficulty alone, others for combined reading and writing difficulties, while others use it for all types of specific learning difficulty.

There are similar Greek terms for other forms of specific learning difficulty. Specific spelling difficulty is called dysorthographia; specific writing difficulty is called dysgraphia; and specific arithmetic difficulty is referred to as dyscalculia. I shall avoid these terms and use the English equivalents.

Children with attention problems are sometimes described as having attention deficit disorder, with or without hyperactivity. I shall discuss both these terms in Chapter 10.

There are also terms such as minimal brain damage and strephosymbolia that are used for specific learning difficulties. These are based on certain theories of causation and will be explained in Chapter 3. ‘Specific learning difficulty’ has the advantage that it does not suggest a cause, but simply describes the nature of the child’s problem.

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