Belinda Tasker, AAP National Medical Correspondent July 15, 2011
Plans to introduce mental health checks for three-year-olds should be expanded to include a test for learning difficulties, a leading psychologist says.
Clinical psychologist Tim Hannan believes the move would stop many parents signing their children up for treatments which have little chance of improving language and reading skills.
Mr Hannan criticised the number of pseudo-scientific programs which promise so-called miracle cures for a child's learning disabilities without any solid evidence to back their claims.
He said the federal government should consider introducing checks for learning disabilities when the new mental health screening program for three-year-olds begins in July 2012.
The checks could include an assessment of a child's comprehension skills and their use of sound patterns, such as their ability to rhyme and detect differences between words.
"It's estimated that up to 10 per cent of children may have a specific learning difficulty," Mr Hannan told AAP.
"If untreated they can affect their academic skills and success in school and increase the risk of the child developing behavioural problems.
"The government has been talking about doing mental health screening at age three, so one could say that it could be desirable that a comprehensive assessment of mental health in early childhood would include a brief assessment of phonological skills which would highlight the potential of learning difficulties at a later age."
The government announced in its May Budget plans to adjust existing health checks for young children to include an assessment of their emotional wellbeing and development.
© 2011 Australian Associated Press