BENEFITS OF DIAGNOSIS

A formal diagnosis of dyslexia is helpful for:

  1. Providing clarity about the nature and type of the specific reading difficulties;
  2. Giving a neutral perspective on why the individual is struggling with reading;
  3. Assessing for other commonly co-occurring struggles like in writing, math, and attention; and
  4. Making a plan to move forward and starting intervention and/or accommodations.

People usually report that they feel a sense of relief after the diagnosis of dyslexia is confirmed, as it allows them, in their minds, to separate out the reading struggle from the individual. The reading struggle can be all-consuming at times, and some people feel they need to hide or compensate for their struggle. Some people start to feel like their reading struggles are part of their identity. Having a diagnosis brings clarity to the struggle, allows a perspective of seeing it as separate from intelligence, and opens the door to the path of interventions and accommodations, as well as following one’s own unique strengths-based learning. Looking at the pattern of test scores used for diagnosis allows for a careful analysis of the individual’s strengths and weaknesses, and this process is often an empowering experience.

A psychologist who specializes in dyslexia will do the following:

  1. Gather objective quantitative data on IQ, academic skills, attention, and the underlying mechanics of reading (i.e., phonological processing and rapid automatic naming);
  2. Gather information about the individual’s history with reading and other academics, as well as family history;
  3. Screen for commonly co-occurring conditions like dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and ADHD;
  4. Provide clear feedback on test results, diagnosis, and recommendations; and
  5. Provide a written report in a timely manner.

Some people may fear that a diagnostic label could create or exacerbate stigma. This is understandable, given the widespread misunderstandings about dyslexia in our culture. However, having a name for the learning struggles is a huge relief, and clarity always lights the way for the best path forward. . We have yet to meet a parent or child who has regretted getting a formal diagnosis of dyslexia. A diagnosis of dyslexia helps a person understand that the reading difficulties are due to a brain difference, not lack of intelligence. This can be a huge self-esteem boost.

The clarity of a diagnosis also helps other family members understand the genetic difference and helps them learn to recognize it. Learning and addressing dyslexia often results in ending the fear and shame and can help introduce pride and hope. 

A formal diagnosis can help an individual receive formal academic or work-based accommodations, such as through an IEP or 504 Plan, or extended time on standardized college or graduate entrance examinations. An IEP or 504 plan helps give students specific accommodations that add to their success and can carry onto their post-secondary education and work -- since legal rights are attached to it. (Note that a formal diagnosis is not necessary for an IEP or 504 Plan.)

Study.com's College and Career Guide for Students with Disabilities offers resources for scholarship information as well as:

  • Legal rights of students with disabilities;
  • Services colleges can or need to make available;
  • Required accommodations for students; and
  • Technologies and helpful apps for students.

The following agencies may diagnose dyslexia. Always do your research and ask questions like "Can you diagnose dyslexia versus just a screening?" and "Will you use the term dyslexia in your written report?"

Additional Guidance

  1. The International Dyslexia Association - Upper Midwest Branch has also compiled a wonderful fact sheet about dyslexia diagnosis. See link.
  2. Susan Barton has compiled a variety of topics on “How to Get Help” on her website.
  3. Set up an independent neuropsychological evaluation. Check with your medical insurance before making an appointment to determine if it will be covered.
  4. See Tips for getting a dyslexia diagnosis from the Dyslexia Training Institute.
  5. Dyslexia Handbook from Colorado Department of Education
  6. The Arkansas Dyslexia Resource Guide, while written with Arkansas in mind, contains a lot of useful general information, including possible screening tools and tests for the underlying causes of dyslexia. This is a guide that parents could use and contains information that could be sent to their local schools and educators.
  7. The New Jersey Dyslexia Handbook (2017) contains useful information including a "potential indicators of dyslexia checklist".
  8. Undiagnosed dyslexia can have lasting effects. See the article "Investigating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Triggered by the Experience of Dyslexia in Mainstream School Education?".

Before setting up the appointment, Questions to ask an evaluator:

  • Do you diagnosis dyslexia? What is your background? 
  • When was the last time you did a dyslexia evaluation? 
  • Can you provide a specific diagnosis of dyslexia?
  • Do you use the specific diagnosis “Dyslexia” in your diagnosis or just "Specific Learning Disability"? An Independent Evaluation should evaluate for dyslexia, NOT aneducational classification of SLD like the school provides. 
  • What assessments do you use when evaluating a child for dyslexia?
  • The Arkansas Dyslexia Resource Guide (2015) Appendix F has a more comprehensive list of questions.

