Formal assessment for dyslexia

 Early assessment and identification of dyslexia (and early, effective intervention) are important.

When a child exhibits a number of signs of dyslexia, it is recommended that a through psycho-educational assessment be done by a qualified psychologist to identify the reason(s) for the reading, spelling and/or writing difficulty.

Who provides a psycho-educational assessment?

There are two ways to get a formal psycho-educational assessment

  1. Using a psychologist associated with your school board
  2. Using a private psychologist

Some private medical insurance policies will cover some of the costs of a psycho-educational assessment, if prescribed by a doctor.

What test is used to identify dyslexia?

There is no one test for dyslexia. The diagnosis of 'dyslexia' must be made by a psychologist.  A battery of tests must be administered, generally over two or three sessions. Individuals may be tested at any age. The psychologist may work with other professionals such as speech and language pathologists, physicians and occupational therapists.

What is 'specific learning disorder' and is it the same as 'dyslexia'?

Psychologist, teachers, clinicians and researchers use different terms to describe reading problems, which can be very confusing.  Typically, in a psycho-educational assessment, a psychologist will  refer to a "specific learning disorder" or "specific learning disorder with impairment in reading, or writing", which are terms defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, 2013, published by the American Psychiatric Association (known as the DSM-V).  The DSM-V also says that "dyslexia is an alternative term used to refer to a pattern of learning difficulties characterized by problems with accurate or fluent word recognition, poor decoding and poor spelling abilities”. So, 'dyslexia' is an equivalent and completely acceptable term for the same condition of difficulty with word reading and spelling.

What should an evaluation include?

The psychologist will conduct a comprehensive assessment to determine whether the person’s learning problems may be related to other disorders, such as attention deficit and/or hyperactivity disorder, mood disorders, pervasive developmental disorders and physical or sensory impairments.

In general, an evaluation will usually include the following:

  • A case history that includes information on developmental, medical, behaviour, academic,  family history and review of remediation efforts to date.
  • A measure of intellectual functioning (in Ontario , this is often the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC).
  • Tests of receptive (listening) and expressive (speaking) language skills.
  • Since dyslexia is often characterized by issues with phonological processing skills, the ability to rapidly name letters and objects and working memory it is helpful to include tests of these skills   (eg. Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing which includes a test for Rapid Automatized Naming (RAN) and memory evaluations (eg. Wide Range Assessment of Memory and Learning, Second Edition (WRAML2)).
  • Educational tests to determine level of functioning in basic skill areas of reading, spelling, written language and math. Testing in reading and writing should include the following measures: single word decoding of real and nonsense words, oral and silent reading in context, reading comprehension, spelling in isolation and in text, sentence, story and essay writing, handwriting.  Many psychologists in Ontario use the The Wechsler Individual Achievement Test–Third Edition (WIAT-III).
  • Assessments for other issues such as behavioural assessment for Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Possibly a classroom observation.

If a profile emerges that is characteristic of dyslexia or a student is diagnosed with dyslexia, it is important to get effective intervention and support for your child.

Other resources:

Strengths and Challenges: A Parent’s Guide to Psychological Assessment (Peel District School Board)

A Parent’s Guide to Special Education in Ontario (Learning Disability Association of Ontario)

Where Do I Go For An Assessment (Learning Disability Association of Durham Region)

Frequently Asked Questions about Identification of Students with Learning Disabilities (Waterloo Region District School Board)

Tips for Parents: Special Education (People for Education)