Learning disabilities are neurological disorders that affect a person's ability to interpret information and create problems with language, coordination, self-control or the ability to concentrate. Learning disabilities can cause difficulties in tasks such as reading, writing and doing math. When a child is struggling there are steps that parents can take to help. Formal assessment tools are a key part of the process to finding and identifying a learning disorder and getting a child the right support.
Curriculum-based measurement is a way for teachers to keep track of student progress and can help to assess learning disabilities. This method is an organised approach to gathering information about what the student knows and involves documenting when he acquire skills and whether he is meeting the goals and expectations for the current grade level.
Curriculum-based measurement includes short assessment tools, called "probes," that the teacher gives to students to assess skill level. The teacher can compare these short tests to measure student progress. A student who is not working at the normal level for her age group or is making progress at a slow rate may have a learning disorder and require further professional assessment.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) is an assessment tool used by mental health professionals to diagnose and treat patients. The DSM-IV gives the specific criteria needed to give an official diagnosis of a specific learning disorder. A mental-health professional interviews a patient and uses the manual as a reference, matching the patient's symptoms with the criteria specified for specific learning disabilities.
In the DSM-IV, learning disorders are divided into categories including: dyslexia (reading disorders), dsygraphia (writing disorders) and dyscalculia (mathematical disorders) (for disorders that don't fit into other categories).
Standardised psychological tests are another way to assess learning disabilities. For children, this is frequently done with IQ or intelligence quotient tests. IQ tests were originally developed to find learning impairments in children and are still used for this purpose.
The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children Fourth Edition (WISC-IV) is the most commonly used test. The WISC-IV measures different types of abilities via 10 sub tests. The test must be administered and the results interpreted by a trained professional, usually a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. Scores for the WISC-IV are divided into categories including: full-scale IQ, verbal comprehension index, perceptual reasoning index, working memory index and processing speed index. The results of these scores give the child's level of functioning and may be particularly helpful in getting the child needed and appropriate academic help and support.