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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: August 2009

15 - Reading and other learning disorders



The majority of children who have adequate educational opportunity learn to read without difficulty, and this provides access to the wider curriculum. For a significant minority, however, specific learning difficulties represent a major obstacle to progress, initially with reading, spelling and writing processes and subsequently (as a consequence) with many other aspects of schooling. Reading and spelling difficulties are often accompanied by problems with numeracy, but some children have difficulties with arithmetic or mathematics in the absence of reading problems. Specific learning difficulties are commonly described as ‘dyslexia’ if they affect reading and spelling processes, and ‘dyscalculia’ if arithmetic is specifically affected. In addition the term ‘non-verbal learning difficulty’ or ‘syndrome’ (NVLS) is sometimes used to describe children whose main scholastic difficulty is with mathematical thinking but who may have accompanying problems with motor skills, attention and social relationships. There is a substantial body of evidence to guide clinical practice with respect to dyslexia, and to a lesser extent dyscalculia. In contrast, there is a paucity of research on NVLS, and it is not currently recognized in the diagnostic systems although similarities with Asperger syndrome have been noted. In view of the lack of consensus about this syndrome, we do not discuss it further here.

Definition and classification

ICD-10 classifies specific learning difficulties as ‘specific disorders of scholastic skill’. The following disorders are included: specific reading disorder, specific spelling disorder, specific disorder of arithmetic skill and mixed disorder of scholastic skills.

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Review articles and books
, B. Butterworth, The Mathematical Brain. (London: Macmillan, 1999).
Fisher, S. E. & DeFries, J. C., Developmental dyslexia: genetic dissection of a complex trait. Nature Reviews: Neuroscience, 3 (2002), 767–80.
Grigorenko, E. L., Developmental dyslexia: an update on genes, brains and environments. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 42 (2001), 91–126.
Ramus, F., Rosen, S., Dakin, S. C., et al. Theories of developmental dyslexia: insights from a multiple case study of dyslexic adults. Brain, 126 (2003), 841–65.
Shalev, R. S. & Gross-Tur, V., Developmental dyscalculia. Pediatric Neurology, 24 (2001), 337–42.
, M. J. Snowling, Dyslexia. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000).
Vellutino, F. R., Fletcher, J. M., Snowling, M. J. & Scanlon, D. M.. Specific reading disability (dyslexia): what have we learned in the past four decades?Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45 (2004), 2–40.
Books with practical advice
, D. Bartlett & , S. Moody, Dyslexia in the Workplace. (London: Whurr, 2000).
, N. Goulandris, Dyslexia in Different Languages: Cross-linguistic Comparisons. (London: Whurr, 2003).
, E. Grauberg, Elementary Mathematics and Language Difficulties. (London: Whurr, 1997).
, V. Muter, Early Reading Development and Dyslexia. (London: Whurr, 2003).
, M. J. Snowling & , J. Stackhouse, Dyslexia, Speech and Language: A Practitioner's Handbook. (London: Wiley, 2005).