Educational Psychology in Singapore
When a child is identified with possible dyslexia or another hidden disability. How the testing process works in Singapore, what happens next, and what to look for when choosing an educational psychologist to administer the tests...
Statistics in Singapore suggest that approximately 1000 children each year are diagnosed with some form of developmental delay and that another 2000 children are red-flagged for mild developmental delays in speech and language (E.G. Expressive Language Disorder, Communication Disorders), learning (E.G. Dyscalculia, ADHD), literacy (E.G. Dyslexia) and behavioural issues.
The Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) estimates that 1 per cent of Singaporean children have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and that more than 200 children each year are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ARCS).
How students are identified for referral
Typically, a child suspected of having a developmental disorder or a learning disability will be directly referred to a Clinical Psychologist or Educational Psychologist (if going the private practice route).
If students are identified by local polyclinic doctors then referrals can usually made to hospital psychologists at the major local hospitals.
Fees differ between private practice and public hospitals, with hospitals charging less or subsidising Singaporean Citizens and Permanent Residents.
Check the psychologist's qualifications
Psychologists must possess a minimum of a Master’s degree and many have doctorates because the psycho-educational assessment process consists of various ‘Level C’ tests (amongst others). Level C is the most restricted category in psychological testing, which is why only professionals with advanced/specialised training and experience in administration, scoring, and interpretation, are permitted to utilise them
In Singapore, a fresh graduate with a psychology degree (Bachelor’s level) can have a working title of psychologist. This does not mean that they are qualified or permitted to administer psycho-educational or diagnostic assessments.
- A comprehensive, psycho-educational process should incorporate the following steps:
• Initial consultation with parents to collect background/developmental history
• School observation (if necessary)
• In-clinic assessments (E.G. IQ test, achievement test, learning disability screens, emotional, social and developmental screens, etc)
• Follow-up questionnaires/assessments with parents and teachers (as and where necessary)
• Final meeting to discuss assessment findings, possible diagnosis, and a treatment plan
Steps may differ slightly depending on each client’s specific needs and the disability being tested for.
If these steps taken differ significantly from those outlined above then parents should enquire about the reasoning behind skipping steps. Is the assessment a less comprehensive one or more brief one? What is the psychologist assessing and what will be the outcome of their assessment process? Generally, however, Ministry Of Education assessment processes are similar and standardised to ensure best practices.
How tests are conducted
- Psycho-Educational/Diagnostic assessments can take a significant period of time depending on what is being evaluated. For example, an IQ test may take up to 1.5 hours, an achievement assessment up to 3 hours, and specific learning disability screens can take up to another hour
- Gold standard or globally recognized tools include the Wechsler scales (e.g., WISC-V, WIAT-III), Adaptive behaviour measures (e.g., Adaptive Behavior Asessment System, Vineland Aadaptive Behavior Scales), specific learning difficulty or behavioral measures (e.g., Dyslexia Screening Test, Conners Rating Scales)
- Most of the time parents are not present during the assessment sessions unless a child is very young, initially very anxious and needs to warm up, or if a specific test requires the parent to be present. This ensures that the child's behaviour is not affected by a desire to impress their parents, and to eliminate the possibility of parents helping their children with answers. The one-on-one delivery provides a reliable picture of the child’s effort, reflective of the child’s current abilities
- Depending on what is highlighted or red-flagged, further assessments may be added to the process
Tests should be conducted in the child's native language by a psychologist who is a native speaker or at least fluent. Translators may not be familiar with certain assessment terms and unknowingly change meanings of test items or even the child’s responses, making the assessment invalid and/or unreliable.
How the test results are used
Parents will meet the psychologist for a ‘report handover’ – without the child. The report will detail all of the assessment results, highlight areas of strength and weakness and provide recommendations to better support the child. Additionally, if a diagnosis has been identified, this will be presented and discussed. Children should not attend this session, so that the psychologist may talk candidly with parents about the results, prognosis and treatment plan. The reports given can be very useful when shared with schools as they can help the teachers better understand the child’s strengths and weaknesses. The school should then be able to discuss what support it can provide to the student. Parents use this report to help their child remediate any areas of weakness and to support their development in targeted ways.
Allied Educators (AEs) are a specialized type of school staff that support children with learning disabilities. AEs are posted to almost all Singaporean government schools however these schools are usually only open to Singaporean citizens. This means that expat families are more likely to access support via private practice or via the support systems voluntarily implemented in a non-mainstream school. Typical support facilities include special accommodations during timed exams (E.G, more time, testing in a smaller and quieter room), classroom modifications (E.G. visual aids, one-on-one help, typing on the computer instead of writing, more appropriate seating), remedial support in specific subjects, occupational therapy or speech therapy.
- To find out more about assessing children with special educational needs see the Ministry of Education's Professional Practice Guidelines (PDF)
- SPD is a support and informational organisation for people in Singapore living with disabilities
- Find information and services on the Autism Resource Center of Singapore official site
- Visit the official Ministry of Education page for finding Allied Educators in Singapore
- Find reputable Educational Psychologists through our local business listings
Written by Dr Vanessa von Auer
VA Psychology Center/Integrated International School
Phone: 6235 9602