Psychological Testing of Your Child Explained

23 Feb

ChildrenBigPencilbyBoiansChoJooYoungTeachers and school administrators often ask parents to have their child psychologically tested because of questions and concerns they have about a child in the classroom, such as distractibility, poor attention, behavioral problems, hyperactivity, learning difficulties, and social or emotional problems. While parents may also share similar concerns about their child, it can seem overwhelming for a parent to be asked to pursue formal psychological testing. Understandably, parents want to know what exactly does testing entail and whether it is necessary.

In a previous post entitled, Does My Child Have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?, I mentioned that a comprehensive evaluation for ADHD includes psychological testing in order to determine a proper diagnosis and to come up with a treatment plan specific to your child’s needs.

In this post, I will explain what is involved in psychological testing (also known as a psychological assessment).

What is Psychological Testing?

Psychological testing is a very important part of a comprehensive assessment used to answer questions about a child’s capabilities and functioning. Through standardized tests, it is possible to examine your child’s cognitive functioning (i.e., IQ or intellectual capacity), academic abilities (e.g., basic reading and reading comprehension, math, writing, oral language), attention and executive functioning skills, memory abilities, visual-motor skills, language skills, adaptive functioning (i.e., day-to-day living skills), personality, social and emotional functioning, behavioral functioning, school readiness, and more.

Importantly, the results of the tests will help determine your child’s personal strengths and weaknesses as well as relative strengths and weaknesses in comparison to other children his or her age. Once a clear picture of your child’s profile is determined, it is possible to come to some conclusions and possible diagnoses and to develop recommendations and a plan that meets your child’s particular needs.

What Will My Child Be Doing Exactly?

The answer is it depends on the test. That is, each standardized psychological test is comprised of various subtests designed to measure specific skills. I will describe a few types of tests to give you a general overview.

For example, to assess cognitive functioning or intellectual abilities, your child will be required to do tasks that examine five sets of skills:
(1) verbal reasoning where the child answers questions orally, such as explaining how two concepts are similar, and defining words;
(2) visual-spatial reasoning such as putting blocks together to match a design;
(3) fluid reasoning such as completing sequences of pictures;
(4) short-term memory such as remembering numbers or pictures in order and in reverse order;
(5) processing speed where the child has to quickly complete simple paper-and-pencil tasks.

For academic achievement tests, the tasks are more similar to what the child may do in school. For these tests, your child will be asked to read words, texts, and answer questions, solve written and oral math problems, write sentences and/or an essay, and other sorts of things. Visual-motor tests involve copying different designs on paper.

Attention and executive functioning tests are more game-like tasks that the child has to complete. These can be auditory (e.g., counting sounds), visual (e.g., quickly finding special symbols on a large page), or both auditory and visual at the same time (e.g., listening for sounds and simultaneously finding symbols on a paper). At times, the tests are done on the computer.

To assess social, emotional, and behavioral functioning, parents and teachers as well as the child (depending on his or her age) are often asked to complete standardized questionnaires. The results from these questionnaires provide a picture of how your child gets along with his or her peers, how your child may be feeling, and how he or she behaves at home and at school. Other types of tasks such as drawings and story-telling tasks may also be used to assess socio-emotional functioning.

How Long Does Testing Take?

LookingMagnifierbyStuartMilesAgain the answer will depend on the type of assessment and what questions are being answered by the tests. Often, testing involves several meetings with the child and one or two meetings with the parents. Some children are tested over 4 to 6 sessions whereas others may be tested over a full day. My personal preference is for testing to be done over several meetings so as to get to know your child and to get your child’s best performance possible.

Who Does Psychological Testing?

You can have your child tested by a child psychologist, clinical psychologist, neuropsychologist, or school psychologist. Most importantly, you should ask questions and be comfortable with the clinician you choose.

To find a licensed psychologist in your area, you can ask the school and/or family doctor for recommendations. In Quebec, you can consult the Ordre des Psychologues du Quebec (OPQ) for names of psychologists or search for the College of Psychologists in your province.

How Much Will Testing Cost?

The testing involves hours of collecting background information from parents and teachers, direct work with your child, scoring, interpretation, report writing, and feedback. In general, a complete assessment with a psychologist in the private sector costs between $1500 and $2000 in the province of Quebec. You should be aware that testing may be partially or fully covered by your insurance plan. Please note that the cost will likely vary by province and by state.

In the public sector in the province of Quebec and possibly in other provinces, certain institutions, such as schools and hospitals, provide psychological testing at no financial cost.

Is Testing Necessary?

Often the answer is yes but this also depends on what are the presenting concerns about your child. Formal testing is needed to diagnose various problems, including ADHD, learning disabilities, intellectual deficit, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and other issues. Once you have the diagnosis, recommendations and a treatment plan can be formulated and then implemented at school and at home. As such, testing is very helpful to give your child the best chances for success in school and for his or her future.

Hopefully, I have been able to address most of your questions about psychological testing. As always, I welcome your feedback and comments.

Best wishes,
Dr. Stephanie

Top image courtesy of Boians Cho Joo Young /
Second image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

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