What does it mean to have a psychological evaluation or an educational assessment done on your child? I often get calls about neuropsychological assessments or psychological assessments or just “what’s wrong with my child?” assessments. I hope to clarify the differences in this article so parents can make better decisions about how to get help for a child who is struggling.
Maybe you’ve noticed your child is struggling in school. This can look a number of different ways. A child can be failing all his classes. She may be getting good grades but is working three times harder than her friends. He may be forgetful and doesn’t turn in assignments or forgets homework. She may have a lot of problems with testing and feels anxious about tests. The school may be concerned. The school may not be concerned. Is it any wonder that parents are confused?
When Children Struggle at School
Public education mandates combined with poor funding mean only children who are failing in school get extra help. Those children who can’t seem to master grade level academics and who are a year or more behind their peers get noticed. Furthermore, if a child is inattentive or doesn’t turn homework in, a school will not likely have time to help that child. On the other hand, if the child is out of his/her seat and causing disruption in the classroom and has loud and aggressive behavior, the school will notice and take action. This is not meant as an indictment of the public school system. It is merely the reality when schools are bursting at the seams with children and do not have the resources to meet the myriad needs of today’s youth.
Public schools are required by law to provide testing and evaluation services for children thought to have disabilities. This legal mandate goes from birth to age 21 and is a free service. Prior to entering school in kindergarten, parents of preschoolers can contact their local ChildFind office (through the public school district) and inquire about evaluation for toddlers and preschoolers. Based on the results of the assessment, your local ChildFind may provide speech/language services, occupational therapy and other services based on your child’s needs. The idea is that a child with disabilities will benefit from help as early as possible. This service is also available to older children who are in private school.
Once a child is in school, teachers become aware of children who may not be picking up reading like their peers, or who can’t seem to sit still like their peers, or who have difficulty with speech and language that again is more severe than peers. These children typically proceed down the route towards an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that provides the child with special education and legally mandated goals and accommodations. A child with a more minor problem in these areas may get some assistance but it will likely fall to the parent to seek help outside the school.
The Role of Psychologists
Psychologists are trained to do testing and evaluation, although many in private practice choose not to offer those services. Some provide these services to adults only or to children and teens only. Some specialize in autism testing; some in transdisciplinary play based assessment, which is useful for babies and toddlers.
Make sure you ask about experience with your child’s age group. Some psychologists are more experienced with mental illness; some may be more experienced with learning disabilities. Pediatricians sometimes recommend a neurological evaluation, especially if the child has had a traumatic brain injury. This is a more complicated evaluation and requires special expertise. Again, don’t be afraid to ask questions.
If you are concerned about your child’s learning or emotional wellbeing, an educational or psychological evaluation may be worth the time and money. Some insurance companies will pay for testing as well. Questions that can be answered by a thorough evaluation include a child’s strengths and weaknesses with respect to skills that underlie learning. IQ tests can be very valuable in helping understand why a child excels in math but has difficulty reading, or in helping to understand why a noticeably bright child takes so long to complete things. IQ tests are also used for gifted and talented evaluations, especially for placement in gifted programs. There are specific tests that look at skills underlying reading that can help diagnose where a child has difficulty learning to read. There are also specific tests to better understand a child’s level of depression or anxiety. Parents are often surprised at how well an evaluation can help them better understand their child.
If your child or teen is having challenges and you think a psychological evaluation would be helpful, contact me and we can discuss the process to determine the most effective way forward.
Eleanor Harrison is a psychologist at The Labyrinth Institute specializing in therapy and assessment for children and teens. Learn more about her at www.lab-inst.com.You can reach her at 303-514-9780 or firstname.lastname@example.org.