A minimal evaluation includes a psychological assessment of cognitive function (an IQ test) and an educational assessment of academic achievement (a standardized test). Other testing might evaluate so-called neurodevelopmental functions (such as language, memory, attention, and motor skills), the emotional status of your child, and a social assessment (family and environment).
This evaluation process can be complicated, time-consuming, and difficult for parents and child to understand. Sometimes it is quite expensive if you obtain the evaluations outside the school system. In most cases, you should start with the full evaluation provided by your child’s school. If it cannot be done within a reasonable time or if specialized testing is needed, request payment from the school system before you get a private evaluation. However, regardless of where they are done, these evaluations can be both informative and productive.
Because the entire evaluation process may be complex and involve many people, a case manager or services coordinator (like a pediatrician, psychologist, or learning-disability educator) may be helpful. The coordinator can also assist you in planning appropriate interventions or treatments, making referrals, monitoring the effect of treatment upon your child, and arranging for follow-up evaluations. Frequently this takes a team effort.
Once an evaluation is completed, schools usually arrange a meeting to fully discuss the findings and your child’s educational plan. This meeting might be attended by your youngster’s teacher(s), guidance counselor, the special-education teacher, the principal, the school psychologist, and nurse. Sometimes children attend the meeting. Occasionally you may want to ask your pediatrician to attend to provide support for you and your perspective. If you wish, bring someone with you who might serve as the child’s advocate and who is familiar with these evaluations and meetings and understands the implications of the findings and interventions. Make sure the results are explained to you in terms you can understand.
In explaining the learning problem to your child, avoid simplistic, negative labels such as learning disabled, handicapped, and hyperactive; instead, help him look at himself in a comprehensive and positive manner that acknowledges weaknesses but also emphasizes strengths and special attributes.
Children with learning disabilities generally respond well to a sensitive and appropriate evaluation and treatment plan. This is particularly true if this plan is supportive, removes blame from both child and parent, focuses on the present problems, attends to other associated concerns, allows the youngster to achieve at a higher level than before, and results in his feeling more confident, self-reliant, and motivated. It can be helpful to point out successful adults who also have learning disabilities.