Dyslexia Diagnosis vs Eligibility at School. What’s the difference between the two?

Public schools test for learning disabilities, while some doctors and clinicians diagnose dyslexia. So, what’s the difference between the two?

I’m not sure if I was told or if I came to the conclusion on my own, but in middle school I was quite sure I had a learning disability. The biggest indicator—I was placed in special ed. It wasn’t clear what that meant exactly. After a bunch of tests at school, I only understood that the word “disability” became synonymous with my name.

Growing up, my family’s financial circumstances and the environment I was raised in did not support or meet my educational needs. My learning difference was not identified until middle school which dictated what my school could do for me. At that point, it was about providing support to get me through school. What I really needed was intensive intervention—to be taught in a way that was specific to the way I learn, but it was truly too late for my school to be able to provide any type of remediation, let alone intervention.

Fast forward, both my boys were diagnosed in 2019. Having those diagnoses has been the driver in building my awareness for supporting them at home, getting them intervention, advocating for the right support at school, and talking to them about their learning difference.

Through the lens of these two very different experiences, you may get a bit of the picture, but not the full story. My desire to do better for my children, understand my own struggles, and to help others, motivated me to take a 13-week dyslexia advocacy program, through which I was able to finally grasp the difference between a dyslexia diagnosis and eligibility and what those mean for children and support services at school.

My intent here is to help you understand these so that you don’t need to take a 13-week course. For me, learning this information painted a clearer picture of what schools can and can’t do for our children.

Where do you start?

  • Is your child struggling in school?
  • Do you believe they are in need of extra support?
  • Do you know someone who’s child is struggling and is unclear which steps to take?

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then it’s important to know which options are available for identifying a struggling student’s needs.

Specific Learning Disability (SLD)—a term used in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) —is not a diagnosis. It’s an umbrella term to identify students with language based learning differences such as dyslexia. These students are eligible for special education services through the public school system—i.e. their eligibility. ​​

This federal law requires all schools to provide an evaluation if a child is suspected of having a learning disability and covers thirteen categories of disabilities in total, SLD being one of them.

There are two ways to get a student evaluated and start the process of identifying their needs:

  1. Private evaluation—diagnosis
  2. Evaluation through school—eligibility


A diagnosis can only be provided through a private evaluation and is at the expense of the parent or caregiver. Private evaluation costs vary and typically are not covered by health insurance.

What will a private evaluation tell you?

  • Identify the cause of academic struggles
  • Identify areas of strength and weakness
  • Rule out any external factors
  • Determine specific learning disorder(s) that may be the root cause of academic struggles

Who can provide a diagnosis?

  • Psychologist (Ph.D. or Psy.D.)
  • Neuropsychologist (Ph.D.)
  • Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)
  • Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP)

Medical doctors can provide a referral, but cannot diagnose.


Eligibility is resource driven and determines if someone qualifies for services and/or accommodations. A student must have a disability and show a need for services that cannot be addressed through general classroom instruction. School’s do not provide a diagnosis, through an evaluation they determine eligibility for special education services.

What can you expect from an evaluation through your school?

  • Test all areas of suspected disabilities
  • Determine a child’s learning profile—identify areas of need to determine goals, remediation, and/or accommodations

Who determines eligibility at schools?

The IEP (Individual Education Program) Team, which may include the following:

  • Parents (always a part of the team)
  • School Psychologist
  • Principal/ Vice Principal/ Administrator
  • Special Education Teacher
  • Speech and Language Pathologist
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Physical Therapist

Unfortunately, private evaluations are expensive and not always accessible to all families. Although a private evaluation will identify the specific root cause of a child’s or adult’s academic struggles, when there is early identification through the school system, remediation can be implemented before a child falls behind.

By knowing the at-risk signs of dyslexia, especially family history, a parent can properly advocate to get their child evaluated as early as kindergarten, and take steps to get the proper support at school and home.

Identification and evaluation is a big step toward the process of intervention, remediation, and special education. Whatever your child’s needs, seeking awareness can prepare you to navigate the process with less stress and more confidence, equipping you to be your child’s biggest and greatest advocate.

When I think about everything that transpired before receiving my boys’ diagnoses, I can see how I was waiting for help to come to us. I was waiting to be told what I was supposed to do. YOU don’t have to wait to take action—in fact, your kids are counting on you to take charge, take action, and lead them.

You’ve got this!

Red Square Peg’s will be covering more on evaluations—so stay tuned.

Dyslexia Training Institute, Dyslexia Advocate Training Program
International Dyslexia Association, https://dyslexiaida.org/

Red Square Pegs was established to empower dyslexics by embracing dyslexia through awareness and shared experiences and to be a symbol of acceptance, pride, and confidence.