By Melissa B. Singer, Ph.D.
“My daughter has been working diligently and seeing a tutor yet she is still struggling academically.”
“My son was succeeding in school until seventh grade when the work became overwhelming despite spending hours on homework.”
“My daughter has been in therapy for quite some time but her symptoms have persisted and she is having trouble with her peers.”
These are but a few examples of the kinds of concerns I frequently hear as a clinical psychologist specializing in comprehensive psychological, cognitive, educational and neuropsychological assessment.
I believe that the goal of psychological assessment is to gain a thorough understanding of the whole child by using standardized measures, which provide unique information that cannot be obtained by simply talking to or observing a child.
Gathering this type of information allows me to not only understand cognitive weaknesses, but also identify a child’s strengths and optimal learning style. While uncovering psychological symptoms and making appropriate diagnoses is important, gathering information regarding the personality structure of a child is also essential. A comprehensive understanding provides a family with a roadmap for the most appropriate interventions to enable a child to achieve his or her highest potential.
So, what does testing entail? While different practitioners may take different approaches, in my practice, an evaluation always begins by meeting with the parents and possibly the child, depending on their age.
A meeting allows me to gather relevant information about the child’s educational, psychological, and medical history as well as current functioning in all areas. In addition, it is a good time to clarify the specific questions the parents and any professionals involved with the child would like answered–which allows me to develop an individualized assessment for that particular child. Parents and the child can also use this time to ask questions about the testing process. Following the meeting, the family is sent home with questionnaires, since obtaining information from teachers and parents is an essential part of the assessment. The testing part of the evaluation then takes place over the next few weeks.
My evaluations typically include between 7-12 hours of testing, depending on the age of the child and the referral questions. While that may seem like a lot of time, it is necessary in order to thoroughly assess IQ, achievement, underlying cognitive abilities such as attention, information processing, executive functions, memory and language functions, as well as personality structure and current symptomatology.
The testing is typically broken down into two to four sessions depending on the age and temperament of the child, with breaks for lunch or snacks. Once complete, I begin the process of writing a comprehensive, integrated, interpretive report that answers referral questions and clearly explains the findings. In addition, I include a full Appendix with all test scores, which allows parents to enlist other professionals to review and interpret the scores if they wish.
Specific and detailed recommendations for intervention and treatment are essential to assist parents with utilizing the findings in a concrete manner to help their child. These recommendations might include services, modifications or accommodations within the school, possibly as part of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan.
Services outside of school might also be recommended, such as cognitive remediation or psychotherapy. In addition, helpful and specific strategies may be suggested to professionals working with the child, such as treatment goals for therapy or interventions within the classroom. In some cases, a medical or psychiatric evaluation may also be recommended.
As a parent myself, I know how eager families are to get the results! Therefore, I complete all reports within four weeks of the final testing date. At that time I schedule a meeting with the family to review the findings and walk through the entire report together. This provides the parents with an opportunity to ask questions and clarify anything in the report that they do not understand.
At the parents’ request, I might speak with other clinicians or school personnel working with the child. With the parents’ permission, I also like to have a brief meeting with the child to explain the findings to them in an age-appropriate manner. I have found that most children express feelings of relief and optimism when they realize that not only their problems, but also the strengths and resources they have to draw on, have been identified. For me, this is often the most rewarding part of the process.
Melissa B. Singer, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Mt. Kisco, New York. She specializes in comprehensive psychological, cognitive, educational and neuropsychological assessment for children and adolescents. For more information, visit www.melissabsingerphd.com