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Diagnosing & Testing Dyslexia

Dyslexia is not a disease — so it cannot be “diagnosed” in the same way that a medical condition can be determined. There is no blood test or genetic test that can show whether or not someone is dyslexic; a “diagnosis” is simply the opinion of a qualified professional.

Additionally, there are no uniformly accepted criteria for diagnosis, so professionals may disagree on whether or not a person is dyslexic, and on the labels, they use to describe various types of dyslexia — or whether to use the word “dyslexia” at all.

In general, dyslexia is diagnosed by tests or evaluations used to measure a person’s learning characteristics and severity of symptoms.

A screening is generally a short, informal test which is used either to determine whether further testing or warranted, or to determine whether an individual is likely to be helped by a specific program.

Licensed Davis providers use screening to determine whether or not an individual is likely to benefit from a Davis program.

The term assessment may sometimes be used to mean an informal screening, or it could be used to mean more extensive testing. It also is commonly used when the testing is focused only on ascertaining academic skill levels, such as a reading assessment.

Who can diagnose dyslexia?

In most cases, testing for dyslexia is done by a licensed educational psychologist. Neurologists and other medical professionals may also be qualified to provide a formal diagnosis.

It is important to keep in mind that dyslexia is not a disease or an identifiable physical condition. Rather, it is a learning style that usually can be assessed through a profile that shows whether the child has a typical pattern of strengths and weaknesses, coupled with an assessment to rule out other possible causes of symptoms, such as vision or hearing problems.

Formal assessment is usually necessary before a child can qualify for special services from his school, but it is not a prerequisite for getting help independently for specific academic problems such as reading difficulties.

Be aware that some individuals who claim to offer diagnostic testing services do not have the sort of educational credentials that would be seen as acceptable by schools or other agencies.

There are some fee-based services available online that may provide an informative report, but would not be accepted as providing an official diagnosis or documentation of dyslexia or any other learning disability.

Screenings geared to specific programs or treatments usually are not a substitute for formal diagnostic services.

However, a formal diagnosis is not always needed; the main benefit of a formal diagnosis is that it can qualify a person to receive services or accommodations at their school or university, and may also be helpful to protect against workplace discrimination.

Diagnostic testing usually means that the person will be given several different kinds of tests, in an effort to get a full picture of their learning needs. Depending on the background and qualifications of the professional doing the testing, it may include tests related to vision and hearing as well as tests related to intellectual functioning and achievement.

Generally the professional will give a detailed written report summarizing the findings, and may also include recommendations as to the types of intervention or support that would be appropriate for the individual.

When is a formal diagnosis needed?

In general, a formal diagnosis of dyslexia or another learning disability is needed if the person is seeking accommodations or support from a school, employer, or other agency.

For example,

  • A child will usually need a diagnosis of a learning disability in order to qualify for special education services in public schools. In such cases, testing is often provided free of charge by the school. It may not be testing for “dyslexia” per se.
  • A student will usually need a formal diagnosis of a learning disability to obtain special accommodations in academic testing or in an educational setting. It is important to check with the university, school, or testing agency to determine what type of testing they will require for such accommodations.  In most cases, individuals will have to bear the expense of obtaining a diagnostic evaluation, although this may be covered by insurance, and a college or university may be able to refer the individual to low or reduced cost resources for evaluation.
  • An individual will usually need a formal diagnosis of a learning disability in order to enforce legal rights intended to protect disabled individuals in employment settings. In general, the individual will have to pay for such testing on their own.  Individuals should be aware that their rights may be limited; employers are not required to hire or retain individuals whose disabilities make them unsuited for the job even with support and accommodations.  Rather, anti-discrimination laws generally protect only situations where the requested accommodations would enable the employee to do the work required, and the provisions of accommodations would not be unduly burdensome on the employer.
  • An individual may need a diagnosis of a learning disability in order to qualify for public services, such as vocational training or disability payments.
  • A person may want to get a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation in order to get accurate and detailed information about the cause of their difficulties and recommended courses of therapy or intervention, even if they are not seeking any of the services or accommodations listed above.  Individuals should understand that such testing can be quite expensive, if not provided by a public agency or covered by insurance, and they should weigh the cost of such testing against the likely cost of needed services.  It is helpful to gain as much information as possible, but individuals with limited financial resources can find that after paying the cost of testing, they have no money left to pay for the programs needed to to help with the problems they were tested for.

Note: If you are contemplating a Davis program and also want testing to legally qualify for accommodations or services from a school, employer, or other agency as detailed above — please arrange for separate diagnostic testing from a qualified professional first.

