How do you know when your child’s reading difficulties are not due to Dyslexia?

I often have parents say to me that their child has reading difficulties and they wonder if there is any other cause apart from Dyslexia known as a Specific Learning Disorder in Reading. There are many reasons that your child may have reading difficulties that may be unrelated to having a Specific Learning Disorder. Firstly, assuming that there is no eyesight or hearing issues or developmental delays that may affect their ability to read, there are a number of other factors that may affect your child’s ability to read. Reading difficulties can occur through a lack of opportunity to learn (chronic health conditions which impact upon school attendance) which negatively impacts upon your child’s ability to engage in successful reading programs. Reading motivation has been demonstrated through research to negatively affect your child’s ability to read, which is often cyclical in nature. In other words, your child is likely to lack motivation to read if it seems too challenging and therefore this can negatively impact attempts to improve reading ability. In this situation, careful consideration is required to determine your child’s areas of interest and what will assist their motivation to read.

There are a number of psychological disorders that can also negatively impact upon a child’s ability to read. When children present for a psycho-educational assessment they sometimes are suffering learning difficulties known as a Language Disorder. These children often have difficulties with reading as a consequence of difficulties understanding language or difficulties with speech which interfere with how they remember words they have just read.

In a different way Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can affect a child’ ability to read. Firstly, ADHD can co-occur with a Specific Learning Disorder (Dyslexia) although it can also be diagnosed alone. In the latter a child’s reading difficulties may relate entirely to your child’s difficulties with maintaining focus or attention on a what they are reading. In other words, they may have the ability but struggle to stay focused on the word reading for any significant period resulting in them falling behind their peers if not treated.

Alternatively, a child that has significant Intelligence difficulties such as a child with an Intellectual Disability may also have reading difficulties as a consequence of a more global learning delay across academic, social and adaptive (life skills) areas.

Therefore, it is essential that as a parent or carer of your child you are aware of the reasons for your child’s reading difficulties so that the appropriate support can be provided such as a child may benefit from consulting with a Speech Therapist if they have a Speech or Language Disorder. Lastly, a thorough Psycho-educational assessment can provide a detailed understanding of the reasons that your child has reading difficulties and recommendations to assist the reading ability.

Educational Assessment is not just Intelligence Testing

I often have parents say to me that there child has previously seen a psychologist but they completed an Intelligence Test (often referred to as Cognitive Testing) such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children Fifth Edition WISC V but no other measures were used. In contrast, a complete psycho-educational assessment usually consists of an intelligence test such as the WISCV and an achievement test such as the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test 3rd Edition (WIAT III) in combination with other behavioral and adaptive functioning measures.

If your child undertakes just an intelligence Test then the Psychologist can still provide you and the school with an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses in Intelligence function such as practical or verbal strengths. Importantly, if you or the school are concerned regarding the possibility that your child suffers from a Specific Learning Disorder such as Dyslexia or other problems such as having an Intellectual Disability or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, then the Intelligence Test does not suffice in order for a diagnosis to be provided my your Psychologist. More specifically, for a diagnosis to be provided regarding a Specific Learning Disorder an understanding of your child’s academic abilities compared with their peers is required by using an achievement test such as the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test Third Edition (WIAT III). On the other hand, if you are concerned that your child may suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or an Intellectual Disability, it is often important to understand your child’s performance on behavioural and adaptive functioning measures.

The behavioral measures may be questionnaires provided to you the parent and to your child’s school such as the Conner’s 3 Rating Scale if there are concerns regarding your child having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Alternatively, if the Psychologist is attempting to determine your child’s adaptive functioning (ie how they function with life skills in the real world) they may similarly provide questionnaires to you the parents and your child’s teacher such as the Adaptive Behaviour Assessment System Third Edition. Therefore, it is essential that as a parent or carer of your child it is important that you are aware of the purpose of the assessment such as either wanting to understanding if your child has particular diagnosis or to determine strengths and weaknesses. Lastly, following a decision on the purpose of the assessment ensure that the Psycho-educational assessment will include necessary assessment and questionnaire’s to provide adequate information to answer the specific question addressed.

