Getting a Learning Disability Diagnosis From Your Child’s School

Although many parents choose to take their children to doctors or specialists for learning disability screening, we suggest that you start with the school.  Here’s why:

Public schools offer some of the best possibility of an education for your child, and it’s guaranteed by law.

As described in the Claiming Support in the School System post, American public schools have to offer free and appropriate public education, including to children with learning disabilities.  That’s a federal law, and the federal law can be used to help your school give you the appropriate support.

If you’re asking your school to test your child, you should request a formal psycho-educational evaluation.

A formal assessment for learning disabilities includes evaluation of cognition, memory functions, attention, intellectual ability, information processing, psycholinguistic processing, expressive and receptive language function, academic skills, executive function, social-emotional development, and adaptive behavioral functioning.

  • An educational specialist can give a full picture of a child’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses.
  • A neuropsychologist can also give a full picture of a child’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses, and they can also test for other conditions, such as autism or nonverbal learning disorder.
  • In general, neither of these doctors gives a movement exam.

LOok at these tests

, there are two Children with LD typically have multiple weaknesses that overlap, so we suggest that you request a full educational evaluation, instead of just testing for one skill.


If the school district gives your child a full educational examination, they test up to seven areas of development:

  • Language
  • Visual and spatial thinking (also called nonverbal processing)
  • Attention and self-regulation
  • Memory
  • Fine and gross motor skills
  • Social and emotional abilities
  • Executive function

Parents caution that just requesting a full educational evaluation doesn’t guarantee that your child will get one. Make sure that you compare the test plan to the list above, and ask questions. You should request assistive technology testing at the same time. Your child might need assistive technology includes keyboards, iPads, and other tools that compensate for disabilities.

If you want the school district to add more types of testing to their testing plan, you might say “My child doesn’t remember how to add, no matter how many times it is explained, so I want tests that specifically test his ability to understand numbers, to memorize things, and to write numbers.” Being respectful, having good reasons behind your requests, and writing everything down are good ways to get what you want.


Some parents report that that in addition to requesting a full educational evaluation and an assistive technology test, they had to specify OT diagnostic testing, speech and auditory, and dyslexia testing. It’s a good idea to write down what tests you want, and email them to the person in charge of testing. A paper trail is good.


In general, you should request that a pediatric occupational therapist be the person giving your child an evaluation. A pediatric OT understands the developmental steps, and will give a broader view than an OT who doesn’t focus on pediatrics. For more information on developmental steps, see Chapter 7, “What They Don’t Tell You About Learning Differences.”


“The Whole-Child Diagnostic Approach,” in Appendix C, can help you understand what other parents have tested, and why. And Appendix A, “What’s Inside Your Child’s Diagnosis?” shows weaknesses that are measured as part of every diagnosis. You can request that the school test for particular weaknesses.

Results of IEP Testing

The school district uses the results of your child’s testing to determine if your child has an LD, and if your child qualifies for an IEP.


An entire industry of legal fighting and arguing exists over the question of whether or not specific children qualify for IEPs. Just having a learning disability doesn’t qualify a child for an IEP. Your child must qualify for two things in order to receive an IEP: Testing must conclude that your child is diagnosed with one of the 13 disabilities that are supported by IDEA. Testing must also conclude that the disability adversely affects educational performance, and because of that, your child is unable to receive proper education.


Most of the learning differences that we mention in this book are covered by Specific Learning Differences category within IDEA.


If you are told that your child does not qualify, and you disagree, you can request outside testing as described in “IEP Disagreements,” below. If your child is turned down for an IEP and you don’t want to disagree with the results of testing, you can request a 504 plan. The qualifications for getting a 504 are substantially easier than for getting an IEP. See “Qualifying for a 504,” below.

Getting Support for ADHD: 504 and More

Many people think that their ADHD child is only eligible for support under Section 504, but this isn’t true. IDEA provides support for ADHD children under the “other health impairment” category, the specific learning disability category, or the emotional disturbance category. IDEA qualification means that ADHD children can be covered by an IEP.

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