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Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) Such as Dyslexia & Dysgraphia

At Fremantle Speech Pathology Services, speech pathologists can assist in the diagnosis of Specific Learning Disability in Reading (Dyslexia) and Written Expression (previously known as Dysgraphia)


Students are required to participate in a lengthy (but not arduous) testing regime (approximately 3 – 4 hours) designed to investigate many of the following areas:


  • Reading accuracy

  • Reading fluency

  • Word attack skills

  • Auditory memory

  • Processing speed

  • Rapid automatic naming

  • Written expression

  • Essay writing

  • Spelling ability

  • Phonological awareness

  • Letter recognition


Once the results of these tests have been analysed, we can profile students’ language and learning status, and design a program for them to target individual areas of weakness.


The program must be maintained for at least 6 months and include consistent home practice in order to determine the students’ response to high quality intervention; it is vital to establish how they respond to evidenced-based practice in order to better understand the nature of their difficulties.



After we implement approximately 6 months of intervention, we re-evaluate the areas targeted in therapy to compare the students’ results before and after the 6-month period of intervention. This data will provide important information regarding their response to intervention.


If they have made expected progress, it is likely that their initial difficulties were due to an external factor such as an inability to learn given the style of instruction or program provided to them in the initial years of schooling. In this case, intervention will continue as before, but a diagnosis of Specific Learning Disability (SLD) will not be made.


If they make less progress than would ordinarily be expected within the 6-month period of intervention, further investigation of their learning will be required to determine whether there is another factor affecting their learning such a Specific Learning Disability in Reading and/or Written Expression.


At this stage, an Educational Psychologist will administer a test of cognitive processing (This is usually the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children - WISC-V). The Speech Pathologist and the Educational Psychologist will write a combined report to deliver their findings. They will determine whether the student meets the four criteria identified in the DSM 5 (2013) for a Specific Learning Disability.


A summary of the four criteria is below:


Criteria A

Ongoing difficulties in the school-age years learning, and using at least one academic skill (e.g. reading accuracy/fluency; spelling accuracy; written expression competence and fluency; mastering number facts). These difficulties have persisted and failed to improve as expected, despite the provision of targeted intervention for at least six months. This intervention should be recognised as evidence-based and ideally delivered by an experienced and qualified person.



Criteria B

The difficulties experienced by the student will be assessed using standardised achievement tests and found to be at a level significantly lower than most students of the same age. Sometimes students are identified with a learning disability even though they are performing within the average range. This is only the case when it can be shown that the student is achieving at this level due to unusually high levels of effort and ongoing support.


Criteria C

The difficulties experienced by the student usually become apparent in the early years of schooling. The exception to this is where problems occur in upper-primary or secondary school once the demands on student performance increase significantly. For example – when students have to read extended pieces of complex text or write at a more sophisticated level under timed conditions.


Criteria D

Specific learning disabilities will not be diagnosed if there is a more plausible explanation for the difficulties being experienced by the student. For example – if the student has: an intellectual disability; a sensory impairment; a history of chronic absenteeism; inadequate proficiency in the language of instruction; a psycho-social condition; or, not received appropriate instruction and/or intervention.

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