Diagnosis of Language-Based Learning Disability - What to do next?

Meghan Mileham, Assistant Director of Admissions, and Emma Cercone, Hayley Marketing 

According to the National Center for Educational Studies, 7.3 million students between the ages of three and twenty-one received special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2019-2020. If your child is struggling or needs extra help, they are far from alone.


Disabilities can first be noticed by teachers, parents or sometimes students themselves who have trouble keeping up with their peers. Students can be referred for testing to determine if their difficulties indicate the presence of one or more language-based learning disorders. Tests are ordinarily psychoeducational or neuropsychological and represent the first step in understanding a child's academic, cognitive and language ability. They can then develop a plan to enable the student to thrive in and out of the educational setting.


Language-based learning disorders (LBLD) can occur at varying levels of severity and manifest in different ways. Students can struggle with reading but have no problems comprehending spoken words. These disabilities in no way reflect the student's intelligence, just how they should be taught to maximize their potential. Accommodations may be as simple as minor classroom adjustments, such as allowing them extra time for reading, or they may need more comprehensive intervention such as one-on-one attention throughout the day.


The most common areas of difficulty for students with language-based learning disorders include:


·         Reading (decoding, fluency, comprehension)

·         Auditory processing (listening)

·         Oral expression or word retrieval

·         Oral comprehension

·         Writing (grammar, spelling, mechanics)

·         Math


How are Language-Based Learning Disabilities First Diagnosed?


There are various diagnostic methods used to determine whether a child has a language-based learning variety, which kind they have, and the best approach to ensure they have a positive educational experience. Language-based learning disabilities (LBLD) refer to a spectrum of spoken and/or written language difficulties. These conditions make learning challenging because they interfere with comprehension and communication.


Children may also struggle with executive function disorders, which may not be classified as a learning disability but can still interfere with their ability to enjoy a rich learning experience.


Curriculum must be adapted to the needs of students with LBLD with instruction that is specialized, explicit, structured, multisensory, and ongoing.


LBLD's are sometimes mistaken for speech impairments, but they are typically mechanical and usually interfere less with learning than they do with the ability to express themselves. Articulation, voice and fluency disorders are the most common speech impairments. With early intervention, these disorders can be resolved or mitigated.


Language-based learning disabilities, on the other hand, refer to a spectrum of difficulties with spoken and written languageThey can have trouble learning the alphabet – or learning it in the right order. They can read a story without comprehending it or have difficulty expressing thoughts and ideas. These students can become frustrated, and their intelligence is underestimated. 


LBLD isn’t usually identified until children begin school and are expected to learn to read and write. Learning difficulties at school are usually diagnosed by a team that includes a speech-language  pathologist (SLP), psychologist, and a special educator to evaluate the child’s speaking, listening, reading and written language.


What are the Most Common Learning Disabilities in Children?

Many different learning disabilities can affect children, making it difficult for them to learn and succeed in a traditional classroom setting. Among the most common learning disabilities are:


Dyslexia. People with dyslexia may have trouble recognizing letters and words. They can have difficulty recognizing familiar words and can struggle to understand word sounds. Dyslexia can lead to issues with fluency, spelling, and comprehension.


Dyscalculia. This is a math-related learning disability marked by difficulty performing basic math calculations such as addition or multiplication. They can also struggle with understanding concepts such as time, measurement or estimation.


Dysgraphia. This type of disability leads to difficulty with written expression. It includes mechanical issues such as trouble forming letters or writing within a confined space, but it can also relate to trouble organizing thoughts on paper and understanding sentence structure and grammar.


Auditory Processing Disorder. This disability relates to trouble listening to and understanding spoken language. They can have difficulty interpreting what they hear, following directions and repeating back what they heard.


ADHD. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is sometimes classified as a learning disability, but it can typically be treated through a combination of medication and behavioral therapies. It is more accurately categorized as an executive function disorder, but because it affects more than 6.4 million children it warrants discussion here. Students who have ADHD have difficulty with focus, remaining on task and keeping track of time.

How Do They Test for Learning Disabilities? 

Testing methods depend on the needs of the child and what you, teachers or doctors may have observed. They may test language skills, motor skills, developmental or behavioral problems, IQ, and evaluate their scholastic performance.


What Can You Do As A Parent?

·         Speak to your doctor. Be sure there are no physical conditions underlying your child’s struggles. Brain injuries, hearing loss, even the need for glasses can masquerade as a learning disability.


·         Ask that your child be tested. Your school district may be able to help with this. Start with teachers since they may have observed some of the same behaviors that concern you.

How Does the Testing Process Work? 

Typically, a parent, teacher, counselor or other adults in the child’s life will observe that the child is struggling. The steps in an intervention include:


·         Monitoring all students’ progress closely to identify possible learning problems.

·         Identifying whether a child has a learning disability.

·         Determining a child’s eligibility under federal law for special education services.

·         Developing an individualized education plan (IEP) that outlines help for a child who qualifies for special education services.

·         Establishing benchmarks to measure the child’s progress.


According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) several specialists often work as part of a team to evaluate and support the student, including a psychologist, a special education expert, a speech-language pathologist and a reading specialist.


A full evaluation for learning disabilities includes:

  • A medical exam, including a neurological exam, to rule out other possible causes of the child’s difficulties.
  • Evaluation for emotional disorders, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and brain diseases.
  • Review of the child’s developmental, social, and school performance.
  • A discussion of family history.
  • Academic and psychological testing.



