Today, I’m answering a question about options for having a child evaluated for learning disabilities:
There are basically two options for having your child professionally tested–the public school system or a private practitioner.
The public school system is required, by law, to evaluate any child suspected of having a learning disability at no cost to you, however the old adage of “you get what you pay for” almost always applies. The school system will test your child and tell you if she has a learning disability in whatever area of disability they determine she might have, often without additional information about underlying causes. For example, they may tell you your child has a disability in ”mathematical computation.” You can probably surmise such disability indicators yourself! Additionally, if you go to the school system, depending upon their understanding of regulations (which is often very poor), they may THINK they can dictate what you do educationally and they can make your life miserable if they think in such a way.
The second alternative is having a professional evaluation by a private practitioner–which is only as good as the evaluator, so be careful who you choose. We have totally wasted our money before by picking someone out of the phone book based upon an advertisement and we have had excellent evaluations done by a highly qualified neuropsychologist. We found our highly qualified neuropsychologist through a recommendation from a special education attorney’s office.
A conscientious neuropsychologist evaluates all aspects of a child’s cognitive functioning including short-term, working memory, long-term memory, attention, processing speeds, comprehension, executive functioning, etc. While you have already determined your child is having difficulty, you really don’t know what underlying cognitive processes are CAUSING your child’s difficulties.
Without knowing the root cause, it is difficult to know precisely how to meet your child’s needs. If her working-memory is at issue, then you would need to work on strengthening the amount of information she can hold in her head and manipulate. If her verbal processing skills, processing speed, reasoning skills, etc. are at issue, then you would need to address whichever causes are at the heart of her learning difficulty.
The root causes are important because otherwise you can waste instructional time that will be ineffective in the long term. As a real-case example, two brothers were both diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. The oldest brother’s ADHD was specified as “Inattentive type, secondary to dyslexia and executive functioning.” The younger brother’s ADHD was specified as “Combined type, Primary.”
What does that mean? It means the oldest brother’s attention deficits were caused by his dyslexia and executive functioning (planning, sequencing, etc.) difficulties. For the oldest, when his dyslexia and Executive Function issues were overcome, his ADHD disappeared. Conversely, for the younger brother, his ADHD was primary–it CAUSED his difficulties with comprehension, memory, etc. As a root cause, managing the ADHD itself enabled the younger brother to keep his mind on his studies a LOT better.
As a parent, you aren’t likely to be able to determine if your child’s attention issues are primary or secondary. If ADHD is primary, treating the ADHD is the key. If the ADHD is secondary, then you may need to address the underlying cognitive processing issues to eliminate the ADHD tendencies. It’s a chicken and egg kind of question where only a highly qualified neuropsychologist can determine which comes first.
By you obtaining a comprehensive evaluation, you will know specifically what areas of cognition you need to work on with your child. The biggest hurdle with such an evaluation is cost.. It is EXPENSIVE. A neuropsychologist runs about $2000-$3000 for a comprehensive evaluation. The evaluation takes place over multiple days and usually is not covered by insurance unless ADHD is the PRIMARY diagnosis–then it is sometimes considered a medical issue.
If you can’t scrape up the money for testing, and don’t want the public school trying to dictate your teaching, then I would recommend using multi-sensory instructional methods and cognitive processing exercises as a blanket attempt to meet your child’s unspecified needs. We used Lexia Learning’s Cross Trainer (which used to be available as a computer program via CD, but is now only online).. You can check it out here:
For multi-sensory math instruction, Math-U-See is really good as is Cuisenaire Rods, Base Ten, or any other math program with manipulatives and preferrably an audio/visual component too. Orton-Gillingham based reading programs are supposed to be multi-sensory (although some are very limited in their multi-sensory components). You can learn more about learning styles and multisensory teaching at:
Depending upon the severity of your child’s problems, you may be able to get away without an evaluation, but just know that as you try various avenues, you may or may not be hitting upon meeting your child’s actual needs.