Assessing Dyspraxia

I have recently seen a young woman for an assessment who had been previously assessed at her college. Her previous tests had shown that she was in the bottom 5th of the population for most tests, except spelling. This led her assessor to decide that she was not dyslexic and therefore unable to receive any extra help at college. However her mother was confused – if she scored that low, how was she able to achieve GCSEs in Child Development, Art and English? A BTEC Higher in Health and Social Care?

Her mother called me. I agreed that it seemed incongruent. Her grades indicate an ability in the low normal range, but her tests showed that she had severe learning disabilities.  Someone scoring that consistently low shouldn’t be able to get themselves to lectures, get on a bus, plan a written essay. Something was missing from the previous testing.

Natasha and I agreed to do some re-testing.  This is very expensive for most people who are paying themselves, so we agreed to only test for the areas that she should be good at, as well as take a proper case history.  This was a wise move.  The case history revealed that our client’s early development was classically dyspraxic.  She:

  • Was born early
  • Did not crawl but ‘bottom shuffled’
  • Did not learn to ride a bike or tie shoelaces and indeed still cannot
  • Says things at inappropriate times and sometimes in a high pitched voice
  • Finds it difficult to interpret instructions

These are typical issues for dyspraxia. It also means that our client may have scored badly in some ares because she didn’t understand the question.  We tested for dyspraxia and found that she scored in the bottom 0.02% of the population for visual motor (or hand-eye) coordination.  This is a clear dyspraxia case!

We then re-tested her comprehension abilities but first going over examples of how the test worked, so that we were sure she knew how to answer.  She scored in the normal range, under these conditions.  This means that we can be sure she has a specific learning disability, as she has the typical spiky profile.

I think our client was lucky to have a pushy mum who wouldn’t take no for an answer!  I’m wondering how many more dyspraxics are out there with dodgy test results? It’s time for psychologists to take a lead in:

  • Defining standards in testing
  • Providing guidelines on how to adapt testing for people with specific conditions
  • Quantifying the criteria for diagnosis

Until we start monitoring this properly there is no protection for people like my client, who are often charged hundreds of pounds for reports that are inaccurate and incomprehensible.  And until psychologists provide clear direction and leadership, there is no effective support for teachers and other accredited testers who don’t have the theoretical background to know when a test isn’t working as it should.

When I’ve got off this soap box I might call the British Psychological society and do something about it myself.  Who’s with me?