Diagnosing Learning Disabilities and Developmental Disorders

Early detection and proper diagnosis are the keys to achieving the highest level of treatment success for all learning disabilities and developmental disorders. The earlier you identify your child’s challenges, the sooner you can start treatment.

Many parents whose children ultimately end up being diagnosed with one of these disabilities say that they “just knew” there was something “not right” from a very early age. Often, they were told by well-meaning educators, relatives and caregivers that they just needed to give the child “time to develop.” All of them wish they had followed their gut instinct.

Learning disabilities and personality disorders aren’t always obvious. Here are some signs, developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, to look for in pre-school age children:

  • Delays in language development: By 2½ years of age, your child should be able to talk in short sentences.
  • Trouble with speech: By 3 years of age, your child should speak well enough so that adults can understand most of what she says.
  • Trouble with coordination: By 5 years of age, your child should be able to button, cut, and hop. She should be able to copy a circle, square, or triangle.
  • Short attention spans: Between 3 to 5 years of age, your child should be able to sit still and listen to a short story.

Frankly, these are also the signs to look for in school-age children and adolescents. Additionally, pay attention if your child seems to have problems interacting with other children; consistently gets poor grades across the board or gets poor grades consistently in a particular subject; has illegible handwriting; or just does not seem to “be like the other kids.”

It can be very helpful before taking your child to a doctor or psychologist to keep a diary or journal documenting exactly what problems you are seeing. Try to keep your observations clinical – see if you can determine any particular triggers for your child’s “acting out” or odd behavior(s). Ask caregivers or teachers also to provide you with a record of their observations.

Then, start with your child’s pediatrician. A full physical examination should be conducted to rule out hearing or vision problems, food allergies or other medically-treatable conditions. You might be surprised how drastically a child’s behavior and attention span can be compromised by something as simple as a wheat allergy.

Next, talk with your child’s school about the systems they have in place to accomplish psychological and educational testing. This may end up being the toughest part of your battle. Schools are required by law to help all children with language or learning disabilities. Talk with your child’s teacher, the principal and even the district-level staff to get appropriate screening evaluations done. Most school systems are under-funded and under-staffed in this regard and will require much prodding and pushing from parents and teachers. Stay with it!

Once you have a diagnosis, see if it really seems to fit. Assessing learning disabilities and personality disorders is very tricky, especially in children. If you feel that a diagnosis is inappropriate or incomplete, get a second, or even a third opinion.