Does your child need a psycho-educational assessment?
Updated: May 11
Why obtain a psycho-educational assessment?
A psycho-educational evaluation is a process in which data is collected in multiple ways about how your child learns and the many variables that may be impacting his or her learning. The information gathered is incorporated into summary and recommendations aimed at helping parents and educators better understand how to support a child’s growth. The report should help you understand your child’s learning and behavioral profile, by identifying the underlying reasons why you may see challenges in the school or home setting. The report should be strength based, highlighting abilities that are well-developed and how these can be used to support less-developed skills.
A comprehensive psycho-educational assessment examines how your child learns and goes about the task of solving problems and can help to diagnose learning disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), developmental disability, and identify any other social, emotional, behavioral or psychological problems. The most important part of psycho-educational testing is the comprehensive recommendations for how the child can best be supported at home and school.
What is involved in a psycho-educational evaluation?
Testing begins with an in-depth initial interview with caregivers, and supplemental interviews with teachers and any other professionals who know the child well. Through these interviews, as well as questionnaires completed by all reported, the psychologist aims to get a better picture of the child’s social-emotional and behavioral functioning.
An observation of the child, typically in the school setting, is an important part of the assessment. Ideally the observation takes place before the child knows the evaluator, as this makes it easier for the evaluator to observe unobtrusively. The school observation allows for a glimpse into how a child functions in real time with regard to following direction, making transitions, on-task or off-task behaviors, and ability to access help, etc. It also allows the evaluator to see socialization take place, both during structured tasks and unstructured time such as time on the playground.
The direct testing part of the psycho-educational evaluation typically takes place over two to three days. This is the portion where the child works one to one with the psychologist in an office setting to complete psychometric testing. These are tests of cognitive skills, such as reasoning abilities, memory, attention, executive functioning, processing speed. There are also tests of academic skills, including reading, writing, spelling and math, and evaluating fluency and efficiency of completing academic tasks. In addition to the data obtained from the scores on these tests, the evaluator gains a great deal of information from how the child approaches and completes these tasks. Do they talk through difficult tasks, give up as problems become more challenging, respond impulsively, have lapses in attention where they miss easier items but do well on more challenging ones, do they become anxious when a task is timed or overwhelmed if they feel like a task is too much for them to complete?
Examples of how can a psychoeducational evaluation report can be helpful?
- For a child who is bright but has slower processing, speed, modifying expectations to provide additional time for responding to questions or completing assignments.
- For a child who struggles to pay attention in class, providing visual reminders to help increase their focus and bring their attention to highlighted essential information
- A child who struggles with fine motor skills in producing written work may be able to have alternative means of demonstrating their mastery of material such as voice to text technology.
- When a child’s learning needs are understood and they are offered more individually tailored solutions to demonstrate competence, it can promote a much healthier sense of self, reduce stress and anxiety associated with school, and increase motivation for learning.
- Caregivers and school are provided with recommendations detailing the necessary supports, services, modifications or accommodations that a child will need to enhance their functioning across the home and school settings.
What are some signs that my child is struggling in school and may benefit from an evaluation?
- Takes much longer to complete homework than is expected
- Low grades
- Frequent calls or notes from the teacher with concerns about your child’s learning or behaviors
- Child is preoccupied with doing things correctly or perfectly
- Anxiety about going to school or academic performance
- Physical symptoms of anxiety associated with going to school such as headaches or stomach aches
- Child is struggling in one class but doing well in others
- Makes statements indicating low self-esteem or feelings of helplessness regarding doing well in school
- Holds it together in school but seems to fall apart once at home and any expectations are placed on him or her
- Child is seen as disorganized, lazy, or unable to make friends
But I don’t want to label my child…
Many parents have concerns regarding what a diagnostic label can mean for their child. They may think the diagnosis will become an excuse enabling concerning behaviors to persist, or that their child will stop putting in effort once they attribute their difficulties to a diagnosis. Others may just fear that a label will stigmatize their child and that he or she will feel or be seen as “different” or not as capable. The reality is that a clear understanding of who we are and how we function in this world is an empowering tool for all of us. Having answers provides a sense of relief and reduces feelings of shame and frustration. Teachers who may see a child as just not motivated enough to put in the necessary work will have a better understanding that the child is doing the best that he or she can and supports and accommodations are necessary to ensure their best results in feelings of adequacy and success. Children are already clearly aware when they are struggling with something in a way that sets them apart from their peers. Without a diagnostic label, they just attribute their struggles to being “dumb” or “stupid” and these misconceptions cause much more harm than any diagnostic label ever could.
We are also fortunate to live in a time where there is a movement towards embracing neurodivergence rather than pathologizing it. Autism and ADHD are starting to be seen not as “abnormalities” but rather just variations of the human brain. When kids have learning and thinking differences, it is important to instill in them early on that these challenges are differences and not deficits. We no longer want to pursue a goal of “curing” people whose brain works differently, but rather empowering them through self-awareness and providing them the necessary supports to promote their ability to participate and thrive in all aspects of their life. An identified diagnosis allows you and your child to connect with a community of families who have faced similar challenges and are all on this path towards greater understanding and support to fulfill their potential.
To learn more about whether obtaining a psycho-educational evaluation is necessary for your child, what funding sources may exist to pursue this option, or to inquire about availability, feel free to contact us for a free 20 minute consultation.