The Inclusion of Learning Difficulties into TEFL


The identification of  Learning Difficulties and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) causes is largely elusive, as the educative reforms in the 20th century have been so many, that it becomes precarious to end up to a limited enumeration of the potential culprits. The incremental percentage of the population literacy, heredity, biology, environmental circumstances, brain structure, or the combination of multiple factors,  are amongst the most prevalent suppositions  in the educational community as the original causes of Learning Difficulties within the student body.


by Marina Siskou


Admittedly, “most of the current research is consistent with a correlated liabilities hypothesis, which predicts some attributes are associated with ADHD and LDs in isolation, but the different disorders share common weaknesses” (Willcutt et al., 2010b).

As a consequence, since only the observable attributes of the students with LDs are measurable, identification will always carry some inherent unreliability, even if the measure itself is high in reliability (Fletcher, Lyon, Fuchs, Barnes, 2019). Hence, it is imperative to understand that every diagnostic outcome is subject to reconsideration and divergence; diagnoses on learning difficulties are not conclusive or undeviating. Further on, all measurements involving human behavior can err, so that any indicator of an attribute will have a certain degree of unreliability (Fletcher, Lyon, Fuchs, Barnes, 2019).


Inclusion of LDs into EFL environment


Based on the conclusions upon the theory of LDs, identification alongside the selection of appropriate TEFL methods and approaches is slippery, because, “unlike medical conditions, such as mumps and measles, the understanding of disorders like LDs lies upon a conceptual framework where the defining attributes exist along a continuum and are noncategorical” (i.e. dimensional) (Ellis, 1984).  

There is in fact, “no standard for any definition of LDs, which is also the case for many other ‘disorders’ such as ADHD […] or hypertension” (Ellis, 1984; Hinshaw & Scheffler, 2014)


In effect, teaching routine and life experience with L2 learners with LDs converges to the acceptance that the major and persistent issue is with time allocation, L2 intensity, span of concentration and hyperactivity interference during the learning process.

L2 learners with LDs appear to be easily distracted, bored, and unable to retain the average expected amount of the instructed TL items. L2 learners with LDs are generally prone to struggle with their working memory function, organization and planning skills, self-regulation command and their capacity to manage and articulate emotions. 


Typically, English Language Teachers of Greek and Greek-speaking students are ready and informed enough to recognize those common manifestations, which might also drive them to raise awareness of the family and encourage them to seek further advice or validation. The fact of the matter is that, underlying LDs “may first appear in the English Language class because the focus is on activities that require students to communicate and interact with other students, using all four skills of listening, reading, writing and speaking” (Delaney, 2018).


After all, language is a communication entity, thence permitting for the manifestation of underlying disorders that touch upon the social –lingual development of the child.

LDs become a problem with adaptation when they are on the extreme end of the distribution” (Fletcher, Lyon, Fuchs, Barnes, 2019).


A confirmation which reiterates the fact that, most students with LDs can adapt into the TEFL progressively and undisturbed. Yet, the challenging task is not in having L2 learners with LDs into the classroom, as this is vastly common nowadays with the soaring percentages of LDs all educators witness. Where the challenge lies is in integrating LD students completely, and leading them into fulfilling their potential.


In the ESL classroom, via employing approaches and strategies meant to facilitate processing and understanding for students with LDs, the possibility for coincidental benefit for the whole classroom is born. If for instance, the teacher rephrases and repeats frequently, most –if not all- students are favored and facilitated, not merely the LD students. The same principle applies to other methods, such as the multi-sensory approach where L2 learners participate in the learning procedure with their body movement and sensory response, rather than with the traditional asking /replying, true/ false method.


In the EFL class with learner(s) with LDs, ADHD or mental disorders, some pivotal characteristics deriving from the traditional teaching are daunting and discouraging. One of the hazardous characteristics is the punishment or reward system for poor or high performance respectively. Translated in EFL routine, there is little point in perpetuating the system with rewarding students with stickers, symbolic presents or any other means.


For children struggling with LDs this entails attaining an impossible outcome-within the same time, as time is crucial with LDs- as compared to their fellow students; a conclusion which, in turn, might lead them into withdrawal, negation to attend classes or even isolation and proclivity to depression.


