Diagnosis is usually made by a licensed psychologist or school psychologists as the diagnosis is based on patterns of strengths and weaknesses in cognitive abilities and achievement. This is accomplished by administration of standardized psychological tests
such as the Wechsler or Woodcock-Johnson Tests. These are administered individually to the student and are time consuming. Unfortunately due to limited school resources, there is a trend to user briefer or short form tests, which tend to have a higher risk of mis-diagnosis. In some cases more extensive neuropsychological testing
may be necessary or helpful to identify underlying skills such as auditory or visual memory which may contribute to the disorder or co-existing conditions such as behavior problems, depression, coordination disorders or sensory-motor integration difficulties.
Educational testing may be performed throught the school psychological services department, though often waits are long and such evaluations tend to vary quite a bit accross counties in Florida and the country. Educational testing is usually not covered by health insurance.
The diagnosis of a learning disorder entitles the child to special services. Dr. Mel Levine, a developmental pediatrician, has stressed the importance of early help for learning disorders while establishing “islands of competence.” He recommended encouraging and developing the child’s natural strengths and interests to bolster self-esteem and reduce frustration when tackling new tasks.
Once diagnosis is made an Individual Education Plan (IEP) is created for the child. The IEP is subject to approval by the parents. Special services are geared to provide a “free and appropriate education” in the “least restrictive” environment. Schools have a list of rights
that parents and children have in relationship to this diagnosis and placement.
The common misconception that a child is simply “behind”, will “catch up” or “grow out of it” on their own is unfortunate because specialized remediation is often needed. Children who do master material may later encounter new difficult challenges as they encounter new academic demands and concepts. Adults with Learning Disorders often experience social and occupational difficulties.
Children may receive extra assistance and instruction by a learning specialist, speech and language therapy if necessary, use of a resource class, or in more severe cases full-time placement in a resource class. In later grades and college some of these children may qualify to have tests read to them, extra time for reading assignments, take oral instead of written exams, substitute class requirements, or may be able to utilize books on tape. Some colleges specialize in educating children with various learning disabilities. Locally, the University of Florida and Sante Fe Community College are experienced and helpful in assisting with guidance and necessary accommodations.
Since learning disorders are common and persistent problems, beware of false promises and magical cures. The axiom of “if it seems to good to be true, it probably is” applies to these treatments as well. Effective programs often involve intensive individual assessment, therapy, and individual and small group instruction. Area multi-disciplinary programs include the Ross-Mercer Clinic at the University of Florida and the Morris Developmental Center in Gainesville. Some children with milder reading difficulties find programs such as those offered through private learning centers helpful. Educators, family physicians, and pediatricians often can provide the names of psychologists or other providers who have expertise in providing evaluations and remediation.
American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - Fourth Edition. 1994
Levine, Melvin Educational Care. A System for Understanding and Helping Children with Learning Problems at Home and in School Educators Publishing Service, Cambridge, Mass. 1994