Educational Psychologist - Melanie Hartgill
Registered education psychologist
I am a registered Educational Psychologist (BA Hons Psych, M.Ed Psych (Wits)) running a private practice with offices in Orange Grove. I conduct a wide variety of assessments (including cognitive, educational, emotional, neuro-development, pre-school, subject choice, exam concessions and career assessments, amongst others), as well as specialising in learning disabilities. I also do independent assessments for mediation cases. I have sixteen years of experience that has been enriched working with children in government and private schools, mainstream, remedial and special education. I provide presentations and workshops at schools, dealing with parental issues and child development, as well as being available to address these issues in individual consultations. Talks are available for teachers / educators as well as for students.
I write articles and newsletters for various companies and websites and have a question/answer type forum available on my Facebook page to discuss various parental and developmental issues with parents, teachers and even the children themselves.
I work with children of all ages and have a number of adult clients who are making career and study decisions.
For parents, I offer short courses on how to practically deal with children who have learning difficulties or other challenges.
My focus is on helping children or young people who are experiencing problems within an educational setting with the aim of enhancing their learning. Challenges may include social or emotional problems or learning difficulties. My work is with individual clients; advising teachers, parents, therapists and other professionals. Today, perhaps more than ever, assessing students' knowledge and skills is a central issue in schools.
Types of assessments offered:
- Early development
- School readiness
- Intellectual / cognitive ability
- Emotional development
- General developmental progress
- Psycho-educational assessments
- Academic / scholastic abilities
- Intellectual / cognitive functioning and IQ testing
- Learning styles
- Study skills
- Remedial or special needs
- Subject choice
- Aptitude tests and interest scales
- Learning difficulties, including AD/HD
- Career development
- Exam concessions / arrangements (IEB, GDE, IB and Cambridge)
- Emotional development
- Working memory difficulties
- Graduate assessments
- Occupational interests
- Intellectual development
- Learning difficulties and AD/HD
- Aptitude scales
An assessment will take a number of different forms depending on the needs of the client and the reason for the assessment, though I do offer a short screening assessment to determine the need for further intervention or investigation.
However, it must be noted that there is an overlap between the characteristics and occurrence of developmental disorders and one disorder can also mimic another. Considerable experience and expertise is needed to make a differential diagnosis.
Psychoeducational testing is an opportunity for acute observation combined with the use of standardised tests and questionnaires in an effort to identify a studentís strengths and weaknesses across many areas of functioning and attributes. It is conducted on an individual basis and the optimal one-on-one testing environment allows for the examineeís level of effort to be monitored providing more valid estimates of the individualís skills as compared to group-administered tests. Often, a childís performances will be better in an individual testing situation than his/her performances in the classroom. However, it is important to remember that the purpose of individualised testing is to provide the most valid estimates of the childís actual skill levels. In an uncontrolled environment, such as the classroom, many extraneous factors (e.g., visual and auditory distractions) can prevent a child from performing optimally.
Essentially then an assessment is the process of collecting information that will be used to form opinions and make decisions concerning the assessed individual. It is a general term used to refer to all methods that appraise a personís performance and abilities.
Assessments are about more than just administering a battery of tests to clients. My professional assessment includes:
- Demographic information
- Medical information
- Personal history
- Collateral information from schools (where relevant and provided)
- Collateral information from professionals and therapists
- Interview with client and parent/guardian
The intention of the assessment process is:
- To provide a diagnosis for specific areas of difficulty that require intervention
- To assess a particular area of functioning or disability, often for school settings
- To provide career development counselling
- To monitor progress once a diagnosis made and intervention has occurred
- To identify readiness for school in terms of a childís maturity, both developmental and emotional
- To provide guidelines for treatment plans, either within a school setting, such as an Individual Educational Programme or outside of the school with individual or private therapists
- To guide parents, guardians or caregivers in helping the child to reach their potential making use of their specific strengths and abilities
- To assist teachers in reaching the student most effectively
- Identifying and providing assistance for the developing child
- To provide detailed accommodations and considerations for school or work environments (such as, access to technology, extra time, physical room arrangements, presentation of subject matter and organisational/support strategies, etc.) currently referred to as concessions or arrangements
What are the components of a good assessment?
