Dr. Jennifer LaTreill
Benefits of a Psychological Evaluation
There are numerous benefits to getting your child tested, particularly if they are struggling with school assignments, maintaining concentration, following directions, or seem to have unexplained changes in mood. If you notice that your child is struggling in these ways, seeking out a professional to complete a psychological evaluation may be more helpful than you realize. Your child may appear to willfully defy your instructions or simply take twice as long as other children to complete schoolwork, which can be frustrating for everyone involved; however, a psychological evaluation may provide a reasonable explanation for those behaviors.
Psychologists can work directly with your child or adolescent in order to complete a cognitive assessment, which typically includes a set of tasks that measure brain activities including areas such as verbal communication, concept formation, problem solving, reasoning, memory, speed of task completion, and executive functioning. The importance of these tasks is that they provide a profile of your child’s learning style and determines strengths and areas of difficulty. Any significant challenges in areas of cognitive functioning may impact your child’s ability to learn and should be used to inform the next steps for your child and to drive intervention and academic instruction.
Here are a few examples of why psychological evaluation or testing can be extremely useful for your child. Consider a 9-year-old who received psychological evaluation and was found to have weaknesses in his working memory. This means that he may not be able to remember and retrieve information after a short period of time (several seconds), which may get in the way with tasks such as reading, spelling, and following multistep directions. This child will likely struggle with three to four step directions, which means when you asked him to “brush his teeth, grab his backpack, and head to the door” he wasn’t purposefully ignoring or defying you, his working memory simply didn’t hold up its end of the job. Having results from a psychological evaluation for such difficulties may help this kiddo receive the necessary accommodations in school to be successful, which is also great for his self-esteem!
Another example, a 14-year-old adolescent who scores higher on non-verbal tasks (activities involving pictures &/or 3D stimuli) than verbal tasks may have difficulty organizing his thoughts and ideas with written expression. He would likely benefit from accommodations such as having directions presented in multiple ways (written on the board and verbally), the use of visual organizations of information (graphic organizers) when brainstorming and planning writing assignments, and may require academic supports and specially designed instruction in order to access grade level curriculum. Psychological testing allows the adolescent, his parents, and his teachers to understand his strengths (non-verbal tasks) and weaknesses (verbal tasks), which will allow him to learn in the way that best benefits him.
An additional benefit of psychological evaluation is its ability to provide evidence for differential diagnosis, meaning it helps diagnose specific mental health difficulties that cause similar symptoms. For example, ADHD, anxiety, and depression can all lead to difficulties with concentration, organization, impulsivity, and emotional outbursts in children and adolescents. However, the appropriate interventions and accommodations for those diagnoses vary greatly, which means it's important to understand if your child has true ADHD or an anxiety disorder. Especially, if you are considering medication because ADHD medications can actually increase anxiety and depression in children. Also, interestingly, a high IQ or severe ADHD can prompt social skills deficits that mirrors autism spectrum disorder, which may be misdiagnosed without an appropriate psychological evaluation.
The resulting report from a thorough psychological evaluation may help qualify your child for an IEP (individualized education plan), 504 plan, or additional accommodations in the classroom as well as provide you, the parent, with tips regarding how to help your child succeed in the home. While a psychological evaluation does not guarantee special education benefits, it certainly provides important insights into your child’s cognitive skills, current behaviors, and overall functioning as well as provides useful recommendations for future success. If your child is struggling to meet their full potential or succeed across settings, please reach out today and scheduled a phone consult regarding the potential need for a psychological evaluation.