Splds – Specific learning differences.

What are Splds?

Specific Learning Differences (SpLDs) are a group of four different conditions that effect learning. They all life long conditions that can’t be cured. None are illnesses or diseases. SpLDs significantly hamper academic performance, with grades being far below someone’s true ability or potential.


Mainly impacting reading as letters, numbers, words and sometimes lines can appear “swapped”, dyslexia can also effect short term memory, handwriting and organisation – Especially in “high stress” situations.


Sometimes referred to as Developmental coordination disorder (DCD), dyspraxia effects fine/gross motor control and dexterity. It can also effect speech and organisation/planning. Extremely poor handwriting is common.


Impacting every part of transcription, Dysgraphia effects the ability to write legibly, spell correctly, and convert thought to writing. The diagnosis has been replaced with “Specific learning disorder – an impairment in written expression” but has been included here for completeness.


Greatly hindering mathematical ability, Dyscalculia can also effect the ability to remember basic facts and figures. Typically effecting the ability to count backwards, mental maths and estimation, it can sometimes cause high levels of maths anxiety.

The hidden advantage.

Learning differences are often seen as a negative, especially by employers who have discriminatory mindsets. Those who’ve learned to be forward thinking have experienced the opposite – Learning differences are a valuable asset that can be leveraged, especially when creativity or social intelligence are key.

SpLDs can also help employees excel at:

  • Innovative thinking and creativity,
  • A natural ability to troubleshoot and problem solve,
  • An ability to think and work in a 3D space,
  • The ability to connect events, whether recent or long term,
  • Highly practical and “hands on” – Not as true amongst those with DCD/Dyspraxia,
  • Persistence and determination,
  • Good communication skills.

This makes them great:

  • Marine engineers,
  • ROV mechanics/techs,
  • Deck supervisors,
  • Crane operators,
  • Windfarm technicians,
  • CAD/CAM design engineers,
  • Cargo planners,
  • Positions where the ability to problem solve in 3D is a must.

Recruiting SpLDs.

SpLDs can offer huge benefits to employers. Sadly most fail to realise these benefits because their recruitment process fights against those with SpLDs, especially in today’s age of automated systems. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much work to make things much more SpLD friendly.

During every stage of the application process, any text should use “dyslexia friendly” fonts and a minimum of N14, which are specifically designed to prevent word/line/character skipping.

Advertising the position

Write adverts in plain English, keeping them concise and job-specific. Lay things out clearly, in an easy to read fashion where paragraphs and sentences are clearly defined. Make sure the advert can be read by TTS (text to speech) software, too. Don’t use phrases like “excellent written communication skills” or “exceptional attention to detail” unless they’re absolutely essential for the role.

Receiving applications

Keep things easy for everyone – provide application forms in editable formats like word or excel documents. Allow candidates to submit applications through alternative means too, such as over the phone or calling into the office. Make sure things are written in plain English, easy to understand with any important information clearly highlighted. Online application forms shouldn’t time out, either.

Include a section to allow candidates to tell you what accommodations they need you to make.

Screening candidates

Allow candidates extra time if you’re using exams to screen candidate, usually 25%. Make sure the questions are clear, simple and easy to understand. If possible though, fast track candidates with SpLDs through to interview instead of putting them through exams.

The interview process – An alternative approach

Interviews are great for typical candidates, but they’re not the only approach to take – Especially if you’re trying to recruit Neurodivergent talent. A workplace trial will allow your Neurodivergent candidates to truly shine, helping you to see first hand the talents and abilities they’re able to bring to the field.

This is even more true in the marine industry. If someone holds a certificate of competency there’s very few reasons not to give a candidate a single trip SEA and review their performance, instead of going through the usually lengthy and time consuming process of interviewing.

Avoid points based interview approaches. Preventing Neurodivergent talent from showing through, they introduce negative bias – especially in the post interview selection stage. Skills based approaches are a much better alternative that will help guard against this, helping you secure a candidate that has the right qualities for the position.

The interview process – Prior to interview

Give the candidate plenty of time to prepare – a minimum of 2 weeks is best. This gives both yourself and the candidate ample time to discuss and implement any adjustments needed.

Send the candidate a “rider” as part of the interview offer detailing; where the interview will take place, when, who will be present and how it’ll be conducted. It can help to provide some instructions (park in car park X, then go to the main reception in building Y, for example). Use plain English and pictures where possible.

Paper with a cream or pale coloured background will help those with Dyslexia to read any pre-interview paperwork.

