A summary of the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for specific learning disorder diagnosis:
Ongoing difficulties in the school-age years learning and using at least one academic skill (e.g. reading accuracy/fluency; spelling accuracy; written expression competence and fluency; mastering number facts). These difficulties have persisted and failed to improve as expected, despite the provision of targeted intervention for at least six months. This intervention should be recognised as evidence-based and ideally delivered by an experienced and qualified person.
The difficulties experienced by the individual will be assessed using standardised achievement tests* and found to be at a level significantly lower than most individuals of the same age. Sometimes individuals are identified with a learning disability even though they are performing within the average range. This is only the case when it can be shown that the individual is achieving at this level due to unusually high levels of effort and ongoing support.
The difficulties experienced by the individual usually become apparent in the early years of schooling. The exception to this is where problems occur in upper-primary or secondary school once the demands on student performance increase significantly. For example – when students have to read extended pieces of complex text or write at a more sophisticated level under timed conditions.
Specific learning disorders will not be diagnosed if there is a more plausible explanation for the difficulties being experienced by the individual. For example – if the individual has: an intellectual disability; a sensory impairment; a history of chronic absenteeism; inadequate proficiency in the language of instruction; a psychosocial condition; or not received appropriate instruction and/or intervention.
*Standardised achievement tests are tests that have been developed by experts and trialled with large numbers of individuals to check their validity. They are only delivered by practitioners who have been trained to use the tests and interpret the results achieved.
All four criteria must be met and the level of functional impact is determined as being mild, moderate or severe. The level of functional impact relates to the degree to which the child struggles to perform in comparison with their peers and the amount of support required, both in terms of remediation and accommodation, to enable the child to participate effectively in all classroom activities.