4 Commonly Asked Questions about Psychological Assessments for Children

1. What are psychological assessments?
Psychological assessments are specialized evaluations, conducted with your child by a licensed clinical psychologist. They include interviews with parents, with the child in question, as well as with other adults involved in the child’s life (e.g. teachers, other professionals). Such interviews often also incorporate questionnaires that ask specific questions about a range of aspects of the child’s adjustment. Most importantly, psychological assessments include a range of one-on-one activities designed to measure: general intellectual level, memory and learning, language, problem solving, attention, planning and organization, visual spatial and fine motor skills, and academic skills. Other areas of functioning can also be assessed as needed, including social perception, social skills and emotional functioning. These evaluations typically take many hours to complete, and as such, will usually involve several different meetings with the psychologist who is conducting the testing.

2. How do I know if my child needs a psychological assessment?
Parents seek psychological assessments for their children for a range of reasons. Some parents simply want to get a better understanding of their child’s learning style and cognitive strengths and weaknesses, in order to determine how to best support them at school and/or at home. Others have specific questions that they want to address related to their child’s academic adjustment (e.g. does their child have a learning disorder or an attention problem?). Still other parents have children who have already received psychological services, but who may require an assessment to clarify diagnostic issues and/or provide recommendations for ongoing treatment or other specialized services. If you have questions as to whether your child could benefit from a psychological assessment, most clinical psychologists who conduct this type of testing are willing to schedule a consultation to review parents’ questions and concerns, and to make recommendations regarding what testing (if any) would be appropriate.

3. What kinds of tests are used in a psychological assessment?
Almost all tests used in a psychological assessment are standardized tests, which means that they have been developed and normed on large samples of children over many decades. They are administered the same way to every child: under a standard set of conditions using set instructions. The scores yielded by such tests allow for comparison of a given child to his or her same age peers (in the form of a standardized score and a percentile score). Further, the most commonly used tests have been subjected to extensive validity research, meaning that they have been shown to measure what they propose to measure and have been found to predict important outcomes for children (e.g. academic achievement).

4. What can I expect to get out of a psychological assessment?
Psychological assessments yield a wealth of information about your child’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses. Parents should expect to receive a detailed, written report that clearly summarizes the testing that was done (e.g. tests administered, areas assessed), the results of these tests, any diagnostic conclusions that fit the results, as well as targeted and specific recommendations for their child. Such recommendations may include: consultations with other professionals (e.g. speech-language pathologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, tutors), academic accommodations, additional evaluations (e.g. a sleep study, a speech evaluation), specific wellness activities (e.g. yoga, mindfulness exercises), family level interventions (e.g. tips for improved family communication), and/or suggestions for learning and studying strategies.

Kathleen Boykin McElhaney, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist