Questions to Consider After a Learning Disability Diagnosis

Has your child or teen received a learning disability diagnosis, leaving you feeling overwhelmed by what steps to take next?

It’s something we hear frequently from parents who learn their student has dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia, or another specific learning challenge. In fact, we recently covered this very topic on a mini-episode of The Brainy Moms podcast after a listener wrote in with the very same challenge. While we encourage you to listen to the episode yourself here, but here are a few important questions to think through as a family as you begin to find the best tools to support your child:

1. When is a tutor the right solution for my child or teen with a learning disability diagnosis?

As parents, our first inclination when we notice our child is struggling academically is to hire a tutor. But is it the right solution for your child’s challenge? Probably not if they’ve been diagnosed with a learning disability.

“I think tutors can be beneficial in several scenarios,” says Dr. Amy Moore, a cognitive and educational psychologist with 25+ years of experience with developmental and psychoeducational assessment, teacher education, curriculum design, educational program evaluation, and cognitive research. “One, if your child has been absent due to illness or injury and needs to catch up, a tutor can help with those assignments or lessons that they missed. I also think tutors can be beneficial for subjects like algebra that are sometimes hard to understand as the teacher is going quickly through the concepts.” A tutor can reteach content that the student isn’t quite grasping in the classroom.

But for a student who has been diagnosed with a learning disability, it’s important to look at the underlying cause of the learning struggle, because simply reteaching content over and over only to watch a student continue to struggle is likely a sign that the cause of the issue isn’t being addressed.

“We know that most struggles with learning are the result of a deficit in one or more cognitive skills—those underlying learning skills that we use for thinking and learning things,” explains Moore. “If you have a deficit or weakness in one or more of those, then learning is going to be difficult.”

Finding an intervention that will dig deeper to uncover the root cause of your child’s struggles is a powerful step in the right direction!

2. How do I look at an intervention’s research to see if it is really as effective as they claim?

Interventions can be not only costly, but require an investment of time, so Moore advises that parents get the most information possible to make an informed decision.

“My first suggestion is to look at the research,” Moore says. What does the research show on your particular intervention? So many times we see interventions or companies that say ‘This is researched based,’ but the research is on a general principle (like neuroplasticity) instead of their unique intervention. Instead, you’ll want to ask for research done on THAT exact intervention for kids in your child’s demographic, then you’ll really be able to see what to expect from the intervention.

“So what you want to look for is the results section that says there were ‘statistically significant changes’ or ‘statistically significant gains’ or ‘statistically significant improvements,’” says Moore. The word ‘significant’ is what we’re looking for (because “nearly significant” is not reassuring as a parent).

3. How can I know if a particular skill is deficient and causing something like a reading struggle?

Reading struggles (along with math, attention, or other processing issues) vary widely person-to-person. So just saying you’re looking for a “reading intervention” isn’t enough. It’s important for parents to dive deeper and to find an intervention that will support them as they uncover the root cause of the learning struggles.

In the case of reading, as an example, are your child’s issues based in deficits of visual processing or auditory processing? Knowing which skill is weak will direct the type of intervention that you’re looking for so you can be confident your choice is actually addressing the issue.

An Effective Intervention Backed by Peer-Reviewed Research

Parents who want to get more information about their student’s brain skills can contact their local brain training center to schedule a Brain Skills Assessment. The cognitive assessment only takes about an hour and the results will show which skills are already thriving and which skills have room for improvement. This can answer why your child or teen performs so well on certain activities yet struggles with other types of tasks or assignments. Armed with that information, you can make the best decision about the type of intervention that would most benefit your student!


Thanks to the listener who submitted this question! Have a question of your own? Write to our show at [email protected].