You’ve just attended parent-teacher conferences at your child’s school and his or her teacher has recommended that he or she be tested for a learning disability and/or ADHD. You are understandably concerned, and may be worried about the next steps. As a psychologist who specializes in neuropsychological and psychoeducational testing, I understand how this recommendation can be challenging to hear. However, it is important to remember that your child has probably been struggling for a while, and leaving these difficulties unaddressed will lead to further issues (e.g., the child who “can’t read” begins to feel “stupid” and, consequently, his or her overall self-esteem is negatively affected). Testing is the first step toward getting your child the tools and support he or she needs to succeed in school. Seeking appropriate support will help your child learn while also improving his or her confidence and sense of self-efficacy.
(NOTE: Look at some of my past blog posts to find out more information about the testing itself.)
Your next step is to take your child to a psychologist for an evaluation. While neuropsychological and psychoeducational testing have some differences in their etiology and focus, there is significant overlap and similarities between the two types of assessments. The most appropriate type of evaluation can be discussed based on your child’s individualized needs. In general, the clinician uses the evaluation process to understand your child’s strengths and challenges cognitively, academically, and socially/emotionally. A comprehensive battery of psychological and educational tests is used, in tandem with more qualitative measures (e.g., a clinical interview and observation) in order to provide this understanding, clarify possible diagnoses, and develop recommendations.
As a specialist who conducts neuropsychological and psychoeducational evaluations, I want to give you some some tips for how to talk to your child or teen about the upcoming evaluation. Before you come in, there are some questions to ask yourself so that you can provide the most pertinent information about your child. What behaviors have you observed in your child that have caused concerns or questions to arise? Please share with me any observations you can about your child’s strengths, weaknesses, personality or temperament, and academic interests. What challenges has your child’s teacher noted? Are there specific academic skill areas in which your child struggles (e.g., reading, writing, or organization)? Are there concerns about attention, anxiety, or mood? These are important aspects that we will discuss during the parent intake. This background information allows me to tailor the testing battery to best fit your child’s unique profile of strengths and challenges.
Next, keep in mind that many children and teens who are struggling worry about taking another “test” that will show what is “wrong with them.” Thus, it is important to be mindful of how you describe the process to your child. You should describe the upcoming evaluation in a way that will reduce anxiety and encourage cooperation. I have experience working with a variety of children and teens, including some who are initially anxious or resistant to the testing process. These children are able to work with me to complete the necessary items and typically realize that many of the activities are fun and engaging. At the same time, there are ways that you as the parent can help to prepare your child before bringing him or her in for testing.
Discuss what to expect:
Talk to your child in general and in age-appropriate terms about what he or she can expect. I typically avoid using the word “testing” with children as many of the kids I work with have already developed a negative association with exams. Rather, I recommend explaining that he or she will be completing a variety of activities including puzzles, questions, stories, drawings, and games. Some of these activities will be challenging and others may be easy. The activities are used to help us understand how he or she learns best, or how to make school less frustrating. For children who might experience test anxiety, I recommend stressing that these activities are not graded, and the only thing we ask is for them to do their best.
Importance of being rested and well fed:
Make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep before the testing session. The best assessment is when your child is awake and alert. If your child becomes sick, reschedule the testing session. Make sure your child is well fed. A hungry child is a distracted child so make sure they have a protein-filled lunch or breakfast before the testing sessions. I often recommend that children bring snacks as well.
Schedule for success:
Consider the time of day when your child performs best. I offer both morning and afternoon sessions, and often schedule testing sessions on the weekends. Based on my experiences, I have found most younger children work best in the morning and mid-day, while many teens focus best in the afternoon. When possible, avoid scheduling testing at a time that means your child will miss his or her favorite activity. For example, if your child is missing a laser tag birthday party to come in for the evaluation, he or she is more likely to be distracted and resistant to working on the activities.
I look forward to working with you as part of your child’s team to provide a better understanding of his or her strengths and challenges, as well as recommendations and follow-up consultation. My goal is to be part of a team with you, your child, and his or her school in order to help provide the tools he or she needs for a successful school experience! Please don’t hesitate to call me (703-825-0502) if you have any questions or concerns about the testing process.
Shira Gottlieb, Psy.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Dr. Gottlieb is a licensed clinical psychologist. She received her B.A. in psychology, with a minor in neurobiology, from Harvard University, and her Psy.D. from the George Washington University. Dr. Gottlieb works with children and adolescents, and their families, to provide comprehensive neuropsychological and psychoeducational assessments to better understand the individual child’s attention capacities, learning profile, emotional functioning, and behavioral presentation. For more information on Dr. Gottlieb please visit her website at http://www.gottliebchildpsych.com/