Understanding Psychological / Psychoeducational TestingWhen many parents first hear the terms psychological/psychoeducational testing, they often have little idea what this type of evaluation is and how it can help their child/teen. Other parents get nervous about the idea of their child/teen having any sort of evaluation with the term “psychological” in it. Furthermore, some parents simply understand this type of evaluation as being necessary to provide documentation to obtain formal accommodations at school or on college board exams such as extended time.
The following information is intended to provide a brief overview of testing with regard to what situations it would be helpful in, how the process works, and what can be gained from the evaluation.
Why have your child/teen evaluated?
Is your child/teen performing below their potential in school?
Does he or she get distracted easily?
Do you think your child/teen has ADHD, a learning disability, Autism, or another specific disorder?
Does your child/teen display strong outbursts of anger, difficulties regulating emotions, etc.?
Is your child/teen highly oppositional?
Does he or she struggle with time management and organizational skills?
Does your child/teen experience strong anxiety that may be impeding their academic performance and/or satisfaction in life?
These are just a few of the reasons in which a psychological/psychoeducational evaluation may be useful.
How the process works:
The exact process varies between clinicians to some degree and also the specific reasons for the evaluation will affect the process. Here are the general steps involved in evaluations that I conduct:
1) The parent/guardian reaches out about concerns regarding their child/teen. I speak with them on the phone at length to get a clear sense of what is going on and determine if testing would be beneficial at the present time to assist. If so, I schedule appointments with them for the following appointments:
- Intake session with parents/guardians: face-to-face meeting to obtain in-depth background information and further discuss what is going on.
- Intake session with child/teen: depending on the age, logistics, and other factors, this session sometimes takes place together with the parent intake session and the time is split up between meeting with everyone together and the parents and child/teen separately.
- Formal testing sessions: usually divided up into four to five hour blocks of time on two different days. The amount of time needed really varies, and time for breaks is built into this time. In some instances, testing is divided up into three or more sessions.
- Informal feedback session: I offer parents and the child/teen the opportunity to meet with me about one to two weeks after the last testing session to go over the initial results and discuss implementing recommendations.
- Formal feedback session: When the report is complete, parents and the child/teen meet with me to go over the report and the results. I typically spend time meeting with everyone together as well as the parents and child/teen each individually. Obviously the age and other factors relevant to the child/teen dictate the level of detail provided to them regarding the results and how much time is spent meeting with them and their parents together.
2) In addition to the appointments discussed above, I usually complete the following other items to obtain a complete picture of what is going on:
- Classroom observations (with parental permission and if appropriate based on the reason for the evaluation and taking any other relevant factors into consideration).
- Interview teachers (in person when feasible) as well as have them complete standardized rating scales.
- Consult relevant involved providers (i.e., therapist, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist, psychiatrist, tutor).
- Documentation review (i.e., report cards, itemized grades for assignments in courses, previous evaluations).
What can be gained from the evaluation?
From the evaluation you can obtain a clear sense of your child/teen’s cognitive strengths and limitations, academic strengths and limitations, memory, visual-motor, attention, and executive functioning abilities. You will also obtain a good understanding of their emotional functioning (if relevant to the issues being examined). Thus, you may understand how they process emotions, view others, what goes through their head in certain situations, and whether anxiety, depression, or any other issues are present.
The evaluation can almost be viewed as a roadmap to understanding how your child/teen functions and what may be going on that is causing the difficulties that prompted the evaluation. Thus, you will likely know if your child/teen has a learning disability, ADHD, anxiety, or another issue that is impeding their overall functioning and happiness.
Understanding your child/teen’s functioning and the cause of the difficulties is essential in order to accurately target treatment and interventions that will be effective for them. Thus, the other primary benefit of the evaluation is obtaining recommendations on how to help your child/teen. While some recommendations may seem fairly obvious (i.e., tutoring, referral to a psychiatrist), the information from the evaluation provides specific information that can be used to make these interventions as effective as possible. As an example, understanding how your child/teen processes and comprehends information is very helpful in maximizing the benefits of tutoring. Furthermore, the evaluation results can be used by schools/other organizations to determine eligibility for services at school or on college board exams such as extended time, distraction reduced testing environment, note-taking services, etc. Such services are used to help support deficits in your child/teen’s abilities to allow them to perform as close to their potential as possible.
Formal testing provides so many benefits, so if you have a child/teen with specific difficulties and want to figure out what is going on and help them, I urge you to consult a clinician and see if formal testing would be beneficial in your individual situation. Many individuals with difficulties don’t get formally evaluated until high school or college, and it can make the world of difference at any age to know what is going on and receive appropriate supports and interventions. In addition to supporting specific deficits, understanding what is going on can aid in bolstering depleted self-esteem. Furthermore, in many cases, the evaluation and implementation of recommended services and interventions can make the difference between your child/teen flourishing versus struggling in college and beyond.
Copyright 2015 Carey A Heller, Psy.D.
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*Disclaimer: The previous information is intended as general guidance based on my professional opinion, does not constitute an established professional relationship, and should not replace the recommendations of a psychologist or other licensed professional with whom you initiate or maintain a professional relationship*