Dyslexia Diagnosis Assessments

The person you choose to do this evaluation needs to be completely independent of the school district. They need to have expertise in the area of dyslexia. They should test ALL of the following areas:

  • Phonological Processing
  • Rapid Automatic Naming
  • Oral Reading
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Single word reading
  • Nonword reading
  • Processing speed
  • Spelling
  • Vocabulary
  • Writing sample
  • Math skills
  • Intelligence 
  • AttentionReview of school records
  • Thorough review of family and school history
  • The Arkansas Dyslexia Resource Guide (2015) Appendix G has a list for "Assembling a Test Battery".

Frequently Asked Questions: 

"How do I have my child tested for a dyslexia diagnosis?"

Dyslexia can be diagnosed by a Licensed Psychologist (Ph.D. or Psy.D.). This is the recommended route, as the psychologist can provide assessment in all of the areas listed above. Sometimes, a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) can assess for phonological processing and rapid automatic naming, but the SLP does not assess intelligence, attention, other cognitive functions, or provide a comprehensive academic test battery. Family physicians, counselors, social workers, and teachers do not diagnose dyslexia. To get started, contact your health insurance company and ask if educational and/or neuropsychological testing is covered. Please remember that it is very important to choose an evaluator who understands dyslexia and how to test for it. We recommend asking the evaluator a number of questions before making your decision. 

School can evaluate for a specific learning disability (SLD) which is the IEP category that dyslexia falls under, but a child with dyslexia still might not qualify for services under an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). A dyslexia diagnosis does not mean that a child will qualify for an IEP. If a student does not qualify for an IEP, they may still be able to obtain a 504 plan. A diagnosis also helps give a specific roadmap for interventions.

"What does the testing involve?"

Testing involves assessment of the following areas:

  1. IQ
  2. Attention
  3. Memory/executive functioning for older kids and adults
  4. A complete academic skills test battery 
    1. All of the main composite scores should be represented, including Reading, Written Expression, and Mathematics in order to screen for commonly co-occurring conditions and so that the school can use this data directly for their workup
    2. The academic skills testing should involve all aspects of reading including single word reading, nonword decoding, oral reading fluency, and comprehension
    3. Assessment of written language skills is crucial as writing is the other side of the coin from reading, and they are importantly linked in both assessment and intervention
    4. Math skills can be a strength for some individuals with dyslexia, or a weakness for others. Because of the likelihood of overlap, a comprehensive assessment must include math as well even if there are no stated concerns in this area
  5. Phonological processing and Rapid Automatic Naming

Dyslexia can impact many areas of functioning and can range from mild to moderate to severe. An evaluator will gather thorough background information about your family and your child. Parents and teachers are typically given questionnaires about the child's behavior and performance. The evaluator will choose specific tests based on your child's age. Testing usually takes at least four hours. A good evaluator will provide a written report that states the results of the tests, any diagnoses made, and his or her interpretations and recommendations. Good evaluators will also schedule a face-to-face meeting to discuss the results.

There are unproven 'treatments' for dyslexia. Be wary of therapies suggesting that dyslexia will be cured. A qualified diagnostician can provide appropriate guidance based on your child's results.

"I was told my child has to be older to be tested for dyslexia."

Many parents and educators are erroneously told that dyslexia can't be diagnosed until 3rd or 4th grade. Please do not listen to this myth - it can cost your child years of lost learning. In fact, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), reading disabilities can be diagnosed as early as age 5 1/2, or the last half of kindergarten.

"Why is a diagnosis so expensive?"

Without health insurance coverage, diagnostic testing for dyslexia can be expensive. Fees can range from $1,000 to $3,200. A good evaluation process typically takes about 12-14 hours of the psychologist’s time, and this is what is reflected in the fees. Note that many health insurance companies do not cover the diagnostic testing. However, funds from a Health Savings Account (HSA) may be used in some cases. This cost may not be possible for many families. If you can not afford to have your child officially diagnosed, but strongly suspect dyslexia due to family history and many signs and symptoms, consider putting your available financial resources towards helping your child. A diagnosis is helpful, but not required to work on your child's difficulties. See the Tutoring section for more information.

Parents may want to check with their insurance companies and health saving's accounts to discuss if anything is covered under their plan as far as diagnosis and remediation options or if it can be claimed as part of a medical Flex Spending Account (FSA).

Educating yourself and those around your child will greatly empower your child's experience and can help cause changes in the classroom. Changes in your home can start today. Learn the facts. 

Also contact Minnesota nonprofits:

"What is the difference between a diagnosis of reading disability and a diagnosis of dyslexia?"

The American Psychological Association (APA) recently updated their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V), which contains the diagnostic criteria used by Licensed Psychologists.  Dyslexia is now listed and described under the category of "Specific Learning Disability with Impairment in Reading" which is diagnostic code 315.00.  Some psychologists use this terminology; howeverit is important to use the term dyslexia to provide clarity and consistency with the diagnosis and the plan going forward. Be sure to ask your evaluator about this prior to your evaluation. This article, written by psychologist Steve Dykstra further addresses dyslexia in the DSM-V, including the erroneous rumor that is was removed.