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Oct 02
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by Jess

I have noticed that many of the parents who call me because their child was referred for psychological testing are surprised and uncertain about the reason for the referral. In addition, it is unclear to them how an evaluation can be helpful. This is the first in a series of blog posts aiming to demystify the process of psychological assessment and discuss the benefits of having a child evaluated.

Children and adolescents may be referred for psychological assessment when it is unclear how to best understand their learning and/or psychological difficulties and help them achieve at their highest potential. For example, a good candidate for testing would be a child who has been working diligently and receiving outside assistance, yet is still struggling in school. A testing referral might also be appropriate for an adolescent who has been in therapy for an extended period without any notable improvement, especially if his/her therapist has unanswered questions regarding appropriate diagnosis or treatment goals.

Specifically, some of the most common reasons for referrals for psychological testing include seeking a better understanding of a child’s overall intellectual functioning, as well as their specific learning style and their cognitive strengths and weaknesses. In addition, psychological assessment can provide information regarding a child’s current psychological functioning, including both their general personality structure as well as current symptoms. Testing can help to determine an accurate diagnosis by providing data that cannot be obtained by simply talking to or spending time with a child. By using standardized measures, a licensed psychologist who is well-trained in assessment can obtain unique information regarding cognitive functioning, personality traits and symptomotology.

Typically, someone in a child’s school (e.g. a counselor or social worker) or a practitioner working with a child (e.g. a tutor, psychologist or psychiatrist) might refer a child for psychological assessment when they have been unable to answer questions regarding diagnosis and treatment. Some common referral questions might include: Should this child be diagnosed with ADHD? Does this child have a learning disability? Why is this child not performing to their potential in school? Is this child suffering from a mood or anxiety disorder? Why is this child having so many social and interpersonal difficulties?

Once diagnostic questions have been answered, another important issue to be addressed in the evaluation is treatment going forward. The primary benefit of obtaining an evaluation is gaining a better understanding of the underlying issues which are affecting the child, so that specific and individually-tailored recommendations can be made regarding intervention and treatment. These recommendations might include services, modifications or accommodations within the school, possibly as part of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan. In fact, psychological testing is typically required in order to receive an IEP or 504 Plan. Services outside of school might also be recommended, such as cognitive remediation or psychotherapy. In addition, helpful strategies specific to the child may be suggested to the professionals working with the child, such as treatment goals for therapy or interventions within the classroom. In some cases a medical or psychiatric evaluation may also be recommended.

Typically, the psychologist conducting the evaluation would not be providing these interventions, but rather would be presenting a comprehensive guide for the other professionals who will be administering treatment. Ideally, the testing psychologist would be available to discuss the results of the evaluation with the practitioners who will be involved in treating the child, in order to help ensure a coordinated and individualized treatment approach.

My next post will discuss which professionals are qualified to conduct psychological assessments, and what the process entails from start to finish. Future posts will discuss the specific cognitive and psychological domains that are often assessed, as well as examples of tests that are commonly used to evaluate them.

Part 2: I’ve decided to pay for a private evaluation for my child – what should I expect?

Part 3: My child needs a psychological assessment – should I have this done through the school or privately?

Melissa B. Singer, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Westchester County, New York. She specializes in comprehensive psychological, cognitive, educational and neuropsychological assessment for children and adolescents. You can learn more about her practice at these websites:





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My child was referred for psychological testing – what does that mean?

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