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Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc.
Caring for Our People with Disabilities & Chronic Illness

"Making life better!"

cartoon of old woman waving caneLEARNING DISABILITIES DIAGNOSIS

A first-grade teacher, who looked very much like the picture at left, once told me,

"I don't need any tests, after thirty years of teaching, I can tell which kids have learning disabilities by looking at them."

Fortunately for her students, that is NOT how it works.

To diagnose learning disabilities the law requires multiple, standardized tests given by a qualified professional. A student cannot be diagnosed as learning disabled based on just one test. The tests have to be administered by a licensed psychologist. We have seen cases in rural communities where a child was diagnosed as learning disabled and placed in special education based on results of tests given by the Learning Disabilities Teacher, school counselor or the classroom teacher. This is not only wrong it is illegal. The fact that a licensed psychologist may not be available does not justify using tests given by less qualified personnel. Details of testing for learning disability are covered in the special education workshop of the Caring for Our People training.

The negatives of being diagnosed with a learning disability are stereotypes, false beliefs, the type of prejudice anyone on a reservation has already seen too often. Teachers, other students and even the student himself may believe that he is unable to learn and simply not very intelligent. Of course, these beliefs are just as false as the same stereotypes applied to other groups. Still, many parents and teachers are concerned about identifying a child as in need of special education.

Students with undiagnosed learning disabilities are frustrated by their inability to learn in the same way as other students, but do not know what the exact problem is. They also may come to believe they cannot learn, give up and drop out of schools. Adults with undiagnosed learning disabilities may remain unemployed due to an inability to perform job duties such as reading directions, entering numbers on a cash register or remembering instructions.

One positive outcome of being diagnosed with a learning disability is a reduction in frustration for students, parents and teachers. There is an explanation of the reason for the student's difficulty. Ten years after having been diagnosed with a learning disability, one college student had this to say.

"Maybe it sounds weird, but it was such a relief. I still remember it. I was in the fourth grade. My teachers kept saying I was lazy. I would read the same page over and over and it would take me like two hours. My parents came to school so many times, they were so embarrassed. The teachers always said I wasn't trying. It was a big relief. I had a name for it and my parents at least believed me that I was trying. The learning disabilities teacher taught me a lot of strategies for studying. Still, even now that I'm in college I feel sometimes like I am dumb, like I'm not as smart as other people, and I am sure those years when I couldn't read and just didn't understand why have a lot to do with how I feel."

Of course, the major positive of a diagnosis is that it allows the individual, child or adult, to receive needed services. An adult who suspects a learning disability can also go through the testing and diagnosing process. Information on assessment in adulthood and finding employment are discussed in the Caring for Our People vocational rehabilitation workshop.

Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc. -- P.O.Box 663, 314 Circle Dr., Fort Totten, ND 58335 Tel: (701) 351-2175 Fax: (800) 905 -2571
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