Understanding Learning Disabilities:  The Basics

As a student moves through school they hopefully are able to manage the demands at each grade level.  Sometimes a student consistently struggles in a specific academic area such as reading, mathematics, written language, or speech/language.


For example, a student who has difficulty with reading may have trouble learning new words, cannot remember words she/he is learning even though they studied them, does not understand the meaning of what she/he read, or moves painfully slow through their assigned reading material.  This would be a student who probably has a learning disability in reading.


Dyslexia is a medical term that used to be utilized to define a specific type of reading disability where a student does not understand the sounds specific letters of the alphabet make, or the sounds of letter combinations such as “ch”.  Further, a dyslexic student may also reverse letters or numbers as they read or write.  Even though dyslexia is commonly used to describe a student who struggles with reading we now diagnostically define the student as having a reading disorder in a specific area:  decoding, comprehension, fluency.


Students with learning disabilities often begin to avoid the academic task that they struggle in.  As well, she/he may take an extraordinarily long time (1 to 2 hours) to complete homework that a sibling or same age peer can complete in 20 minutes.  As the student’s frustration increases you may hear them begin to say they hate school, that they are “dumb or stupid”, begin to have headaches and/or stomachaches when starting homework or even when it is a school day.

When completing the testing process, I often find that one of the student’s parents had similar struggles in school.  This often triggers anxiety in the parent who also struggled in school and can cause added conflict at home.


If any of this sounds familiar, it is probably worth your time to meet with a licensed psychologist to complete a full psycho-educational evaluation.  This testing will examine your student’s memory abilities, processing ability, intelligence, and core academic skills in reading, mathematics, writing and speech/language.  If done correctly, the testing will provide you with ample data to understand your student’s learning profile, how she/he moves and conceptualizes information as well as any defined area of disability.


If a diagnosis is made you should receive good feedback regarding a game plan to help your student in school, with supports and accommodations that can be asked of school, with information regarding study strategies that best fit your student and with schools, support organizations, and agencies that may be of assistance.


At Winning Edge, we pride ourselves on providing you with thorough feedback through our review session with parents and student that is conducted after testing is complete.  We ensure that all recommendations, study strategies, referral sources and suggested accommodations/support plans are contained within a formal written report.


Finally, it is important that you find the right professional to conduct the testing.  In Missouri a licensed psychologist is the only professional in the private practice setting (offering services to the public) who can do the testing.


“Certified psychological examiners”, “certified school examiners”, and even “school psychologists” are unlicensed people and do not have the legal ability to work in a private setting or make diagnoses.


Also, many licensed professional counselors (LPC’s) mistakenly offer testing.  LPC’s by law do not have the power to make diagnoses, do not have the extensive education and training in testing and thus should not be doing any type of diagnostic testing.


However, if your student is being tested by a school district then she/he will be tested by a school psychologist who works within your school district and this person is certified to work in schools and has the correct education and training to do the work.


National support organizations that may be helpful:

Learning Disability Association of America http://ldaamerica.org

Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder  http://chadd.org

International Dyslexia Association  http://dyslexiaida.org

National Center for Learning Disabilities http://ncldorg

National Institutes of Mental Health  http://nimh.nih.gov


If you have questions about your student and/or the testing process, please feel free to contact me at 314-995-7201 or email me at joe@joelenac.com



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