How is a specific learning disability diagnosed?

How is a specific learning disability diagnosed? 2016-10-20T10:26:36+00:00

Historically, there has been a great deal of debate over the methods used to diagnose learning disabilities and the associated recommendations for intervention made as a consequence of diagnosis.

More recently consensus has been reached, both nationally and internationally, on an approach to assessment that takes into account a student’s educational experiences as well as their performance on a range of standardised tests. It is generally agreed that ‘Specific Learning Disorders’ are one of a number of neurodevelopmental disorders. The current DSM-5 guidelines for psychologists undertaking learning disability assessments specify that specific learning disorders with impairment in reading (dyslexia), and/or impairment in written expression, and/or impairment in mathematics (dyscalculia) are diagnosed through:

  • A clinical review of the individual’s developmental, medical, educational, and family history;
  • Reports of test scores and teacher observations; and,
  • An evaluation of the individual’s response to academic interventions.

In addition to the four diagnostic criteria outlined on the following page, many students with learning disorders are found to have processing weaknesses. This is particularly the case for reading and written expression disorders. As a consequence, assessments will often include a review of phonological processing, orthographic processing and working memory. This information helps to inform ongoing intervention and support.

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