What Can an LD Diagnosis Do (or Not Do) For Your Child?

Every child zigs and zags during development.  Some of the most high-achieving adults in the world faced devastating diagnoses when they were children: from “will never be normal,” to “will never succeed.” As we sit and watch people like Charles Schwab and Richard Branson talk about their accomplishments — even after being given devastating judgment as children, the one thing that we DO know for certain is that adults are pretty awful when it comes to spending a couple of hours with a child and then predicting whether or not they will have success in the world.

However, if you scratch almost any parent whose child has trouble in school, you’ll find a parent determined to get a diagnosis.  Getting a diagnosis is a huge goal for many parents. The diagnosis! That will solve things!

Unfortunately, while a diagnosis is extremely valuable, it’s really not a solution.  A diagnosis can validate worries and let you and your child know that yes, their brain really DOES work differently than most.  But unless your child’s school and teacher have training and programs in place, it will take a lot of effort to also help your child succeed in school.  

Right at the beginning of your journey, as you’re heading into a diagnosis, it’s important to know what the doctor will say to you after getting a diagnosis.  So let’s talk about what a diagnosis can and should do for your child —and what it won’t do.

The job of a diagnosing doctor is to identify and name problems.  Their job is not to identify your child’s passions and special skills, and to help stoke the embers of a childhood interest into an interest that gives rise to an adulthood life path.

Your child has boundless possibility — just like every child.  And adults who went far in life, talk about how their particular parent (usually a mother), refused to limit the possibilities, and worked to support them.  We also hear stories of “unexpected success.”

Seriously, why would we think that an expert, having spent one to three hours with our child, can tell us what will be our child’s destiny in life? 

So what can a diagnosis do, or not do, for your child?

A Diagnosis Can Help Match Teaching to Your Child’s Learning Needs

It turns out that there are countless developmental steps that must happen before children can mature, and that learning differences and learning disabilities are far more subtle and complex than we imagined.  Your child might have problems seeing and understanding symbols, or processing sounds, turning them into usable information, and storing them in the correct place in memory. Maybe your child’s body awareness sense (also called proprioception) is immature, making it hard to sit still at a desk.  Or perhaps your child isn’t able to recognize commas or memorize the alphabet.

There are many weaknesses that make up each learning disability, and LD testing helps to identify those weaknesses.  Depending on your child’s learning fingerprint, you can then work with teachers to find teaching methods that support your child’s weaknesses, while allowing them to learn.

If you identify the challenges that keep your child from learning easily, you can help develop brain strengths, choose alternative learning and thinking skills and strategies, and give your child an understanding of how they learn. 

A Diagnosis Can Make Your Child Eligible for Protection and Support 

Every child in America is protected, as is their ability to receive understandable, learnable, education. This is called the equal opportunities for education.

Two laws are always mentioned when people talk about getting support from the educational system:

  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination. Section 504 ensures that a child with a disability has equal access to education, and provides accommodations and/or modifications to normal schoolwork.
  • IDEA is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which was enacted by Congress in 1975 to ensure that all children have the opportunity to receive a free and appropriate public education, regardless of ability. IDEA provides for most of the protection for children with LD, and laws in IDEA spell out the basic tool of special education: the Independent Education Plan, or IEP.

See here for more information about these two laws. And click here for a description and comparison between the various support programs.

It’s important to know that your school doesn’t have to use your outside diagnosis to provide support.  That’s because schools must follow IDEA.  The IDEA law says that schools provide testing, for free, if a learning disability is suspected.  That’s why we include simple directions for how you ask for an IEP.

A Diagnosis Can Help Your Child Feel Better  

Many dyslexic children report feeling that they were stupid as children.  It’s a terrible word, but it’s one used again and again.  And many dyslexics say that when they discovered that they were dyslexic, their first thought was “I’m not stupid!”

It’s important to plan out how you will tell your child that they have a learning difference.

A Diagnosis Can Help Your Child Understand How Their Brain Works

Both parents and experts agree that teaching a child to understand how they learn and what they need in order to learn, and then training them to ask for that, is the key to many children’s success.  Metacognition, or understanding how your brain works, is a big trend right now, in many schools.

As part of your child’s diagnosis, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for information that can help inform and empower your child.  And it’s a good idea to phrase the information that you find in a way that conveys power, rather than weakness.  We talk about word choices and how to talk with children here.

A Diagnosis Doesn’t Define the Future

Read through stories about people with learning disabilities and you’ll hear a familiar refrain.  

  • “Experts told my mother that I would never read.” 
  • “Doctors said that I would have to be in special schools for my entire life.”
  • “My child’s teacher said that he would never have a job.”

Regardless of the Diagnosis, it’s still very important to pay attention to what’s hardest for your child, and to prioritize efforts.  Spend time building skills, but make time to develop strengths and passions.  It’s amazing how many skills our mobile phones and various electronic tools can perform today, simply by talking with them.

Take a minute to read this post about the qualities for success.  Our post profiles several of the best-respected studies that looked at hundreds of successful people to find the pattern for their success.  Shockingly, almost none of the skills were academic!

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