How early can my child be assessed for a learning difficulty/challenge?

Generally, LDA does not assess young children (less than 8 years of age) for the purpose of diagnosing a learning difficulty, but rather to assess children’s academic strengths and weaknesses. A profile of a child’s academic strengths and weaknesses helps parents and teachers take preventative measures by implementing proven interventions, without the necessity of determining a disability. Using this approach, we can account for varying levels of development, provide interventions, and document for future consideration any manifestations of a disability that we may observe.

The most common predictors of a learning difficulty/challenge can include:

• A familial history of learning problems or learning difficulties.

• Struggles to match letters with their sounds despite extensive exposure.

• Has difficulty sounding out words despite extensive practice and multiple exposures.

• Poorly formed letters, difficulty remembering how to form letters, or extensive time needed to write a letter.

• Difficulty telling time, understanding the concept of personal space, and where they should be within a given space beyond what is developmentally acceptable.

LDA does not recommend diagnosing children younger than eight years of age.

There are several reasons:

• LDA’s goal is to provide data to parents and educators to implement an effective curriculum for a child experiencing academic difficulty. When there are early signs of a learning difficulty, the most important step a parent can take is expose the child to systematic, intensive, and proven instruction. This does not require a formal diagnosis. Learning difficulty diagnoses are to be reserved when accessing special education services.

• Exercise caution when assessing academic readiness. The amount of formal academic exposure varies significantly in this age group. For example, some children attend early childhood, preschool, and kindergarten classes. On the other hand, some children only attend kindergarten. And for some children, first grade is their initial experience in a formal school setting. Sometimes, parents and teachers do not have enough time to observe the child in a classroom setting before referral for assessment takes place.

• Something important to remember is that children mature at different rates. Parents and teachers need to observe how the child performs relative to their peer group. Determine if the learning difficulty is outside the bounds of developmentally expected ranges.

• The standardized instruments that LDA uses for determining achievement and intellectual levels are not precise at very young ages. A definitive diagnosis must include attendance and academic historical records.

If I suspect my child has a learning difficulty, what should I do?

LDA has developed an early reading profile (ERP) that helps indicate whether children ages 5 – 9 are at risk for reading difficulties. The purpose of an ERP is to determine your child’s reading strengths and weaknesses. The intention is to guide instruction and/or tutoring in the area of reading. Do not use the ERP as a diagnostic assessment for determining special education assessment. Our team will assist you in learning what to do to help your child learn to read. Consult with a specialist in the area you are most concerned with if your child’s problem is not reading. If a child has difficulty in understanding language or expressing him/herself, see a speech pathologist. If a child is having difficulty with motor coordination, see an occupational therapist.