When should a parent think about getting a child/adolescent tested?
Psychological evaluation is generally performed by a licensed psychologist when a problem, that does not have a physical origin, is noticed and the cause needs to be determined. This problem can exist in several realms, for example: (1) inappropriate behavior (2) inappropriate mood states (3) failure to perform up to expected standards (as in schoolwork).
Let's look at how far reaching these categories can be. Inappropriate behavior may include defiance toward a parent or other authority figure (such as a teacher), hostility or extreme anger toward a sibling or peer, extreme shyness or withdrawal from peers, avoidance of homework or other expected chores. Inappropriate mood states may include crying and/or extreme sadness that persists over time; repeatedly stating that no on likes them, that they have no friends or that they are no good. Being repeatedly silly and/or laughing during serious situations; extreme anger over minor irritations and annoyances. Failure to perform up to expected standards may have to do with consistently being unmotivated or unwilling to do work that is required. Not because the work is too difficult (which is what the child/adolescent may state), but because they are unwilling to make the effort. This reaction may occur only in specific situations, such as at school (or even in a particular class) or it may involve all areas of the individual's life (i.e. sports, home chores, homework, or in school).
The purpose of evaluation is to determine what is happening in the individual's psychological life that may be blocking their ability to behave (or feel) in a more appropriate and constructive manner. Testing cannot necessarily pinpoint the precise cause of the disturbance, especially if it is a complex emotional issue, but it will give a number of clues that can help the parent and the professional guide the child in the right direction. In some cases that are more specific, such as dyslexia or other learning disability, testing will let the parent and teacher know exactly what steps need to be taken to help the child/adolescent learn.
Generally, a full battery of psychological tests can take several hours to administer (often administered to a child in several one to one and a half hour time periods to avoid fatigue and opposition), several more hours for the professional to score, interpret as a whole picture of the individual and to write in a report suitable form for school personnel or psychotherapist to use in developing a curriculum or treatment plan. Occasionally, a psychological evaluator will determine that only a few tests from the full battery need to be administered to pin point or rule out a particular problem and thus, avoid an unnecessarily lengthy and expensive procedure. Whichever you and the professional determine is necessary, the results should yield a wealth of information useful to the parent, educational institution or other professionals with whom you are working to make the child/adolescent's (or occasionally an adult's) emotional, educational and/or vocational life more healthy, satisfying and successful.
THE WHOLE CHILD/ADOLESCENT PHILOSOPHY
Let us assume that you and the professional decide together to pursue psychological evaluation in the process of helping your child/adolescent or yourself better understand the problems you are confronting. Although this can be a costly procedure (in terms of time and money), we see it as ultimately well worth the investment. It will help you understand your child better and be able to arrange for the appropriate professionals to help him or her more efficiently and effectively. In addition, the academic and psychotherapeutic communities highly value psychological/educational testing as a concrete and specific means of assessment and communication of specific difficulties and problem areas. Thus, you are in a better position to communicate your needs to the people who are attempting to help you and your child/adolescent.
A Word of Caution: Often school professionals and treatment teams will offer to do the testing for a child/adolescent in their school. What the parent should be aware of, is that many educational psychologists and other school personnel have a particular bias towards interpretation of test results and are often not well trained in understanding the many other emotional issues that play a part in children's behavior and academic performance. They are usually not able to take the time and effort required for interpretation of the whole picture. Thus, they will be able to interpret some, but not all of the information available and will not be able to provide you with a full, and perhaps, truly accurate picture of your child/adolescent. They will be able to offer certain kinds of guidance that will perhaps help the child perform more appropriately in school (such as a recommendation for Ritalin or special classification), but will not help the WHOLE child/adolescent develop in an emotionally, socially and academically healthy and successful manner in the long term. Therefore, consider consulting with a trained professional (i.e. child psychologist or psychotherapist) before going ahead with this method of assessment. A one-time consultation is not very costly, but well worth the investment.
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Dr. Bohensky: firstname.lastname@example.org