Q: I don’t want my child ‘labeled’. Why should I have learning disabilities testing?
I recommend every parent of a child who seems to have learning disabilities obtain professional learning disabilities testing by a neuropsychologist or psychoeducational evaluator. While a “diagnosis” or “label” is part of the outcome, the label is NOT the important part of your child’s learning disabilities testing results.
The important information, for any parent, whether you are homeschooling or have your child in public school, is the insight into your child’s learning strengths, learning style, learning disabilities, learning processes, etc. All of these areas are studied during learning disabilities testing and are invaluable to you in figuring out how to teach your child effectively.
Also, you don’t HAVE to use any given ‘label’ given with the learning disabilities testing; you can simply refer to your child’s strengths and weaknesses. The misuse of labels often comes by the tongues of ignorant people, but labels’ main purpose of learning disabilities testing and the diagnoses (labels) is to enable you to communicate effectively with teachers and caregivers about your child’s needs.
Think of it this way: If your child has a headache for days, it could be a sinus headache, a tension headache, a blood clot, a brain tumor or something else. You would not say, “Oh, I don’t want to label my child! I’m not going to take her to the doctor!” You know your child needs medical help, so you take your child to the doctor to find out the root cause of your child’s headache. You have your child evaluated so you will know what the proper treatment should be.
It is the same thing with learning disabilities testing. Your child has a learning problem. It could be a memory problem, an information recall problem, an information organization skills and planning problem, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, Asperger’s, etc. You know your child needs educational help, so you should take your child to an evaluator to find out the root cause of your child’s learning difficulties. You have to have learning disabilities testing so you know what educational programming your child needs.
While you may know your child is not good at memorizing, you won’t know exactly why, or how to circumvent the problem without thorough, professional learning disabilities testing. Your child may have problems with short term memory, long term memory, sequencing, may have visual-motor integration problems, etc. Without knowing where your child’s short-circuits are, you will be ineffective in helping your child learn.
If you know your child’s neurological strengths, you can use them to teach your child. If you know your child’s neurological weaknesses, you can seek out programs to strengthen the areas of deficit. You’ll know which ‘behaviors’ your child exhibits are due to neurological issues rather than true ‘behavior’ issues. Learning disabilities testing can be eye-opening, especially if your child has a lot of behavior issues that are due to learning disabilities.
For example, if your child is pitching a fit because he doesn’t want to wear the green shirt, it is easier to determine if your child is tantruming in an attempt to ‘control’ his parent, or if the tantrum is because your child has sensory integration issues and the fabric on the shirt is too rough. IF you know the underlying neurological problems your child has, it is easier to reason behaviors versus disabilities. This is particularly helpful when a child is young and doesn’t know to voice his hatred of the rough fabric. It may appear your child is being defiant, when in fact he is terrified of the shirt’s fabric.
While I think a parent can “get by” without professional learning disabilities testing or a diagnosis, getting by without them can lead to assumptions about behavior vs. disability that can be detrimental either way. If a behavior is assumed to be due to disability when it’s not, your child can learn destructive means for controlling those around him. In other words, he could become a big behavior problem while having everything dismissed as being due to disability when it might not be.
If the behavior is assumed to be due bad behavior and it is really due to learning disability, your child could be punished repeatedly for a ‘defiant’ behavior that is really part of a neurological disability. This is extremely devastating to a child’s self-esteem because as much as he WANTs to be ‘good’ and do well, the child can’t if it is a neurological problem. When your child is wrongly accused of being “bad”, your child begins to think of himself as a bad, worthless person because he “can’t ever” do the right thing in the right way.
I have seen the above scenario play out with children who have learning disabilities and throw tantrums over doing school work. Parents assume the tantrum is because the child is just being defiant, when it is really that the child has reached a frustration level with school work that he can no longer cope with. After a full day at school and frustration all day long, the only ‘safe’ place to express total frustration is often at home.
When alternate strategies are put in place which allow a child to ‘get frustrated’ and he is supported through it, things go MUCH better in the long run for both the child and the parent. Not to mention, working through disability-based frustrations with love and compassion can preserve loving family relationships throughout childhood. Battles often end up creating a lot of anger and resentment in a child’s teen years.
So, that is my general take on learning disabilities testing vs. diagnosis. I don’t think the diagnosis label itself is the issue. I do think knowing your child’s actual underlying processing, sensory, and learning issues through learning disabilities testing is critical. Know precisely what your child’s disabilities are enables you to effectively teach your child and raise your child compassionately. Neurological differences affect your child daily, so knowing what those precise differences are will help you in countless ways as you help your child overcome all that challenges him.