I Think My Child Has a Learning Disability. What Do I Do?
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Atlas Psychiatry and was written by Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Laura Niditch, Ph.D.
Your child’s grades are slipping. He can’t keep up with his peers, and he doesn’t seem to be making progress despite hours helping him with his homework. His confidence is waning, and he’s starting to suspect that he may be “dumb.”
For parents, it can be heartbreaking watching your children struggle in school. You find yourself wondering: How can I figure out what the problem is? What sort of help does my child need in order to succeed? What are my options, and what resources are available to me?
Here to Help
As a psychologist, I am passionate about helping parents answer these questions. I specialize in assessment of a variety of problems affecting children and adolescents’ functioning. Having earned my PhD in school psychology, I have focused training in psycho-educational evaluation (assessment of learning problems) and evidence-based interventions to promote learning. In the New Orleans area, it is often confusing to know what your rights are when it comes to your child’s education. The purpose of this article is to help clarify your options and empower you in getting the help your child needs to thrive.
About Learning Disorders
Learning disorders are very common, affecting up to 1 in 5 school-age children. The most common forms of learning disorders are reading disorder (dyslexia), math disorder (dyscalculia), and disorder of written expression (dysgraphia). These disorders result from weaknesses in the basic cognitive processes and skills that are needed in order to store, process, or produce information. Learning disorders can manifest in different ways for different children. For example, children with reading disorder may have trouble with recognizing and breaking down the sounds within words, reading fluently, or comprehending the meaning of what they read. Check out this checklist, which can help you determine if your child is exhibiting common signs of a learning disorder.
Build Skills First
Before seeking an evaluation, identify areas of weakness and put interventions in place. Interventions provided by a teacher or tutor can help bolster weak skills, and in many cases, this can give the extra practice that is needed for your child to ‘catch up’ to his or her peers. For this reason, I always recommend that interventions are tried before seeking a diagnostic evaluation. One excellent resource that provides step-by-step instructions for evidence-based interventions is Intervention Central. If you’re not sure where to start, talk to your child’s teacher. He or she can often help you identify specific areas of difficulty and provide feedback about whether these difficulties are common for the classroom and grade level. If intervention does not lead to progress, or progress is slow, consider seeking testing.
Consider whether an evaluation may be provided by your child’s school. If your child goes to a public or charter school, the school is the best place to start. An evaluation can be initiated by the school, but you can also request one. This does not guarantee that the school will evaluate, but if the school determines that an evaluation is needed, it will provide one at no cost to you. Each school has its own process for evaluating, which usually includes putting interventions in place to help address current weaknesses, followed by standardized testing if your child does not respond to the interventions. You should be invited to participate in meetings that take place throughout this process. Based on the results from this evaluation, your child may be determined eligible for special education and provided accommodations and specialized instruction at school. For children in private or parochial school, you can also seek an evaluation through the pubic school system through a program called “Child Find.” In Orleans Parish, you can contact the Orleans Parish School Board to inquire about an evaluation.
In some cases, a private evaluation is needed or preferable. Private and parochial schools are not obligated to provide psycho-educational evaluations. If your child attends a private or parochial school, you can arrange to have one completed by a psychologist of your choice. Although private/parochial schools are not obligated to put in place any special interventions, they are often willing and happy to do so. I consistently hear from schools that they find the conclusions from my evaluations to be invaluable in intervention planning and implementation! Based on evaluation results, your child may be entitled to certain accommodations in school and on standardized testing (e.g., extra time). Evaluation results can also be used to guide private tutoring.
For children in charter or public schools, in some cases, having a private evaluation done outside of school can expedite the process of getting your child special services at school. It’s always best to talk to the school about it first though. If your child is evaluated at school and you don’t agree with the conclusions, you can request that a private evaluation—called an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE)—is conducted by a psychologist in the community. In many cases, the cost for this evaluation is also covered by the school. Be sure to seek out a psychologist who is experienced in conducting IEEs.
What to Expect
In order to get a full and accurate understanding of the problem, a psycho-educational evaluation needs to be comprehensive. In addition to identifying specific cognitive and academic impairments that may be causing your child to struggle, it is necessary to tease out possible contributing factors, like attention problems, emotional problems, and medical issues.
Typically, you’ll complete a detailed interview with the psychologist, in which you discuss your child’s developmental history and current areas of strength and difficulty. Your psychologist will ask to review your child’s school records, and you and your child’s teacher will both be asked to fill out objective rating scales. You will schedule a time for your child to come in for testing, which typically lasts several hours (this can be done on one day or broken up across multiple days). Some of the tests are game-like, and some are more familiar tests of academic skills. After all this information has been gathered, your psychologist will then compile it into a detailed report. You will be invited for a feedback meeting, where you’ll review the report, discuss the results, and learn about any appropriate diagnoses. You will receive recommendations for interventions and accommodations, and you will be directed to resources for getting your child the help he or she needs.
Children can sometimes be apprehensive about the testing process, so in my office, I always provide plenty of time for the child to adjust and become comfortable with me. I explain everything we’ll be doing ahead of time, and I provide plenty of breaks, lots of encouragement, and prizes!
A psycho-educational evaluation is an investment, both financially and in terms of your time. Insurance does not routinely cover educational evaluations, and overall costs can range from several hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars, depending on the psychologist’s rates and the comprehensiveness of the evaluation. In my office, I strive to keep all evaluations both comprehensive and cost-effective for each family I work with. I offer initial consultations—and in some cases, abbreviated psycho-educational screenings—to help determine whether a full evaluation is needed. This can be an affordable and conservative first step.
Having your child evaluated can seem like an intimidating process. I hope that knowing what options are available to you and what you can expect if you choose to seek an evaluation will provide you with some comfort and direction. In my years of practice, I have learned how incredibly valuable and enlightening evaluations can be. They can be critically important in increasing a struggling child’s likelihood of success. I love working with children and parents, and I am available to evaluate children and adolescents in elementary school through college. I will work with you and your child to ensure that the experience is fun and rewarding, and that you get the most out of your investment. Appointments are usually available within a week, and I am happy to speak with you to answer any questions you may have before scheduling an appointment.
Has your family struggled with learning disorders? Share your own tips in the comments!
Dr. Laura Niditch
Laura Niditch, Ph.D. is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who specializes in psychological assessment for children, adolescents, and adults. Dr. Niditch completed her Ph.D. in school psychology at Tulane University, where she received multiple awards and commendations for her achievements and was recognized by the faculty for “the high quality of her academic work, professional accomplishments, research record, and contributions to the field.” Dr. Niditch completed a predoctoral internship in school and clinical psychology at FSU’s Multidisciplinary Evaluation and Consulting Center, and a postdoctoral fellowship at the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Center of New Orleans. She currently works as a psychologist in private practice at Atlas Psychiatry. She also completes psychoeducational evaluations for students at two local charter schools, and she teaches courses at Tulane University.