- Referral questions / reason for assessment
- Background information, including a comprehensive evaluation of psychological, emotional, attention and learning issues and a review of prior school and medical records
- Assessment procedures
- Assessment results
- Interpretation of results
- Report of results and recommendations
- Expect direct observation in natural and/or clinical settings (when appropriate), the completion of behaviour rating scales, and personal interviews
- All results are strictly confidential and are only released with the clientís consent
It must be noted that a psychological report is not intended to be a complete statement about an individual. It deals with specific aspects at a certain time in a child's life and gives an indication of possible areas of strength and weakness at this time. Care must be taken, therefore, not to assume that the contents of this report apply indefinitely. Please note that the opinion and recommendations in any report are based on the information made available at the time of this assessment and would be subject to review following the receipt of any additional or updated information.
Specific information about the different types of assessments offered:
School readiness: considers the emotional, social and intellectual maturity of a child. A child is considered to be school ready when they can meet the formal demands of school and cope with the school environment physically, perceptually, socially, emotionally and academically without undue stress.
Cognitive ability: is sometimes referred to as intelligence quotient (IQ), cognitive functioning, intellectual ability, aptitude, thinking skills and general ability but essentially it is the evaluation of a personís current intellectual functioning through performance of various tasks designed to assess different types of processing, memory, attention, visual and auditory preferences, verbal and perceptual reasoning skills, etc. It further involves the ability to think, solve problems, analyse situations and understand social values, customs and norms.
Learning difficulties: involves looking for characteristic patterns of reading, perceptual and writing difficulties, as well as associated difficulties in such areas as: speech and language, numeracy, oral skills, attention and distractibility, social and emotional factors, organisation and under-achievement.
Aptitude: this looks at the individualís inherent capacity, talents or abilities to do something therefore providing an indication of the individualís potential in a specific task or technical field
Exam concessions: examinations should be a fair test of an individualís knowledge and what they are able to do. If someone has a disability or learning difficulty, the usual format of exams may not be suitable. Adjustments may need to be made for them, e.g. exam papers in large print, extra time, a scribe, a reader, use of a computer, etc. Arrangements of this type are not concessions to make the exam easier for someone nor are they advantages to give someone a Ďhead startí but they allow an individual to show their ability and knowledge without being disabled by the assessment format itself. These are conducted for both the government and private schools exam boards
Neurodevelopment: Academic difficulties can involve the psychological processes of input (the receiving of information), memory (the storing and retrieving of information), integration (comparing, enlarging, uniting, relating, combining or any means used to render information more complete) and output (using the information normally and meaningfully). When there is trouble with information coming in or with the way the information is sifted and related, in memory and the association of ideas in the brain or with the way the brain controls the bodyís response, it is necessary to conduct an assessment aimed at determining at which point this psychological or neurodevelopmental process breaks down in order to provide the information necessary to reorganise the brain so it can be used most efficiently.
Career focus or subject choice tests: this battery involves intelligence assessments in order to identify levels of cognitive functioning relative to a norm group; aptitude tests to measure potential in a specific task or technical field; personality questionnaires to identify an individualís characteristics and traits and interest inventories to attain information on a personís liking or preferences for engaging in certain occupations.
Learning styles: there are as many different approaches to learning as there are people and itís important to look at these different styles with the intention of finding the most appropriate learning method for people. Three of our five senses are used primarily when learning, storing, recalling and retrieving information. Just as we are predominantly left or right brained, so we tend to use one modality more than the others, thus we are either visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learners, though we may have elements of every category but are likely to prefer or be stronger with one method. However, what is clear is that the more senses we use to learn something, the more likely we are to remember it; just as the more we use the information, the easier it is to recall and access it. The learning styles theory implies that how much individuals learn has more to do with whether the educational experience is geared toward their particular style of learning than whether or not they are ďsmart.Ē
Emotional: A childís emotional functioning is the ability, capacity or skill to identify, assess and control the emotions of oneself, of others and of groups. When having to assess someone emotionally, it is necessary to use projective techniques which do not generally meet psychometric requirements and are therefore open to interpretation; however, these are essential for getting a complete picture of a childís personality and functioning. Therefore multiple evaluation methods are best to ensure a relatively clear and unbiased evaluation. Test results are integrated with clinical data, knowledge of developmental aspects and the childís reactions to the environmental factors in order to provide information about the childís cognitive, emotional and social characteristics, considering strengths and possible problem areas.
In addition to assessments I offer workshops and talks (with a practical focus) for parents, teachers and learners on the following topics:
- Exam techniques
- School readiness
- Learning disabilities
- Homework and study skills
- The importance of assessments
- Helping your child to thrive at school
- Sexuality education
- Individual Education Plans
- Nutrition and development
- Neurodevelopment and many more