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Learning Disorders

  • Conditions that affect the way a child processes information
  • Types include impairment in reading, writing, mathematics, and ADD
  • Diagnosing consists of a parent evaluation and child assessment
  • Involves child study center

Learning Disorders


It can be frustrating for a parent to watch a son or daughter struggle to keep pace with others at school–especially when they know the child is bright, interested, and motivated. Though there may be several reasons why a child doesn’t work to his or her potential, a learning disability may be at the root of the problem.

Learning disabilities are caused by problems with the way the brain processes information and have little or nothing to do with intelligence. Most people who have a learning disability are of average or above-average intelligence.

What are the different types of learning disabilities?

There are several types of learning disabilities, including:

  • Impairment in reading, also called dyslexia, which affects a child’s reading skills and may also affect writing, spelling and speaking.
  • Impairment in writing, also called dysgraphia, which affects writing skills. Children with this learning disability may have trouble with spelling accuracy, grammar and punctuation accuracy, and clarity or organization of written expression.
  • Impairment in mathematics, also called dyscalculia, which affects a child’s ability to do math.

Attention deficit disorder, which interferes with a child’s ability to focus and pay attention, and dyspraxia, which affects coordination, are two other types of neural processing problems included in the broad category of learning disabilities.

When do learning disabilities arise?

Though sometimes identified in children in preschool, a child’s learning difficulties more typically surface in kindergarten or grade school or even later, says Michele Goyette-Ewing, PhD, director of psychology training at the Yale Child Study Center and director of outpatient clinical services. She says that a teacher is often the first to notice a child’s lagging performance compared with peers.

The Child Study Center offers comprehensive psychological evaluations, including for learning disorders. Referrals from pediatricians or education professionals are not required; parents are welcome to call on their own.

How are learning disabilities diagnosed?

Before the initial appointment, parents (and sometimes teachers) will be asked to complete questionnaires about a child’s developmental, medical, social, and academic history. The evaluator uses that information to plan an appropriate assessment.

Parent interviews are a key component of a child’s evaluation. Parents will be asked to provide information about strengths and weaknesses and be invited to discuss specific areas of concern. The child is interviewed too and also has one-on-one testing sessions with the evaluator. Those sessions are used to measure cognitive, educational and social-emotional functioning.

Each assessment is individualized, says Goyette-Ewing. For example, a reading evaluation may assess reading skills, fluency and comprehension. If indicated, additional testing is done to evaluate attention, memory and executive functioning. Parents and evaluators meet to discuss findings and recommendations and a report is prepared that can be shared with a child’s teacher and school.

How do schools use learning disability assessments?

The learning disability evaluation is used by a child’s school to develop the child’s individualized educational plan. Each assessment includes highly specific recommendations for support services (such as tutoring) and/or accommodations (such as untimed tests) that can improve the child’s ability to access the learning environment and better demonstrate his or her abilities.

Goyette-Ewing says that schools today are “highly focused on identifying and providing support to children not achieving at grade level,” calling this a “terrific improvement” over years past. 

Once the assessment is complete, the Child Study Center team members are available to be involved with education planning for the child. Team members may attend school meetings with parents and educators to help plan how to close the gap between a child’s ability and achievement.

What makes Yale Medicine’s approach to assessing learning disabilities unique?

Yale Medicine's Child Study Center has a long history of providing comprehensive psychological evaluations that assess the whole child–including problem solving skills, academic skills, behavioral and adaptive skills, and social-emotional functioning.

The Child Study Center has a wide-angle approach to assessing an individual child’s strengths, weaknesses and environment. That's a key differentiator for Yale in the realm of psychological/learning disability assessments, says Goyette-Ewing.

“We have a long history of providing comprehensive psychological evaluations that assess the whole child,” she notes, “problem solving skills, academic skills, behavioral and adaptive skills, and social-emotional functioning.” Those holistic evaluations, she explains, “can be key interventions in helping a family, school and/or therapist come to a better understanding of what is happening and how a child can best be supported to learn and grow.”

Another advantage is the Child Study Center’s collaborative approach to working with children and families. As a leader in research on child development and an innovator in developing programs to help children, our evaluation teams include highly trained experts who are passionate about helping children reach their highest potential. The team includes clinicians who have developed a unique perspective and level of expertise based on their work with children with a wide variety of needs, abilities, and backgrounds.