Confusion, indeed! There are no manuals or guide books for dummies to help parents muddle through all of this information and, on occasion, misinformation. I can offer, however, a few general principles to help parents begin the process of getting some help for their child and to feel confident that the help they receive is first-rate.
First, it is important to get a thorough, comprehensive psychoeducational evaluation of your child's abilities. This will result in a learning profile, identifying strengths and weaknesses and identifying potential underlying causes of your child's difficulties. Sometimes, the results of such an evaluation will rule out any specific disabilities. At the conclusion of the diagnostic process, you will be given specific strategies and recommendations to help your child, whether he has been given a formal diagnosis or not.
When deciding on the professional who will conduct this evaluation, there are several choices. The evaluation can be completed by your local school district or Intermediate Unit at no cost to you. Alternatively, it can be completed by a psychologist in independent practice. Your level of comfort with the professional who will be completing the evaluation of your child is one of the most important factors to consider. It is perfectly acceptable to speak with the evaluator beforehand and to ask questions about their level of experience with children who exhibit problems similar to your child's. You might also ask them about their credentials and years in practice. You can also inquire about the specific tests and procedures that will be used and how to best prepare your child for the evaluation. You should be able to establish a good working relationship with the evaluator. This will do much toward helping you feel more confident that your questions and concerns about your child will be answered in a responsible and professional way.
Ultimately, if your child is diagnosed with a particular disorder or disability, you should be able to feel confident that the evaluator also considered other competing diagnoses. He or she should be able to explain the reasoning behind a specific diagnosis of, for example, a Learning Disability, and tell you why it was not a Sensory Integration Disorder or an Auditory Processing Disorder. The results of the psychoeducational evaluation lay the foundation for the interventions that will be implemented at home and in school. Therefore, a thorough understanding of your child's learning profile is essential.