Learning disabilities is an umbrella term that covers a
number of specific learning difficulties:
Auditory processing disorder – difficulty processing
all types of sounds
Language processing disorder – a specific type
of auditory processing disorder related to language
Dyscalculia – difficulty understanding numbers and learning math facts
Dysgraphia – difficulty with handwriting and
fine motor skills
Dyslexia – difficulty with reading and
Non-verbal learning disability – difficulty interpreting
non-verbal cues like facial expressions or body language
These are not the result of visual, hearing, or motor
Learning disabilities are different from
developmental disabilities such as intellectual disability (formerly called
mental retardation), Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, or fragile X syndrome. Developmental disabilities are more
wide-ranging and/or involve physical handicaps.
Schools test for and recognize most learning disabilities.
Public schools are required by federal law to recognize these issues and to
provide reasonable accommodations once identified. If you believe your child
has a learning disability but the school has not conducted an assessment, you
can request an assessment. Your request triggers a timeline that public schools
must follow by law to conduct the test, so you ought to put your request in
Child Find (known as Child Search in Orleans and Jefferson parishes) is a federally-mandated program for schools to provide special education services from 0-22 years of age. A downloadable fact sheet is below.
Early Steps is an assessment and intervention program limited to 0-3 years of age, and also covers medical disabilities. A downloadable fact sheet is below.
Private schools are not required by federal law to
recognize these issues or to provide any accommodations for them. Most private
schools have their own procedures that they follow and are willing to provide
many of the same accommodations that public schools provide.
When more in-depth testing is needed or the difficulties
are complicated or subtle, testing by a licensed psychologist (PhD or PsyD) can be
extremely helpful. Psychologists receive highly-specialized training to conduct
and interpret a battery of standardized tests. This formal and standardized
battery is called psychoeducational testing. Testing usually takes two visits
that last 1-2 hours each. The psychologist prepares a lengthy written report
and should give you a copy of the report and then meet with you to give
feedback on the report. Your children’s schools should welcome these reports
because the testing is more detailed than what schools can usually provide.
To find psychologists who can conduct psychoeducational testing, click on "Find a Provider" above, and enter "phd" or "psyd" in the top search box.
When learning disabilities have been identified, public schools
are required by law to make reasonable accommodations. The two main plans are
called 504 Plans and Individualized Education Plans (IEP). A 504 Plan is more
common and is less involved; it helps to remove barriers to performance such as
allowing students more time to take exams. An IEP is more involved and is more
concerned with providing remediation for specific learning disabilities. For
more detail on the differences between 504 Plans and IEP’s, there are many
online resources such as this one:
For each of the learning disabilities there are
specialists who can be very helpful such as language therapists, occupational
therapists, specialized tutors, and psychologists.
If you feel that your child's public school is not following federal laws to implement an IEP, a group called Families Helping Families may be able to help with peer-to-peer support. Click here for the Greater New Orleans area.
- Updated December 18, 2019