Severe learning disorders may tend to be obvious to school personnel or parents, but some forms of learning disorders may be difficult to recognize.
The Problem with Grades as an Indicator of Learning Disorders
Grades can give some clues as to the presence of a learning disorder, but they do not tell the whole story. Observations, standardized scores, and a student’s history are important to consider in the diagnostic process. Importantly, a student with a learning disorder can produce adequate or high grades, but can still show evidence of impairment by the manner and duration in which the task is completed. The effort required to produce the results should be considered. The amount of help needed to produce the results should be considered.
The Need for Psychological Testing
Psychological testing is required in order to see if a student qualifies for the educational classification of a learning disability. Also, in private evaluations, psychological testing is crucial to establishing if a Specific Learning Disorder diagnosis is appropriate. When a student completes this testing, her scores are compared to a large sample of other children her same age. This allows a psychologist or another qualified professional to determine how significant the findings are.
Isolating Specific Academic Skills
Completing academic tasks involves relying on a combination of multiple, smaller academic skills. Consider the act of reading, for instance. When you read, you have to identify the symbols (or letters) you see, recognize clusters of letters, and work to decipher the meanings of the words in the text. If you do this too slowly, it can take you extra time to get through a passage. Also, effective reading requires you to remember the information you read. As reading can require you to use all of these skills at once, it can be crucial to isolate these areas, one by one, in psychological testing. Some individuals might show deficits in all reading areas (reading accuracy, reading rate/fluency, and reading comprehension) while others might show deficits in only one or two of these areas. As we obtain specific data, for specific learning areas, this can inform what interventions (e.g., such as academic accommodations or learning strategies) would be the most helpful.
Learning Disorders and Related Disorders
Part of the process in a learning disorder evaluation is devoted to assessing symptoms of other disorders, disorders which can accompany (or sometimes be confused for) a learning disorder. Some disorders, such as ADHD, can commonly accompany a learning disorder. That is, individuals with a learning disorder are more likely to meet criteria for ADHD when compared to a normal population. Also, some conditions, such as anxiety, can negatively impact how quickly academic tasks can be completed. Understanding the way in which these factors may be influencing academic performance allows a psychologist to analyze the influence of a potential learning disorder.