The Process for Diagnosing Learning Disabilities

Early detection and intervention is key for these disorders

If you suspect that your child has a learning disability, it's important to get the disorder diagnosed as soon as possible.

Testing is the first step in diagnosing a learning disability. If your child is being tested for learning disabilities or other educational disabilities, find the information you need about the assessments and evaluations used by public schools and licensed psychologists with this roundup.


Signs and Symptoms of Learning Disabilities

girl daydreaming while class is taking test
Compassionate Eye Foundation/Martin Barraud/Taxi/Getty Images

Does your child show signs or symptoms of learning disabilities? Does he struggle with learning? Have teachers commented that they are worried about your child? Are you seeing any behavior in your child which doesn't fit with her personality?

Children with learning disabilities are typically frustrated with school and may show a wide range of different behaviors and symptoms.

If you believe your child may be showing early signs of a learning disability, learn about typical child development, developmental delays and signs of learning disorders that could help you determine if the assessment is needed.


Understand the Diagnostic Process

Assessment is an important step in diagnosing learning disabilities. Learn what you need to know about testing your child for learning disabilities.

Find helpful information on special education and diagnosis as well as your rights under IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Additionally, learn how to work with schools throughout the assessment process and beyond.


Diagnosing Learning Disabilities in Children

Most children with learning disabilities are diagnosed in their elementary school years, with the second grade being a common time for these to become apparent. Some, however, are diagnosed long before they begin school or are diagnosed as late as high school.

If you are suspicious that your child has a disability, learn about the assessment and diagnostic process in public schools as well as assessments available privately.

Find out about the administrative regulations and procedures surrounding the referral for assessment. Get information about the diagnosis of children with suspected learning disabilities as well.


Diagnosing Learning Disabilities in Adults

Whether you are the parent of an adult student or an adult concerned about potential learning disabilities (LDs), you will need a formal assessment to diagnose specific learning disorders.

Learn about the assessment and diagnostic process for adults with suspected learning disabilities and other learning disorders. Counter the misconception that adults who have learning disabilities would have already been diagnosed if they did they have a disorder.

As time has passed in the United States, both parents and educators have become savvier about learning disabilities, leading to spikes in diagnosis. But generations ago, many children with learning disabilities may have been overlooked, especially if they were quiet and well behaved.


Diagnosing Minority Children With Learning Disabilities

Students from ethnic minority groups, English language learners and those from low-income homes are sometimes over-represented in special education programs.

Appropriate assessment of these children requires careful consideration of language and cultural differences that may negatively affect test scores and lead to an inappropriate diagnosis.

Learn more about the important issues that must be considered when evaluating children from marginalized groups for learning disabilities.

On the flip side, many children from these groups are often underrepresented in gifted and talented programs. Some research indicates that when children from minority groups have teachers who share their cultural backgrounds, they're more likely to be identified as gifted.


Bottom Line on Diagnosing Learning Disabilities

The process of determining if a child (or an adult) has a learning disability can be arduous but is important in order to define exactly what disabilities, if any, are present, in order to design the best approach for learning within the constraints of the disability.

The links in each of the sections above can lead you to information designed to help you navigate your way through this process. While there are no simple one-step rules to make this simpler, taking the time to learn about the process and find answers can make this task much easier.

If you have just started to think that your child may have a learning disability, check out this overview of learning disabilities to learn some of the basics.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. What are some signs of learning disabilities?. Updated September 11, 2018.

  2. U.S. Department of Education. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Statues and Regulations.

  3. National Center for Education Statistics. Table 204.50. Children 3 to 21 years old served under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part B, by age group and sex, race/ethnicity, and type of disability: 2017-18.

  4. Shifrer D. Clarifying the Social Roots of the Disproportionate Classification of Racial Minorities and Males with Learning Disabilities. Sociol Q. 2018;59(3):384-406. doi:10.1080/00380253.2018.1479198