Special needs when the school can't help (part II)

education on psychological disorders in kids - tots to teens

In this issue, we continue to look at children who may require diagnosis and treatment outside the classroom.

You can find part one of special needs when the school cant help here.


ADHD stands for Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder. If your child is hyperactive, inattentive, or impulsive, consult a paediatric specialist or child psychologist. Children with ADD/ADHD need structure, consistency, clear communication, love, support, and encouragement.

Because the treatment of ADHD is usually pharmaceutical, and because the dose has to increase with time, it pays to note that children are sometimes misdiagnosed as ADHD, where in fact they may:

  • Have diabetes, hearing or thyroid problems,
  • Dislike the teacher,
  • React badly to what they eat (some food additives may lead to symptoms of ADHD in chemical-sensitive individuals),
  • Be gifted,
  • Have a sensory processing dysfunction.

Communication disorders

Difficulties pronouncing sounds and stuttering are examples of speech disorders. Mild cases can be sorted by a speech and language therapist, elocution lessons, drama classes or Young Toastmasters Club.

Trouble understanding others and trouble sharing ideas are examples of language disorders. Contact your local speech and language therapist for assessment and treatment

Vision problems

If you suspect your child’s learning issues may be due to poor vision, consult your local optometrist or a behavioural optometrist.

Eye teaming: the eyes aren’t aiming together, so the brain can’t combine the two pictures, resulting in double vision. One out of 10 school-aged children have this problem, largely undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as dyslexia. When identified, it can easily be treated with eye glasses or special eye muscle exercises.

Tracking: Children with tracking problems can’t control their eye movements to follow the line of print when reading.

Focus: eyes get tired during reading and cannot stay on the print. Reading glasses remedy the problem.

Long-sightedness: the child cannot see detail at close range. Reading glasses can help.

Short-sightedness: the child cannot see detail at a distance (like the whiteboard). Unfortunately, this particular problem usually manifests from age 7 onwards (therefore not showing up at the new entrant vision test at age 5), while the next vision tests don’t happen until age 11 (Intermediate school).  Sometimes the only warning signal is that a good student suddenly loses interest in schoolwork, drops to a lower class group or starts acting up in class. Corrective glasses take away the problem.

Vision perception problems: the child experiences difficulties in analysing and giving meaning to what they see.

Fine motor eye-hand coordination: poor eye-hand coordination may result in poor handwriting and, as time progresses, loss of concentration as they get left behind.

If reading difficulties persist after optometric problems have been corrected or excluded, the child should be referred for Irlen Syndrome testing to see if they can benefit from reading through a coloured filter.

Hearing issues

Speech, learning and behavioural issues may be indicators of hearing problems. Schools don’t test hearing routinely, so consult your GP about any concerns.

If your child’s hearing is fine and they’re not ADHD, their inability to listen may stem from auditory processing difficulty: they have normal hearing but cannot always make sense of what they hear, so consult your local audiologist.


Autism is a complex and serious disorder linked to abnormal biology and chemistry in the brain, characterised by the inability to reach out to people. An autistic child may be withdrawn and display unusual behaviour (rocking, clapping, head banging) and speech patterns (repetitive phrases or animal noises).

Some autistic children may possess exceptional ability in one or more areas, while clearly underperforming in others. Most need a trained teacher aide at school, occupational therapy, or speech and language therapy.

Depending on the severity of the condition, many of the strategies that are successful with other students with special needs will also work with autistic children.

You can get help here: www.autismnz.org.nz

Asperger’s syndrome

Asperger’s Syndrome used to be thought of as a mild case of autism, but nowadays it’s classified as a separate condition, with a later onset and a more optimistic outcome.

Children display normal or high intelligence and language development, intense fascination with a limited range of topics, impaired social skills, imperfect communication skills and poor movement coordination. Most can function at school unaided; in fact, they may go through life undiagnosed, possibly with a label of “peculiar” or “intellectual”.

Latest research indicates both Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton may have had Asperger’s Syndrome.

More information about Asperger’s Syndrome can be found at Cloud 9 Children’s Foundation.

 Special education

Special education is available to all children with physical or intellectual difficulties, impaired hearing or vision, and those with integration, communication or behavioural issues.

To assess a child’s learning needs, schools can use a specialist teacher or the Ministry of Education’s special education unit. This process involves speech language therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and psychologists. While understandably stressful, this process determines whether the child needs:

  • Assistance with learning,
  • Equipment to help them see or hear,
  • Help to move around.

For physically handicapped students, the Ministry of Education will fund modifications to state school property. For learning assistance, Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour, are available to work with the child in the classroom. Learning Support Funding is available to help schools implement individual and school-based programmes.

If you find your child’s school is difficult to work with, outline your concerns to the principal. If you’re still unable to reach agreement, contact a special education facilitator through your local Ministry of Education, Special Education office.

The Ministry of Education is bound by its 2000 Special Education Policy “to improve learning outcomes for all children and young people with special education needs at their local school, early childhood centre, or wherever they are educated.”

Mild hearing loss


Mismatched responsesAnswering before questions are completed
Difficulty sustaining attention during oral presentationsDifficulty in listening to others without being distracted or interrupting
Unable to follow oral instructionsStarts following instructions but doesn’t
follow through
Doesn’t seem to listenCan’t sit still and listen

Did you know?

  • To enquire about the government’s Special Education, you can ring their Information Line 0800 622 222, or email special.education@minedu.govt.nz.
  • Dr. Jude MacArthur’s research book on Inclusive Education, Learning Better Together, talks about the rights of disabled students to quality education. Visit: www.ihc.org.nz
  • There’s hope for those with glasses! Corneal Refractive Therapy involves wearing a therapeutic contact lens overnight to have normal vision by day (without glasses or lenses). Although not yet confirmed, it is thought these lenses can slow down the rate of short-sightedness.
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