Psychological Assessments

Why should children who have impairments have psychological assesments?

Often, children who have visual impairments cause little disruption in the classroom. Although they may need to use special equipment or sit in a particular place, although they may occasionally bump into things or seem dreamy and inattentive at times, teachers often remark that they are no trouble. The teacher can often identify one or two other students who cause a lot more anxiety and concern, and who would be regarded as a priority for assessment. It may not occur to the teacher that the child with low vision, or a blind child, might benefit from a psychological assessment. Nevertheless, such assessments can be very useful.

1. As a guide to the child’s overall level of intellectual functioning.

Because blindness and visual impairment are conditions of low incidence in children, it is likely that the class teacher in a mainstream primary or post primary school will have had no prior experience of teaching a student with such a disability. It can be difficult for the teacher to know what to expect of the child: what is ‘normal’ for a blind child in terms both of learning and of behaviour. There is a risk that the teacher may either minimise the challenges faced by the child, and make no allowance at all, or regard every small achievement as miraculous, regardless of the child’s age. A psychological assessment at an early stage helps to set a baseline for the teacher regarding what the child can be expected to learn.

2. As a means of identifying the child’s individual strengths and difficulties.

Like every other child, the student who is blind or has poor vision has an individual profile of strengths and difficulties. Sometimes these strengths and difficulties can be masked by the disability. For example, a child with poor vision can still be gifted in visual arts or not particularly good at music, despite expectations to the contrary. Teachers can sometimes be disappointed in the poor presentation of a student’s written work, or a very slow pace of reading and writing, despite evidence within the classroom of alertness and intellectual ability. A psychological assessment can help to clarify the student’s individual learning style, and identify areas where intervention might be required.

3. To monitor progress.

In a small number of cases, the visual impairment may be progressive in itself, as with Retinitis Pigmentosa, or it may be part of an overall condition that is progressive, as with Batten’s Disease. In such cases, it is important that the child’s intellectual and learning progress be monitored, so that supports may be put in place in good time and an appropriate curriculum developed to suit the child’s needs.

4. To assist with transitions: into school; from primary to post primary school; from school to further education or training.

At a number of points in a child’s school career, there are important decisions to be made. What school to choose? What supports to put in place? What equipment will be needed? What subjects to choose? What special skills will be needed? Many of these decisions can be facilitated by a good assessment.

5. To assist in identifying specific learning difficulties, which may or may not be related to vision loss.

Having a visual impairment does not automatically mean that a child’s learning difficulties can all be explained by that alone. Children can have dyslexia, attention deficit disorder or other specific learning difficulties that are unrelated to their visual impairment. Others may have language and communication difficulties that can be complicated by restricted visual experience. A good assessment can help to clarify the source of such specific difficulties which in turn can lead to supportive and remedial strategies.

A psychological assessment of a child who is blind or who has a visual impairment needs to be carried out by a psychologist with some training and experience in the field of visual impairment. It is important to have an understanding of the diversity of visual impairments, and of the different effects

For further information or assistance please contact:
National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS)
Head Office
Frederick Court
24/27 North Fredrick Street
Dublin 1
Tel: 01 889 2700

For anyone looking for a private Educational Psychologist with VI experience, Eithne Shalloo is one of the few in Ireland. She collaborated with Joan Curran over the years. She was a teacher, re trained as an Education Psychologist and worked with NEPS, the CRC and now is in private practice. Email Tel – 087-2283490