Recently, the following question was posed to us (slightly changed for privacy):

It has been recommended that I get a psycho-educational evaluation for my young child.   Is there a downside?  Do you have any recommendations for choosing a testing center?  Also, has anyone done this with a young child?  I am a bit concerned about my child’s ability to complete the testing as they say it can take several hours over several days.

I think it is a brilliant question that many might appreciate. Assessment, particularly of Specific Learning Disabilities, is an area of particular expertise for me. I am passionate about the art and science of assessment and I love good evaluations.

So let’s break this down with a primer on assessment testing:

(1) Is there a downside?

With a good evaluator, this process will not harm your child in any way. Tasks are developmentally appropriate and designed to engage children as games. Children are never forced to complete anything. Breaks are provided as needed, as are rewards and positive reinforcement.

Test tasks are developmentally appropriate and even fun!

The real potential downside is what you do post-evaluation. Failing to fully utilize and/or share the information and recommendations of a good evaluation is the greatest downfall I have seen. Often times, the reports have multiple layers of information that can be fruitfully mined by parents and educators far beyond a single feedback session with the evaluator. Of course, this is assuming you have a good evaluation to begin with (see tips at the end!).

(2) Do you have any recommendations choosing a test center?

This is a great question. I have read countless reports by individuals who charged a lot of money for work that is sub-par. Please see the end of this article for a summary of tips about choosing an evaluator/ testing center.

(3) Also, has anyone done this with a young child?  I am a bit concerned about my child’s ability to complete the testing as they say it can take several hours over several days.

It is worthwhile to discuss this concern with the evaluator ahead of time. They may have expertise in testing adolescents or adults. But most good evaluators will have experience testing not only young children, but young children with special needs. You name the difficulty—they have probably worked successfully with it. Communicate in advance about your concerns and any suggestions for behavior management. Is your child sensitive to heat? Allergic to cat hair? Will he do anything for a sticker? These are all things worth sharing. Typical behavior management techniques for young children include frequent breaks, a “good behavior” chart, and/or use of incentives or positive reinforcement.

Some tips on choosing an evaluator:

DO get recommendations from the school, the pediatrician, and friends. Recommendations from educational consultants are typically very good– we see hundreds of evaluations and know who is “out there.”

DON’T go to any kind of center where they are also selling something, e.g. vitamins, trendy brain therapy (not research-based), etc. You can usually weed out these places because they just seem corporate.

DO look into the examiner’s credentials. You want a psychologist– the psychologist will be licensed by the state and will have a Ph.D. or Psy.D., both of which are doctoral degrees. Psychologists with assessment expertise include: school psychologists, neuropsychologists, and clinical psychologists. Inquire into the psychologist’s areas of expertise because you want this to align with your referral concern. For example, if a reading disability is in question, I would ensure that reading is an area of expertise for the tester. Other areas of expertise worth vetting: trauma-informed assessment, autism spectrum disorders, traumatic brain injury, etc. Do not assume that all psychologists have expertise in all domains.

DO ask about who is on the assessment team. Sometimes psychologists will have masters-level clinicians assisting them with testing. If this is the case, politely inquire as to this individual’s background. Masters-level clinicians may have experience as school psychologists and far more testing expertise than many clinical psychologists. Conversely, this assisting “clinician” may have a bachelor’s degree in finance and may be working on a degree in counseling. In my professional opinion, the latter is an inappropriate amount of experience. Special education teachers may do some of the educational achievement testing, but typically will (and should) not engage in cognitive testing.

DON’T hesitate to reach out to an educational consultation. We are happy to provide personalized guidance on this process. Contact us here for more information.

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