About the Specialist Assessment Service

Who we are…

We are a team of specialists working for the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust. The members of team include a Clinical Lead, Clinical Psychologists, Speech and Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists, an Educational Psychologist, a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist, a Learning Disability Nurse, Consultant Paediatricians, a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and Administrative staff.


Further Information about the service and what will happen at an assessment can be found on the documents below.

What do different members of the team do…

 Clinical Lead

Shirley has led this service for 15 years. She has over 30 years experience of working in the NHS; originally as a Speech and Language Therapist. Within this service, Shirley’s role is to lead and manage the team and to work with parents and carers if there are any difficulties before or during the assessment process. Shirley’s role includes ensuring the team has the resources it needs to provide a quality service and working in a coordinated way with key partners across Solihull’s Children’s Services.

Shirley is an active member of the SEND Partnership Board and it is notable that she is hugely respected by professionals across the system, both as a clinical expert and also for her leadership and determination to improve outcomes for children and young people. Shirley is solution focused and her approach is always honest and open; developing trusting relationships with parents and colleagues.  Shirley is open to challenge and willing to consider any options that may lead to improvement of the services she manages, her dogged determination has supported the Commissioner to ensure that additional funding was agreed to increase resources for the Specialist Assessment Service.

Appraisal comments received in 2019

Case Leads for Autism Assessment

Most members of the Specialist Assessment Service Autism Assessment Team work as Case Leads. In this service, Case Leads support children, young people and their families through the assessment process.  The process involves completion of assessment to make a diagnostic decision of whether a child or young person presenting with difficulties in their communication, social interaction and/or flexibility of thought and behaviour meets the criteria for an underlying Autism Spectrum Disorder. In many cases, assessments are completed by the Case Lead without requiring assessment from additional team members. When required, Case Leads are able to consult with or request further assessment from team members from different professions in order to gain a full picture of a child/young person’s strengths and areas of differences. As part of the assessment Case Leads will liaise with other professionals involved and meet with children/young people and/or their parents/carers to discuss the outcome of the assessment and agree on recommendations for on-going support.  A child/young person’s Case Lead will be the main point of contact for the family or other professionals who contact the Specialist Assessment Service during the assessment process.

Clinical Psychology

Clinical Psychologists are interested in the thoughts and feelings that people have that can result in the behaviours that people display; understanding the reason for why people do what they do.  They like to think about factors that have created the difficult thoughts and feelings that a person may have, such as differences in how their brain works, difficult experiences that they have had and any other factors related to people that they have or have had a relationship with.  They are trained to identify typical and atypical patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours and to think about the factors that make these things better/worse and that maintain the difficulties things that the person is experiencing.

Clinical Psychologists can work with anyone across the whole life span so are able to think about how to support not just the child and young person but also people in the family.  They are also trained in identifying and supporting people with mental health difficulties, by assessing for this and providing therapy to improve the symptoms that the person is feeling.  They are often thought of as a ‘jack of all trades’; knowing about a lot of things to help us in understanding and helping people and being able to think about the person as a whole and the family as whole, not just focusing on one aspect of a person.

Within this Service Clinical Psychologists support other team members in their assessment of children and young people where there may be:

  • A complex family context
  • Safeguarding concerns
  • Mental Health concerns
  • Complex educational history and experiences
  • Specific involvement of numerous professionals
  • Significant risk of harm to the child/young person or others
Speech and Language Therapy

Speech and language therapists provide assessment, treatment, support and care for children and adults who have difficulties with communication, or with eating, drinking and swallowing.

Within this service, the role of Speech and Language Therapist is to support other team members in their assessment where a child is having difficulties with speech, language and communication skills. This may include children with hearing impairment, cleft palate, selective mutism, stammering, voice disorders and developmental speech, language and communication needs.

One key aspect of the role of Speech and Language Therapists in the Specialist Assessment Service is to support team members where there is consideration that a child or young person’s presenting difficulties might be better explained by a diagnosis of Developmental Language Disorder (DLD).

Developmental Language Disorder refers to;

  • Difficulties with language skills that interfere with communication or learning in everyday life
  • These difficulties are unlikely to resolve spontaneously or with good teaching alone
  • These difficulties are not better explained by other neurodevelopmental conditions, such as Autism.

Speech and Language Therapists may provide specific advice or signposting when a child or young person is having difficulties with speech, language and communication skills. This is so those caring for the child/young person at home or school understand how to best support the development of children’s language skills to their full potential and to improve their day to day communication.

