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Learning Difficulty Assessment

For difficulties with reading (dyslexia), written expression (dysgraphia), maths (dyscalculia), memory or attention (AD/HD)

Learning disabilitylearning disorder, or learning difficulty (British English) is a condition in the brain that causes difficulties comprehending or processing information and can be caused by several different factors. Given the “difficulty learning in a typical manner”, this does not exclude the ability to learn in a different manner. Therefore, some people can be more accurately described as having a “learning difference”, thus avoiding any misconception of being disabled with a lack of ability to learn and possible negative stereotyping. In the United Kingdom, the term “learning disability” generally refers to an intellectual disability, while difficulties such as dyslexia and dyspraxia are usually referred to as “learning difficulties”.

learning difficulty (also referred to as a learning disability) can be described as an issue with the brain’s ability to process information. Individuals who have a learning difficulty may not learn in the same way or as quickly as their peers, and they might find certain aspects of learning, such as the development of basic skills, to be challenging.

Because learning difficulties cannot be cured, their effects may impact an individual’s performance throughout life: academically, in the workplace, and in relationships and daily life. Intervention and support, which may be supplemented by counseling or other mental health care services, can help an individual with a learning difficulty to achieve success. 

People often say that there’s no such thing as normal. In some cases this may be true and it may seem unfair to label children’s academic progress as normal or otherwise. However, learning is like any kind of development – at a certain age some skills should be automated so that deeper or extended knowledge can be gained. If education operated on a one-to-one basis there would be less need for these ‘normal’ benchmarks as children could be taught according to their individual abilities. The reality is that school-learning assumes an average level of understanding within the classroom and children with learning difficulties can be left behind.

Learning Difficulties and their Symptoms

Learning difficulties are diagnosed with reference to the level of mastery attained in a given academic area by most children of the same age. These norms have been established through standardized testing and do allow for a range of below-average scores that do not constitute a learning disability. Learning difficulties may be one of three types according to the DSM-IV (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders):

Developmental or Speech Disorders (e.g. poor articulation or use of language)

Academic Skills Disorders (problems with reading, writing and arithmetic)

“Other” Disorders (non-academic areas such as coordination, attention, memory.) Some additional problems may include lack of organisation, trouble with task-sequencing or high distractability.

Learning is a four-step process of receiving, integrating, retrieving and using information. The locus of any learning disability may exist in any of these steps and the type of information it affects will also play a part in how the disability manifests – for example, being unable to distinguish two similar sounding words reflects a ‘receiving’ problem, where an inability to look at a word on a page and say it out loud would indicate an ‘integrating’ problem.

It is important to realize that learning difficulties occur because of problems in the brain’s connections rather than a deficiency of the brain itself. For this reason, children with learning difficulties often have average or above average intelligence, but lack the efficient neural processing which would allow them to reach their academic potential.

Different Types of Learning Disorders

A verbal learning disability entails problems with language tasks such as reading, writing, comprehension and spelling, and is a frequently diagnosed type of learning disability. Symptoms of a verbal learning disability may present as problems with using language to communicate, relating written letters with their spoken sounds or other language applications like reading and spelling.

There are many ways to use language which is why these learning difficulties can be so different from child to child. Some of the different types of developmental and speech language disorders include:

Expressive language disorders: problems using language to communicate a message effectively

Receptive language disorders: problems comprehending or responding appropriately to verbal messages

Articulation disorders: difficulty controlling rate of speech or speech sounds

Academic skills disorders, defined in the DSM-IV, refer to specific areas of achievement most often addressed in school settings. Academic skills disorders include:

Developmental reading disorder: problems combining or separating word-sounds to enable fluent reading (sometimes referred to as dyslexia)

Developmental writing disorder: problems composing a coherent written sentence with correct grammar and legible handwriting

Developmental arithmetic disorder: problems with recognizing and manipulating numbers and reasoning mathematically.

Learning Disorder

Other learning difficulties (occasionally referred to as nonverbal learning difficulties) involve poor motor coordination, spatial awareness, social and/or sensory dysfunction, and also encompass difficulties in areas that enable effective learning such as attention or memory. Many of the specified disorders tend to exist together – that is, it is not uncommon for a child with poor expressive language to have concurrent trouble with reading, writing or spelling and an inability to focus attention for an extended period.

Here are a few common signs of children experiencing learning difficulties:

Mixing up or reversing letters or jumbling sentences

Difficulties with numbers, symbols or maths problems

Struggling to clearly express ideas in writing

Difficulty remembering key concepts and facts

Difficulty focusing on work or paying attention in class

If any of these sound familiar, it’s essential to find out what is happening with a child’s learning skills as early as possible.

Why is early action so important?

The evidence is clear:

The earlier learning difficulties are identified and an effective intervention program is started, the better the chance of improving long term outcomes.

In fact, research shows that when the right learning strategies and support are put in place early enough, positive results can be quickly achieved and maintained over the long term.

As well as helping school performance, early action also reduces emotional problems associated with failure, such as anxiety and depression.

And intervention during primary school also helps prevent the development of further learning difficulties, such as written expression problems, in later years.

But it is essential that each intervention program is tailored to each child’s specific strengths and weaknesses (their “learning profile”).

That’s why most education experts recommend a full learning assessment as the first step.

How can a learning assessment help?

A comprehensive learning assessment will reveal the answers to these four key questions:

What are the specific problems with their underlying learning and processing skills?

What level are they are currently achieving at with their academic skills? (Compared with what is expected for their age and year level.)

What might they be potentially capable of achieving?

Which learning strategies and interventions are likely to be most helpful at school and at home?

You see, it’s NOT about “labelling” children with a disorder…

Instead, this information enables parents to make more informed decisions about their child’s education…

So they can make the required changes as EARLY as possible…

Ensure the right learning strategies are put in place at school and at home…

Empower their child with greater insight into how they learn…

And ultimately help them to reach their full learning potential.

But without this information?

Parents and teachers are basically “flying blind”…

What does a full learning assessment involve?

The specific tests will vary based on the issues and age of the child, however we recommend the following process:

An initial review of the child’s learning history (for parents only)

Standardised cognitive testing (thinking and reasoning ability)

Standardised achievement testing (academic skills)

Other relevant tests, if appropriate (for example, to assess working memory issues or attention/focus)

Detailed assessment report with a clear summary and diagnostic opinion

Specific learning recommendations for school and home

Comprehensive parent feedback session to answer all your questions

The psychologist will also offer an optional follow-up phone call with the school to make sure the teacher understands the outcomes and recommendations.

Cognitive testing identifies any underlying issues with key skills such as:

Processing speed

Auditory processing

Verbal learning issues

Non-verbal learning issues

Achievement testing measures abilities in key academic areas such as:





Oral language