Working Memory in Children (Part 2)

In Working memory in Children (Part 1) the difference between Working Memory and Long term Memory was explored. It will now be addressed how is short-term and working memory different.
When Psychologists refer to short-term memory we are referring to those situations that require a person to simply store information without manipulating in some mental way or doing something else at the same time. An example of verbal short-term memory is when we remember a telephone number. In contrast, working memory is when after using our visual short-term memory to remember math’s facts on a board such as 24+ 18 for a few seconds long enough to write them down, it is then our working memory that assists us to solve the problem.
There are many ways that we can assist children that have working memory difficulties depending on their specific learning or emotional difficulties. For instance, a child with an anxiety disorder who has persistent worrying thoughts can be assisted by reducing distractions around them such as removing the posters in the classroom. This will assist their working memory not being overwhelmed with irrelevant information.

In contrast, a child with an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder who has working memories difficulties may be assisted shortening the instructions to reduce the amount of information the child is expected to hold. Secondly, it can also be much more useful for this child to have timed bursts of academic effort of 5-10 minutes rather than a prolonged lesson.

For a child that is diagnosed with Dyslexia or (Reading Disorder) these children normally take longer to process information, so if the teacher or parent speaks quickly this can negatively affect their ability to remember instructions. Speaking slowly can assist these children take in the information into their working memory more effectively. It can be also beneficial for these children if activities are shortened to reduce the impact on their working memory. For instance, only providing one assignment at a time, rather than handing out three assignments on the same day. In summary, there are many ways in which we can assist children with working memory difficulties become more effective learners within the classroom and home environment. In exploring these options children with learning difficulties as a consequence of poor working memory will be rewarded with higher academic achievement and improved mental health and wellbeing.

IPAD TESTING IN CHILDREN AND ADULTS

I am pleased to acknowledge that I have now being using the IPAD versions of Intelligence and academic testing for children and adults over the last year. The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children Fifth Edition (WISC-V), The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Adults Fourth Edition, and the achievement test such as the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test Third Edition (WIAT III) have been available for psychologists in Australia over the last year. However, some subtests of the achievement test are still required to be completed on paper version such as Spelling and Numerical Operations. At this point, The Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI-IV) which is part of a psycho-educational assessment for children in their early years is not available in IPAD version. In my opinion, there are several advantages that the IPAD version has over the pencil-paper format.

Firstly, I have found that children and adults respond much more positively to the testing process as it makes the testing appears a less dauting task while still collecting the same information on their intelligence and academic ability such as reading, reading comprehension and maths.

Secondly, for children that have fine motor difficulties they are likely to have less difficulty with IPAD tasks as they do not rely on their writing abilities. Therefore, a child with fine motor skill deficits which makes writing tasks difficult for them may find the IPAD version of testing assists them complete the task requested rather than focus on their writing deficits. In other words, the IPAD version should assist a child to feel more confident in a task that they previously may have struggled with if they had to rely on their writing deficits.
Thirdly, the IPAD technology versions interpretation and scoring is much more efficient than the paper-pencil format allowing the Psychologist to at least provide some feedback regarding the child or adults strengths and weaknesses at the conclusion of the assessment session if considered appropriate. Lastly, if you are thinking about having your child or you are an adult seeking a psychoeducational assessment for learning difficulties you should consider the advantages of seeking IPAD technology for Psychological Testing.

What is Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological disorder that affects in most cultures approximately 5% of children and 2.5 % of adults. I often have parents or teachers talk to me about concerns they have regarding their child's/students’ ability to maintain attention and concentration, and most worry that their child/student suffers from ADHD. They will often discuss with me that they are unclear about the process involved in an assessment for ADHD and what the treatment options are if the child is diagnosed with this condition. This four-part series will provide an understanding of ADHD and its subtypes as well as provide an insight into diagnosis and treatment available for attention difficulties.

