Children Are Snowflakes

What you need to know about the psycho-educational assessment and what you don’t, according to child development psychologist Adele Monsef

I accept, begrudgingly, that we exist in an exam driven culture and while A*s do not guarantee your success  in life, they do give you a better chance of getting into  a good university. But what happens when someone  flags up a problem and recommends a psycho educational assessment?

Well for starters, take heart. Even if your child is diagnosed with  a learning difficulty, this is not the end of the world. Far from it. It  might be the beginning of making life easier for them. Teachers today  do not assume that a child who isn’t reading at an age appropriate  level, let alone the levels expected at an independent school, is lazy or  stupid. The sooner we assess the child, the sooner we can teach them  better learning strategies. Children are astute and aware when they  are ‘behind’ in class, which does affect confidence, self esteem and  can make them the subject of teasing. 

Approximately 20 per cent of schoolchildren require an assessment  that highlights their strengths and weaknesses. If they produce a spiky  profile, then they are likely be diagnosed as having Specific Learning  Difficulties (SpLD), which is the umbrella term covering a range of  labels that often overlap with dyslexia, dyspraxia/DCD, dyscalculia,  AD/HD, dysgraphia, AS (autistic spectrum), and may affect the way  they learn and process information in school.

I don’t like labels – like snowflakes, each child is unique and  important subtleties are sometimes lost in grouping children under  one umbrella. However, the assessment process and subsequent  findings guide professionals on how to help provide a child with  the tools to fulfil their potential – particularly in exams. 

Children with SpLD are often entitled to what is known as access  arrangements and this is one of the principal reasons why you should  have your child assessed. If they are labelled and achieve below  average scores, they may well be allowed certain compensations  in exams like extra time, a laptop or a reader. 

These can make all the difference as it would be unfair to expect a child who has slow  processing speed to be able to compete on an  equal par with those who do not. Sometimes,  simply being on a laptop can help a dyslexic  or dyspraxic structure their ideas more quickly  and better demonstrate what is in their head. 

Most learning support departments start  the ball rolling at school with computerised  assessments, which identify potential difficulties requiring further assessment by a psychologist or specialist assessor,  although only the former can administer a full ability and IQ test.

Psycho-educational assessments include widely used  standardised tests of ability, attainment measures of reading,  writing, spelling, maths and diagnostic tests, which assess  phonological processing, visual motor skills and behaviour ratings  specific to the weaknesses we expect to see in the SpLD group. It  is best to think of this initial testing as the baseline which directs  the next steps. If this report provides evidence of your child  having SpLD, from then on their work will be documented to  provide supporting evidence, which paints a ‘picture of need’ to be submitted to the exam board when the time comes.


Once your child has been tested, the psychologist should  explain the findings. The ability test highlights a child’s strengths  and weaknesses but the IQ scoring is an average of ten sub-tests  measuring verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, working  memory and processing speed. This can mask extreme differences in scores – two children may reach the same averages with very  different individual scores. To avoid this, another measure was  introduced called the general ability index (GAI), which is an  average of the verbal and nonverbal tests, eliminating the processing  measures, which do not correlate with intelligence.  

Even the GAI score may distort the picture.

The assessment process and subsequent findings guide professionals on how to help and provide a child with the tools to fulfil their potential – particularly in exams

If a child is dyspraxic and weak in visual  processing, you may misinterpret the findings  and not appreciate how strong they are verbally. 

When going through my findings with  parents, I isolate sub-tests to explain a  child’s strengths. It’s important that parents  understand that just because a child has a very  low score in working memory, that does not  mean they can’t remember things. What it does mean is they will need to develop learning strategies. Once the full  assessment, which includes the ability test, is done, it doesn’t have to  be repeated if a diagnosis is made. A review from then on will do. 

Remember at the beginning I said there is nothing to worry  about? There isn’t, but it’s not always easy convincing parents who  don’t always understand the reports and often seem to have selective  hearing. A mother of an eight-year-old was distraught to discover her  son was dyslexic and completely failed to hear me tell her that he was  also exceptionally bright. Five years later, she had cottoned on. In a  recent email, she wrote, ‘X is flying – exactly as you predicted when  you first met him when he was eight!’ 

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