Struggle with Reading, Writing, or Maths?

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Always struggled with reading, writing, and/or numbers? Called ‘lazy’ as a child no matter how hard you tried? Or now that you are an adult, do you feel you are just stupid about certain things, and get on with it the best you can?

You could actually have a diagnosable learning difficulty.

What is a learning difficulty?

A learning difficulty is not connected to your intellect. In fact many people with learning difficulties are bright, and find creative ways to manage.

A learning difficulty simply means that your brain takes in and processes information differently than the average person.

Signs of a learning difficulty in adults

If you have a learning difficulty, signs can include that you:

  • don't really read but watch films instead
  • feel anxious if you have to read a contract or fill out a form
  • can’t seem to get your thoughts onto paper
  • avoid numbers - get your partner to do the banking, never count out change
  • don't use recipes because quantities confuse you
  • aren't good with time and organisation
  • can’t follow instructions, are often late, are not good with directions
  • don't have the best memory
  • feel you are not as smart as others, or different, ‘just the creative type’
  • get frustrated by things and others don’t understand why
  • struggle in the workplace and never seem to reach your potential
  • have strained relationships because you are just different
  • get sensory overload, have stronger sight/hearing/smell than others
  • have poor spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination
  • suffer poor self-esteem because of your struggles.

Is a learning difficulty the same as a learning disability?

No. This said, the line can be confusing, chiefly as the terminology used to describe learning challenges is inconsistent. America uses different terminology than the United Kingdom, for example, and even within the UK there are different terms being used.

This is partly because we are still learning about the ways people learn, and partly as politics are involved. Some people, for example, are challenging the terms 'difficulty' and 'difference' in favour of ‘diverse’ and ‘neurodiverse’.

But in general, here in the United Kingdom the difference is one of intellect and coping. If you have a learning difficulty, your IQ is not affected and you can get by in life. A learning disability, on the other hand, means that your IQ suffers and you need support for daily living.

What are the different learning difficulties?

Here in the UK the different diagnoses tend to be dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and dyspraxia.

Although again, there is controversy. Even the most known learning difficulty, dyslexia, has been challenged as a standalone, diagnosable issue. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the main diagnostic manual for health care providers in the UK, doesn’t even offer a guide to it or to any other learning difficulty.

Furthermore, there is often crossover between the different diagnoses. You might seem to have symptoms from several, plus each individual will manifest a learning difficulty in his or her unique way.

Because of this, many health care providers and educational psychologists use an umbrella term when diagnosing, of 'specific learning difficulty', or SpLD.


Dyslexia is the most common learning disorder, thought to affect up to 10% of Brits.

The ‘official’ definition at this time, put out by the British Psychological Society, is that dyslexia is “a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed.”

It affects each person differently, but as well as affecting affect reading and writing, it also can mean you can’t order your ideas, are bad at directions, and might have a poor memory.


Dysgraphia means there is some sort of disrupt between your motor skills and language. If you struggled as a child with learning to write and still have terrible handwriting? This might be you. Perhaps you use strange spacing when you write, and find it really hard to put your thoughts down on paper.


This learning difficulty is sometimes referred to as ‘numbers blindness’. If you struggle with maths and symbols, avoid doing your banking, often make mistakes with quantities, and even struggled when young to read analog clocks? It could be dyscalculia.


Do you have terrible hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness? Did you struggle with things like tying your shoelaces when you were a kid, or even have speaking difficutlies?

Officially dyspraxia is a developmental disorder. But it occurs so often alongside learning difficulties that it is often counted as one.

Dyspraxia affects muscle control, and is also called ‘development co-ordination disorder’, or DCD.

Related disorders to adult learning difficulties

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is sometimes grouped with learning difficulties. In adults its main symptoms are struggles with focus and attention, as well as difficulties finishing what you start. You might have a tendency to talk in circles, interrupt others, get bored easily, fidget often, and struggle with relationships and holding down work.

Autism spectrum disorder (ADS) is a developmental order that means you have different ways of socialising and communicating than others. If you get to adulthood without a diagnosis, it tends to be along the lines of Aspergers syndrome. You will feel panicky if your routines are disrupted, struggle to understand other people’s emotions, and tend to over focus on certain topics and hobbies.

Is it really worth getting a diagnosis?

A diagnosis is the first step towards finally learning how to manage your stress, anxiety, and frustration around being different. It can help others understand you, and help you communiate your needs better so that your relationships improve. In some cases a diagnosis can also mean you qualify for social support or help in the workplace.

Ready to end your frustation and move forward at last? Use our easy booking tool to find a therapist near you who specialises in adult learning difficulties and can help.

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