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Does my daughter have a learning disability?

I have a 16 year old daughter who has been a solid ‘B’ student throughout her elementary and middle school years. Things changed once she started high school. Her marks dropped in some subjects and she started dreading tests and exams. Although she works very hard and studies a lot for her exams, she says that her mind goes blank once she is in the exam room and she often cannot finish her paper on time. She feels she understands the material when she studies at home, but once she has to apply it to different problems or explain it in writing, she is lost and it takes her much longer than other students to complete tasks. This makes her very nervous and I can see how she is losing her confidence. She has spoken to a guidance counselor at her school who suggested that may be she has a learning issue that’s affecting her performance and that this can be figured out via a psychological assessment. I am very confused as i don’t understand how she has gone through eight years of schooling without a problem if she has a learning disability.
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5624042 tn?1372196566
Hi Andrea,
I agree with the counsellor’s suggestion. The learning trajectory of your daughter is not unusual among high school students. It is possible that her struggles are a result of some mild weakness(es) in processing skills, such as working memory, processing speed or executive function. When the deficits are not pervasive and the student has many strengths, they might not become apparent until high school or even later. It sounds like your daughter is a motivated and diligent student, so it is possible that she was able to compensate for her weaknesses throughout early school years with her hard work and other skills she has. In high school the students are expected to process larger amounts of information and to be able to access their knowledge in a fast-paced mode on the exams. The demands on students really change in nature and this is when some latent issues might come to the surface.
In my opinion, it is very important to understand the roots of your daughter’s struggles. Does she have troubles absorbing the new material at the conceptual level? Is there specific type of material that is hard for her? Or perhaps she gets the concepts but works at a slower pace than her peers and that makes her nervous on exams which, of course, slows her down even more. These questions can be sorted out through a comprehensive psycho-educational assessment. Now it’s a very good time to do it as accommodations can be put in place for next year and once she experienced more success her anxiety will dissipate. The assessment will also clarify her cognitive profile and the pattern of strengths and weaknesses and this information will be very helpful in making career decisions and choosing post-secondary education that is right for her.  
Finally, whether or not she has learning deficits, it seems that your daughter is quite fearful of failure. I think it is important for her to work with a therapist to learn how to manage her anxiety.
Good luck!

Dr. Tali Shenfield, PhD, CPsych

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Avatar universal
Thanks for such a quick response. I will speak to the school counselor regarding psycho-educational assessment. Hopefully, we will be able to arrange one soon.
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