If your child is struggling in school, you are not alone! Virtually all children struggle in school at some point, and the good news is that most of them adapt with a little extra support from home and/or school. But, approximately 5% of children will need more than just a little extra support in order to find academic success due to a learning disability.
Should I Get My Child Assessed for a Learning Disability?
A learning disability is a disorder that causes significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical skills. So, how do you determine if your child just needs a little extra help or if they actually have a learning disability? Ask yourself a few questions:
- Is your child receiving extra support in school for the area of concern?
- Are they showing very slow or no growth?
- Are they more than a year behind their peers?
If you answered yes to only the first question, continue to monitor progress and reassess in 6 weeks. (If they are not currently receiving extra support in the area of concern, this is where you should start!) On the other hand, if you answered yes to the last two questions, a formal diagnostic assessment (or “testing”) is likely in your next few steps.
What does the formal assessment process look like?
If you choose to go through private channels (aka not through the school), your first step is to find a reputable psychologist to complete the assessment. After sharing your concerns with the psychologist, they will choose the appropriate assessments to administer in order to determine the type and severity of learning disabilities. This group of assessments (often referred to as a battery of assessments) will usually include a cognitive measure, an achievement test, specific academic tests (if necessary), and a measure of attention. You will likely also be asked to complete a collection of reporting measures (surveys) that primary caregivers and teachers fill out to determine your child’s level of executive functioning, adaptive skills, attention, and other functional skills. While it sounds intense, these can usually be completed in one 3-5 hour testing session (with built in breaks, of course).
After the assessment battery is completed, the psychologist will need a few weeks to analyze and synthesize the data collected. Then, they will invite you for a feedback session where they will share the results and diagnostic findings with you in a 30-60 minute meeting. After the feedback session, you can share the assessment results with your child’s school in order to help guide the creation of accommodations and special plans to help your child find academic success.
What kind of information should you expect to gain from the assessment process?
Ultimately, this will be determined by your concerns for your child. For learning disabilities, you can generally expect to gain a better understanding of your child’s cognitive functioning. This includes cognitive processes such as working memory (the ability to hold and manipulate information in your brain), fluid reasoning (the capacity to think logically and solve problems in novel situations), processing speed (the ability to visually scan and quickly process information), verbal comprehension (the ability to understand and use language), and visual-spatial ability (the ability to evaluate visual details and to understand visual spatial relationship).
You can also expect to gain a better understanding of your child’s academic or achievement abilities. Major subject areas, like reading, writing, and mathematics, are broken down into specific tasks so that a clear picture of your child’s strengths and weaknesses begins to form. For example, your child’s ability to read will be assessed using measures focusing on phonics/decoding, letter-word identification, fluency, and comprehension. Writing is usually assessed by focusing on spelling, writing fluency, and editing. Finally, mathematics is generally assessed by using measures focusing on calculation, problem solving, and fact fluency.
You should also expect to gain information about your child’s executive functioning ability. Executive functions are skills required in order to learn and participate in a socially appropriate way in everyday life. These skills include your child’s ability to think flexibly, plan, self-monitor, maintain self-control, manage time, organize, and use their working memory to follow instructions. Ultimately, the goal is for a psychologist to have multiple data points that, when considered together, form a diagnosis. One piece of evidence cannot form a diagnosis, so a collection of evidence must be sought.
What is the difference between a formal diagnosis and a school identification?
A clinical diagnosis is made under the supervision of a licensed psychologist (or other qualified clinical professional) for the purpose of long-term medical and mental-health planning.
A clinical diagnosis is often necessary for insurance billing and qualification for other specialized services. It is given after a comprehensive assessment of the client’s cognitive, achievement, executive functioning, and historical data has been completed.
A clinical diagnosis is made using criteria specified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders- Fifth Edition (DSM-V). A school identification is given by a school’s IEP team after the completion of a school evaluation. A school identification is made after qualified school personnel complete comprehensive assessments. They have determined that a child cannot access the general education curriculum without the implementation of an (IEP). Schools identify conditions based on IDEA. The special education law that covers 13 categories of disabilities under which a child can qualify for special education services.
At Mountain Vista Psychology, we know how challenging having learning differences can be, therefore, we and are here to help. Take the first step and call our office at 720-583-9332. You can make your appointment or we offer a 20 minute free phone consultation to discuss your needs.
Dr. Steffanie Stecker a licensed psychologist and the owner and clinical director of Mountain Vista Psychology, PLLC.
In addition, she is a board certified neurotherapist (BCN E5669) and board certified in QEEG (QEEG-D). Less than 100 people world wide are board certified in QEEG, which indicates competency in reading QEEGs and choosing neurofeedback protocols. Dr. Stecker is passionate about brain based effective therapy and creating a safe relationship for her clients to create change. She loves what she gets to do each day!