We often work alongside the Community Speech and Language Therapy Service and may recommend that a referral is made to them for additional assessment or support if this needed.

Occupational Therapy

The role of Occupational Therapists is to support children and young people access and participate in their daily activities at home and school. Within this team Occupational Therapists support the team’s assessment and understanding of motor skill development and sensory processing, in particular when this is impacting on the child’s ability to complete self-care, learning or leisure activities.

One key aspect of the role of Occupational Therapists in the team is to support team members where there is consideration that a child or young person’s presenting difficulties might be explained by a diagnosis of dyspraxia.  Dyspraxia is a motor coordination disorder which affects the person carrying out movements in a smooth and coordinated way. It can also impact a person’s planning and organisational skills.  It is thought to be caused by difficulties with sending messages from the brain to the body though no specific cause is known. It can impact on the daily activities people do making them more challenging and can impact on social functioning.

Occupational Therapists provide specific advice or signposting when a child or young person is having difficulties with daily activities. This is so that those caring for the child/young person at home or school understand the barriers impacting on their participation, and how to best support developing their potential and improving their day to day functioning. If a child is having significant difficulties in their motor coordination skills or sensory processing impacting on daily life then our team may recommend that a referral is made for additional assessment with the Community Occupational Therapy Service.

Educational Psychology

Educational psychologists are interested in understanding individual differences in how people learn. They like to think about factors that may impact on learning including; cognitive development, motivation and self-regulation.

Within this team, the role of Educational Psychologists is to support team members where there is consideration that a child or young person’s presenting difficulties might be explained by;

  • General or Specific Learning Difficulties
  • A learning disability
  • Mental Health concerns

One key aspect of the role of Educational Psychologists in the team is to support team members matters relating to Special Educational Needs (SEN) such as interpreting reports by other Psychologists and Specialist Teachers and, when required completing cognitive and learning assessments.

Educational Psychologists are able to provide specific advice or signposting when a child or young person is having difficulties with education or learning and may be involved the assessment process for Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs).

Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy

Child and Adolescent Psychotherapists are trained to carefully observe and respond to what a child/young person might be communicating through their words, behaviour and play.  During a therapeutic session, younger children may be encouraged to play, while older children and/or teenagers may be asked to draw, paint or talk about their feelings.

When thinking about a child’s behaviour, a Child Psychotherapist will also consider the impact of the child/young person’s early experiences, as well as their day to day experiences, and how these may be impacting on their emotional, social and psychological wellbeing.  Children and young people who find it difficult to put their thoughts and feelings into words sometimes respond to people and situations in ways that they do not understand and cannot control. Child Psychotherapists seek to look beneath the surface of problematic emotions, behaviours or relationships and have a particular skill in putting into words some of these more confusing, complex and troubled feelings that children can evoke in them and others.

Within this Service the Child Psychotherapist supports other team members in their assessment of children and young people through consultation, information gathering with parents, joint assessment with other professionals, and when appropriate, will offer either a play based assessment or three exploratory psychotherapy sessions with a child/young person.  These sessions do not rely on interpretation of standardised assessments and are not solely about focussing on ASD traits which enables consideration of differential explanations of a child/young person’s difficulties.

Child Psychotherapists also meet with parents/carers to share their observations and understanding of a child/young person and may also liaise with the network around the child/young person when appropriate.

Learning Disability Nursing

Learning disability nurses work to provide specialist healthcare and support to people with a learning disability, their families and staff teams, to help the person live a fulfilling life. Learning disability nurses play a vital role working across the whole life span in both health and care settings. The core of the role is to keep people at their best medically and socially.

This branch of nursing reaches across a very broad spectrum and can branch into adapted health care provision in any area of nursing or social care. This brings a medical view point with a holistic consideration to health.

In our team the role of the learning disability nurse is offer an adapted and considered approach to our assessments. One key aspect of the role of Learning Disability Nurses in this team is to offer team members a specialist view in data interpretation and how this maps out onto the criteria required for both learning disability and autism, then how the two relate to each other and coexist.

Learning disability nurses are able to provide specific advice or signposting in an accessible way (such as easy-read formats) for children/young people and their families.

Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists have medical degrees and are interested in how children and young people develop. The role of a psychiatrist is to think about if a child or young person has any mental health or physical illnesses that may impact on their health and to think about whether their thoughts and feelings may put themselves or others in harm’s way. Psychiatrists are also interested in if young people may need medication to help them.

The role of psychiatry within this team is to support the wider team in understanding of a child/young person in the context of their mental and physical health and in thinking about if there are other problems which maybe causing a young person’s symptoms to get worse.