In this business of consulting with parents about their children’s struggles over the years, I have many standard lines that I find myself using over and over.

One of them is that what I do is, “not like real medicine.”

My point is not to be self-deprecating, but to try and ground parents in the realities of an assessment and what they can realistically expect when it comes to the findings.

For example, to my knowledge there is no objective test, no X-ray for any learning disability such as dyslexia or ADHD/ADD that offers the patient or the parent a  definitive statement, such as “Yes, your child has it,” or “No, your child does not.”

This lack of being absolute is often frustrating and dissatisfying when the results are explained to parents.

Let’s take Marissa, a 16 year old 10th grader I evaluated recently.

Marissa’s parents are questioning whether she has dyslexia.

Upon evaluating Marissa, along with the many strengths she clearly has, such as her functioning with spatial thinking and mathematic reasoning, she was a pretty inefficient reader, with somewhat weak spelling and writing.

Looking to her scores, the weaker ones fell in the range that I refer to as the  “zone of no zone,”  that is the lower portion of the “average range” on the bell-shaped curve.

From the school’s vantage point they would view her reading, spelling and writing scores as adequate.  There certainly would be no IEP generated.

Even requesting a 504 Plan for Marissa would be challenging, as the standard for obtaining a 504 is that the individual has a diagnosed medical condition or a disability that requires accommodation.

Everyone has weaknesses.  A weakness is not a disability or a medical condition.

When is a weakness just that, a weakness, and when is it a handicap or a learning disability?

There is no absolute marker to answer that question.  Sometimes, I wish there were, as it would make my life a lot easier.

Based on bell-shaped curve properties, only 15% or so  fall in the more moderate to significantly below average range.  For those children in this range, one can more conclusively make statements of a definitive diagnosis, but the rest, such as Marissa,  remain in that gray zone.

To compound the problem of the definitive diagnosis,  there are  those children who are weak, but have never received targeted instruction to remediate their weaknesses.

Since many schools now use “in-class support,” rather than offer specialized remediation,  we often have no idea, as to whether the issue is a learning disability such as dyslexia or an issue of the child not having received the right instruction

Take the comment  from an outraged mom of an 11 year old fifth grader, illustrating this point:

“She was never a good reader,”  the mom said.  “They classified her, but all she has ever gotten is in-class support.  What is that?  Mostly it’s help with directions?  All these years no one has ever taught her directly how to read, spell or write. So, how do I know if it’s a real disability or an instructional disability of never having been taught properly?”

As I listened to the mom, I had one quiet thought that remained unspoken…


Takeaway Point

There is no X-ray, no objective test.  Identify the weaknesses and follow up with  good targeted instruction as priority number one.

Copyright, 2020
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(***  Please note: Dr. Richard Selznick is a psychologist, clinician and author of four books.  His blog posts represent his opinions and perspectives based on his years of interacting with struggling children, parents and schools.)