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What are Specific Learning Disabilities? | Diagnosing Learning Disabilities
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What is Specific Learning Disabilities and How is it Tested?

What is Specific Learning Disabilities and How is it Tested?
July 5, 2020

The transition to school for many children is quite a challenging endeavor. They are faced with the mental, emotional, and social challenges of learning to interact appropriately with peers, learn good boundaries, deal with emotional frustrations, and navigate the process of making friends. Ironically, these trials and tribulations are all secondary to the main focus in school, which are the cognitive and educational tasks of learning. The curriculum is designed sequentially and incrementally to be in line with the natural developmental milestones that most children are achieving at any given age. The material is challenging and intended to help with propelling a child forward through their development. For upwards of 7 million students, or roughly 14% of kids, their learning is impacted by any number of challenges that create the need for special education services, and nearly one-third of these students are struggling with a specific learning disability.

What are Specific Learning Disabilities?

The Colorado Department of Education defines it this way: Specific Learning Disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.  A specific learning disability does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of: visual, hearing, or motor disabilities; intellectual disability; serious emotional disability; cultural factors; environmental or economic disadvantage; or limited English proficiency. They go on to break Specific Learning Disabilities into 8 academic domains that can be affected that include oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skills, reading fluency skills, reading comprehension, mathematical calculation, and mathematical problem-solving. Some of these that you may have heard of include dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, auditory or visual processing deficits to name just a few. Specific learning disabilities generally arise from neurological differences in brain structure and function and affect a person’s ability to receive, store, process, retrieve or communicate information. Much is still be learned and studied about the brain-based issues in order to map out what exactly is going on. For the time being, what we have at our disposal is the ability to assess for and evaluate whether a student may have a specific learning disability so that interventions can be created to help the student be successful.

How do you Testing for Specific Learning Disabilities?

Usually a psychologist trained in assessing for specific learning disabilities will meet with the family and child to conduct an interview to determine the issues and concerns that are occurring so they can select test instruments to better evaluate for the noted areas of concern. At the broadest level the psychologist will often administer both cognitive or IQ testing, such as the WISC (Weschler Intelligence Scale for Children), to determine the child’s general intellectual abilities. Then they administer an achievement test, such as the WRAT (Wide Range Achievement Test), to determine how the child is scoring relative to his or her peers in a variety of academic areas. If there is a significant gap between ability (IQ) and achievement, this suggests there is a specific learning disability occurring. Additional tests may be administered to better identify which type of learning disability a child is struggling with. From there a report is written for the family and the school detailing the type of specific learning disability that is occurring and what type of special education services or accommodations may be needed to facilitate greater success for the student. Most schools can provide specific learning disability testing to a family, however, there can often be a long waiting list, sometimes several months, due to the limited amount of time the school psychologist has to test students at a number of different schools.

If you are concerned about whether your child may have a specific learning disability and would like to get them tested, feel free to contact IPC so you can schedule a consultation with Wendy Sweeney, MA, LP who specializes in the assessment of specific learning disabilities. Please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you and complete a thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.

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