How Learning Disorder Assessment and Diagnosis Can Help Your Child

by | Nov 30, 2023 | Learning Disorders, Psychological Assessments

Children can struggle in school for various reasons. Sometimes, it may be due to adjustment issues, emotional challenges, difficult life circumstances, or underlying problems with learning.

Getting to the root of the issue is essential to help them overcome the difficulties so they can do their personal best.

When the school challenges are due to learning difficulties, it’s critical to identify the underlying issues so the right help and support can be provided.

As a parent, it can be challenging to fully understand the different types of learning disorders and ways your child can be helped. So, we’ll explore what learning disorders are, how to recognize signs of a possible learning issue, and how learning evaluations and proper diagnosis can help your child overcome their learning obstacles to become a successful learner.

What are learning disorders/disabilities?

Learning disorders or disabilities are a general term encompassing various learning problems often due to a person’s brain taking in or processing certain types of information differently than expected.

Learning disorders are not due to issues with motivation, intelligence, or the ability to learn. People with learning disorders can learn and succeed.

Instead, they may struggle with certain types of learning because their brain may function differently. They may see, hear, process, or understand things in a way others don’t. As a result, they may struggle with learning some types of new information or putting that knowledge into use.

Learning disorders are often looked at by school skill sets, such as reading, math, or writing. But these aren’t the only skills that can be impacted. Some other areas that may contribute to learning difficulties include problems with listening, reasoning, and speaking.


Learning disorders commonly diagnosed in school-age children and teens


a child that needs a learning disorder assessment and diagnosisDyslexia involves learning difficulties with reading, word recognition, spelling, and word and sound structures.

Individuals with dyslexia may have different types of underlying problems that result in their difficulties with aspects of reading. For instance, some may struggle more with reading comprehension due to issues with understanding words or phrases. Others may struggle with more core reading skills, like understanding sounds or letters.

Some common signs of reading difficulties include struggles with:

  • Reading speed or fluency
  • Using the correct words
  • DIstinguishing letters or sounds
  • Spelling
  • Pronunciation


Dysgraphia involves learning difficulties with aspects of writing. The issues may involve problems with the physical act of writing or struggling with organizing thoughts on paper.

Some common signs of writing difficulties include struggles with:

  • Copying letters and words accurately
  • Consistent spelling
  • Grip or positioning when writing
  • Organizing thoughts when writing
  • Illegible handwriting


a teen that needs a learning disorder assessment and diagnosisDyscalculia involves learning difficulties with aspects of math calculations. Math-based learning disorders can vary, including struggles with memorization of numbers, organizing numbers, counting principles, or understanding number facts and operation signs.

Some common signs of math calculation difficulties include struggles with:

  • Counting
  • Comparing quantities
  • Telling time
  • Memorizing number sequences


Dyspraxia involves motor difficulties. Individuals with dyspraxia may struggle with coordination or movement, including fine motor skills (e.g., using scissors) or gross motor skills (e.g., jumping).

Some common signs of dyspraxia include struggles with:

  • Motor coordination
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Gross motor skills, such as running, skipping, grip strength
  • Fine motor skills, like holding a pencil

Language and communication disorders

Individuals with difficulties expressing themselves verbally or understanding spoken language may have a language disorder. These are sometimes called aphasia or dysphasia. These disorders can be developmental or acquired, such as due to a head injury, stroke, or other medical event.

Some common signs of a language or communication disorder include struggles with:

  • Retelling a story
  • Fluency of speech
  • Understanding directions or spoken language
  • Selecting the right word to express their thought

How are learning disorders diagnosed?

While observations can help indicate a problem, observations aren’t sufficient for understanding the actual issue or diagnosing a learning disorder.

Diagnosing a learning disorder is a process that involves a comprehensive learning evaluation, gathering background information, and observations by a trained professional, such as a psychologist. The learning assessment is made up of a series of tests or tasks designed to identify how your child learns, learning strengths and difficulties, and whether there is an underlying learning disorder.

A comprehensive learning assessment is needed because no one test can determine a learning disorder. Instead, a variety of tests are used to get at different aspects of learning and functioning. For instance, reading isn’t one skill. Reading requires various abilities, including recognizing letters, comprehension, attention, working memory, and more.

