Learning new concepts and behaviors is challenging for many children. But when difficulty persists despite extra support at home and in school, education experts start looking to see if a learning disability is at play.
It may be that a child is struggling to learn to read, or that an inability to sit still and focus is impeding academic progress. Whatever the signs, learning disabilities are more common than many may think. One in five U.S. children have learning and attention issues such as dyslexia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
Yet, experts say that many who might qualify for support in school do not receive it because learning disabilities often go undetected. Parents and teachers are often the first to suspect a learning disability when they see a child’s overall abilities offset by a particular area of frustration or difficulty, says Rebecca Burns, a language and linguistics consultant in Florida.
“In school, children routinely receive hearing and vision screening tests, but specific testing for learning disabilities is done only on a case-by-case basis when approved by a team of teachers, parents and other professionals,” she says.
Does My Child Need Testing?
Parents are often the most important advocates when it comes to diagnosing learning disabilities and implementing classroom supports and interventions. If your child is struggling at school, a learning disability test can help assess your child’s specific needs.
However, it’s important to understand that there is no one test for learning disabilities. Rather, it is a comprehensive, multi-faceted process, with tests for individual disabilities often part of a larger evaluation that can vary based on who is conducting the testing.
“Individual disabilities are diagnosed using a child’s developmental history as well as standardized measures, ideally as part of evaluation by a licensed neuropsychologist,” says Rebecca Mannis, a learning specialist and founder of Ivy Prep Learning Center in New York .
The nonprofit organization Understood, which works to provide parents with information on learning differences, is a great resource for those navigating the testing landscape, Burns says, because testing can vary greatly depending on what educators and parents need to know.
For example, tests for dyslexia typically assess decoding, reading fluency and comprehension. Tests for dysgraphia assess fine motor skills and other writing skills, including how children express themselves in writing. Dyscalculia testing looks at math skills such as mental math and quantitative reasoning, as well as working memory and attention. ADHD is typically detected via a more comprehensive evaluation.
Will Schools Test for Learning Disabilities?
Although schools traditionally conduct baseline testing at the beginning and end of a school year to gauge advances in learning, it’s often up to parents to push for specific learning disability testing. If you feel like your child is struggling in one or more areas, the first step is to write a letter to your school requesting an evaluation, says Liz Matheis, a licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist at Psychological and Educational Consulting in New Jersey.
Identifying a specific learning disability involves data collection from sources that include standardized tests, observations, reviews of student work and interviews, Mannis says. “A number of individuals are typically involved in the identification process, including school psychologists, teachers, speech language pathologists, parents and others relevant to the case,” she says.
“Once the data on the student’s performance is collected, it is often summarized in the form of a report and shared with the educational team,” Mannis says. “If the identified area of concern, such as reading, is confirmed from the collected data, and the condition is significantly impacting the learning progress of the child … then the decision on a disability can be made and work can begin on identifying remediation services and supports.”
Once a learning disability is detected, Burns says federally funded education and care programs, such as public schools, must comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The law ensures that students with learning disabilities have access to equal education.
Is Home or Private Testing Useful?
Home testing can be effective in discerning relative areas of weakness and may help bring about a more formal assessment process, says Raymond Witte, dean of the College of Education at the University of Toledo.
“However, results from a home test will likely not be accepted as the only data point in the discussion of establishing or implementing accommodations,” Witte says.
[READ: What is an IEP?]
Private testing, in which parents pay professionals outside of school to conduct the test, can have advantages, Mannis says, because school evaluators are sometimes less trained in the nuances of learning disabilities than neuropsychologists. Also, schools “may be inclined to focus on broader data patterns rather than subtleties of how children approach tasks,” she says.
Private testing, called a psycho-educational evaluation, can cost thousands of dollars in some parts of the country — it varies by location — but some experts say it can be a valuable investment.
“Neuropsychologists spend upwards of 40 hours evaluating clients,” Mannis says, adding that it involves meeting with parents; conducting comprehensive interviews; reviewing records; administering,scoring, and interpreting tests; meeting with parents to discuss findings and recommendations; writing a custom report; and following up with referrals. But the outcome can be worthwhile, she says.
“Comprehensive and early assessment can lead to the provision of educational care, finding additional supports or appropriate schools, and accommodations that can be game-changers for bright kids who are at risk and likely underachieving,” Mannis says.
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What Parents Need to Know About Learning Disability Tests originally appeared on usnews.com