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How to decide if your child needs a formal assessment for a learning difficulty

A formal assessment by a trained health professional may be useful. This will help you and your child's school better understand their learning difficulty and what other supports may be effective.

It's important to know the steps involved in organising a formal assessment and how to get the most value out of this process. This includes talking about the results with your child's teachers and school.

Types of formal assessments

A learning profile identifies what your child knows and what they can do in reading, writing, spelling or maths. It can also help to identify their strengths and any difficulties they may be having.

One or more specialists can assess specific types of learning and help create this profile.


Psychologists can provide a cognitive assessment of your child's intellectual, academic, behavioural, social and emotional development.

Speech pathologists

Speech pathologists can assess your child’s:

  • speech
  • language and communication skills
  • reading and writing skills

This may include assessing:

  • difficulties saying certain sounds
  • your child's understanding and use of language, for example, if they use the right words in the right way
  • social communication, for example, taking turns in conversations
  • early reading and writing skills, for example, knowing the sounds that make up words
  • how your child speaks, for example, if their voice is rough or croaky or if they have a stutter

Occupational therapists

Occupational therapists can assess your child's motor development. Motor development is how well their body is growing physically and their ability to move, balance, and to hold, touch and use objects.

They may also assess your child's visuoperceptual skills. This means how well they can organise and understand information they can see and give it meaning. For example, recognising faces and images.

Formal assessment report

A formal assessment will produce a report that:

  • reviews your child's medical, developmental, educational and family history
  • includes test scores and teacher observations. It should also include how they have responded to changes in teaching so far
  • describes your child's learning profile and makes suggestions for how they should be taught.

Student support services

Student support services (SSS) help young people who face barriers to learning and achieving their potential. They provide strategies and specialised support to families, including formal assessments.

For more information about SSS visit extra support from specialist staff(opens in a new window).

For guidance about discussing your child's needs with your school, visit how to talk to my child's school(opens in a new window).

Before organising a formal assessment

Some families may choose to undertake a formal assessment at their own cost. There are 4 important steps to take before organising a formal assessment for your child.

  1. Share any information you have collected about your child's development with their teacher and school. They can compare it with the information they collected through observing and assessing your child in the classroom. Together, you can decide if there is a concern about your child's progress and how to proceed. This may involve changes in the way they are taught at school or tasks to support their learning at home.
  2. Track how your child responds to these changes. Changes in teaching should be clear and happen over time so that you and the teacher can see what works best for your child.
  3. After an agreed amount of time, decide with your child's teachers if the changes have been effective or if you feel your child is still having difficulty with their learning. Remember that change will not happen overnight. Speak to your child's teachers before you decide to organise a formal assessment.
  4. Speak with your child's teachers about what extra information you feel is important to know about their needs and the professionals that can help with this. It's important to choose practitioners with recognised qualifications in these areas (for example, psychologist, speech pathologist).

Organising a formal assessment

When you and your child's teachers have agreed on the area(s) for which a formal assessment would be useful, the next step is to find a specialist. The school or your general practitioner can help recommend the right type of specialist.

The following websites have lists of professionals who can provide a formal assessment:

For more information, download AUSPELD Understanding Learning Difficulties: a guide for parents