Specific learning difficulties without dyslexia


Belle is a girl aged 11 years 4 months who was administered LASS 11-15 as part of the school’s routine assessment of the new intake. There were no indications from her primary school of literacy or learning difficulties, and she was generally described in primary school reports as performing at an ‘average’ level.

Figure 6. Belle – a case of specific learning difficulties without dyslexia  

Interpretation of LASS 11-15 results

Belle is a girl of average intellectual ability (Reasoning: centile 65), but she clearly has weaknesses in literacy skills (Sentence Reading: centile 20; Single Word Reading: centile 14; Spelling: centile 29). In fact, all the discrepancies between the literacy measures and Reasoning are statistically significant, so the term ‘specific learning difficulty’ would be justified. However, Belle’s visual memory is strong (Cave: centile 87) and her auditory memory (Mobile: centile 48) and phonological abilities (Segments: centile 36) are both within the average range so there do not appear to be any cognitive indications of dyslexia. Examination of Belle’s Nonwords result (centile 15) shows that she has poor phonic skills, so it is most likely that she has failed to acquire adequate phonic decoding skills and so has become over-dependent on visual strategies in reading, relying on her good visual memory. 

Educational recommendations

Further investigation revealed that Belle had suffered from persistent glue ear from early childhood up to late primary stage, leading to auditory discrimination difficulties. This impeded her acquisition of effective phonic skills and so she became increasingly reliant on visual and contextual strategies in reading. When confronted by unfamiliar words (or, in LASS, nonwords) she had few decoding strategies that she could use, and so tended to guess. However, she managed to cope on this basis during primary school and hence her teachers did not have cause to regard her as having any special educational needs. Already the visual approach is failing her and will continue to do so in the face of the more demanding secondary school curriculum. Belle therefore needs attention to be paid to her phonic decoding skills as a matter of urgency. The school immediately placed Belle on the Special Educational Needs Register at Stage 2 and arranged for her to attend a phonics tuition group once a week, with daily practice activities based around use of Wordshark4. 

If she uses Co:Writer6 for written work, relating the rebus to words could speed the flow of her writing. A course of daily sessions on Starspell to develop her spelling skills would be beneficial. Franklin Spellmaster could be used for spelling support when she is not doing written work on a computer.