Most types of learning difficulty can be categorized as either specific or non‐specific. Specific learning difficulties most commonly include conditions such as dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; dyscalculia, verbal dyspraxia, and dysphasia also belong to this category. Specific learning difficulties affect a particular aspect of learning rather than the overall abilities of students. A dyslexic student, while experiencing significant difficulties with reading and writing, may also enjoy high levels of academic achievement in a range of subjects. It is important not to assume that a student with a specific learning difficulty is less able than others. There are those students who underachieve and are simply classed as less able and as having special needs. These are the students whose learning difficulties might be classed as non‐specific or general. The impact on development and progress can result in social immaturity, which impedes the ability to develop age‐appropriate friendships, problems with written and spoken language, difficulty in grasping new concepts, poor concentration, which makes listening and acquiring new skills difficult, and poor organizational skills. Whether specific or non‐specific, learning difficulties are also described as being moderate (MLD) or severe (SLD). A generalization of thought concerning the distinctions used to be that students with MLD cope well at school, with low levels of intervention needed, and will acquire some level of qualifications, while those with SLD will be educated in special schools without ever having achieved the most basic skills. The latter description is applied to students who are unlikely to achieve level 2 of the national curriculum by the end of Key Stage 4.
Further categorization applies to students whose cognitive development is significantly behind that of students of the same age, and who may also have additional sensory or motor disabilities. These are students with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD). Students with PMLD may also have communication difficulties. It is more usual for students with PMLD to be educated in special school settings. The needs of students with PMLD are complex and require high levels of support and intervention. Schools will engage with other outside agencies such as physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, and medical professionals.
Whatever category of learning difficulty applies, it is essential that reasonable adjustments are made in order to afford the students maximum access to an appropriate curriculum so that they achieve their full potential by setting realistic expectations which challenge and stimulate the students.