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Learning Disorders

Read Dr. Brunner’s Learning Disorder blogs to see inside his perspective

What is the nature of learning disorders?

I have conducted learning disability testing in Tucson AZ and beyond with hundreds of people over the last 20 years.     

“Learning disorders” encompasses a large group of diagnostic conditions that are generally considered to be neurologically-based problems you are born with. You may also develop these problems following traumatic brain injury.  Examples include: dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, or a specific learning disorder in the area of reading, writing or mathematics. Other common learning problems that are not official disorders include: slow processing speed and nonverbal learning disabilities.  

If the learning problems are significant enough, they may indicate the presence of a Intellectual Disability. Intellectual disabilities fall along the spectrum of severity from mild to severe. If the intellectual disability meets certain criteria, it allows a person to receive support through various agencies including the Department of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), or through the Social Security Disability Administration. Please review the forensic section of my website for the services I offer. I work closely with disability attorneys who can assist you.   

There are many different variations of presentation and experience of learning disorders, such as dyslexia. Contrary to popular mythology, there is not one type of dyslexia, but a large number of subtypes. For example, you may have more of a phonological dyslexia or more of a visual dyslexia.  

Because learning disorders are expressed through your unique personality, each person has a unique version of any one type of learning problems. Skilled clinicians do not simply diagnose you with a learning disorder, rather, they put your learning disorder into the context of your personality. 10 people with a learning disorders like dyslexia are 10 very different people. Learning disorders each fall along a spectrum from mild to severe. Many people do not recognize they may have a learning disorder until high school or college.    

What problems indicate a learning disorder assessment is necessary?

  • Problems with reading comprehension or remembering what you just read
  • Persistent problems with various kinds of mathematical calculations
  • Persistent problems with correctly pronouncing words
  • Inability to grasp mathematical concepts
  • Persistent problems with writing legibly or with learning the nuts and bolts of grammar
  • Chronic problems with writing coherent paragraphs or essays
  • Consistent problems processing auditory information
  • Problems with analyzing or synthesizing information

What a learning disorder assessment clarifies?

  • Which type of learning disorder do you have (e.g., dyslexia or dyscalculia)
  • The severity of your learning disorder symptoms
  • What other problems (ADHD, low motivation, visual tracking, speech impairments) are present that make this condition worse 
  • What combination of evidence-based treatments will help you the most. 
  • Which practitioners will most effectively help you
  • If you should work with a tutor, and if so, which tutors would help you the most
  • What natural resources you can use to minimize the potential need for medication 
  • Any accommodations you may need in school or at work to be the most productive
  • How the learning problems interact with your general personality characteristics
  • How to use your predominating personality characteristics to combat the learning disorder

What are the hidden realities of learning disorders?

After conducting research and practicing in the trenches for over 20 years, we want to share some “insider information” about the camouflaged realities of Learning disorders:

  • You can qualify for the diagnostic symptoms of a learning disorder, but that learning disorder may be driven by another diagnostic condition (e.g., low motivation or hearing problems) or life problem (e.g., trauma) that is hidden under the surface.
  • Some of the most common but hidden problems that can cause a learning disorder include ADHD, depression, anxiety, or trauma  
  • Many people who are diagnosed with a learning disorders do not actually have the condition, they just might learn in a unique way.
  • Often times people have learning problems that are unique and not part of the current diagnostic system. You need to look for a practitioner who has a track record of comprehensively assessing for nontraditional learning problems.  

How we go beyond generic learning disorder diagnosis?

Many clinicians narrowly focus on learning disorder diagnosis and forget that your experience of the learning issues is individualized to your unique personality. Using our personality-driven diagnostic model, we focus on helping you clearly and confidently grasp exactly how that learning problem is affecting you, and what personality strengths you can use to combat the learning disorder.  Read Dr. Brunner’s blog: Great psychological assessment goes far beyond diagnosis.

How do we assess for learning disorders?

Very methodically and carefully. Too many healthcare practices make you feel like you are on a conveyor belt where you receive what I call a “drive-by” evaluation. We offer you the opposite experience. We build into our assessment system numerous checks and balances to ensure our ultimate diagnosis is accurate. After having evaluated over 1,000 people in the last 20 years, we know there is an incredible amount of misdiagnosis. Read my blogs below to understand this further.

What are the elements of our assessment process?

  • Methodically gathering historical information the following categories: family history, birth, development, medical, neurological, educational, learning, emotional, behavioral, social, and academic or work performance

  • Asking you to create a chronological timeline of important events to ensure we understand the life of the person being evaluated as a series of different stages. This is critical to get a nuanced, in-depth understanding for the person we are evaluating

  • Reviewing this information together during the intake appointment, and beginning to develop hypotheses that we will scientifically review by collecting data.

  • Interviewing the people who have the most intimate knowledge of the day-to-day functioning of the person being evaluated. Unlike practitioners who only collect information from the person being evaluated, or only their parents, we believe that collecting this additional perspectives is vital to establishing a confident and credible diagnosis.

  • Choosing a tailored group of measurements that include self-report questionnaires, intelligence or cognitive tests, and personality measures that identify your predominating characteristics

  • Rigorously testing different hypotheses designed to play devils advocate to test our perception of the situation, and following up with questions to either the person being evaluated or those who know the person best.

  • Writing a report tailored to the exact needs of the situation. We specialize in customizing your report to address different situations, such as the need for workplace or educational accommodations.

  • Conducting a feedback meeting in our conference room where we use a dry erase board to visually show you the important factors causing the problems the person being evaluated is experiencing. We call this our cognitive map, and it serves as a user-friendly roadmap. You can take a picture of and always have your roadmap with you for guidance.

  • During the feedback meeting, we clarify the diagnostic conditions at play, the non-diagnostic but critical factors contributing to problems, and give you bullet-point, user-friendly recommendations, organized into thematic groups. We clarify what professionals can best serve you, and save you the most money and time.

  • After this feedback meeting, we follow-up with you to make sure that our work has met your expectations, and/or to provide further consultations to make sure our work is resulting in the life changes you are seeking.