Testing Children for the Purpose of a Diagnosis: To Label or Not to Label?


Testing Children for the Purpose of a Diagnosis- To Label or Not to Label-Welcome to Day 15 of the 31 Days of Random Reflections on Raising and Homeschooling a Child with Special Needs. You can find the main page for this series here.

I am often approached by parents regarding testing a child with the purpose of getting a diagnosis.

Parents sometimes know there is something not quite right with their child. They may notice that learning does not come easily. Perhaps teachers or family members have hinted that they see unusual behavior. Sometimes parents are frustrated by the amount of time it takes their child to finish academic work. But, they are hesitant about going through with testing for many reasons.

Reasons parents hesitate to have their child tested for a diagnosis

  • they fear a label will stigmatize the child
  • parents are often told by others their child will outgrow it, so they’re unsure how to proceed
  • parents understand that children develop at different rates, so they want to allow their child the time required to develop skills at his own rate
  • parents know that some children, particularly boys, need ample movement to grow and learn, so they want to wait before jumping into an unnecessary diagnosis
  • parents fear their child will be forced into specialized schools or classrooms
  • parents fear their child will require medication based on the diagnosis
  • parents worry about opening up a can of worms they feel they’re not prepared to handle

Below, I share the pros and cons of psychological testing of a child, as well as what I feel is the best thing to do when you’re not sure.

Note: The suggestions made are general and for educational purposes only. You should always consult as a family and with professionals when making a decision for your own child.

Advantages of Testing for a Diagnosis

  • a young child with a diagnosis grants him the right to early intervention services 
  • if a child is in school, a diagnosis allows him the right to extra support and an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan)
  • access to funding for specialized equipment, materials, and services
  • access to some services either for free or at a reduced rate
  • tax credits (depending on severity of diagnosis, and the actual diagnosis itself)
  • a child who has always wondered why he has so much difficulty may find relief in knowing there is a reason for his struggles and that there are solutions
  • parents also experience relief and can become empowered to help their child once they understand what the true issues are (e.g.: a child whose behavioral issues were causing the family great anguish will often feel relieved in knowing there was an underlying reason behind the behaviors, that there are things they can do to prevent or reduce them, and that it wasn’t their fault)
  • others may be more accepting of certain behaviors or difficulties once they understand the child’s diagnosis

Disadvantages of Testing for a Diagnosis

  • the testing itself may cause a child and his parents stress
  • the nature of the assessment doesn’t always capture the full picture of the child
  • sometimes, the diagnosis is incorrect (a second or third opinion may be required)
  • the child with a diagnosis may grow up thinking he’s not good at a particular subject or academics in general
  • the child may grow up thinking he’s different
  • the child may develop anxieties or low self-esteem as a result
  • the label may become the greatest focus of the child, causing adults and children who interact with him to not see the whole child and take the time to get to know him as a person
  • others may only refer to the child as the label (e.g.: “The Dyslexic Kid”, etc.)
  • discrimination may occur
  • the diagnosis may be interpreted in different ways by different people
  • the label can become an excuse for not pushing a child to his full potential (e.g.: parents feel pity on the child and say, “He can’t do it. He has a learning disability.”)
  • the possibility of a diagnosis can be devastating and heartbreaking for parents

Should you get the diagnosis for your child or not?

If you suspect that your child is struggling in any area, you have a choice regarding testing and receiving a diagnosis. Whether your child is tested or not, the struggles may always be there. Be certain that no matter the decision you take that you teach to your child’s symptoms.

Children in school:

Based on my experience in the classroom, I feel that parents of a child in school should have the child assessed. It’s the only way he will receive the services and support his needs. Without a diagnosis, your child will be one in a group of many. Teachers will not know to individualize the learning to his particular needs because they cannot always be sure what they’re dealing with (e.g.: is there a short-term memory issue or is the child distracted?) Some symptoms are quite subtle and a teacher isn’t trained to diagnose the underlying issue. 

Some parents of children in school avoid assessments when they feel they have a good grasp on their child’s needs. However, I have witnessed parents’ frustration with the school not understanding their child and not seeing eye-to-eye on appropriate methodology. This is one reason I stand by testing of children in this setting. It gets all parties on the same page and working to help the child together.


Homeschoolers have a lot more leeway in this decision since the learning is already individualized, and parents tend to provide the necessary equipment and materials needed because they have learned to adapt to their child throughout the years. If you feel you know what your child may be struggling with and you are doing what you can to provide the necessary learning tools, then, a diagnosis may not be necessary at this stage.

If you are on a waiting list for assessment, ensure that you are teaching to the child’s interests and learning style. 

No matter the decision, aim to find peace in it in this moment.

What are your thoughts on labeling a child? Are you hesitating about getting an assessment done for your child? If so, what concerns you most? Did you already get one and regret it? Or, did you receive a diagnosis and feel relieved? I’d love to know where you stand on this topic by replying on Facebook or Twitter.

Related articles:

Teaching to Symptoms, Not a Diagnosis
The Importance of Acknowledging Learning Styles in Homeschooling
Finding Your Child’s Dominant Intelligence and Learning Style

Suggested reading:

Mentoring Boys by Barry MacDonald – this website explains research done particularly with boys in education

If you’re unsure what to do in this matter, we can talk it through. I offer Parental Support Calls for both Homeschoolers and After-Schoolers. Schedule an appointment today.

Learn how I can guide you


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