I have been fortunate to work within the education sector alongside wonderful teachers and school staff. On more than one occasion, I have been faced with the perplexed face of a teacher or parent trying to understand why their student/child is not progressing in their studies like their fellow peers or as would be expected. Or why they perform exceptionally well in some areas of learning, but struggle to master basic concepts in other areas. Or why they are trying their very hardest but are stuck on a hamster wheel….

When I hear these concerns, my mind automatically switches to analysing the situation from a diagnostic viewpoint. When given good educational opportunities, most children progress as expected – almost predictably. Of course kids have their ups, downs and plateaus but generally most are able to achieve what is expected for their year level. When a child doesn’t achieve as expected – I want to know why?  If a child consistently gets Ds (or Es!) on their report – WHY?!

What underachievement isn’t

First and foremost – it is NOT because of laziness! Although, I admit it may look this way. But children who are significantly behind in their learning are often the hardest working students in the class – but we can’t see the hard work because it is happening in the depths of their brain pathways.

Underachievement is also not because of naughtiness! If behavioural issues are present, there is usually a purpose or reason for the behaviour so I don’t label kids as naughty or nice (I leave that to Santa). Children are very clever at covering up and distracting you from their difficulties. However, children who are disruptive in class are usually still able to academically perform to their year standard.

I have also seen first-hand how hard teachers work to ensure their students achieve – this is driven by either an altruistic desire to nurture our little people – or the ever-present breathing down the back of the neck from government departments, school boards, and that retched NAPLAN (I will save that rant for another blog post!). So, gross underachievement is rarely the result of poor teaching. However, sometimes the strategies being used or the expectations held may not be suited to the individual in front of them.

It is really important to understand why a child is not progressing before attempting to implement interventions or strategies to overcome them. I know many families who have spent thousands of dollars on tutoring which is not suited to the child’s learning abilities – and have seen little to no progress, and a more disheartened child. After a long period of (literal and proverbial) head banging, the child, parent and teacher all end up frustrated – and hopefully make their way toward a Psychologist who specialises in investigating these types of difficulties.

So what could it be?

There are a number of reasons a child may not be progressing and all of these are explored including:

  • Chronic health difficulties
  • Vision and hearing difficulties
  • Family issues
  • Early trauma in childhood
  • Parental mental health
  • Peer difficulties
  • Child mental health (such as anxiety and depression)

There are other more specific developmental disorders which may occur including:

  • Cognitive processing difficulty
  •  (including working memory deficits)
  • Attention-based learning difficulties
  • Speech and Language processing difficulties
  • Oral and written language difficulties
  • Reading Disorder (e.g. Dyslexia)
  • Writing Disorder (e.g. Dysgraphia)
  • Mathematics Disorder (e.g. Dyscalculia)

It all looks a bit overwhelming doesn’t it?! Which is why some Psychologists undertake additional training in order to support families and schools to understand what may be happening for a child not progressing. 

Your Psych Centre can provide comprehensive and diagnostic assessment services that will help shape your child’s academic future and confidence. Contact us for a confidential appointment to discuss your concerns – no referral is necessary.