Many parents have heard the term “evaluation” or “assessment” or told to get their child “tested.” The challenge is many parents do not know exactly what that means or when testing is necessary. My broad answer to the big question of “when do children need psychological testing,” is whenever you see your child struggle in school or home, either behaviorally, socially or academically. There are many different evaluations, and I can provide a general guideline to what makes a good evaluation.
There are many different types of evaluations that can be offered. Many people are surprised how lengthy an AD/HD evaluation is because some clinicians and doctors make a diagnosis off of a quick questionnaire. However, there are many different reasons a child could be presenting with AD/HD symptoms, such as not being challenged in class, emotional difficulties, a learning difference, or adjusting to a difficult situation in their lives. To make a true diagnosis, an evaluation should include a thorough interview, including developmental, behavioral, and school history. The assessment should also include an assessment of cognitive ability to demonstrate how a child processes information. In addition, measures of executive functioning, measures of emotional functioning, and a continuous performance test to examine a child’s sustained attention and impulse control is needed to have a full picture of a child’s functioning. A questionnaire alone will show if a person “meets criteria” for an attention deficit disorder, but does not look at why the child is presenting with the symptoms.
Another evaluation people often hear about is a Psychoeducational or Neuropsychological Evaluation. These types of evaluations are typically provided when someone is concerned about a learning difference. Parents should ensure the person providing the testing examines more than just academic and cognitive ability, but thoroughly examines a person’s overall processing ability, attention, and emotional functioning.
When a parent has a child who presents with symptoms of an Autism Spectrum Disorder, they often do not know where to start. There are important elements that should be included in an Autism Spectrum evaluation to ensure that the clinician truly understands the child. Having a child’s pragmatic and social language assessed is imperative for an Autism Spectrum Evaluation, and having a Speech Language Pathologist, who is an expert in the area of communication, included in the evaluation is preferred. Another important feature a parent should look for when setting up an appointment for an Autism Spectrum Evaluation is if their child’s emotional and behavioral functioning will be assessed via a behavior observation test. These are just two key elements for an Autism Spectrum Evaluation.
Many mental health practices offer a variety of evaluations, which can make it overwhelming for a parent to decide which facility to use. Having a basic understanding of what makes a good evaluation can allow a parent to ask the right questions to ensure their child is getting the best service available. When done correctly, psychological testing can help a parent get a good “overall” look at their child’s emotional, intellectual, and developmental makeup, and also provide information to direct the best counseling, medication, intervention and/or accommodations in school so the child has the best chance at succeeding in life. Before getting your child evaluated, do your research, ask around, and interview professionals so you are confident in their ability.