24 April 2024

Flipping the System - How the Austin Assessment helped to break down walls

A Mum shares their experience of using the Austin Assessment with their 13 year old son Oscar.
Maree, New Zealand
Nichola and Lachie from Springload looking at cards placed in a table. They look like working on the app creation. There are also notebooks, coffee cups and stationery on top of the table.

I came across the Austin Assessment by chance as the organisation I work for has done some work for the iPad app. Hearing about the work the Austin Assessment team were doing, and specifically the purpose of the app to screen for cerebral visual impairment (CVI), I made an immediate connection to a challenge our family had been dealing with around my youngest son’s learning disability which was diagnosed in 2020.

As was the case for a lot of families in New Zealand during lockdown that year,‘home schooling’ had raised concerns that something wasn’t quite right in terms of our youngest son’s ability to engage meaningfully with and manage schoolwork. During the next few months we worked with the school and then specialist teachers to pinpoint the issue. Despite our growing concerns, we were assured that it was unlikely that he had a learning disability. Not confident with this finding we decided to invest in an Educational PsychologyAssessment which revealed that our son, despite having normal general intellectual abilities, was challenged with a significant learning disability and dyslexia.

It was an overwhelming discovery for us on many levels but ultimately one that enabled us to support him to have a better experience of the school system. Also overwhelming was the breadth and number of suggested recommendations and accommodations provided in the Educational Psychologist’s report. Like most families, our approach in prioritising types of support and investigating further was guided in part by what we could afford. We focussed on regular tutoring, working closely with the school and purchasing assistive technology.  

Included in the list of recommendations however was seeing an optometrist due to his visual processing speed. This felt like an easy item to tick off the list as appointments for children are free and there is no waiting list to speak of. We were pleased to learn that his vision was normal in terms of the tests performed at the local optometrist. However they pointed out that they couldn’t test for or diagnose visual processing issues and to do so was an expensive undertaking requiring travel outside of our region. It was very easy to move that potential investigation to the bottom of the prioritisation list and keep focusing on and investing in the numerous interventions we were already juggling.  

The knowledge that something was probably going on with him in terms of his visual processing gnawed at the back of my mind however. And I felt frustrated and guilty that my lack of understanding, the perceived expense and complexity of diagnosis and the load we were already carrying in terms of getting him other support had me so easily ignore this avenue of exploration. But frankly, becoming the necessary experts in our son’s learning disability and dyslexia, plus navigating the school system and being his advocate felt like more than enough to manage on top of our full time jobs and family workload. We had limited bandwidth and limited resources. Prioritisation was a necessity.

Fast forward to 2024 and discovering by chance the Austin Assessment. I immediately joined the dots. This tool could, without the time and considerable expense of travelling to a specialist out of region, indicate whether our son had CVI related visual issues. Understanding what might be going on with his visual processing and what smart next steps to take was now within reach for us.

Our son needed no encouragement to undergo the screening test via the app. It was gamified, meaning navigating his way through the highly interactive screening was genuinely fun. Children and young people are digital natives so using an app felt comfortable and very familiar. Being able to access the screening in our relaxed home environment meant that he was at ease and approached it as he would any of his digital games. None of the stress involved with being tested or feeling judged by a stranger in an unfamiliar environment was present. 

What I was most interested in of course was the results which I was able to access in a separate area of the app meaning I could frame the results with our son in a way that I felt was most appropriate and helpful for him. The results report was simple, clear and immediately valuable. I could see where his results didn’t align with the norms for his age and most importantly, understand what next steps were recommended. 

The value I didn’t expect was the rich information and support available after the assessment. The app provides an extensive Pick & Mix support programme with access to a number of different resources if the assessment yields a positive result. And included with the app is a game, meaning our son can practise and improve in the way we all do best - by having fun! The website opens up even more opportunity to get further informed and keep up to date on news and through their social media pages, an opportunity to connect. This approach and its benefit is what often feels lacking navigating our health system and it’s what makes a huge difference for those of us who aren’t part of the system. The Austin Assessment team have humanised the experience through clever design but also obvious and genuine care and that matters a great deal.

We’re grateful to have, through luck, come across this tool. It’s removed the very real financial barrier that was in place previously, and simplified and humanised what felt like a daunting potential journey in the health system. It’s given us simple, practical next steps and rich support for our son. My hope is that this important resource and the benefit it provides scales and scales quickly. It’s valuable, it’s needed and it makes a difference.  


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