Frequently Asked Questions About the Identification of Students with Learning Disabilities

What is the difference between identification and diagnosis of a learning disability?

PPM 8 describes the new criteria school boards will use in order to identify a student as being exceptional in the area of learning disability. Identification as an exceptional student in the area of learning disability occurs through the Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC) process.
Identification as an exceptional student by a school board is not a diagnosis. As stated in the Special Education Handbook:

Only a registered psychologist or psychological associate can provide a diagnosis. When the IPRC identifies the student as exceptional and applies the ministry’s definition to describe the exceptionality, it is not diagnosing the condition, but merely indicating an educational category. The IPRC identification should not be interpreted as a diagnosis.

How is a diagnosis of a learning disability made?

A Registered Psychologist or Psychological Associate can only make a learning disability diagnosis. The Registered Psychologist or Psychological Associate will conduct a comprehensive assessment of the student’s cognitive, psychological processing, academic, behavioural, emotional, and social development using standardized measures. In addition, important information will be gathered regarding the student’s developmental, medical, psychosocial, and educational history.

A diagnosis of a learning disability can be based on criteria from the Learning Disability Association of Canada’s (LDAC) definition or criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition (DSM V). Professionals may prefer one definition over the other, however both are recognized as authorized ways to determine whether a student has a learning disability. Many school board Psychologists or Psychological Associates use the LDAC diagnostic criteria, which aligns with the Ministry of Education’s new definition of learning disability.

Does a student need a diagnosis of a learning disability in order to be identified as exceptional by the Waterloo Region District School Board?

Students need to have a diagnosis of a learning disability in order to be identified as exceptional by the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB), however, a student in the WRDSB will not be identified as exceptional if the criterion used to make the diagnosis do not meet the criteria outlined in PPM 8.

Does a student need to be formally identified as exceptional in the area of learning disability in order to receive special education services?

At the Waterloo Region District School Board, students do not need to be formally identified as exceptional in order to receive special education supports. This practice is consistent with PPM 8. The PPM states that special education supports are to be provided for students formally identified in the area of learning disability, as well as for “any other students who demonstrate difficulties in learning and who would benefit from special education programs and/or services that are appropriate for students with learning disabilities.”

Students are eligible for special education supports when they need a significant adaptation of their educational program in order to access the curriculum. This may include remedial interventions, accommodations (i.e., use of text-to-speech software), and/or modifications of the curriculum.