What Should I Do if My Child Has Learning Issues?

If you notice that your child is struggling in school, or doesn’t seem to be picking up basic reading, writing, and math skills the way other kids do, he may have a learning disability. A learning disability is a kind of cognitive disorder that affects basic processes in how we learn, including how we receive, process, recall, and communicate information. The most common one is dyslexia (reading problems), but learning disabilities can also affect how we write, spell, do math, listen, think, and speak. It’s possible for kids to have more than one.

If you suspect your child may have learning difficulties, make a list of everything you have observed about how he learns—his strengths and his weaknesses. Compare notes with his teacher, school psychologist, and anyone else who might be helpful. You may want to ask for what’s called a “pre-referral intervention”—a meeting where teachers and the school psychologist meet with you to discuss different educational supports that might enable your child to learn more effectively. A targeted remediation may be all your child needs. But if the pre-referral intervention doesn’t give you the results you want, a formal diagnostic evaluation is the next step.

How do I get an evaluation for learning issues?

Formal evaluations examine how your child processes information. There are different kinds of evaluations, including educational evaluations (which assess reading, writing, math, and spelling ability) and neuropsychological evaluations (which develop a wide profile of a child’s skills and abilities in reasoning, learning, memory, visual and auditory processing, listening comprehension, verbal expression, executive functioning skills, and academic abilities). Evaluations also establish a baseline for measuring your child’s progress, and they are a necessary step to qualifying for accommodations or special education services.

Schools are legally required to provide an evaluation according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The school might be the first to suggest an evaluation, or you can begin the process yourself by requesting an evaluation in writing. Understood.org has a sample letter you can use. After receiving your written notice, the school will set up a time to discuss an evaluation with you. You should bring your child’s school records, notes from teachers, and your own written observations to the meeting, and come prepared to discuss them. The school staff is required to share with you the kind of evaluation they feel is appropriate, and you have the right to object to the kind of assessment offered, or request a different one. You will ultimately need to sign a consent form before the school is allowed to perform a formal evaluation. After the evaluation the school is required to give you a copy of the results.

If you prefer, you can also get a private evaluation from outside the school, although you will need to pay for it yourself. You can then choose whether or not to share the results with the school.