In Australia, the most common term used to describe these struggles is Learning Difficulties, but other common terms are Learning Disabilities, Learning Disorders, Learning Differences. There are valid explanations why each of these terms are used.
"Difficulty" may or may not be ongoing depending on the cause.
"Disability" implies a functional impairment.
"Disorder" typically implies a neurological condition.
"Difference" is a term sometimes used to avoid stigma.
A common acronym is LD - which covers all the basis, but is equally unclear.
Learning difficulties have many labels and even more treatment options. Figuring out whether any of these apply to your child is what professionals call a differential diagnosis. We must rule out what is not the cause of the difficulties and use sensitive assessment methods to determine an accurate diagnosis. This kind of thorough assessment means we can determine the most effective treatment for the specific needs of each child.
This is a complex process as many diagnoses overlap in their symptoms. The most common difficulties I assess in my practice involve listening, talking, reading, writing and memory. Obviously these all affect learning across all areas of the curriculum, and sometimes require diagnosis and treatment by more than one professional.
So how do you know who to turn to? Start with your primary concern, but be open to referrals across multiple professionals and be aware that aspects of our training and clinical practice do overlap.
Speech Pathologists assess and treat: language based difficulties affecting understanding, talking, reading and writing
Psychologists assess and treat: stress, anxiety, transitions at home or school, academic difficulties due to low or high IQ, attention, memory and behaviour
Occupational Therapists assess and treat: handwriting, sensory integration, organisation and planning that are important for functioning at school
Audiologists assess and treat: hearing and balance impairments and difficulties with understanding or listening due to auditory processing that can affect behaviour and academic progress
Optometrists assess and treat: difficulties reading or writing due to near or far sightedness or visual processing that may cause headaches and fatigue at school
Dietitians assess and treat: food allergies and sensitivities and nutritional deficiencies that may cause headaches and stomach aches or affect a students energy and ability to concentrate and learn
These professions are all bound by their code of ethics to diagnose and treat children only according to the best scientific evidence available.
Many treatments for learning difficulties that are well marketed through the internet and make sensational claims of cures and quick fixes are not thoroughly researched and their practitioners will not have the theoretical background to give you a differential diagnosis. So, before you hand over your hard earned dollars, ask whether the practitioner is qualified to provide a differential diagnosis, and whether their treatment methods are backed by independent scientific research.