How Do I Get Help for my Child with Learning Disabilities? 


Often your child's school will notice they are struggling. You may also see it in their grades or frustration trying to complete homework. They may have no interest in reading at home. If you don't believe the school addresses the problem or fails to address it adequately, you may need to take a more proactive approach. The sooner the child gets the help they need, the better their chances of success and the sooner they will begin to feel better about themselves.


What Kind Of Help Can You Expect For Your Child? (h3)


Interventions for children with learning disabilities usually begin with an individualized education program (IEP) which can include:


·         Speech therapy to help with talking and understanding others.

·         Occupational therapy to help with doing everyday tasks.

·         Classroom aide to provide instruction and support.

·         Accommodations like extra time for homework or tests.


What Rights Do You and Your Child Have Under the Law? (h3)


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that children with disabilities have access to the same free, quality public education as other children. This law covers kids from birth to age 21.

School-age children who qualify for extra help will receive an individualized education program (IEP). The IEP will detail learning goals, a plan to reach them and metrics to define if those goals are being met.


How Else Can You Support Your Child? (h3)


If you are unable to get the results you would like for your child, there are many avenues to pursue instead of or along with public education. These resources include:


·         In-home tutoring and therapy.

·         After-school programs for children with learning disabilities.

·         Private schools with smaller class sizes and individual attention.

·         Schools specializing in working with children with learning disabilities.



What Should I Ask During an IEP Meeting for my Child? (h2) 


You can expect to have an IEP meeting with your child's school every year. Don’t be afraid to be an active participant. While you are free to bring up your child’s education at any time, this annual meeting is the one time you can be sure everyone involved in your education is in the same room at once. Ask that each member of the team introduce themselves if they don’t offer. If you are not provided with a copy of the current IEP, request one. If you’re not sure what to ask, here are a few conversation starters to begin with.


·         Who is on my child’s IEP team?

·         What role does each individual play in implementing the plan?

·         How can I contact the members of my child’s team?

·         How is my child’s IEP implemented daily? Ask for details if their response is vague or unclear.

·         How is their progress measured?

·         What can I do to support my child at home?

·         Does the team recommend any changes to the plan?

·         What training do those working with my child have?

·         What support will the classroom teacher have?

·         How will we let my child know about any program changes?

·         Who is the person to contact if I want to call another meeting?



Are there Schools that Specialize in Language-Based Learning Disabilities? (h2) 


If you are dissatisfied with your local school district's services, you may wish to consider a private school. Some parents choose private schools for their children with language-based learning disabilities for the lower teacher-student ratios and one-on-one attention alone. It may also be worth exploring private schools for learning disabilities. 


Private schools for students with learning disabilities can be an expensive option, but scholarships and assistance may be available for some families to offset the cost.


How Speech and Language Treatment from SLPs Can Improve Literacy in LBLD Children (h2)


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) notes the many ways a speech-language  pathologist (SLP) can improve your child’s literacy and learning experience. It’s helpful for an SLP to be a part of the assessment and diagnostic team because they can identify children at risk for reading and writing problems, assess reading and writing ability, and suggest interventions that are most likely to be effective.


An SLP can help your child:


·         Decode words

·         Learn new vocabulary

·         Break directions into manageable parts

·         Use context clues to understand the meaning of words

·         Understand and retain story details


Importance of Research Based Instructional Strategies for Students with Learning Disabilities (h2)


Research- or evidence-based instructional strategies are the gold standard for teaching students with learning disabilities because the programs are measurable and data-based. They allow for better accountability, keeping teachers, parents, administrators and the rest of the team up-to-date and on the same page with the student’s program and progress. The Department of Education and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), emphasize the importance of evidence-based teaching practices.


Recommendations for Parents – What You Can Do At Home to Better Support Your Child with Learning Disabilities (h2)


It’s important for your child to know you are in their corner. Be patient, ensure they get enough rest and allow plenty of time to play. Learning may take a little longer for them than a typical child, but they still need time to just be a kid.


Support your Child with Learning Disabilities by: (h3)


·         Advocating for them when needed.

·         Learning everything you can about their disability.

·         Keeping up with current treatment methods.

·         Working closely with their school.

·         Understanding their IEP or 504.

·         Helping them at home.

·         Observing how they are doing.

·         Requesting additional services or changes to their plan.

·         Focusing on effort rather than outcome.

·         Asking if your child would like help, but don’t take over.

·         Encouraging them to express their emotions.

·         Not comparing them to other children.

·         Making time for their favorite things

·         Nurturing their strengths


The Gow School is Equipped to Help (Conclusion/CTA)


Gow is a private special education school in NY that has been working with students with learning disabilities since 1926. The school specializes in dyslexia and related language-based learning disabilities as well as dyspraxia, CAPD (central auditory processing disorder), dyscalculiadysgraphia, and disorder of written expression. Students also come to Gow with ADHD) and/or executive function difficulties.


Our special needs boarding school accommodates students from 6th through 12th grade. We have been trusted by parents and students from 50 states and 22 countries for nearly 100 years. Gow alumni include architects, artists, chefs, doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs, lawyers and even an Olympic athlete.


Learn about our approach to learning disabilities or request information.


Additional Resources:


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

U.S. Department of Education

Learning Disabilities Association of America

National Center for Learning Disabilities