Diagnosing a Learning Disability
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
A student who is suspected of having a learning disability may be evaluated by his school’s evaluation team. The purpose of this evaluation is to determine whether he has an educational disability of some kind and, if so, to design an appropriate educational program to meet his needs.
The evaluation will be conducted by a group of school professionals. The composition of this team differs from state to state but the evaluation usually assesses the same areas. In almost all cases, a school psychologist will evaluate the student’s cognitive abilities through an individually administered intelligence test. This will help the team determine whether the student is achieving on a par with his learning aptitude. The psychologist will also assess the student’s social and emotional status by observing him in the classroom, uncovering his thoughts and feelings through what is called projective testing, and talking with him. In this way, the psychologist may be able to draw conclusions about the student’s confidence, self-esteem, anxieties and temperament and their impact on his school performance.
The evaluation will likely include an educational evaluation by a learning specialist. This professional will evaluate the student’s academic skills, identify his learning style and look for evidence of a learning disability. This evaluation may include not only testing of his reading, math and written language skills, but also an assessment of his auditory and visual perceptual skills.
A school social worker may meet with the parents to obtain their view of their child’s problem and understand the impact of any family issues on his school performance and behavior. The school nurse may conduct a screening of the student’s vision and hearing and a medical examination may also be conducted to identify if there is a physical basis for the learning problem.
Other evaluations may be conducted if warranted by the child’s particular learning characteristics. If he shows evidence of communication difficulties, he may be given a speech and language evaluation. If he shows evidence of emotional problems, he may be evaluated by a psychiatrist. If he shows evidence of an attention deficit, he may be evaluated by a neurologist.
Once the various evaluations are completed, the evaluation team will meet with the parents to review the results and determine with the parents whether the child is eligible for special education. If so, school staff and the parents will work together to develop what is called an Individualized Education Program.