How to get a learning assessment for your struggling child

How do you go about getting an assessment or diagnosis for a struggling learner? This is a topic that I cover extensively in my book: Helping Children With Dyslexia.

I wrote this book (currently in its 2nd edition) as a direct response to helping my three children who have now all been diagnosed with dyslexia. It was during this time I was approached by lots of other parents who also needed help and advice in this area.

You can find this book in local libraries, bookshops, online at our website: Dyslexia Daily, or on Amazon. We ship this book all over the world. The foreword is written by Virgin entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson, who is a wonderful man and an advocate for children with school learning difficulties.

Why you need to know if your child has a learning disability or not

There seems to be a general worldwide trend of reluctance to label children with a specific learning disability. Most parents will have their own view on this.

The reality is this; a reluctance to label a child can have the following outcome:

“Without some form of diagnosis and recognised label, your child may never receive the level of assistance they are entitled to, from their school or relevant educational authority.”

Ultimately, it is a parent’s choice whether their child is tested or not and whether any diagnosis or label determined is applied. What is important, however, is that help is offered to the struggling learner as early as possible. This is the one time where being pushy can be a major positive. It can also be the difference between your child receiving additional support and assistance or not.

“The years of formal education are a short phase of a person’s life, but what happens during these years can determine the adult they will become, the attitudes, skills and confidence they
develop and the future they look forward to.”

Even without a label or definitive diagnosis, your child can still receive extra assistance from teachers, educational specialists and parents, if they are struggling to reach educational benchmarks. You can also begin to offer your child some assistance at home.

“When a child is in the classroom, the school work they produce and their behaviour may illustrate symptoms of a brain processing problem, but this is not and never will be, an accurate way to diagnose a school learning difficulty or ‘Dyslexia’.”

Many experts define Dyslexia as a complex brain-processing problem which needs to be diagnosed accurately by specialists with the appropriate qualifications.

Teachers generally see the symptoms that occur when a child is struggling, but this is not enough.

Dyslexia or other specific learning difficulties can be so complex, only individuals with the appropriate qualifications can diagnose them. These qualifications must also be recognised by your state education authority, in order for your child to successfully apply for accommodations at school and around exams and assessments, particularly in secondary school.

“Don’t spend money on a learning difficulty diagnosis that is not going to get your child the support they require from your relevant educational authority. Make sure you get a diagnosis from a qualified and recognised individual.”

Who is qualified to test your child for a Specific Learning Difficulty or Dyslexia?

  • An in-school learning support teacher or counsellor with appropriate post-graduate qualifications

You need to check on these qualifications thoroughly with either the school authority or the dyslexia authority in your area. This dyslexia authority may be the Dyslexia association in your state or territory. These teachers often have a Masters of Education in Dyslexia and Learning Difficulties.

Different places in the world vary, as to the number of qualified educational specialists. In England and America there appears to be more, however, in Australia, there are very few.

  • A developmental paediatrician

You may need to get a referral from your family doctor to see one of these.

  • A child psychologist

There are different psychologists you can see who can diagnose a specific learning difficulty, these include; a developmental psychologist, a neuropsychologist or an educational psychologist. Most school regions will have a child psychologist who comes to the school to provide psychological services funded by the government. When your school offers this service, for your child, you need to ensure you are being offered the services of a child psychologist with the relevant qualifications.

Accessing these types of psychology services can be easier in some education regions than others. It can also be more difficult to prove the negative impact a learning difficulty is having on your child if they have developed effective compensatory strategies or are twice exceptional (2E). This may mean their average to above average school marks don’t indicate how hard they have to work to achieve their good school results.

“Sadly, it is often easier for parents to access the services of a regional educational psychologist much too late, when their child is struggling with both poor school results and
ongoing psycho-social issues.”
  • A children’s hospital learning disability unit

Often, children’s hospitals will have a department specifically for children with developmental or specific learning disabilities. These departments generally have all the specialists needed; paediatricians, psychologists, social workers, speech therapists, occupational therapists, nurses, teachers and more.

These departments often have close links with educational authorities, which means you won’t need to seek out further testing. These departments will often provide a comprehensive report that can be used to help deliver ongoing support for your child during their education.

  • A private clinic

There are also private clinics that specialise in the diagnosis of children’s developmental and learning disabilities and more specifically ‘Dyslexia’. Even if your child doesn’t have dyslexia they may be diagnosed with another learning difficulty, which may still provide them with access to funding for additional educational support.

There is a long list of things that come under the umbrella of learning difficulties or disabilities, which could be causing your child to struggle. These include, but are not limited to; Dyspraxia, Visual Processing Deficits, Auditory Processing Deficits, Apraxia, Dysgraphia and the Autism Spectrum.

If you would like to read more about all the things that may be causing your child to struggle to learn, you can read about them in my book Helping Children With Dyslexia.

Another place you could look for help is your local/state dyslexia association. These associations often have assessors that they recommend. You can find a list of these on our Free Learning Difficulties Service Provider on Dyslexia Daily.

For answers to people’s specific questions related to this topic, check out my Facebook Live video on YouTube here or at Facebook here.


  1. Avatar Debra Phippen   •  

    Hi Liz,
    Thanks for your article.
    I have to correct you though… a teacher cannot disgnose dyslexia, even with Special Ed.quals or a Masters, at least in Victoria.
    A parent needs to take their child to SPELD to be assessed by an educational psychologist, or to see a private Ed. Psychologist.
    An initial assessment usually results in a ‘provisional diagnosis of dyslexia’ -pending a minimum 6 months of targeted tuition. This means the school has to give that child a minimum of 6 months of individual ( or possibly paired) instruction. Following that 6 months, a child should then be re-assessed by the same psychologist ( if possible). If the results of the second assessment are such that the student is still working at least 2 years below the expected standard then they will be given a diagnosis of Specific Learning Disability-in whatever specific area the child is weak in.
    I hope this clarifies things. I am a trained & experienced special education teacher and currently work in a mainstream school with students who have & don’t yet have an SLD diagnosis.

  2. Avatar Debra Phippen   •  

    Parents can seek an assessment for their child in Melbourne via SPELD, the LDA website or any private educational or clinical psychologist.
    The school should then organise a meeting between the parents & the Head, Deputy Head or Senior Co-ordinator, to go theough the report & its recommendations & inform the parents as to the Action Plan which the class teacher/teacher aide & special needs teacher will use to support the child. An individual program should then be written by the school & presented to the parents at a later date, before the child is then given regular targeted suport. Review meeting once a term or in lieu of Parent Interviews is usually standard.
    There have been ‘Enrolment Support Groups’now called ‘Student Support Groups’ in Victoria since 1986. No school has any excuse for not acting upon a report presented to them by parents.

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