Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities is an umbrella term that covers a number of specific learning difficulties:

·         Auditory processing disorder – difficulty processing all types of sounds

·         Language processing disorder – a specific type of auditory processing disorder related to language sounds

·         Dyscalculia – difficulty understanding numbers and learning math facts

·         Dysgraphia – difficulty with handwriting and fine motor skills

·         Dyslexia – difficulty with reading and language-based skills

·         Non-verbal learning disability – difficulty interpreting non-verbal cues like facial expressions or body language

 These are not the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps.

 Learning disabilities are different from developmental disabilities such as intellectual disability (formerly called mental retardation), Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, or fragile X syndrome.  Developmental disabilities are more wide-ranging and/or involve physical handicaps.


Schools test for and recognize most learning disabilities. Public schools are required by federal law to recognize these issues and to provide reasonable accommodations once identified. If you believe your child has a learning disability but the school has not conducted an assessment, you can request an assessment. Your request triggers a timeline that public schools must follow by law to conduct the test, so you ought to put your request in writing.

Child Find (known as Child Search in Orleans and Jefferson parishes) is a federally-mandated program for schools to provide special education services from 0-22 years of age.  A downloadable fact sheet is below.

Early Steps is an assessment and intervention program limited to 0-3 years of age, and also covers medical disabilities. A downloadable fact sheet is below.

Private schools are not required by federal law to recognize these issues or to provide any accommodations for them. Most private schools have their own procedures that they follow and are willing to provide many of the same accommodations that public schools provide.

When more in-depth testing is needed or the difficulties are complicated or subtle, testing by a licensed psychologist (PhD or PsyD) can be extremely helpful. Psychologists receive highly-specialized training to conduct and interpret a battery of standardized tests. This formal and standardized battery is called psychoeducational testing. Testing usually takes two visits that last 1-2 hours each. The psychologist prepares a lengthy written report and should give you a copy of the report and then meet with you to give feedback on the report. Your children’s schools should welcome these reports because the testing is more detailed than what schools can usually provide.

To find psychologists who can conduct psychoeducational testing, click on "Find a Provider" above, and enter "phd" or "psyd" in the top search box. 


When learning disabilities have been identified, public schools are required by law to make reasonable accommodations. The two main plans are called 504 Plans and Individualized Education Plans (IEP). A 504 Plan is more common and is less involved; it helps to remove barriers to performance such as allowing students more time to take exams. An IEP is more involved and is more concerned with providing remediation for specific learning disabilities. For more detail on the differences between 504 Plans and IEP’s, there are many online resources such as this one:


For each of the learning disabilities there are specialists who can be very helpful such as language therapists, occupational therapists, specialized tutors, and psychologists.

If you feel that your child's public school is not following federal laws to implement an IEP, a group called Families Helping Families may be able to help with peer-to-peer support.  Click here for the Greater New Orleans area.

- Updated December 18, 2019