Aptitude, Achievement, Processing Deficit - What Does It All Mean?

You are sitting with the professionals who know about learning disabilities. They have  been explaining what they will be looking for  when they test your child.

 "We look for an aptitude-achievement discrepancy as well as a processing deficit,"  one of them explains.

 Your eyes glaze over and you begin to feel you're not too smart.  It's like they're  speaking another language.  You haven't a clue  what these people are talking about.

Actually, I've always felt that special education does use a foreign language.

That doesn't, however, mean that you can't learn it. Like any language, after a while, you'll get it.

When you meet with the Pupil Evaluation Team, or the Case Conference Committee, or the Child Study Team, or whatever  it's called in your area, you will probably hear the sentence  mentioned above.

Let's chop that sentence into pieces:

"We look for an aptitude-achievement discrepancy..."

Your child's aptitude is his ability to learn.  When I was in school, we called it an IQ.  In order for someone to have  a learning disability, he has to have at least average aptitude  for learning.  In other words, he needs to have the ability to  learn as well as any average child of his age.

His achievement refers to how well he is learning, or the extent to which he has received information and mastered  certain skills.  This may be where problems show up.

The evaluator looks at whether there is a big difference, or discrepancy, between those two scores -  aptitude and achievement.  Is there a big difference between  what he SHOULD HAVE learned and what he really has learned?

Let's say your child has an aptitude of 100, which is exactly average.  That means that he should be able to learn  things as well as any average student of his age or grade.  But let's say that the test found him to be achieving only at  a level of 60 in reading. That's 40 points below what he  SHOULD BE doing in reading. That's important information.

 " well as a processing deficit."

The next thing the evaluator looks at is a "processing deficit".  The term "processing" refers to the way your  child's brain works.  Can his brain handle information better  through what he sees (visual channel) or through what he hears  (auditory channel).  Can he remember a list of 4 or 5 things,  or does he forget them quickly?  How well does he find  information he has stored in his head?  How quickly can he  process information?

A deficit in processing means that he has trouble with one of the ways his brain handles information.

Now, let's put it all together:

"There has to be an aptitude-achievement discrepancy..." The evaluator has found a big gap between your child's ability  (100) and his achievement (60) in reading.  That tells you that  he hasn't learned what he needs to learn in order to be  successful in reading.

" well as a processing deficit."  The evaluator has found that he has a real problem remembering letters  and sounds. And what is more necessary in order to learn to  read than remembering letters and their sounds?

Now you know that he should be able to read like the other children in his class, but his brain isn't remembering  letters and their sounds the way it should. That's what's  standing in the way of his being able to read as well as the  other children.

Chances are the team will decide that your child has a learning disability in reading and that he is eligible for  special education services.  He will be able to get extra help  from a special teacher.  There will be things you can do with  him at home to help him as well.  He will be able to receive  help from people who know what will work best for him and who  care enough to give him the skills he needs to be successful  in life. 

For more plain talk about learning disabilities, please visit us at

About the Author

Sandy Gauvin is a retired educator who has seen learning disabilities from many perspectives - as the parent of a  daughter with learning disabilities, as the teacher of  children with learning disabilities, and as an advocate for  others who have diagnosed and unrecognized learning disabilities.  Sandy shares her wisdom and her resources at

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