Learning disability or learning differently? Weighing up the benefits of an educational assessment

There are a number of pros and cons for making a diagnosis or the identification of a disability, behavioural disorder, or learning difficulty, and it is not a process I take lightly as a psychologist working in the area of assessment. A “label” can have a big affect on a child’s life and can stick around for a long time if not for life. Many parents worry about the potential stigma of a diagnostic label, a natural and common concern.

But the other side of that coin is the understanding of how individual children learn and think. It can be empowering for children to know why certain things may be difficult for them, as well as why they may be really good at other things. It can also be so helpful to counteract the negative and untrue thoughts that some children develop about themselves as learners, like the idea that they are “dumb” or “lazy”.

This article by Catherine Deveny, who is both dyslexic and an accomplished author, is a wonderful example of how people with dyslexia can be empowered by understanding their own unique ways of learning. While reading and writing can be challenging to learn, people with dyslexia also sometimes demonstrate strengths in creativity or thinking outside the box.


Identifying learning difficulties or disabilities can also really help teachers to tease out what is really going on when a child is misbehaving or not performing at school. And in doing so they can find ways to help those children demonstrate and use their strengths.

The term “neurodiversity” is a concept that has been gaining momentum . It simply means that there are a whole variety of ways that brains and minds function. This means that differences in the way children learn can be seen as strengths, instead of being just seen as difficulties. By understanding these differences, which is where assessment can help, we can help children to use and show those strengths to achieve their very best.

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