The decision about whether or not to have your child evaluated by the school or by a private practitioner can be a difficult one, as discussed in my prior post My Child Needs a Psychological Assessment: Should I Have This Done Through the School or Privately. Once you have made the decision to invest in a comprehensive independent evaluation outside the school, you may wonder what you can expect from the psychologist. Private evaluations are not inexpensive - you are paying for many benefits that are not necessarily part of the testing process within the school. Parents should expect to receive the following services as part of the evaluation when seeing a psychologist in private practice.
1) AN INITIAL MEETING PRIOR TO THE START OF TESTING: This meeting gives the psychologist a chance to gather relevant information about your child’s medical, psychological and neurological history, past and present school performance, and overall functioning. In addition, this is when the “referral questions” should be clarified. The referral questions are the specific questions that the parents and other professionals treating the child have been unable to answer. The initial meeting is an important tool in helping the testing psychologist develop an individualized assessment that will best answer those questions. Evaluation should not be “one size fits all” but rather tailored to the particular needs of each child. Depending on the age and circumstances of your child, they may be invited to join this meeting as well.
2) HOMEWORK: Yes, parents and teachers get homework too! It is very helpful for the psychologist to understand how your child has been functioning in both their home and school settings. Thus, it is common for psychologists to provide questionnaires for parents and teachers to fill out. Depending on your child’s age, they may also be given self-report measures to complete. Parents will also be asked to bring copies of any prior testing that has been done for the examiner to review.
3) A COMPREHENSIVE SET OF TESTS AND SUFFICIENT TIME FOR THE EVALUATION: While the actual amount of time needed to complete the testing depends on your child’s age and the referral questions that are being addressed, a comprehensive evaluation typically requires approximately 7-12 hours of testing. While that may seem like a lot of time, it is necessary in order to properly and thoroughly assess IQ, achievement, underlying cognitive abilities such as attention, information processing, executive functions, memory, and language functions, as well as personality structure and current symptomotology. The testing is typically broken down into 2-4 sessions, often with breaks for lunch and/or snacks. The number of sessions generally depends on the age and temperament of your child, although certain tests must be administered in a single sitting and this should be considered when scheduling the assessment sessions. It is generally preferable to start testing in the morning, rather than after a full day of school.
4) A COMPREHENSIVE, INTEGRATED, INTERPRATIVE REPORT WITHIN A REASONABLE AMOUNT OF TIME: A good report will not merely list the test scores, as a list of data is not overly helpful. Rather, the psychologist should discuss and explain the findings, and then interpret them within the context of answering the referral questions. Discrepancies within the data and with prior testing should be addressed and explained, not glossed over. The report should include specific and detailed recommendations for intervention and treatment – this is essential in order to make use of the findings and utilize them in a concrete manner to help your child. A full list of tests administered, as well as an Appendix with all of the test scores, should be included so that parents will have the ability to let other professionals review and interpret the scores if they wish. Good reports cannot be written quickly, but three to six weeks after the testing is completed would be a reasonable expectation for parents.
5) AN OPPORTUNITY TO REVIEW THE FINDINGS WITH THE PSYCHOLOGIST: A comprehensive psychological report is long and often complex. Parents should be given the opportunity to meet with the psychologist to review the findings, and to ask any questions that they may have about the report. While this in-person feedback session with the psychologist to discuss the report is essential, many parents have questions that arise after the feedback session, and the psychologist should be available and willing to answer them by phone.
6) COLLABORATION WHILE MAINTAINING CONFIDENTIALITY: Parents have the right to determine who views their child’s psychological evaluation. While it can be very helpful for the school and other professionals treating their child to view the results, parents are not required to share them with anyone. Once completed, the report is the property of the parents, and they may copy and distribute their child’s report however they see fit, without needing any approval from the psychologists. However, given that other clinicians working with the child (e.g. therapists, psychiatrists, tutors etc.) would likely be able to utilize the information in the report to enhance their work with the child, it is often recommended to the parents to share this information. If shared, reports should not be transmitted through email or fax, as confidentiality cannot be guaranteed in those mediums. If parents do choose to share the report and give consent, the psychologist should be available to discuss their findings with the other treating professionals. The psychologist should not release any information regarding the report without written consent from the parents.
Psychological evaluation can be extremely helpful, as long as both the parents and child fully understand all parts of the process. Parents have the right to speak up and ask questions. Ultimately, the hope and expectation in commissioning a comprehensive psychological evaluation is that the private psychologist will address and answer the referral questions provided by the parents in a manner which provides a clear plan for effective interventions and treatment that will improve the quality of life for your child, and your family, going forward.
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: