Academic Learning Disorders in Children

If your child is having difficulty progressing in one or more academic areas, a psycho-educational assessment can be very helpful to gain insight into their learning strengths and needs. This assessment will provide you and your child’s school with an in-depth understanding of how your child is performing across areas of cognitive and academic functioning (for their age and grade level), in order to help clarify specifically where they are struggling. This assessment also provides insight into your child’s personal strengths and how they learn and process information best. This information is then used to identify specific recommendations and next steps to best support your child’s academic development in current and future grades.

Academic learning disorders (also called Specific Learning Disorders) are neurodevelopmental in nature and impact the way a child processes and understands information. These neuro-based learning differences create difficulties in a child’s ability to acquire and apply keystone academic skills in areas such as reading, writing, and mathematics. These children do not have global learning difficulties; rather their struggles are specific to academic learning. These difficulties can range in severity (i.e., mild to severe) and start early, though they are sometimes not recognized until later grades, when the academic demands exceed their ability to cope or use compensatory strategies. If a child has a specific learning disorder in one area (reading being the most common), they are more likely to meet criteria for a learning disorder in another academic area (e.g., math and/or writing) as well. About one-third of children with an academic learning disorder also show attention deficits, which can further impact their classroom functioning.

Academic skills that may be impacted in children with a Specific Learning Disorder (DSM-5):

  • Difficulty with word reading, word decoding, and/or reading fluency skills (i.e., slow, inaccurate, and effortful reading)
  • Difficulty understanding the meaning of what is read (i.e., reading comprehension)
  • Difficulty with written expression (e.g., problems with grammar, punctuation or organizing thoughts and ideas into written words)
  • Difficulty with spelling
  • Difficulty understanding basic number facts or calculation skills
  • Difficulty with mathematical reasoning (e.g., applying math concepts or solving math problems)
  • Difficulty with math fluency

Common assessment measures that are used to identify children with academic learning disorders are:

  • Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children – Fifth Edition (WISC-V)
  • Wechsler Individual Achievement Test – Third Edition (WIAT-III)
  • Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement Third Edition (KTEA-3)

These standardized assessment tools gather comprehensive information regarding how your child is performing relative to a Canadian norm group of children the same age, and in the same grade placement. Together, these tools help to determine whether your child is demonstrating areas of unexpected underachievement relative to their potential (i.e., cognitive functioning). They also provide insight into underlying areas and factors (e.g., working memory difficulties) that may be impacting your child’s academic skill development.
Once identified, accommodations and/or modifications can be provided via an Individualized Program Plan, which aims to meet your child’s specific learning needs in the classroom setting. This may include additional time, assistive learning technology, and specific educational strategies that utilize your child’s natural learning strengths and support areas of concern. Targeted academic intervention (e.g., direct instruction with repetition and guided practice) is also recommended across home and school settings.

Once your child’s assessment is completed, a comprehensive written report will summarize your child’s performance and provide specific recommendations to help your child meet their best learning potential. This report will be reviewed with you and you will have the opportunity to have any additional questions answered. A copy of the report can then be submitted to your child’s school in order to initiate a plan to support your child in the classroom. The specific interventions, strategies and accommodations may change over time as your child progresses and academic expectations change, and they may depend on the specific resources available at your child’s school.

If you are uncertain as to whether an assessment would be helpful for your child, please don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss further.