What Is a “Psychoeducational Evaluation” and Should My Child Have One?

If your child is struggling at school with learning, you may be concerned about whether he or she might have a learning disorder, such as a reading disability/dyslexia, math disability, or written expression disability. Or, you may wonder if there might be an attentional deficit (e.g., ADHD), or if your child might be just “bored” and not challenged. Alternatively, you may be concerned about emotional issues, such as anxiety or depression, which may be affecting your child’s learning progress.

If you are experiencing any of the above concerns, pursuing a psychoeducational evaluation for your child can be a useful way for you (and your child’s teachers) to discover some answers.

There are several areas that Dr. Gilbert assesses in her psychoeducational evaluations:

  • Cognitive Ability
  • Academic Achievement
  • Social/Emotional/Behavioral Functioning
  • Attentional Functioning

The cognitive assessment provides information about an individual’s intelligence, revealing any strengths as well as weaknesses. Areas assessed include verbal reasoning, visual-spatial skills, nonverbal abstract reasoning, working memory (auditory and visual), and processing speed. This information can be very useful in understanding your child’s thinking and reasoning abilities. For example, if your child’s verbal reasoning skills are significantly better than his or her nonverbal reasoning skills, it may be that your child may understand new information more easily when it is presented in a verbal, rather than visual, format.

Moreover, if your child is found to have a weakness in working memory and/or processing speed, this may mean that, in order to learn, your child may require information to be repeated, or may need to be exposed to material on multiple occasions, or may need the pace of instruction to be slowed down. Further, within working memory, it can be very useful to discover whether your child may have a weakness in recalling either visual or verbally-presented information. In this way, your child’s teacher can then be sure to introduce material in a format that works better for your child. The cognitive assessment may also determine whether your child is a gifted learner, and in need of gifted instruction at school in order to appropriately stimulate and capture your child’s learning motivation. Knowing your child’s intellectual strengths and weaknesses can especially help teachers to understand that your child can learn, but that he or she may need strategies or accommodations to facilitate that learning.

The academic achievement assessment measures a child’s achievement in reading, math, and written language. In reading, the areas of sight-word reading, phonetic decoding, oral reading fluency, and reading comprehension are assessed. When children are young and their reading skills are still emerging, Dr. Gilbert often includes a test of phonological processing to investigate foundational reading skills. For math, timed math facts, untimed math calculations, and math reasoning are measured. In the area of written language, sentence composition skills, spelling, and essay composition skills are evaluated. This information may then be used to determine whether a Specific Learning Disorder is present in reading (dyslexia), math (dyscalculia), or written expression (dysgraphia).

To assess a child’s social, emotional, and behavioral functioning, parent and teacher rating scales are used. When appropriate, the child may also complete a self-rating scale. These scales include a wide range of concerns that children exhibit, including acting-out behavior, symptoms of anxiety and depression, and adaptive skills such as adaptability and social skills. Rating scales are also used to assess whether a child may be exhibiting significant difficulty with inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Lastly, a computerized test is administered, which measures a child’s ability to sustain his or her attention, as well as to resist impulsive responding, when exposed to both visual and auditory information. Dr. Gilbert is then able to consider all this data, in conjunction with the child’s history, to determine whether ADHD may be present, or if anxiety is a primary factor preventing the child from making adequate school progress, or if depression may be playing a role, or if an Oppositional-Defiant Disorder may be at play. Included as part of the evaluation is a meeting with the parent(s) to review all the assessment data, and to discuss best practice recommendations that are provided by Dr. Gilbert. Because Dr. Gilbert is a certified school psychologist (in addition to being a licensed psychologist), she can guide parents in navigating the complicated world of special education services and IEPs if appropriate.

If you are interested in more information, please contact Dr. Gilbert’s office. The testing typically involves 4-5 hours of direct testing. The cost is generally $1250 – $1450, depending on what assessments are needed. Remember to bring your child’s eyeglasses if they are needed, to make sure your child goes to bed on time the night before, and that your child has a good breakfast/lunch prior to the assessment.

What to Expect When Bringing Your Child to Dr. Gilbert for Therapy

By Gloria Gilbert, Ph.D., Child and Adolescent Psychologist, PCS Staff Psychologist

The decision of whether to bring your son or daughter to therapy can be a difficult one, as is the choice regarding which therapist would be the best fit for your child or teen.  As a child/adolescent psychologist, I’d like to share my “process” of beginning therapy with a young person, in the hopes of “demystifying” that process and increasing parents’ comfort level and understanding of how therapy for kids “starts.”

I find it most helpful to have an initial session with just the parent(s) to obtain background information, to learn about the parents’ concerns for their child, and to identify what goals they might like for their child.  The next session is then for the child to meet with me individually, where I explain what a psychologist is (e.g., “a Feelings Doctor”) and how I help children and teenagers.  I also share about how, what the young person and I talk about, can be “private,” unless it involves anything about the child’s safety; in that case, we’d need to tell mom or dad or another adult.  Then, depending on the age of the child, we might play a game or two to “break the ice.”

At this point, I usually give young people a choice about whether they’d like to tell me about themselves, or to allow me to go through a series of questions I have prepared (usually, kids prefer that I ask them questions).   The questions start out “light,” including inquiries about what they like to do for fun, about their school and friends, and about their family.  For younger children, I might ask them to draw a picture of their family as they tell me about family members.  The questions also allow me to discover what in their lives makes them feel worried, scared, sad, and mad.  The session closes with an invitation to bring mom or dad into the session.  The child has the option to share about what we did and/or talked about.  The goal of this first session is to allow the child and me to get to know each other, and for the child to have a positive first experience with therapy.

At the next session, I usually present an activity I have termed, “My Problems, Bothers, Worries, and Unhappy Memories Page.”   From my own life, I draw pictures to represent some of the problems, bothers, worries, and unhappy memories that I experienced in childhood.  The young person then has an opportunity to complete his/her own “Problems” page.  I often find that children can identify as many “problems” as is their age.   Next, I assist the child in identifying how each problem makes him/her feel; to rate each problem on a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being the most bothersome; and to draw lines connecting problems to discover possible themes or patterns.  I find this information to be so helpful in understanding, from the young person’s perspective, what are or have been the biggest challenges in his/her life.  Often, children are interested in sharing their drawings with their parent(s), and I have been told by many parents how informative and helpful this information has been to them.

From there, I explain to the child how, when we have many things in our lives that bother us or cause us “yucky” feelings, those negative memories take up room in our brains, preventing us from being able to have good and happy feelings.  My job is to help children learn to better cope with those negative memories or experiences, so that they can have more room in their brains for good and happy feelings.

Lastly, I assist the young person in identifying his/her own goals for therapy.  While parents certainly can offer input into these goals, I feel it is critical that the goals be generated by the young person…if they are going to be coming for therapy on a regular basis, they need to have it be worth their while to work on issues that are important to them (not just what’s important to their parents)!  Once a young person identifies his/her goals, these are shared with mom and/or dad, and a plan is made for the frequency of sessions and the estimated duration of treatment, as well as what kinds of therapy techniques might be used.

In sum, this process allows me to get to fully know the child, to understand his/her struggles, and to discover how the young person would like his/her life to be better.  Often, this process can “open the door” toward improved communication and connection between child and parent(s) as well.   It is always a privilege and honor to guide a young person through this process!

© Psychological Counseling Services