The interview process – During the interview

SpLDs can it hard for candidates to excel in interviews, especially if they have other co-morbidities like Autism or AD(H)D. This makes it harder for you to secure the talent you need. Taking steps to make things easier for the candidate will greatly help. Consider;

  • Providing a quiet, calm place to wait before the interview,
  • Allowing extra time for the interview (usually 25%, but this can be more),
  • Introducing everyone at the interview by name and wearing name badges,
  • Using visual aids wherever you can – Pictures, videos, even models can help,
  • Breaking questions down into chunks that are easier for the candidate to process,
  • Waiting for the candidate to finish answering one question before moving onto the next,
  • Ensuring any interview materials use Dyslexia friendly fonts, plain English and are printed on pale or cream coloured paper. For computer screens, turning night mode on can be a useful alternative,
  • Letting the candidate use notes during the interview,
  • Discussing instructions before the candidate answers a question/starts a task,
  • Encouraging candidates to talk through their processes and steps,
  • Writing a “plan” for the interview on a whiteboard, referring back to it to help establish routine and structure,
  • Allowing the candidate to take breaks when needed.
The interview process – After the interview

Feed back to the candidate, giving as much detail as you can. Tell them what they excelled at and areas they could work on for the future. If you’re offering them the job (which you should!), Call them to follow up on the paperwork and answer any questions they have. Provide everything in writing, in an accessible format.

Remove barriers, feel benefits.

The only way you’ll be able to reap the rewards of hiring SpLD talent is if you remove the barriers that stand in their way. This is usually easy to do, costs very little if anything, and will let your new employee focus on leveraging their unique differences for the betterment of all. Speak to the employee before making any adjustments, they often know exactly what they need.

Adjustments that apply to both shore based and seagoing careers
  • Give the employee a “new-starter” information pack containing everything they need to know about the workplace,
  • Find out what techniques and coping mechanisms they’ve already developed,
  • Make sure documentation, policies and procedures are in an a Dyslexia friendly font,
  • Don’t ask someone with Dyslexia to take minutes in a meeting,
  • Highlight key points in documents,
  • Allow the employee to use a dictaphone to record meetings, training sessions and notes etc.,
  • Allow the use of night mode and different coloured screen filters,
  • Help them stay organised by keeping the workplace clean and tidy – Tracing around tools on tool benches, for example,
  • Use pictures, diagrams and drawings alongside written instructions,
  • Provide reading aids (it could be as simple as a ruler), calculators and assistive technology. Text-to-speech or proof reading software, for example,
  • Allow them to work in quiet places, free from distraction.
Adjustments for seagoing careers
  • No specific seagoing adjustments.
Adjustments for shore based careers
  • Provide a GPS for directions when driving,
  • Allow the employee to work from home on busy days,
  • Allow breaks, especially when they’re using the computer for long periods,
  • Provide them with a private office if possible, or a quiet, distraction free workspace if not.

Common myths, busted.

They can’t spell, they must be stupid.

Wrong. Due to the nature of an SpLD, they can only be diagnosed if someone is at least averagely intelligent. They’re often more intelligent than the average person. Someone’s ability to spell has nothing to do with their intelligence.

Learning difficulties are just an excuse for not trying hard enough at school.

This is incorrect. SpLDs are caused by a difference in the brains layout, no amount of “trying harder” can change that.

SpLDs are caused by bad parenting.

False – Bad parenting can’t change the layout of someone’s brain. It can, however, make an SpLD worse and cause someone to have anxiety around their condition through lack of compassion and understanding.

SpLDs effect men more than women.

Largely incorrect. While it’s true that more men are diagnosed with SpLDs than women, this is likely due to selection bias than biology. However, more research is needed to conclusively bust this myth.

Someone with an SpLD can’t be an officer, especially not a navigating officer.

Incorrect – There’s no sound reason why someone with an SpLD can’t be a Master, officer, or rating. They’re just as capable of the job as anyone else, and when a few simple adjustments are made, will often be more capable than their typical colleagues.

All dyslexic people read backwards.

False. Some people with Dyslexia will read backwards, but not everyone. Dyslexia impacts everyone differently.

SpLDs can be treated with medication.

This is incorrect. Treating an SpLD would require the ability to rewire the brain, something medication doesn’t have.

  • https://www.soas.ac.uk/studentadviceandwellbeing/information-for-staff/disabledstudents/learningdifficulties/
  • https://www.agcas.org.uk/write/MediaUploads/Resources/Disability%20TG/Reasonable_Adjustments_-_Neurodiversity.pdf
  • http://www.movementmattersuk.org/dcd-dyspraxia-adhd-spld/developmental-disorders-documentation/dcd-and-employment.aspx
  • https://www.dyslexia.uk.net/what-is-dyslexia/