Testing a Child with Learning Difficulties
by Kim Jaworski, Homeschool Resource Specialist
I’m often asked by parents “how do I get my child assessed for a learning disability?” You have some options. In Minnesota (and other states probably have a similar option) you can have your child tested for free through your local school district. Contact the superintendent’s office to find out who to schedule with and how it works in your district. You will also have access to special education classes through the school if you want them.
Another option is to chat with your child’s pediatrician about the challenges you are noticing and get a referral for an assessment that way. This may or may not be covered by your health care insurance, so be sure to research your coverage ahead of time to prevent surprises. Once you have a diagnosis, you may also get a referral to a therapist or tutor who can help, or in some cases, you’re on your own to locate outside professionals for further assistance.
Keep in mind that in the early grades there can be a wide range of learning speeds and challenges that children ultimately outgrow. Often, professionals will hold off on a formal diagnosis of a learning disability until about 5th grade to allow late bloomers to hit their stride. I’m happy to talk with you about strategies to help children who might be struggling in the early grades, while you wait to see if they catch up by 5th grade. And you can find resources for children who struggle on my website, as well.
The bottom line is that as a homeschooler, you don’t need a formal diagnosis to help a struggling child the way you would if your child were in public school. There are strategies that can help and with some trial and error you can find approaches and curriculum that work best for your child. Even with a formal diagnosis, you’ll have to work through the trial and error stage, as no 2 kids with the same diagnosis have exactly the same needs.
The book Learning Disabilities from A to Z is a helpful resources for parents navigating the diagnosis of their child and advocating for services through the school or coordinating services for that child. Books about your child’s particular difficulties will also help you learn the language of that spectrum so you can better communicate with health care professionals, tutors, therapists and outside teachers about your child.
It can be helpful to set up a skills timeline for your reference to chart progress. Your child may not be mastering skills as quickly as another child, but you’re likely to see the same progression of skills at your child’s own pace. Documentation will help reassure you that progress is being made, even if it feels like baby steps.
Check out my other resources for children who struggle. The key is to find the approaches and strategies that work for your child. You know your child’s likes/dislikes, tolerances/frustrations, daily rhythm and routines. With these factors in mind, read and search for resources that sound like the right fit. Try not to invest a lot of money in any particular program until you feel confident that it’s working well for your child. It’s a good idea to hunt around online for used materials before shelling out full price. Keep in mind that you may need a different approach for different subjects or you may have to change tactics from year to year. Always keep your radar on alert for something new to try that might improve learning for your kiddo.
A formal diagnosis would be necessary if you are looking to add special education services at the school or outside therapies to your schedule, or when your child looks ahead to college or post-secondary training. If you’ll be seeking accommodation for services beyond homeschooling, a formal diagnosis can make that possible. But you can pursue a private tutor for your child without a formal diagnosis. As with anyone who works with your child one on one, be sure the tutor is open to you sitting in to observe a session from time to time. You can do this out of sight of your child, if necessary, to prevent distraction, or by sitting just outside an open door to listen in. I personally would not be comfortable with anyone who refused such a request.