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Diagnosing Dyslexia: Guidelines for Pursuing an Evaluation


By Luke Dalfiume, PhD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Co-Owner, John R. Day & Associates, Christian Psychological Associates

Dyslexia is a problem characterized by difficulties with word recognition and spelling. Functionally, this means the person with dyslexia will have problems with reading and be a poor speller. A diagnosis of dyslexia early in a child’s schooling can enable the child to obtain additional services, addressing the issues and helping to improve their reading and spelling skills. A new State of Illinois law, just signed in the Spring of 2014, enables those with a diagnosis of dyslexia to receive special education services.

Early diagnosis and intervention is important. There is a significant relationship between reading level in second grade and a number of long-term outcomes. Those with poor reading skills are more likely than those with stronger reading skills to drop out of high school, to abuse substances, and to become involved with a pregnancy in their teen years. Adequate reading skills enable one to engage with school.

Evaluation, therefore, is an important prelude to intervention. How does one obtain an evaluation? A common avenue is through the school system the child attends. Schools either have psychologists on hand to perform psychological evaluations, or they contract with external agencies which provide these evaluations. The process of obtaining such an evaluation is begun by talking with the child’s teacher and principal. The benefit of pursuing evaluations this way is that they do not cost the child’s parents anything; their taxes help pay for the evaluation. The downside is that many school psychologists have a heavy assessment load, and it may be weeks or months before an evaluation can be completed and a report can be generated.

There are private psychologists (generally, PhDs and PsyDs) who are able to perform evaluations, too. The benefit of pursuing an evaluation this way is that it may be completed and a report generated much more quickly. The downside is that there will be a cost associated with it. Depending upon the child’s insurance coverage, this may be as little as $10 to $20 dollars, or it may be hundreds of dollars.

When looking for a private psychological evaluation, the following are some recommended guidelines:

  1. Experience: Does the proposed evaluator have experience assessing for learning disabilities such as dyslexia? Do they attempt to rule in or rule out different types of issues that may be related to problematic school performance (e.g., Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, anxiety, or depression) or do they simply evaluate for dyslexia or other learning disabilities without addressing alternative explanations for problematic functioning?
  2. Insurance coverage: Does the proposed evaluator bill insurance companies for evaluations? If so, will their office verify the child’s insurance coverage for an evaluation for you? Most insurance companies will cover a portion — often a significant portion — of an evaluation, so this is important. Going to an evaluator covered by your insurance plan could mean a savings of hundreds, or even a thousand dollars or more.
  3. How long will the turnaround time be? The assessment information will be of less value if it is not provided in a timely way. You should verify with the evaluator that they will be able to generate a report of the results in a timely way. My personal rule of thumb is to turn around an evaluation in one week, with a report to provide to the individual or his or her parents. I hold myself accountable by having an evaluation feedback appointment scheduled for one week after the last assessment session.
  4. What are some of the common tests used by the evaluator? Two of the most common tests that would be used for a dyslexia evaluation include the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) and the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WIAT). The WISC is an IQ test, measuring ability, and the WIAT is a measure of academic achievement. The reason to use these two tests is that one is able to predict what the child’s achievement should be based on their ability. This predicted achievement can then be compared with their actual achievement. If there is a significant negative difference (their actual achievement is significantly lower than their predicted achievement) it is likely the child has a learning disability in that area of achievement.

Luke Dalfiume, PhD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist is co-owner of John R. Day & Associates, Christian Psychological Associates, with offices in Peoria, Normal, Canton, Pekin, Eureka, and Princeton. Find them on the web at