What is the role of the psychologist in the assessment and treatment of children with special needs?

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.

Intellectual Assessment involves testing in the following areas:

Intellectual Abilities

  • verbal and nonverbal reasoning abilities
  • spatial problem solving skills

Information Processing Skills

  • memory
  • processing speed
  • phonological skills

A psychologist may 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.

Educational Achievements

  • 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 and treatment of mental health concerns and cognitive skills, such as:

Behavioural special needs:

  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder
  • Conduct Disorder

Emotional special needs

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low self esteem
  • School refusal

In addition, some psychologists have specialist experience with the diagnosis of:

  • Giftedness
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Specific Learning Difficulties (eg, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder



Following an assessment, the psychologist will usually provide you with the results of the tests and how these are likely to affect your child, or yourself. 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, 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


All psychologists working through the SPELD SA offices specialise in dyslexia and specific learning difficulties (SLDs). Appointments can be made by phoning 8431 1655.

If a student has not yet had 6 months of quality intervention you may choose to either use the services of one of our tutors or enquire about an early intervention (At Risk) assessment: Year level Foundation/Reception & Year 1.

Some children in Reception and Year 1 demonstrate weaker literacy and numeracy skills than their peers. At this point, early intervention can make a significant difference to literacy and learning outcomes. Early Intervention (At Risk) assessments are used to determine a child’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses, and suggest strategies to support literacy and numeracy skills development at home and at school.

Assessments: Year Level 1—12 (ages 6 years and above) and adults up to 24 years 11 months.

SPELD SA currently provides limited assessments for current school aged children and adults up to 24 years 11 months. All assessments measure intellectual ability and include selected tests to identify learning strengths and difficulties in either literacy or numeracy. Additional assessment of processing skills including phonological awareness and working memory is included. A comprehensive written report including recommendations and strategies for use at home and school (for school aged children) and in the workplace or tertiary setting (for adults) is provided following the assessment. The implementation of included recomendations is at the discretion of the parents, the school, workplace or tertiary setting. SPELD SA can also refer you on to other psychologists that work in the field.

For more detailed information on getting a psychological assessment at SPELD SA, please click here.


Depending on the type of assessment and the number of tasks that are completed, a psycho-educational assessment can take between two to four hours to complete.

The cost of a full assessment plus written report varies dependent on individural organisations and providers and can range from $600 to $1,200. 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 some private health funds.

Flinders University  has a Psychology Clinic that offer services in a number of areas including a reduced cost psycho-educational assessment. 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
Speech Pathologist
Class Teacher
Occupational Therapist
Educational Psychologist


The Australian Psychological Association website has a chart with the names, services offered and contact details for psychologists across Australia.

SPELD SA is generously supported by

thyne reid foundation Education Logo CMYK H Large australian executor trustees

SPELD SA would like to acknowledge the support of the Douglas Whiting Trust in the development of this website.

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