Child Assessment & Testing - Learning Difficulties and Disabilities in Children

Learning Difficulties and Disabilities in Children

Expert learning difficulty assessment with child and developmental psychologists

A learning difficulty or learning disability for children refers to a child's poor school performance that is not attributable to intellectual ability, physical disability, emotional disturbance or severe economic hardship. The prevalence of children with learning disabilities in Australian classrooms is relatively high with about 5-10% of students being affected. While some learning disability subtypes run in families (e.g., Dyslexia), suggesting the presence of a genetic component, the exact causes are unknown.

Our approach to helping children with learning difficulties is based on accurate recognition of their problem areas and evaluation of the extent of their difficulties through clinical/diagnostic assessments. We believe in prevention, that the earlier learning difficulties are recognised the more parents and teachers can help children to reach their full potential.


At CPAC our educational psychologists provide reliable diagnoses of learning difficulties and disabilities in children. When possible, we try to identify psychosocial areas in children's lives that can reduce their difficulties and will make specific recommendations to overcome such difficulties. Upon request we will also liaise with teachers and schools and we will help to design a suitable program for your child to reach his/her potential.


Learning disability can result from disruption to any stages of the learning process. Specific learning disability is a disorder in one or more of the learning processes associated with language use (written or spoken) that affects listening, reading, writing, speaking and spelling skills, or mathematical abilities.

Children with learning difficulties can also be susceptible to hyperactivity, impairments in perceptual-motor coordination, disorders of attention (ADHD), impulsivity, disorders of memory and language problems. Specific learning disabilities are Dyslexia or problems with reading, Discalculia or problems with mathematical calculations and Dysgraphia or problems with spelling and writing.

The Learning Process


Encoding is the first stage of learning. This is when children attend to information and analyse what they see or hear (or smell or touch or taste). Attention at this stage can shift very quickly and lack of interest or motivation can greatly influence what children may or may not learn. Understandably, children with attention difficulties, such as ADHD, have difficulty learning new information simply because they find it hard to pay attention.


Integration is part of the first learning stage. This is when children pay attention to presented information and hold this information in their short term or working memory. It can be as simple as seeing a picture of a possum for the first time and hearing the word "possum" from a parent or teacher. Let's assume the child might already know what a cat is. To this child the possum may look similar because it is similar in size and shape to the cat and it is also furry. Despite these similarities, after hearing the word "possum" and looking at the picture the child is about to learn that it is a different animal.


Storage is the second stage of learning. This is when children really evaluate new information and categorise it for storage. Rehearsal and repetition can aid the process of storage and improve learning. Staying with our earlier example, a child may repeat the word "possum" to him/herself while still looking at the picture of the possum. This way he/she is creating mental space and filling it with this new information.


Retrieval is the proof of learning. This is when children begin to use the information they learned. They must be able to search their memory storage and make an accurate decision about what is the exact information they were "looking for". In the case of the possum example, seeing the picture of the possum a day or two later, a child may still be tempted to say that it is a cat, but if learning has taken place he/she will search for the word that fits best with picture. In our example, the child should remember that it is a possum.


The primary diagnostic criterion of a specific learning disability is a substandard performance on a standardised academic test of reading, writing, comprehension and mathematics. These tests are not the same as the ones used by schools or by the educational system (e.g., NAPLAN). The assessment for children with learning difficulties is used in the diagnostic process and is specifically aimed at evaluating key academic areas in comparison to a "norm" or average performance.

The second component of the assessment process is to screen for cognitive (thinking) deficits that could be confused with a learning disability. For this purpose, it is extremely important to evaluate a child's intellectual ability (IQ) and functioning. Other areas that may need screening are emotional difficulties, ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)and language functioning.

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