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When to seek an assessment for your primary school age child

Updated: Feb 4

Speech, language and communication difficulties are invisible. Often, children mask these difficulties so well that even their closest people may have difficulties identifying them.

So, how do we know if a child is struggling and may need an assessment?

It's helpful to be curious. Curious as to why your child may be in tears prior to attending school, or why he seems to get in trouble with the teacher before English lessons, or why his teacher reports ‘he finds it hard to listen’.

Below are some of the most common red flags for speech, language and communication difficulties in school-aged children.


Your child may:

  • Have a limited vocabulary. They may use a lot of general words like ‘um’ and ‘thingy’, they may not use as many words as their friends, use the wrong words for things eg; ‘cup’ for ‘water bottle’ or make up their own words eg ‘chin cutter’ for ‘shaver’.

  • Ask what common words mean

  • Pause frequently when talking as they appear to be finding the words to use.

  • Not make sense when talking

  • Use incorrect grammar

  • Mix up pronouns like he/she/they

  • Mix up their words or sounds

  • Have difficulty retelling events or telling stories

  • Have unclear speech or sound ‘baby like’. Children should be able to be mostly intelligible around 5-6 years of age, meaning that a stranger should be able to understand them.

  • Stutter. They may repeat or prolong some sounds or words or get stuck on a word with no sound coming out.


Your child may:

  • Have difficulties recognising initial sounds in words

  • Find it hard to sound out words or break words up into their individual sounds or syllables. Have difficulties with spelling and organising written work more than other children their age.

  • Have difficulties understanding what they have read and making inferences (guesses) about what might happen.


Your child may:

  • Find school challenging

  • Refuse to go to school

  • Appear to have low self-esteem, seem withdrawn or become frustrated often.

  • Appear teary often

  • Become disruptive, particularly when things appear challenging.

Social skills

Your child may:

  • Report that other children tease them about their talking

  • Have difficulties joining in play with other children or starting conversations

  • Avoid eye contact

  • Say they have no friends.

  • Find it challenging to take turns or share- they may interrupt too much or become overbearing in social situations.

  • Find it hard to read other people’s body language, feelings and facial expressions

  • Report that other children don’t want to play with them.

  • Struggle to understand jokes, sarcasm, metaphors or idioms eg “It’s raining cats and dogs!”


Your child may:

  • Find it challenging to follow instructions that are long or contain multiple steps.

  • Find it hard to understand and answer questions.

  • Say ‘what?’ or ‘excuse me’ often, even though you know they have heard you.

  • Watch other children to know what to do

  • Look at you with a bemused look when you give them an instruction.

  • 'Mouth' what you have just said or intently look at your mouth to try to decipher.

  • Provide an answer that is irrelevant or off topic.

Chances are, if your child has some of the symptoms listed above you have already been making adjustments to your own communication which is great!

If you are unsure about whether your child has difficulties in this area you might find it helpful to ask their teacher who will have a wealth of information about the way your child engages and communicates in the classroom.

What is also important to note is that the red flags listed above could also be symptoms of other difficulties such as ADHD, dyslexia or learning difficulties so its helpful to touch base with a trusted professional or a speech pathologist if you have concerns.

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