Children with ADHD often has poor inhibition, that is, they have difficulty in controlling inappropriate behaviour, thoughts and speech. They may exhibit, firstly, inattentive symptoms—characterised by wandering off tasks, lacking persistence, having difficulty sustaining focus and being disorganised. Secondly, they may exhibit hyperactivity symptoms, characterised by excessive fidgeting or tapping and talkativeness. Thirdly, they may exhibit impulsivity symptoms, characterised by interrupting or intruding on others as an impulse.

It may be that your child has some or a combination of all these symptom types. A child that is hyperactive or impulsive is unlikely to learn effectively without introducing intervention strategies; otherwise they will disrupts others’ learning process as well.

It is important to understand that for a group of symptoms to be suggestive of ADHD they must commence within childhood prior to the age of 12 years old and for a period of six months or more, rather than, say, two weeks. It is also necessary that the displays of inattention, hyperactivity or impulsivity have occurred in more than one setting; these displays would usually be at home and the school environment. It is likely that if your child/student only demonstrates these symptoms in one setting, this may allude to other psychological concerns such as learning or relationship difficulties.

ADHD in children is associated with reduced school performance and academic achievement. This can also negatively affect peer relationships. In adults consequences of ADHD are often associated with poor job performance and achievement.

Therefore, if your child/student has some of these difficulties, an ADHD assessment completed by a psychologist must be administered as early as possible. An ADHD test can assist you in understanding your child’s learning/behavioural needs. A reliable ADHD test can also provide recommendations and accommodations to assist them to learn in a more effective manner.

What is The Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence – (WPPSI-IV)?

I often have people ask me if the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI-IV) is part of an educational assessment for children in their early years. A psychoeducational assessment normally consists of an intelligence test such as the WPPSI-IV and an achievement test such as the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test Third Edition (WIAT III). The Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence has recently become available for use in Australia (by qualified psychologists) which is an updated version of the WPPSI-III.

An intelligence test such as the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence is useful for measuring your child’s strengths and weaknesses and can be essential component of a diagnosis of certain academic problems or strengths such as dyslexia, intellectual disability or giftedness.

The WPPSI-IVis an individually administered clinical tool for assessing cognitive ability of children 2.6 years through to 7 years and 7 months. The test provides a general intellectual ability score often referred to as your IQ score. It also provides information on different areas of intelligence such as verbal and practical intelligence.

The Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence normally takes about 45-60 minutes to complete as part of an educational assessment. Normally a qualified psychologist would also administer other tests within an educational assessment that would normally be expected to take another hour in length. Scoring and writing a report by a qualified psychologist may take from 4 to 6 hours to complete.

There are five main components of the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence called Verbal Comprehension, Visual Spatial, Fluid Reasoning, Working Memory and Processing Speed.

Verbal Comprehension measures your child’s understanding of words (receptive vocabulary). In comparison, Visual Spatial and Fluid Reasoning tasks measure your child’s practical ability; however, there is still some understanding of language required such as the ability to follow instructions. Working Memory assesses your child’s capacity to hold and manipulate information in their mind over short periods in an auditory and visual manner. Processing Speed is designed to measure how quickly your child can perform mental tasks.

The WPPSI-IV is often required to be completed to assist in determining if a child may benefit from early school entry as a consequence of giftedness. It may also be useful in assisting teachers with early identification of reading and learning/behavioural issues that may be present in a child. The WPPSI-IV is an important tool in psychoeducational assessments in Adelaide and is used by trusted educational psychology clinics.

How can a teenager who suffers from an intellectual disability find employment?

It can often be difficult for teenagers to obtain employment following leaving school particularly if they struggle with a disability such as an Intellectual Disability or significant learning issues. To help, a psychological assessment can be arranged through a Disability Employment Network. This assessment can assist the employment consultant in understanding the disorder and be better informed about what employment type and conditions will suit them best.

