What Is Involved in Diagnosing a Learning Disability?

Amanda R. Bell
Amanda R. Bell
The first stage in diagnosing a learning disability is for the parent to discuss the issue with the child's pediatrician.
The first stage in diagnosing a learning disability is for the parent to discuss the issue with the child's pediatrician.

Diagnosing a learning disability, which can affect a person’s ability to understand information, is often difficult as symptoms are typically hard to discern and may not be present at all. The first stage of diagnosing a learning disability is for parents or caregivers to discuss the issue with the child’s pediatrician in the event that they notice warning signs. From this point, the doctor will typically test for any medical issues that may be causing the delay or problems in school. Then, a specialist or psychologist will usually conduct interviews and a series of tests to determine if a learning disability is present and, if so, what type of disability it is.

A learning disability specialist may work at a school, helping screen and coach children who are bright but suffer from dyslexia or another learning disorder.
A learning disability specialist may work at a school, helping screen and coach children who are bright but suffer from dyslexia or another learning disorder.

Unlike other medical issues, a learning disability is typically difficult to diagnose based on noticeable symptoms. Despite this, parents or caregivers of children, or adults who suspect a learning disorder in themselves, may notice signs that further evaluation is necessary. Some of the most common are difficulty following directions, whether oral or written, as well as issues in one specific area of school, such as math, reading, or writing. The earliest symptoms or signs that can lead to diagnosing a learning disability occur in early childhood, typically between the ages of one and five. In some cases, although not all, a child who fails to meet more than one milestone, which are based on the average age that a child learns to do things such as walk or talk, may struggle with a learning disability once he or she begins school.

A learning disability is typically difficult to diagnose based on noticeable symptoms.
A learning disability is typically difficult to diagnose based on noticeable symptoms.

Once parents or caregivers notice that a child is having difficulty developing one or more skills, he or she should discuss the potential problem with the child’s pediatrician. At this stage of diagnosing a learning disability, the doctor will typically try to rule out any physical problems that may be causing the delay. In general, eyesight or hearing problems can cause a child to exhibit symptoms of learning disabilities, yet once the physical problem is treated, most children will eventually catch up with their peers.

In the event that there is no known physical cause for the issues in school or daily life, a pediatrician or doctor will typically refer the child or adult to a specialist. Typically, the specialist will conduct detailed interviews with parents, caregivers, and teachers, as well as the child, prior to beginning the evaluation. Psychologists and other doctors specializing in learning disabilities will typically use a variety of evaluation tools to determine whether a learning disability is present, and, if so, which one. Despite this, a specialist may use one or more tests, in any combination, depending on the specific challenges that a child faces.

The tests and tools used when diagnosing a learning disability can include achievement tests in a variety of subjects to determine in what areas a patient is experiencing difficulties, such as math, language, reading, and writing. A doctor may also conduct one or more intelligence tests to evaluate a person’s ability to understand and apply information. Several different tests are also used when diagnosing a learning disability that may be caused by a disconnection between what a person sees and how he or she can then interpret that information, which is common in visual processing disorders. Most of these tests, known as visual motor evaluations, rely on standard images that a patient is shown and then asked either to describe them verbally or in writing, or to mimic the image in his or her own drawing. In many cases, the total evaluation process can take several months to years, depending on the specific patient, before an official diagnosis is made.

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    • The first stage in diagnosing a learning disability is for the parent to discuss the issue with the child's pediatrician.
      By: Darren Baker
      The first stage in diagnosing a learning disability is for the parent to discuss the issue with the child's pediatrician.
    • A learning disability specialist may work at a school, helping screen and coach children who are bright but suffer from dyslexia or another learning disorder.
      By: aceshot
      A learning disability specialist may work at a school, helping screen and coach children who are bright but suffer from dyslexia or another learning disorder.
    • A learning disability is typically difficult to diagnose based on noticeable symptoms.
      By: Leah-Anne Thompson
      A learning disability is typically difficult to diagnose based on noticeable symptoms.