When Should You Have Your Child Evaluated for Learning Disabilities?
Determining when the appropriate time to have your child first evaluated is a difficult question to answer, and varies on a case-by-case basis based on individual factors. However, there are a few questions to ask yourself as well as basic information concerning the likely onset of learning disabilities that can help guide you in deciding whether or not to have your child evaluated.
Has your child displayed academic and/or behavioral difficulties since they first began school?
Has your child just started struggling during the current academic year?
What factors have changed during the current academic year that could account for difficulties (i.e., new school, transition from elementary to middle school, significant increase in workload, etc.)?
Does your child fluctuate between periods of doing well and struggling considerably?
If your child has displayed academic and/or behavioral difficulties since they first began school, it is highly recommended that they be evaluated now. Even if they are in Kindergarten or first grade, if the symptoms are significantly impacting their functioning, it is best to have them evaluated promptly so that the proper interventions can be implemented. Targeting interventions to address learning disabilities, ADHD, and behavioral issues when children are younger usually have the best long-term outcomes. When children struggle with these issues without treatment, they often begin to fall farther and farther behind each academic year. In addition, they may be prone to developing low self-esteem, depression, and increased behavioral issues.
If your child has just begun struggling this academic year, it is important to determine what factors are likely contributing to the current difficulties. Perhaps they switched schools and are having difficulty adjusting to a different type of curriculum or classroom instruction? It may simply be that the teaching style of the new teacher does not work well with your child’s learning style. Alternatively, it could be that the increase in workload or difficulty level has made it difficult for your child to keep up. Many times, children with learning disabilities, and even ADHD, can compensate for these difficulties when they are younger, especially if they are very bright, but without proper intervention, the ability to compensate breaks down over time. This is especially true when children transition from elementary school to middle school. Therefore, if you identify that the likely factors are more of a teaching style issue, and academic/behavioral difficulties are very mild, it may make sense to focus on study strategies initially rather than a formalized evaluation. However, for most other cases, it is advisable to have an evaluation conducted, or at the very least, seek a consultation about having your child evaluated. If you choose not to pursue a consultation or evaluation, it is important to monitor your child’s difficulties and if they worsen, seek consultation and/or an evaluation for them.
If your child fluctuates significantly with periods of doing well and times when they struggle considerably, it is recommended that you at the very least seek a consultation with a psychologist to determine if a psychological/psychoeducational evaluation would benefit your child. Inconsistencies in academic performance is one indicator of a learning issue.
The take home message with deciding whether or not to have your child evaluated at the present time, is when in doubt, seek a consultation with a psychologist to determine if the severity of your child’s difficulties warrants an evaluation. Additionally, it is more beneficial to implement interventions to treat learning disabilities when a child is younger, so airing on the side of caution is often recommended.
*Disclaimer: The previous information is intended as general guidance based on my professional opinion and should not replace the recommendations of a psychologist or other licensed professional with whom you initiate or maintain a professional relationship*