Struggling . . .
How Can You Tell If Your Child
Needs to Be Tested?
By Rita Eichenstein, Ph.D.
It starts with a gut feeling. Your child just seems a little different than other kids the same age. Maybe it’s the way he plays, or the difficulty she has following directions. Finally, you confess your concerns to your partner. He or she may admit that he’s been thinking the same thing, or she may tell you not to worry so much. What to do? Should you get your child tested and what, exactly, is testing?
Types of Testing
“Testing” usually refers to a testing by a school psychologist, an educational psychologist, or a neuropsychologist. School assessments are performed to see if a child qualifies for an individualized education program, or IEP. These tests focus on skills necessary for academic achievement. They don’t diagnose learning or behavioral disorders. Neuropsychological testing evaluates learning and behavior as it relates to a child’s brain. This kind of assessment is done when a child is showing difficulty in learning, attention, behavior, socialization, or emotional control. Sometimes a disease, trauma, concussion, or a developmental problem affects the brain, and testing can help identify how this impacts a child’s current function.
When parents feel that their child is struggling, the first person they usually talk to is their pediatrician. The pediatrician may tell the parents to consult the child’s teacher, who may suggest a school assessment. There’s only one drawback to this chain of events: school districts often will not assess a child until that child is failing. Most parents don’t want to wait that long to figure out what’s going on. Besides, school assessments don’t diagnose the problem; they just verify that there is one.
If your gut is telling you that something is amiss, do not wait for the school system’s blessing to get your child tested. Consider taking him or her to a pediatric neuropsychologist for an evaluation. Here are some signs that your child might benefit from this type of test:
■ Your child is having difficulty mastering school subjects. This can begin as early as preschool or kindergarten, when you may notice that your child isn’t catching on to the letter sounds or doesn’t seem to be following the general pace of conversations.
■ Your child is having attention issues—he or she is too restless, impulsive, or inattentive, and it’s causing significant impact on his or her daily functioning. For young children, “functioning,” means being able to sit long enough to eat their meal, getting dressed, or sitting in circle time at school. For older children, it means being able to organize their morning, get dressed, take care of basic hygiene, get to school (and remember to bring their books), pay attention in class, master school subjects, manage homework, and be able to do some household chores. In other words, cope with the typical student’s daily schedule without throwing the whole family into chaos (a child who is struggling will usually affect the whole family dynamic).
■ Your child does well academically, but his or her social skills seem impaired, and it’s getting in the way of the child’s emotional growth or wellbeing.
When You Know What’s
Going On, You Can Help Your Child
Sometimes parents who bring their children to my office will say, “My neighbor told me not to test my child, that it’ll dig up too much information that we’d rather not know about.” “Information is a good thing,” I respond. “You want to know your child’s strengths, don’t you? Testing will show you the complete picture of your child, not just the challenges.” Your child’s strengths point the way to the type of interventions that will be most effective.
An evaluation will clarify your child’s situation and get everyone on the same page. When you, your partner, and your child understand what the problems are, you are taking the first step to solving them.
There is no ‘right’ age for testing; some people may advise you to wait until your child is older. That is inadvisable; early identification is critical in helping your child get the help that he or she deserves. #
Dr. Rita Eichenstein is a licensed psychologist with post-doctoral training in pediatric neuropsychology and special education in private practice at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. Dr. Rita is the author of Not What I Expected: Help and Hope for Parents of Atypical Children and Positively Atypical. For more information, go to drritaeichenstein.com.