Clinical & Educational Psychology Assessments
Difficulties in learning can occur for a range of reasons and show themselves in a variety of ways. For example, a child may seem to understand some things but not others, or quickly forget what they have learned. They may struggle to pay attention, follow directions, read, write or remember what they should be doing.
As clinical psychologists, we have access to a range of tools that enable an assessment of complex ‘thinking’ processes. We can also explore whether emotional factors, such as anxiety, are getting in the way of a person engaging with learning. A comprehensive assessment can identify what the difficulties are, how they are impacting on a person academically, and what can be done to help.
Understand learning challenges including specific learning disorders, intellectual disability, and gifted & talented learners
When a child or young person is experiencing difficulty with a specific academic skill (e.g., reading, writing, or mathematics) and is struggling to achieve in the same way they can in other areas, they may have a Specific Learning Disorder (SLD) in reading (dyslexia), writing or maths (dyscalculia). For example, they could have a great general understanding of ideas discussed in class, but find reading very effortful, struggle to get words down on a page, or find number concepts ‘a mystery’. This can be hugely frustrating for the child, and those around them, because it can be hard to understand why a capable learner is having trouble grasping skills that seem to come naturally to others.
In these educational psychology assessments, we complete a cognitive assessment (the 'foundation' skills for how our brains work), then carry out an in-depth assessment in relation to the academic area of greatest concern (e.g. literacy). If a second academic area also needs to be explored (e.g. mathematics), it can be added for an additional fee. This would suit people wanting, for example, both a dyslexia and dyscalculia assessment.
There may, however, be another explanation for a student’s difficulties such as an ‘across the board’ delay where someone is behind their peers in all areas, perhaps even to the extent where diagnosis of an intellectual disability is appropriate. Though news like this can be very confronting, identifying these issues as early as possible means that the necessary adjustments can be made at home and school so a person can meet their full potential. As well as a cognitive assessment, assessment of the young person’s day-to-day abilities may also be done to understand where they need support in their life, in areas other than learning.
An assessment may also identify a learner as gifted & talented. This is also important to identify, so extension programs can be put in place, and the learner does not switch off in class due to not being adequately challenged. In this case, only a cognitive assessment might be required.
Behavioural and/or social-emotional challenges including ADHD
Sometimes other factors interfere with learning such as anxiety, mood, peer relationships, and attention. People might question, “What is causing what?”. Is the person finding the schoolwork hard, and that’s causing them to switch off or have low mood, or do they have attention difficulties or low mood regardless, which is impacting their ability to do their schoolwork.
An assessment can answer these questions, and include whichever components will help to answer them. While a cognitive assessment is always included to rule in or out difficulties at the intellectual level, academic areas may or may not be included, depending on need.
A clinical assessment will always include interviews with parents and teachers, questionnaires being completed, a school observation of primary students, and a session with the young person themselves. Diagnosis is made when appropriate.
Support for Special Assessment Condition (SAC) applications to NZQA
Special Assessment Conditions (SAC) are available through the New Zealand Qualifications Authority for students sitting senior school exams. SACs are available for students who have a specific barrier to achievement in formal assessments, such as difficulty reading accurately, or committing their ideas to paper. There are two avenues for applying for SAC (Reader, Writer, Extra Time). Schools can provide ‘school-based evidence’ of need, or an educational psychology assessment can be done. The psychologist can provide information to a young person's school, so they can complete the application, if the results demonstrate need for SAC. If the only reason for an assessment is to apply for SACs, we encourage you to speak to the school to see if they can do an application using school-based evidence. If, however, you want to get a picture of the student’s learning profile to help the school support them in their learning more broadly, this would be a good reason for the application to be done in the context of an educational psychology assessment. We will liaise with the student’s school, providing them with the completed application form so they can submit it to NZQA.