How can a learning disability be accurately diagnosed?

As with any health condition, an accurate diagnosis is critical for developing an accurate plan of action.  A comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation, conducted by an experienced, trained psychologist, generally includes:

  • A thorough clinical interview with student (and parent of minor)
  • Complete developmental, medical, social and educational history
  • Thorough review of previous assessments and academic records
  • Cognitive testing of both ability and achievement in math, reading & writing
  • Additional tests of attention, memory and auditory & visual processing as needed
  • Sufficient investigation to rule out other possible health, emotional or behavioral factors

After the initial in-depth interview, individualized testing sessions are conducted with the student, followed by scoring and analysis of the findings, composition of a detailed, comprehensive written report and goal-directed review session.

What types of learning disorders will be identified with an assessment?

When assessment results show a significant difference between a student’s intellectual ability, age and education and their performance as measured by specific standardized tests, they may qualify for a diagnosis of a learning disability in a specific subject area such as a reading disorder (dyslexia), mathematics disorder or disorder of written expression.  Learning disabilities may not be “subject specific” when problems with receptive or expressive language, auditory or visual processing or attention control contribute to learning disabilities across subjects.

What should I look for when choosing an assessment professional?

Assessments for learning problems may be conducted by qualified professionals of different backgrounds, including public school psychologists, credentialed learning disability specialists and licensed psychologists. Each is differently trained and certified, with different areas of expertise. In California, licensed clinical psychologists are trained health care providers who have a doctorate degree in psychology and a license to practice in accordance with laws and ethical standards. Before licensure, psychologists receive years of education and experience in both cognitive and psychological assessment. Psychologists are trained to identify and treat a multitude of problems which limit individual success, including learning disabilities and ADHD. When deciding you may also consider convenience, expedience and the cost of the testing. Speaking with several professionals is a good way to learn more and find the best match for your needs.

Are ADHD or ADD types of learning disabilities?

There are several distinct types of attention disorders which often have a negative impact on learning but the diagnosis alone may be insufficient for accommodations.  A psycho-educational assessment determines if symptoms from any type of attention disorder cause sufficient difficulties to warrant a diagnosis of a learning disability.

How do you diagnose ADD / ADHD?

There is not just one objective test for diagnosing attention disorders.  Rather, a trained professional relies on information from multiple sources in order to determine whether the client’s symptoms create consistent problems in ways that most people of the same age and ability do not experience.

When trying to determine if a student’s problems are related to ADHD, a good clinical interview with the student is essential.  Standardized rating scales are often used as well to rate the responses of the student and parents, teachers and others who know the student well.  Cognitive tests are also given to obtain valuable information about information processing and memory deficits related to ADHD.  Finally, because students with ADHD and learning problems often have other problems and disorders, Dr. McPhee assesses whether a mood disorder, anxiety or other stressor may be present.

Data from a comprehensive assessment for ADHD is also valuable as a baseline measure of how much ADHD is impacting the student, which is helpful for tracking progress and change over time.

How long does an assessment usually take?

Because each assessment is designed to meet the specific needs of the individual student, the scope and duration of the assessment vary.  In general, a comprehensive diagnostic assessment involves a 1 hour interview and 2 testing sessions of approximately 2 – 3 hours.  After the tests are scored and interpreted, Dr. McPhee discusses the detailed comprehensive report in a follow-up conference, most often within 2 weeks of the testing.

Are the same tests administered to all clients?

No, each case is unique.  The choice of tests depends upon the reason for the referral and the needs of the student.  Dr. McPhee is experienced with certification and assessment requirements of most colleges, testing agencies and licensing boards and will review any test requirements with the client at the onset. All required tests will be included in assessments for accommodations.

How long will the assessment report be valid?

It was once assumed that testing needed to be updated every 3 years to be considered valid but recently some colleges and universities have suspended this rule, when adult versions of the tests were administered.  Clients are advised to review the requirements of their specific school or agency prior to testing.

What happens to information gathered during the assessment and who has access to the report?

Working with a licensed psychologist is always a confidential relationship.  No information about clients, including test data and reports, is ever shared without the expressed written consent of adult clients and parents of minors, except where required by legal limits of confidentiality.

Will health insurance cover the cost of a psycho-educational assessment?

Dr. McPhee is a private pay, out of network provider and does not accept assignment from health insurance agencies.  She requires a 50% deposit of the agreed upon estimated fee at the onset of testing and the balance to be paid at completion upon release of the report.  After full payment, clients may request a “super bill” which is an itemized, detailed statement of services, diagnoses and billing codes, for submission for possible reimbursement.

Won’t it damage a student’s reputation and chances for college admission to have a diagnosed learning disability?

Most colleges and universities acknowledge the value of a diverse campus community, where innovation, discovery and determination are encouraged.  There is no discrimination against students with learning disabilities and many well-known, intelligent, creative and successful individuals were once diagnosed with a learning disability and have publically described their experience.  It remains a personal choice, but many students with learning disabilities share their experience in personal statements when applying for admission so others may appreciate their resilience and determination.