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Assessing Children for Learning and Developmental Difficulties

What does it mean to have my child "assessed"?


The road to securing a diagnosis for our children can be a long, frustrating one. Often it starts out when parents notice their children’s “quirks”, often in early toddler-hood. They may have more difficulties controlling their emotions than others; other times they might seem a bit “slower” than their peers. When it comes to parents of siblings, they will often notice significant developmental differences between their children at the same ages. Many times it is easy to explain away these quirks, and in many cases, slight difficulties will rectify themselves as children become more equipped to manage them. In cases that warrant further investigation, often the differences become much more noticeable during Kindergarten and school.


By the time parents come in for an assessment they have often already tried everything they can think of, with limited results. For me as a clinician, I love doing assessments for children. The cognitive component looks at all the different areas of the brain, including short and long-term memory; processing speed; problem solving ability; expressive and receptive language; and auditory processing to name a few. In this component, I will go through a series of activities with the child, and the answers they provide tell me how their brain is operating. I can then analyse their results to see where their relative strengths and weaknesses lie. The second component is the social and emotional component. This part relies on subjective information from parents, teachers, and the children themselves. What do they do well? What do they have difficulties with? Wat behaviours are present at home, or at school, or across the board?


Once I have all the information I can then put it all together. This is the fun part, and I get to feel like a bit of a detective. The thing with assessments is, all the information has to be considered in its entirety. For example, parents may bring their child to me saying “all he does is daydream in class, he never pays attention!” Subjective reports from the teacher and the parents would certainly indicate this, and the child may even agree. However when I look at the cognitive component of testing, I might find that instead of an attention deficit (like we would see in ADHD), the child may have a deficit in their long-term retrieval, meaning that instead of day dreaming they are fighting really hard to remember what they’ve been taught! This would certainly “look” like an attention problem to those around them, but the cause is something completely different (and manageable!)


Parents will often ask me “why should we get an assessment?” The truth is, assessments can be time consuming, and they can be costly. However the benefits of them are that they give an exceptionally comprehensive overview of what is happening at a cognitive level, as well as a social and emotional one. They identify cognitive strengths and weaknesses, and when it comes to learning and Specific Learning Disorders, can provide a “how to” manual for how to teach the student. In the case of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, assessments will show which type of attention the child has a deficit in (such as sustained attention or selective and switching attention).Each family needs to conduct their own cost/benefit analysis, however in many cases, assessments can be a worthwhile investment.


If you are interested in discussing any of the points further or would like to hear about a particular topic, we would be more than happy to hear from you. Feel free to send an email to admin@childpsych.net.au and we will answer any questions you may have.


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