Attitudes and practices that involve inequity of opportunities also foster feelings of despair and prepare the ground for –silent or blatant-bullying or seclusion among students. In the same wavelength, blatant comparisons to other L2 learners’ performance have no place in the classroom. Accordingly, if students with disruptive LDs belong into our classrooms, it is optimum to avoid activities that can embarrass them, such as team activities as they can easily be marked as being unwanted into the groups, because they cannot follow the pace of the rest of the team, depriving them of the prize or of the extra points.


Instead, temper the difficulty of the tasks so that each L2 learner is offered the opportunity to receive praise. The sense of accomplishment is instrumental into the holistic procedure of making progress with the LDs. Some fundamental teaching principles that could permeate EFL class with LDs learners are appropriate to be established. 

According to Delaney, […] “all students need to feel safe and valued in their class”.

Accustom your classes in “maintaining positive relationships, clear structure routines, consistency and clarity”.

Implement “a multisensory approach for teaching and checking understanding”. The teacher can rely on “visuals, gestures and words”.

Let the learner guide you towards the most effective approach for their understanding. The teacher can utilize the senses that feel to be the most natural and sensitive, depending on the L2 learner.


EFL teachers can thereupon select or create tasks and activities that motivate students to participate and to eliminate the element of surprise and worry. Make provisions for the creation of an interruption-free classroom and a stereotype-free school environment.

“Teachers might as well focus on developing positive relationships” […] (Delaney, 2018).

Pay heed to the externalization of potential feelings of despair or confusion when   LDs students resist comprehending even simplistic notions. Also time is of crucial importance for LDs.

Get to know [all students] as people, beyond any labels” (Delaney, 2018).

All students love to reply to their first name and all of them need to feel a part of the small learning community they were positioned.

The respect to their personality should not undergo negotiation depending on their academic potential. 


Living with Learning Difficulties


Teachers with L2 learners with LDs in their classes might encounter considerable and multi-layered challenges. Still, by default they experience just a particle of the whole array of difficulties and pressures that inflict the LDs students’ and their family’s lives. Depending on the circumstances the LDs student might also encounter many disappointments, both in school and at home.


Parents with children with LDs are roughly classified in three categories:

  • The strugglers, who are trying to cope with the child’s learning and attention issues. They view parenting as difficult, they experience financial pressure, might feel isolated, and generally feel unable to maintain a positive attitude and develop stress-management mechanisms.
  • The conflicted are parents who admit to foster conflicting feelings about their child’s learning and attention issues as well as their ability to help.Hence, conflicted parents typically feel ambivalence; they feel uncertain about teaching their child how to resolve issues, or how to resolve issues themselves. They feel insecure about advocating for their child and seeking expert help, might feel frustrated with the school system, and they worry about their child’s social and academic future.
  • The optimistic parents manifest positive feelings about their own ability to cope.


This parent group is comprised by parents who:

Perceive themselves as successful and able to address any challenge, effectively interact with teachers, can teach their child to understand his/her difficulties, show no evidence of guilt, stress or frustration,  generally express confidence and have developed ways to manage their child’s learning and attention issues. (Cortiella, Horowitz, 2014).


It seems that the afore-mentioned classifications best feature the stages from denial towards acceptance and the development of a positive mentality that takes place within the parent’s consciousness. The acceptance issues in combination with the individual symptoms deriving from each LDs engender immense issues for the LDs students, both academically and personally. There always exists the need both for the parent and the child to feel confident that, whichever their LD might be is manageable.


It is therefore not enough to merely pass the threshold (i.e. make the grade, complete the curriculum) with LDs students, but more vitally, to achieve so without the element of fatigue, embarrassment or frustration. The heart of the matter is to progress and enjoy the benefits of ELT education with the LDs.



  1. Fletcher, J., Lyon, R., Fuchs, L., Barnes., M. “Learning Disabilities, from Identification to Intervention”. Second Edition, The Guilford Press, New York, 2019.
  2. Cortiella, C., Horowitz, S., “The State of Learning Disabilities”. National Center for Learning Disabilities, New York, 2014.
  3. .Delaney, M. “Learning Difficulties into the ELT classroom: How to Identify them and What to Do”. Oxford University Press ELT. 15 June 2018, https://oupeltblog.com/2018/06/15/Learning-difficulties-elt.