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How are specific learning disorders diagnosed?

Updated: Apr 28

A psychological and educational assessment with a qualified psychologist can examine if a child or adolescent is exhibiting learning difficulties and if they meet the diagnostic criteria for a Specific Learning Disorder (SLD).   The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) identifies individuals can have an SLD with impairment in reading, written expression and/or mathematics.   An SLD with impairment in reading can be referred to as Dyslexia.  An SLD with impairment in written expression can also be referred to as Dysgraphia.   Dyscalculia is the more commonly employed terminology for an SLD with impairment in mathematics.  

Dyslexia Perth

A diagnosis of an SLD is a complex process involving individually administered assessments, evaluation of school based information and interventions received in addition to an individual’s educational, family and developmental history.  Psychologists evaluate this information about an individual and use the DSM-5 when determining if there is evidence they may have an SLD.  There are several diagnostic criteria that must be evaluated and considered as met for a specific learning disorder which include:

  • Evidence that an individual’s difficulties with academic skills in reading, written expression and/or mathematics have persisted for at least six months despite them receiving intervention.  Intervention needs to have targeted the areas of difficulty and the learning difficulties need to have persisted for at least six months despite the support that has been provided. 

  • Evidence that an individual’s academic skills are substantially below expected for their chronological age in reading, written expression and/or mathematics. 

  • For most individuals, there is a history of learning difficulties and the difficulties began in the early school age years.  For some individuals, the learning difficulties may not become apparent until the later school years once the academic demands increase and exceed their capacities.

  • An additional aspect that needs to be evaluated is that there are no other factors that may better explain the learning difficulties.  Such factors can include when significant periods of schooling have been missed, if an intellectual disability is evident or if a mental or neurological disorder is present that better explains the learning difficulties. 

Butterfly Psychology for Kids are highly experienced in the assessment and diagnosis of specific learning disorders.  As part of the evaluation, an intellectual assessment is conducted in addition to an educational assessment of reading, written expression and/or mathematics. Relevant information is also examined including interventions received in addition to developmental, family and educational history.  For more information see here.

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