What is the role of the psychologist in the assessment and treatment of children with special needs? by Angela Weeks, SPELD SA Clinical Director
A key role of the psychologist is to measure a child’s intellectual abilities. They do this by giving the child a number of brief tests which provide an overall IQ score and a profile of the child’s intellectual strengths and weaknesses.
Intellecual Assessment involves testing in the following areas:
• verbal and nonverbal reasoning abilities
• spatial problem solving skills
Information Processing Skills
• processing speed
• phonological skills
There are now nine major psychological batteries suitable for use with school-age children, the best known in Australia being the WISC-IV, the DAS, the BAS – II and the Stanford-Binet V.
A psychologist will also assess the child’s achievements in reading, spelling, written work and mathematics to see whether their skills are at the level expected based on their intellectual abilities.
• reading (accuracy, fluency and comprehension
• spelling accuracy
• writing skills (handwriting and composition)
• mathematics (reasoning and operating skills)
It is important when choosing a psychologist to find out whether they specialise in the areas of learning and behaviour that are affecting your child.
The role of the psychologist is to look at the big picture and to interpret the results of the tests administered. For diagnosis of a particular disorder, the psychologist will examine the pattern of strengths and weaknesses across all the tests given as well as information from additional diagnostic tests, checklists and rating scales completed by the individual, parents and teachers.
Psychologists are specialists in the diagnosis of
Intellectual special needs, such as
Specific Learning Difficulties (eg, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia)
Nonverbal Learning Difficulty
In addition, some psychologists have specialist experience with the diagnosis of
Developmental special needs, such as
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
Behavioural special needs, such as
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Emotional special needs, such as
Low self esteem
Following the assessment, the psychologist will provide you with the results of the tests and how these are likely to affect your child. They will also provide written recommendations for helping your child both at home and at school.
A psychologist may also recommend further assessment if they have concerns, for example, about your child’s speech and language, vision, attention, fine motor or auditory processing skills. They may also recommend tutor support.
For many children an assessment is a once-only experience. Given an understanding of their intellectual strengths and difficulties, a pattern that changes little throughout a person’s life, it is not necessary to have regular assessments. However, it can be helpful to have a review of achievement levels in subject specific areas every two or three years while at school or at specific points in a child’s education.
In respect of learning problems, a psychologist does not usually provide ongoing teaching or therapy. However, they may offer ongoing support for people with emotional, social or behavioural difficulties.
Where to find a psychologist?
SPELD SA has an Psychologist on staff. Appointments can be made with Lyn Verrall by phoning 8431 1655
Lyn Verrall, Psychologist, Teacher
Lyn is an experienced psychologist and teacher who specialises in dyslexia and specific learning difficulties. She provides assessments for people of all ages (from the age of 4 to adult). An assessment measures intellectual ability and identifies learning strengths and difficulties. It also assesses phonological awareness, literacy and numeracy skills. A comprehensive written report including recommendations and strategies for home and school support and accommodations is provided.
The website of the Australian Psychological Association http://www.psychology.org.au/FindaPsychologist/Default.aspx has a chart with the names, services offered and contact details for psychologists across Australia.
A full psycho-educational assessment will take up to three hours.
The cost of a full assessment plus written report ranges from $250 to $1,000. Claims for psycho-educational assessments cannot be made to Medicare. In some instances, it may be possible to claim a portion of the cost through medical extras.
Flinders University https://socsci.flinders.edu.au/psyc/resources/clinic.php
has a Psychology Clinic that offer services in a number of areas. Services are provided by postgraduate clinical psychology trainees (5th and 6th year of training). Qualified academic staff and clinical psychologists supervise the work of the trainees in the Clinics.
Click on the links below to see the roles of other specialists