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Keywords:

  • Australian Paediatric Research Network;
  • epidemiologic studies;
  • learning difficulties;
  • office visits;
  • paediatrics;
  • physicians' practice patterns

Aim:  Children with learning difficulties are commonly seen in Australian paediatric outpatient settings. The practice patterns of paediatricians in assessing, referring and managing these children are unknown, and there is no consensus on best practice. We thus aimed to examine the consistency between Australian paediatricians': (i) assessment; (ii) referral; and (iii) management of children presenting with learning difficulties.

Methods:  All 373 paediatrician members of the Australian Paediatric Research Network were invited to participate in an online survey in 2010. Paediatricians who saw children with learning difficulties were asked questions about their assessment, referral and management practices.

Results:  Of 181 (49%) paediatricians to complete the survey, 140 (77%) reported seeing patients with learning difficulties. Most often, paediatricians supplemented their clinical assessments with audiology assessments (75%), teacher or parent questionnaires (60–65%), or teacher contact (51%). Paediatricians used medical investigations (40%), direct assessment tools (27%) or a school visit (4%) less often. Most paediatricians referred children with learning difficulties to educational psychology (84%), special education (61%) or speech therapy (66%) services but less often to occupational therapy (34%) or mental health (15%) services. The most common management strategies were to provide a report to the school (76%) or parents (66%) and to make recommendations around sleep hygiene (75%) and for tutoring (66%).

Conclusions:  Australian paediatric practice in this area is diverse, with the greatest variability around management practices. These data provide a case for designing and implementing evidence-based guidelines for the paediatric care of children who struggle to learn in school.