The ‘What’. What are they talking about?
Cognition is our mental process of not only acquiring information, but making sense of it.
Do these assessments have a name or is it just ‘cognitive assessment’?
- Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI-IV) for children aged 2.6 to 7.7
- Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-V) for children aged 6.0 to 16.11
What do these assessments measure?
- Verbal Comprehension: A child’s ability to not only understand verbal information, but use their own long term knowledge and vocabulary to accurately express themselves.
- Visual Spatial: A child’s visual/spatial/non-verbal reasoning abilities.
- Fluid Reasoning: A child’s ability to think flexibly to solve a new problem using problem solving, planning and their own skillset. The ability to detect underlying relationships between concepts and ‘rules’ in a task to solve this novel problem (aka, can they pick up on what the pattern/ rule is and what strategies they need to tackle a novel visual/abstract problem?). It involves seeing the “bigger picture”, figuring out how things relate to each other and how everything works.
- Working Memory: a child’s ability to pay attention, take in multiple bits of information, mentally work with it and hold onto it long enough to produce an outcome (the best example of this is trying to memorise the digits of a phone number by repeating them over in your mind until you can write it down).
- Processing Speed: A child’s speed and accuracy of visual scanning, mental processing, motor coordination and visual decision making.
- The Full Scale IQ: Your child’s IQ score and overall estimate of their cognitive abilities based on their performance across the indexes.
The assessment within a whole process
- Parent Consultation: To gather developmental history, to gather information about the child’s current functioning, build relationships with the parents and gain an understanding of parent concerns/specific requests of the parents.
- School Consultation: To gather history of difficulties, gain a thorough understanding of the child’s academic functioning.
- Behavioural Observation: To see the child ‘in action’. How do they respond to task instructions? Can they keep up with the demands of the class? Do they experience difficulty in one subject? How do they socialise with other kids? How does the child’s quality of work compare to their peers?
- Cognitive Assessment Behavioural Observations: Here we observe and take note of your child’s behaviour during the assessment itself. For example, do they make sufficient eye contact? Do they use concrete language? Can they participate in an interactive conversation? How do they describe school/home life? Can they respond to instructions? Can they pay sufficient attention to meet the assessment demands? How do they tackle tasks? How do they self-soothe when they find a task challenging? Can they be encouraged if they are overwhelmed? Are the child’s results impacted because the child is unmotivated or tired? < These observations are invaluable and are a part of the reason why I have managed to make quality recommendations to schools.>
- Cognitive Assessment: Involves non-academic, interactive activities (particularly for the younger children). The Psychologist and child build rapport and most commonly complete 10 subtests (or presented as “fun activities” to the child).
- Feedback Session with the parents: Meeting with the child’s parents/school to discuss the results and what it means for the child.
Cognitive assessment, part of a formula
Language Disorder: Cognitive Assessment + Language Assessment
Specific Learning Disorder: Cognitive Assessment + Achievement Assessment (sometimes memory assessment and phonological awareness testing is also included)
Giftedness: Cognitive Assessment + Gifted Rating Scales or other information gathering
The ‘does this ring a bell?’ game
Now that we understand what it measures, how do I make sense of these results?
Percentile ranks reflects how a child performed compared to children the same age. Let’s say we lined up 100 boys the same age as Johnny in order of ‘ability. The little boy sitting at position 1 would be the worst performing and 100 the best. If I told you that Johnny was sitting at the 50th percentile, it means that he is RIGHT in the middle and performing as he should be for his age OR that he is performing better than 50% of children his age. With cognitive assessments, the Average Range falls within the 25th to the 75th percentile.
Put simply, standard scores are these converted scores that Psychologists use to determine where Johnny’s cognitive abilities lie in comparison to other children his age and what range of ability he falls under. You’ll see ranges associated with standard scores for the indexes and Full-Scale IQ. As an example, any standard score between 90 and 109 falls within the Average Range.
Here is a general scoring guideline table for quick reference:
What do schools do with cognitive assessment results?
The psychologist might then recommend that all instructions provided to Johnny in the classroom be concise, clear and provided to him one at a time. The psychologist might also recommend that instructions or demonstrations in the classroom be highly visual in nature when being delivered to him or that verbal instructions are paired with visual stimuli.
Depending on the reason for the referral, these results and the report might be passed onto a paediatrician or submitted as evidence for a funding application within the Victorian school system.
The cognitive assessment process is a highly rewarding one. It provides educators and parents with the opportunity to better understand the learning needs of the child involved, and also to address your concerns as parents about why they are falling behind academically.
At Hopscotch and Harmony, we have a team of Psychologists including myself who are highly experienced in conducting cognitive assessments and thoroughly enjoy collaborating with parents and educators to achieve the best outcomes for children.
To make an appointment, please don’t hesitate to ring the Werribee Clinic on (03) 9741 5222.
I have developed a “Guide to cognitive assessment: A cheat sheet” as a resource for schools and parents. This provides a brief snapshot of the contents in this blog post. I hope you find it useful!
Stella Franzese is a Hopscotch & Harmony Psychologist who is particularly passionate about working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and children with academic difficulties. Her love for working with children is fuelled by her belief that quality early intervention significantly improves a child’s functioning and sets children up for their future.