The major objective, of the team of psychologists is to establish the child’s basic cognitive potential and where his/her strengths and weaknesses lie. The scientifically standardised measuring instruments applied in each case also point to areas needing further investigation such as language deficits, auditory perceptual & processing delays, memory weaknesses and visual perceptual or fine/gross motor co-ordination difficulties. The outcome of this initial assessment may lead to other more specialised and focussed assessments being conducted. The results of these assessments may be utilised to guide appropriate school placements and referrals. Through observing the child’s presenting behaviour during the testing procedure, the psychologist can ascertain and document his/her ability to remain focussed and concentrate adequately, his/her degree of restlessness and impulsivity or whether he/she appears to experience spells of “blanking out”. These reports aid paediatric diagnoses of conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Autistic Spectrum Disorders, petit mal epilepsy and other neurological conditions. Emotional factors such as excessive anxiety, depression and poor self-esteem, which may be hindering a child’s academic progress, also show up in the process of intellectual assessment.
While the vast majority of assessments conducted assist in identifying barriers to learning such as specific learning disabilities in children with at least average cognitive potential, we are also called upon to see to children at both extremes of the continuum, from children with “exceptional abilities” to those that are intellectually disabled. These children can then be slotted into appropriate education programs. We are also often requested, by means of a thorough holistic assessment, to guide parents and educators on whether a child, who is eligible to enter Grade 1, is “school-ready”. Our statistics show that while the majority of our clientele are drawn from the middle childhood age range (7-12 years), we continue to strive towards as early identification of delays in development as possible and educate pre-school teachers, child care workers and clinic sisters to this end.
Scholastic skills assessments indicate at what chronological age and grade level a child is functioning in reading, spelling, maths and written skills and they show up the nature of hi/hers barriers to learning and where the gaps lie. An important outcome of scholastic skills assessments is ascertaining whether a child’s scholastic skills are commensurate with his/her intellectual potential. When a child is underachieving and there is a significant gap between his skills and actual potential, or a specific learning disability is identified; recommendations are made either for remedial teaching lessons to close the gaps and support development or for placement in a more appropriate learning environment such as, a remedial school, when the deficits are severe and longstanding. Sometimes in cases of immaturity, it may be suggested that it would be best for a child to repeat a grade to consolidate his foundation skills. When an intellectual assessment provides an explanation as to why a child is a “slow learner” and not coping in a mainstream class i.e. that he is a “learner with special educational needs”, an independent education program, a special class placement or referral to a Special School may be recommended and implemented.
Separating psychological assessments from intellectual testing creates an artificial barrier between these co-existing, interactive features of a child’s functioning. The reality is that many children who find it difficult to cope with schoolwork also experience emotional and social difficulties; the most common being a drop in self-esteem mirroring poor scholastic progress. Therefore, quite often in the process of obtaining an all-round view of a child’s functioning, a psychological assessment will complete the profile put together by the multidisciplinary team. The psychological assessment (implementing a whole battery of tests) is geared to establish whether the emotional/social/behavioural difficulties the child experiences are significant enough to indicate the need for play therapy or psychotherapy in the case of the older child.
Psychological assessments provide an extensive picture of the child’s difficulties, which guides therapy. Sometimes these assessments, together with the intellectual assessment assist in the identification of various syndromes and disorders, such as autism, which in turn leads to appropriate interventions and educational placements.
Apart from the issues of poor self-esteem some of the other difficulties dealt with at the Centre are:
Our comprehensive Speech & language assessments involve the assessment of areas related to speech sound production, fluency, pragmatics, receptive and expressive language and auditory processing skills.
Cognitive development and scholastic progress in the early school years are heavily dependent on receptive and expressive language abilities, listening skills and adequate auditory processing. A child’s social development is greatly influenced by his/her ability to communicate effectively and use appropriately developing pragmatic skills such as making eye contact, greeting, the initiation and maintenance of conversations and effective turn taking.
Many of the children referred to the Centre have a history of otitis media, which may lead to a temporary hearing losses, inconsistent access to sound poor auditory discrimination skills and delayed speech and language development.
Inconsistent attention and poor concentration may further impact on word retrieval skills, auditory perception, auditory comprehension, listening skills and short-term auditory memory subskills.
Comprehensive Speech & Language assessments are undertaken at our centre and close collaboration and appropriate referrals are made to ENT’s and audiologists for comprehensive hearing assessments, central auditory processing assessments.
Speech & Language therapy /intervention is further offered at our centre.
Our school provides aural rehabilitation to develop oral/spoken language for children with hearing aids and cochlear implants. Our therapist has professional training in “Listening and Spoken language skills” (Accredited by the University of Stellenbosch)
Birdwood school has Social Skills groups, using best practice strategies which are graded at different levels from Grade 00 to Grade 7. These groups aim to develop skills related to problem solving, decision making, self-advocacy, sharing and resolving conflicts. Social skills facilitated are divided into areas related to social initiation skills, social response skills and skills we need to get along with others.
Occupational Therapy assessments enable the identification of sensori-motor, gross & fine motor deficits and visual perceptual difficulties, which impact on all areas of physical development but also compromise scholastic learning ability such as reading, spelling, maths and handwriting. The earlier the deficits in these skills can be identified and therapy started, the more chance there is that the child’s overall development, in particular his ability to learn, will not be compromised. Areas of delay are overcome and skills enhanced and strengthened through therapy and home programs. There is an increase in children presenting with sensory processing disorders, which are also screened for during an O T assessment.
Parent and caregiver counselling is often directed at helping parents understand their children’s developmental needs so they can respond more appropriately or become more supportive to a child who has been exposed to a traumatic experience or some form of loss or change, such as created by divorce or death. Frequently parent counselling takes the form of helping parents come to terms with the pain, disappointment and hardship created by their child’s learning difficulties or the diagnosis of a complex disorder or syndrome. More realistic expectations for the child’s performance can then be developed as well as more practical, useful approaches to supporting the child at his pace. Parent counselling often focuses on managing sibling rivalry, improving family relationships and addressing unstable home circumstances. A common plea from parents of very young children is for assistance in acquiring the skills to manage behavioural issues such as tantrums and non-compliance regarding bed-time, bathing, dressing and eating routines.