What to do if you suspect that your child has a specific learning difficulty

If you suspect that your child has a specific learning difficulty, arrange to speak to his teacher. Make a time when you can discuss your concerns with him or her in private. At the meeting, find out how your child behaves at school and how he compares with his peers, both in his academic work and in other areas of competence. Ask the teacher whether an evaluation of your child’s problem is needed.

Although parents and teachers are the ones who first suspect that a child may have a specific learning difficulty, making the definitive diagnosis is not something that you, or the teacher, should try to do. If it is clear that your child is experiencing significant difficulties, then a comprehensive assessment, as outlined in the next section, should be arranged.

What is a comprehensive assessment?

A comprehensive assessment is a process whereby the exact nature of a child’s learning difficulties is established. In such an assessment the child’s precise strengths and weaknesses are ascertained, and it is determined whether a cause for his difficulties can be found. In addition, appropriate methods of treatment are planned.

A comprehensive assessment requires the expertise of both an educational psychologist and a paediatrician, working in close cooperation. The roles of these professionals complement one another in establishing the nature and cause of the child’s difficulties. It is important that both the psychologist and the paediatrician have experience in the diagnosis and management of learning difficulties.

In many children with specific learning difficulties, a speech therapist, physiotherapist, or occupational therapist also plays an important part in the assessment. In children with language difficulties, an assessment by a speech therapist is essential. In children with handwriting difficulties, an occupational therapist’s assessment is usually needed. Children who are clumsy often need to be assessed by both an occupational therapist and a physiotherapist. If a child needs to see any of these therapists, this can be arranged by the psychologist or paediatrician who does the initial assessment.

The important roles of these therapists will be defined and discussed in later chapters that deal with specific areas of learning. In this chapter, assessment by the psychologist and doctor are described.

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