The comprehensive evaluation will examine how your child functions across multiple learning areas, such as:

  • Reading skills
  • Math skills
  • Language skills
  • Writing skills
  • Executive function
  • Processing speed
  • Aspects of attention

a classroom with students and a teacher during a learning disorder assessment

How do I know if my child or teen should take learning disorder assessment?

All students can struggle with school tasks from time to time. They may do well in math but come across a topic or type of math that is initially challenging.

But learning disorders are different. There is an underlying difference in how the learner takes in or processes that type of information, which can lead to ongoing struggles. The issue is consistent and may or may not be restricted to one topic or area of learning, depending on the underlying issue. For instance, if a child has an undiagnosed reading disorder, they may struggle with other topics that rely heavily on reading to take in the information, like reading about history or word problems.

When there is an underlying learning disorder, the student will continue to struggle even after other possible factors are accounted for, like hearing or vision difficulties, motivation issues, or environmental stressors. Typical academic support in the classroom, like extra time to review a topic, may not help.

Some signs that suggest a child or teen may benefit from a learning disorder assessment

When considering signs of a possible learning disorder, keep your child’s age in mind. For instance, there can be variability in when kids acquire certain skills that do not indicate an underlying learning issue. To help, consider whether your child seems to struggle more than others of a similar age and whether they don’t seem to be making progress.

Lastly, talk with their family doctor and teacher if you have concerns. They will be able to provide additional context and help you monitor to see if there is a possible issue that requires further evaluation.

Preschool age children

  • Trouble following age-appropriate routines and directions
  • Difficulties pronouncing words or certain sounds
  • Trouble rhyming
  • Struggling to learn numbers, shapes, colors, the alphabet, or days of the week as compared to peers
  • Trouble using pencils, scissors, or crayons

Elementary age through teen years

  • Difficulties with memorizing
  • Struggles to understand the connection between letters and sounds
  • Frequent misspellings
  • Difficulties with basic math concepts
  • Struggles to tell time or understand time
  • Reverses numbers, letters, or words
  • Trouble with sequencing
  • Difficulties with multi-step instructions or directions
  • Difficulties with reading comprehension
  • Struggles with expressing their thoughts out loud
  • Difficulties with organization
  • Dislikes reading, writing, and avoids reading aloud

How can a learning evaluation help my child or teen?

A comprehensive learning evaluation helps identify your child’s learning difficulties and strengths. It will help you, your child, and their teachers better understand the learning challenges they face and what support will help them. For instance, two students with a reading disorder may not benefit from the same strategies. Understanding the reason underlying the reading difficulties will help identify the specific types of assistance that each child would need.

Additionally, diagnosing a learning disorder can ensure that your child is eligible for specialized support in the school system, allowing them access to the help they need.

Will a learning disorder diagnosis cause problems for my child?

A learning disorder diagnosis is not intended to label or cause harm. It does not mean your child can’t learn or thrive at school. It’s designed to help your child, you, and their teachers better understand how they learn, the challenges they face, and provide insights on effective strategies that can help them overcome or work around their specific learning challenges.

Additionally, receiving a diagnosis of a learning disorder can give your child access to supports, accommodations, and resources at school so they can achieve their full potential at school. Children with learning disorders can and do learn. They just may need to approach some information or topics differently than the standard way information is taught at school.

What should I do if I’m concerned my child has a learning disorder?

If you are concerned that your child may have an undiagnosed learning disorder, don’t wait to seek help. Identifying learning issues early allows your child to get the support and assistance they need so they can succeed.

Talk to your child’s teacher, school, or family doctor about your concerns and interest in a comprehensive learning evaluation to assess for an underlying learning disorder. Additionally, your family doctor may want to determine if there are any medical reasons contributing to the issue, such as vision or hearing problems.

You can get a comprehensive learning evaluation through your child’s school system or by a private practitioner or group practice. Some school systems have an extensive waitlist for evaluations, so you can often receive the answers you need faster through a private practice.

At North Shore Psychological Services, our licensed trained experts provide a complete psychoeducational learning assessment that will address your concerns, identify your child’s learning strengths and difficulties, and provide tailored recommendations to help your child reach their full learning potential.