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Educational Assessments & Learning Disabilities

Educational Assessments

Students differ in the way they learn, in the rate at which they learn, in their confidence as learners, in their ability to get along with others and in the way they behave (Alberta Education).

Many parents have questions about their childrens’ learning style and academic potential. Watching your child struggle in school can be just as painful for parents as it is for the struggling child. A thorough psycho-educational assessment, conducted by a qualified psychologist, can provide extremely valuable information designed to help your child succeed to his or her academic potential. Mission Bridge Psychological ServicesA psycho-educational assessment involves the gathering and integrating background information about your child, administering educational and/or psychological tests, and interpreting all of that information to come up with recommendations to help your child academically. The procedure could include assessment and testing of a variety of skills which are considered necessary or important for being successful at school, including learning (cognitive) abilities, academic achievement, academic learning style and, if appropriate, more specific areas such as attention, visual-spatial skills, memory and /or social-emotional/behavioral adjustment. The findings yielded by a comprehensive educational assessment can be invaluable information to present to your child’s teachers, or for your own use to help you understand your child’s particular pattern of talents and areas in which he or she may need additional support.

During an initial meeting, the psychologist will review your child’s history and discuss what form of testing would best answer the questions you or your child’s school may have about your child’s pattern of abilities. You will be fully informed of the process at that time, including an estimate of cost. After the initial planning meeting, the psychologist will meet with your child to administer the appropriate tests.

After testing is complete, you will meet again with the psychologist to learn about the results. One of the most important parts of this process is discussion of what the psychologist recommends for your child, based on the results of the assessment. Depending on the outcome of the assessment, it is possible that accommodations and services can be arranged within the school or other community resources to help your child achieve at a level that matches her or his highest potential.

What is a Learning Disability?

A learning disability is a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in learning. It may express itself through difficulties decoding and understanding written language, writing, spelling, reasoning, organizing information, social skills, or doing mathematical calculations. Learning disabilities are not related to intelligence and do not include difficulties caused by impairments in hearing and vision, overall developmental delay, or emotional difficulties.

There continues to be disagreement about how many types of learning disability exist and about what causes them. The term 'learning disability' is a generic term, used to identify individuals with any one of many learning difficulties. These individuals may exhibit a combination of characteristics that differ in their origin and severity.


Impulsivity, activity level, and the capacity to maintain attention are all characteristics that vary from individual to individual.

Read more about Attention Deficit Disorders & Difficulties

Who is Most Likely to Have a Learning Disability?

Though estimates vary, most studies indicate that between 5% and 10% of children have a learning disability that will cause them to require of some kind of educational support. Boys are more likely to have learning disabilities than girls and learning disability does run in families. Premature or low birth weight children are also at elevated risk.

How Are Learning Disabilities Diagnosed?

Mission Bridge Psychological ServicesIf you suspect the presence of a learning disability, see a psychologist for a thorough assessment. Assessment typically involves interviews and testing and may also include direct classroom observation and questionnaires to be filled out by parents or teachers. The purpose of the assessment is not only to make a diagnosis but, more importantly, to identify the learner's unique strengths and weaknesses in order to make recommendations for intervention. A learning assessment takes from four to ten hours and includes a written report and formal sharing of assessment findings and recommendations.

What Can Be Done Once a Diagnosis Is Made?

Once a diagnosis is made and a picture of strengths and weaknesses emerges, the information is used to develop an educational plan most appropriate for the learner. This plan lays out the ways in which the learner can best be helped to compensate for deficits, build on strengths, and close gaps in knowledge.


Exceptional general intelligence was once thought to be the hallmark of giftedness, but now is regarded by most as only one attribute of giftedness. Current theories emphasize the multi-dimensionality of outstanding attributes and talents (e.g., intelligence, creativity, intense curiosity, leadership, musical/artistic abilities). However, most multidimensional definitions of giftedness do include reference to intelligence. Studies indicate gifted children are remarkable ‘whole-brained’ thinkers who use many parts of their brains for creative & demanding tasks. Some mistakenly assume that gifted children are gifted in all capacities, but this is far from true. 

Mission Bridge Psychological ServicesGifted children develop in an uneven manner, significantly out of developmental step with their same-age peers. Asynchronous development refers to their uneven development (intellectual, physical & emotional). For average children, intelligence, physical development and emotional development progress at about the same rate. The development is “in sync”. However, in gifted children the development of these areas is “out of sync”. They do not progress at the same rate, although intellectual ability is always advanced. Widely accepted is the belief that the higher a child’s IQ is, the more “out of sync” his/her development is likely to be.

Typically they have different, often more mature, interests than their peers. Because of this, they may be called ‘stuck up’ or odd or different, leading to feelings of social rejection. Sometimes they choose to spend time with older children or adults. Studies have documented the pressures put on gifted children to ‘dumb down’ their performance for the sake of conformity.

Some behaviours related to giftedness include:

  • Often unusually intrinsically motivated to learn and extremely curious.
  • Often show unusually long attention spans.
  • Often require constant exposure to new topics, novelty and new information.
  • Often have unusually good & efficient memories.
  • Often show a tendency to become bored with excessive repetition.
  • Often are good incidental learners and acquire broad vocabularies & knowledge bases from many sources without explicit instruction.
  • Often highly independent thinkers with strong opinions re: how they learn best.
  • Often are overly sensitive to criticism.
  • Often tend to argue, debate, or question authority.

How can parents tell if their child is gifted?

Parents often wonder if their child is gifted when they see evidence of advanced abilities (e.g., early reading, relating well to adults, ability to learn quickly, emotional sensitivity, extremely curious, focused attention, excellent memories, etc.). Attentively observing your child’s characteristics & behaviours is extremely important.

Parents also need to be aware of the developmental milestones of average children to understand the advanced development of their child. A best thing to do is to see a psychologist who would be able to study his/her behaviour in detail and maybe recommend some diagnostic testing.

Mission Bridge Psychological ServicesAnother important measure is to have your child tested using a standard reliable intelligence test when s/he is able to read and write. A comparison is done based on average peer IQ. The best age to do an IQ test is still debatable. As soon as a child is able to read, write and understand questions, s/he may be able to do such tests without much bias.

The important question parents need to ask themselves is the reason for testing and the difference it would make. Most parents test their children because they feel the results can make a difference. The reason may vary (e.g., to be accepted to a specific school, to be accepted to a specific pull-out program or a gifted class, or to provide information to the teacher that the child is different and needs something different in his/her education).

 The main reason parents may consider having their gifted children tested is so that they can fully understand their child’s capabilities such that the school will provide an appropriate educational plan. It is then appropriate to consult a psychologist to advise you on what your child’s needs may be and what kind of educational challenges would be appropriate.

Psychological Services
Mission Bridge Psychological Services

The partners at Mission Bridge Psychological Associates provide a comprehensive range of psychological services to individuals, couples, adolescents, and families. Together, we bring over 90 years of experience to our clients. Our collaboration both within our partnership and with other community resources increases the depth, range, and quality of our services.

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