Testing & Diagnosis for Learning Disorders and Disabilities in Children

How is a learning disability diagnosed?

Typically, learning disabilities are diagnosed by school testing. If you are concerned that your child may have a learning disability, you can request testing from your school. The school will carry out testing (usually IQ, academic achievement, speech and language, and sometimes occupational therapy). Once testing is complete, the special staff and classroom teacher (s) will convene a team and the team will review the testing and determine whether the results of their testing meet the criteria for a “Specific Learning Disability”

After this process, if you continue to have concerns or disagree with the determination, you can seek an independent evaluation by a private provider, such as Boston Children’s Hospital. This independent evaluation can provide further diagnostic information and recommendations. Although the diagnostic findings and recommendations are not legally binding, you can ask to reconvene the team to discuss the findings of the independent evaluation if they are not in agreement with the school determination. Apart from the legal issues, teachers can often find these evaluations useful to help them to refine their understanding of the child’s needs and provide instructional approaches that could are compatible to your child’s cognitive profile and be effective.

If my child is diagnosed with a learning disability, what happens next?

If the school finds that your child meets criteria for a learning disability, they will develop an Individualized Education Plan, a legally enforceable document that details the services they will provide to address your child’s disability. The school will issue regular progress reports and review the IEP annually, with testing every three years.

Hopefully, with this plan in place, your child will make “effective progress” [progress in the general education curriculum that can be formally documented]. Many parents will seek an independent evaluation because the child continues to struggle despite provision of an IEP, and they seek further guidance about how well the child’s needs are being met and what other interventions could help.