Discovering a Learning Disability

The best place to begin is to identify indicators of a potential learning problem. Think about it this way; if you have a student who has average to superior intelligence, has intact sensory perception (e.g., ability to see words on the paper and hear words) and has been instructed in reading and writing by a competent teacher for months or years, but is demonstrating a significant discrepancy between their IQ and their academic achievement, it is time for an evaluation.

For example, if a student has an IQ standard score of 120 but their reading and spelling achievement standard scores are reported as 80 and 76 respectively, they are demonstrating at least a 40 point discrepancy between their overall cognition and their academic achievement. (Generally, a 15 point difference is reported to be statistically significant.) Another way this discrepancy might come to your attention (without having standardized assessment scores) is in daily interactions with a child. A child might demonstrate strong verbal skills and strong problem-solving skills, but their reading/writing/spelling output do not seem to match their verbal output.

An evaluation is important, not only to identify the underlying deficit, but to also identify an appropriate instructional approach, goals for remediation, and the potential need for further assessment by a specialist. School systems have moved away from using the "discrepancy model" in order to identify learning disabilities, but the fact is, if you have an intelligent student and their work output does not match their intelligence (meaning they are significantly under-performing), then there is most likely a learning deficit. The good news is, remediation is generally successful with students who possess average intelligence levels.

There are other indicators and behaviors to look for that may or may not be obvious. These behaviors will most likely be demonstrated in the classroom and in the home. It is important to note that all children exhibit one or more of these behaviors from time to time. IF a child is consistently demonstrating a group of these behaviors it may be time to seek out an evaluation by a qualified individual.

Difficulty with Attention and Concentration

  • Daydreaming
  • Showing distractibility
  • Trouble completing tasks
  • Restless behaviors

Difficulty with Memory

  • Learning the alphabet
  • Identifying letters
  • Spelling
  • Remembering names

Difficulty with Spoken or Written Language

  • Pronouncing words
  • Learning new vocabulary
  • Following directions
  • Discriminating among sounds (hearing the difference between /m/ and /n/ for example)
  • Reversing or omitting letters, words or phrases (very common with smaller words or word parts, such as suffixes, while reading)
  • Reading comprehension
  • Writing stories and essays

Difficulty with Organization

  • Time management
  • Assignment completion
  • Sequencing information (letters in the alphabet, days of the week, months of the year, numbers)
  • Thinking (relating a specific detail or idea to a unifying concept)

Difficulty with Physical Coordination

  • Drawing
  • Manipulating small objects

Difficulty with Appropriate Social Behavior

  • Tolerating frustration (outbursts)
  • Interpreting nonverbal skills (body language)
  • Accepting changes in routine