If your child is struggling, and you suspect a pattern of difficulties rather than an isolated instance, speak first with your child's teacher and other school authorities about your concerns and to set up learning disability testing. Also, have your child's hearing and vision tested (by your pediatrician, and an audiologist or ophthalmologist).
School policies vary, but most districts will first administer learning disability testing for a discrepancy between his IQ (intelligence, as determined by standardized tests) and his achievement in the classroom. If a discrepancy exists, the next step is the more comprehensive educational evaluation and learning disability testing. In some school districts, the wait for learning disability testing may be long, and the road could be littered with bureaucratic hurdles and even inaccurate labels that your child can't shake. It may be quicker and easier (though certainly more expensive) to go the private route for learning disability testing.
The Cast of Characters
In your quest to make sure your child gets the education he deserves, you'll meet a variety of professionals. Be sure to ask for references from people you trust: other parents who have been down this road, your pediatrician, the school principal, or the school's resource-room advisor. Make an appointment for a consultation. If you don't get the answers you're seeking or are not comfortable with the expert, find another one. You may encounter these learning disability testing specialists:
- Audiologist: Checks hearing ability; provides auditory training for children with processing disorders.
- Educational consultant: Gives educational evaluations. May be a former special-education teacher or psychologist. Some are associated with the school or school district, others are in private practice.
- Learning disabilities specialist: Usually a teacher with specific training in helping children with learning disabilities.
- Psychiatrist: Medical doctor who diagnoses and treats behavioral and emotional problems. May prescribe medication.
- School or educational psychologist: Administers and interprets psychological and educational tests; helps with learning issues and resulting behavioral issues.
- Speech and language therapist: Works with youngsters who have language and speech problems.
- Child-study team: This is the committee, comprised of a combination of the experts listed above, that the school has culled to oversee learning problems.
What to Expect on the Day of Your Child's Learning Disability Test
The battery of tests your child will be given evaluate skills such as phonemic awareness, letter recognition, vocabulary, listening comprehension, and reading ability. Depending on your child's age, they are usually given over a two-day period, for two to three hours at a time. Parents are not allowed in the room, so set your child's expectations appropriately. Tell her that she will be meeting with some people who are going to try to help her, and reassure her that she will not be punished or graded on her performance.
The evaluation doesn't end with these tests. It also includes direct observations of your child's classroom work and behavior, conferences with professionals who work with your child, and reviews of his medical and educational progress to date.
Now you will begin to work with teachers and school professionals to hammer out an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP outlines a diagnosis, specific short- and long-term goals, as well as what the school will do to help your child reach them. If the school can't provide the services your child needs, it is responsible for finding, and funding, a private school that can.
Remember, the evaluation and diagnosis of your child's learning disorder is not a sign of failure. It's an opportunity. If you stay active in the process of learning disability testing, you'll find you have more control than you think you do.