If you are looking for the signs of learning disabilities, use our diagnostic checklist first. Then come back to this page.
Learning Disability (LD) is an umbrella term describing a number of other, more specific learning disabilities. School systems have strict criteria for how learning disabilities are defined and diagnosed.
Formal psycho-educational testing is needed in order to obtain a LD diagnosis. This must be done by a psychologist. The testing usually takes place in grades 4 to 7.
By the time this testing takes place, the student has experienced many years of failure.
Grades K, 1 & 2: Referrals, Assessments, Speech Therapy and Reading Intervention
Teachers notice problems like inattentiveness and difficulty following directions. Sometimes students are referred for vision and hearing tests over and over, with normal results each time. This is a clue that they are having processing difficulties, which are not assessed in routine acuity tests.
If the student has unclear speech and can't talk in full sentences, the child is usually referred to a speech language pathologist. Sometimes extra help in learning to read is provided by volunteers or the learning assistance teacher.
Grades 3 & 4: Meetings, Assessments and Behaviour Intervention
Students who are still non-readers in grade 3 are discussed at a school-based team meeting. The school only has a limited number of spaces for psycho-educational testing every year, so the team decides which students are a priority for testing. By the intermediate grades, students with speech and language difficulties have been on the caseload for several years, so they are no longer a high priority.
Students with behaviour problems get assigned to child care workers, teaching assistants, counsellors and special classrooms.
Grades 4 to 12: Classroom Supports and Coping Strategies
Students who are diagnosed as learning disabled after psycho-educational testing qualify for supports. They are usually moved onto an Individual Educational Plan that is filled with coping strategies. Some of the common strategies offered are: 1) access to computers in the classroom and; 2) Kurzweil software. This software uses voice technology to read text. In addition, students with a LD diagnosis are permitted to take tests orally or dictate answers to a scribe. They can be excused from assessments that are used to rank schools.
The problems are obvious in Kindergarten, but young students are not assessed for auditory and visual processing.
During the primary grades, teachers focus on the alphabet, phonics and word lists. Learning requires memory, attention, processing speed and sequencing. Children with LD, Dyslexia and ADD/ADHD can't succeed because they don't have the underlying cognitive abilities.
School staff don't have the time, training or materials needed to provide therapy for underlying cognitive abilities.
Students in the intermediate and secondary grades become very discouraged. Coping strategies and behavioural interventions don't get to the root of the problem.
Students with learning disabilities, dyslexia and attention deficits need brain based intervention. If they don't get this, their reading, writing and spelling problems persist into adulthood.
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