The positive results of a Davis program will often make it more difficult to “prove” that the individual has a learning disability such as dyslexia, but sometimes the individual will still feel that they want continued support of some kind, at least in some settings.

It is very common that accommodations and support are no longer needed or desired after a successful Davis program. However, there are no guarantees, as each individual will progress at their own pace. Thus, it makes sense to get the testing before embarking on the program.

We have had many reported cases of individuals who were formally diagnosed as having dyslexia before a Davis program, but were no longer diagnosed as being dyslexic when tested sometime after completion of a Davis program.

Diagnosed with dyslexia in adulthood

There are two types of testing that adults who think they are dyslexic may want to consider:

  • dyslexia screening, or
  • full assessment services.

Dyslexia screening is ordinarily done as a first step toward getting help by a provider of services geared to dyslexia, and is generally not expensive. For example, Davis Dyslexia Correction providers use a screening test called the Davis Perceptual Ability Assessment. Together with your own description of your symptoms and problems – the possible signs you have noticed – this Assessment will help determine whether Davis methods are likely to help you.

Full assessment services will give you a complete picture of various learning issues and problems you may have. This sort of assessment is needed if you want to get special accommodations at school or at work, or are concerned about possible workplace discrimination.

This sort of testing is more expensive, but also gives a more detailed measurement of what sort of problems you have.

On the other hand, the providers of this sort of assessment generally will not provide you with specific remediation or other help, although they may make some generalized suggestions or recommendations.

To find out where you can get this sort of assessment, you might want to try the following resources:

  • If you are a college student, your college or university may have a student disabilities services office that can refer you for testing.
  • If you are in the military, testing for learning disabilities may be available free of charge.
  • You might be able to get a referral for low or reduced cost testing through a local Adult Literacy Group or Vocational Rehab services.
  • In some cases, testing might be available via a medical referral – check with your health plan or physician as to this possibility.

Undiagnosed dyslexia in teenagers

Often, very bright children can compensate for their dyslexia in the early school years, but cannot cope with the greater intellectual demands of secondary level schooling.

Some common signs that your teenager may have dyslexia are:

  • Your child must repeatedly read and reread material in order to understand it.
  • Your child has extreme difficulty managing and keeping track of homework assignments and deadlines for his various classes.
    Your child repeatedly reports that he was unaware of assignments and deadlines because the teacher “never told” him what was required.
  • Your child has unexpected difficulty with learning a foreign language.
  • Your child struggles with higher math, such as algebra.
  • There is a significant discrepancy between your child’s school performance and scores on standardized tests, including college board tests such as the PSAT.

If your child shows significant problems in any one of the above areas, it is a sign that he may have a previously undiagnosed learning disability.

You should discuss these issues with him and also talk to parents of his classmates to find out whether their children are also having problems with the same subjects.

Sometimes a problem with a math class or the first year of a foreign language can simply be the result of a poor teacher; poor grades in any subject can also occur with a teacher who is unusually strict in grading practices. If it is a “teacher” problem, usually other students and parents will have similar complaints.

However, if the problems seem to be unusual or persistent, you should seek an evaluation for dyslexia or other learning barriers.

The guidance counsellor at school may be able to help arrange such testing, as well as to help plan your child’s course schedule to better meet his needs.

When an Older Child Asks for Help

In some cases, your older child or teenager may be the one who asks for testing. Your child may find the academic demands in middle school and high school overwhelming, at least in some subject areas.

He may have learned about dyslexia on his own, through Internet web sites or by talking to other kids. In any case, he knows that he is struggling with material that seems easy for his peers.

Your teenager may be afraid to bring up the subject of dyslexia at home. He may be embarrassed to let you know just how poorly he is doing at school, or he may be afraid that you will be angry or upset.

It is important that you listen to your child and try to understand the reasons he feels he needs extra help. You might want to take a list of common dyslexia symptoms and ask your child to show you which problems on the list he feels apply to him.

You may be surprised to learn that your child has been struggling for years, but has managed in the past to hide his problems through sheer determination and hard work. Your support and understanding is crucial; for a child who has previously done well academically, an appropriate diagnosis can be the boost he needs to excel in high school and gain admittance into the college of his choice.

Dyslexia test online

A screening is a short, informal test which is used either to determine whether further testing or warranted or to determine whether an individual is likely to be helped by a specific program. It can be done online.

Licensed Davis providers use screening to determine whether or not an individual is likely to benefit from a Davis program.



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