The psychological assessment will be conducted over approximately three hours with breaks. It consists of an intelligence test and, most importantly, a measure of their adaptive functioning skills.

For instance, a young adult with a moderate intellectual disability may have difficulty remembering basic living skills such as showering without prompting. Obviously, if your young adult is having difficulties within this area, they will require assistance with these skills prior to being deemed job-ready.

Alternatively, your teenager may be able to undertake these activities but require extra assistance from a support worker while attending the job location. For example, they may need ongoing assistance to travel to the employment location as they may have map reading difficulties or be unable to understand public transport timetables.

In some situations an adult with an intellectual disability may require attending a supported employment setting so that they can receive ongoing support from suitably qualified disability/employment support workers with maintaining their employment goals. For instance, a young adult with an intellectual disability will take longer to learn and retain tasks related to their employment type. The young adult often will also require significant intervention with obtaining and maintaining relationships with others in the workplace. Just like they may experience difficulty understanding employment-related tasks, they can also have difficulty with social interventions.

In my opinion, it is extremely important that the young adult is engaged in appropriate employment. It is well documented that having employment in some form is a beneficial factor in maintaining mental health for a variety of reasons, such as providing social interaction and a feeling of accomplishment and structure within the day.

In summary, a psychoeducational assessment can provide your teenager/young adult with invaluable information regarding their strengths and weaknesses which will greatly assist a disability employment network determine how much support your teenager will require to obtain and maintain employment.

What is dysgraphia?

I often have parents discuss with me the confusion they feel regarding the diagnosis of a Specific Learning Disorder that their child may have and its impact on learning. One issue of potential misunderstanding is that Reading Disorder, Math’s Disorder and Written Expression Disorder are often referred to by alternative terms.

It is often acknowledged that the Specific Learning Disorder (with impairment in written expression), also referred to as dysgraphia, can often be interpreted in a number of different ways. In clinical practice, dysgraphia can often either be motor-based (difficulties with fine motor skills which is treated by occupational therapists) or language-based. This section will be focusing on the latter.

A key component of the Specific Learning Disorder (with impairment in written expression) is that the learning difficulties are unexpected since other aspects of your child’s development may appear within normal range.

For a diagnosis of the disorder, a child’s written expression and/or spelling accuracy must be substantially lower than their same-age peers. Furthermore, this must be specific and is not the consequence of an intellectual disability, hearing or visual impairment or other neurological or motor disorders.

If your child suffers from this disorder, they are likely to have significant difficulty with the process of writing and often finds it effortful and tiring. They may demonstrate poor sentence and paragraph structure. Moreover, they may have difficulty choosing the correct spelling alternatives or demonstrate difficulties spelling in context. Furthermore, it is likely that your child will demonstrate a significantly better verbal ability than written ability. It is also likely that your child’s difficulties become more apparent as the demands on writing ability increase through middle and upper primary school.

There are a number of ways we can assist a child with a Specific Learning Disorder (with impairment in written expression) depending on their age and writing ability. For instance, if your child has difficulties with written expression, providing extra writing time and allowing rests when extended writing is required can be useful. It can also be useful to allow work to be produced on a word processor, with spell-checker and grammar checker available.

Furthermore, as your child becomes older using a suitable software program to organise ideas for written work can be beneficial. Your child may also be assisted by providing them with writing guidelines and paragraph headings to support extended structured writing. Proving a template of a story can assist your child become familiar with story construction.

Lastly, if you believe that your child has significant difficulties with their written expression, a learning difficulties assessment administered in an educational psychology clinic can assist you in understanding your child’s ability. A psychologist can also provide recommendations to assist your child in fulfil their written expression potential.

What are Reading Difficulties?

I often have parents discuss with me the confusion they feel regarding the diagnosis of a Specific Learning Disorder that their child may have and its impact on learning. One issue of potential misunderstanding is that Reading Disorder, Math’s Disorder and Written Expression Disorder are often referred to by alternative terms. For Reading Disorder, in particular, there is confusion regarding what defines disordered reading levels from a child with some reading difficulties.

The Specific Learning Disorder (with impairment in reading) is often referred to as dyslexia. A key component of the diagnosis is that the learning difficulties are unexpected since other aspects of your child’s development may appear within normal range. For a diagnosis of the disorder, a child’s reading and/or spelling accuracy must be substantially lower than their same-age peers.

If your child suffers from this disorder they are likely to have significant difficulty with word reading accuracy, reading rate or fluency (appear to struggle to get their words out) or reading comprehension (understanding what they have read). Furthermore, they may struggle to spell words accurately and may have a tendency to spell words as they sound rather than understanding the spelling rules such as spelling “right” as “rite”. Alternatively, they may also have difficulty with decoding skills such as understanding how to reproduce familiar and unfamiliar words. This often leads to your child having difficulties with reading accuracy.

There are a number of ways we can assist a child with a Specific Learning Disorder (with impairment in reading) depending on their age and readings ability.

If your child has difficulties with reading fluency, this is likely to interfere with their ability to understand what they are reading. In other words, your child is likely to be so tired from just reading the paragraph they retaining information they have read will be improbable. In this instance a useful recommendation can be to encourage your child to re-read the book, the first read through is to work out the actual words, the second read through is for understanding the story.

Alternatively, if your child suffers from reading accuracy a number of accommodations could be instigated. For example, the teacher can save your child the ordeal of having to “read aloud in class”. Ensure reading is reserved for a quiet time with the class teacher. Secondly, your child will require more time to read questions and answers when completing assignments or tests.

Lastly, a learning difficulties assessment can assist you understand your child’s reading ability and provide recommendations to assist them fulfil their reading potential. Dyslexia testing may be administered for your child in an educational psychology clinic.

What are Maths Difficulties?

I often have parents discuss with me the confusion they feel regarding the diagnosis of a Specific Learning Disorder that their child may have and its impact on learning. One issue of potential misunderstanding is that Reading Disorder, Math’s Disorder and Written Expression Disorder are often referred to by alternative terms.

A Specific Learning Disorder (with impairment in mathematics), in particular, is sometimes referred to as dyscalculia. A key component of the diagnosis is that the learning difficulties are “unexpected” in that other aspects of your child’s development appear within normal range.

A Specific Learning Disorder can only be reliably diagnosed by a psychologist after starting formal education. If your child suffers from this disorder, they are likely to have difficulty understanding simple number facts or procedures. For example, they may have difficulty solving basic maths problems using addition, subtraction, multiplication or division. This may be as a consequence of them not remembering what the symbols mean or that they cannot remember the steps involved in the maths equation.

For example, a teenager given a person’s four exams scores of 70, 75, 80, and 65 may be unable to determine the individual’s average test score. In other words, they may struggle to understand how to solve the problem. If given the steps to solve this equation, your child is more likely to be successful. Alternatively, it may be that your child may be able to complete a maths addition problem but write the numbers in reverse so that instead of 61 they write 16. Lastly, they may have a poor memory for number facts such as knowing automatically that 7 times 7 equals 49.

There are a number of ways we can assist a child with a Specific Learning Disorder (with impairment in mathematics) depending on their age and maths ability. For instance, research has demonstrated that cooperative learning is an effective way to reduce processing difficulties that are associated with maths anxiety. Therefore, it can be beneficial that your child has a classmate who can demonstrate how to arrive at the work-out answers so that they can see the steps that they go through to succeed in solving the problem.

Additionally, if your child has some of these difficulties, a learning difficulties assessment completed in an educational psychology clinic can assist you in understanding your child’s learning needs and providing recommendations and accommodations to assist them learn in a more effective manner.