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Psychological Assessment of Children

  • A series of interviews and tests to evaluate a child's strengths and weaknesses across many areas
  • Determines how a child or teen functions socially, academically, psychologically, and emotionally
  • A child may need to see additional specialists to address specific concerns
  • Involves Child study center and psychiatry

Overview

As children grow and develop, they sometimes have trouble learning in school, difficulty concentrating, or problems getting along with others. When this happens, a psychological assessment can pinpoint where the difficulties lie.

A psychological assessment offers insights into a child’s learning, social, behavioral and personality development, with the goal of tailoring recommendations to plan a child’s educational and mental health needs. The Yale Medicine Child Study Center Psychological & Educational Assessment Program provides a broad range of testing services to school-age children and youth throughout Connecticut and the New York metropolitan region.

What is a psychological assessment?

A psychological assessment is a structured series of interviews, standardized tests, and questionnaires designed to evaluate strengths and weaknesses in several areas. These tests may identify, for example, learning styles and social-emotional patterns of functioning. Some parents seek a psychological assessment out of concerns about how well their child or teen is functioning. Other parents are advised to get an assessment by one or more professionals—an educator, a mental health professional, or pediatrician—who notice something amiss. 

The evaluation ensures that everyone in a child’s world is working toward the same goals.

What does a psychological assessment address?

A psychological assessment should consider the “whole child, including family, school, and the community,” says Cardona-Wolenski. Assessments are always individualized, based on the needs of the child, address the concerns that led to the referral. A psychological assessment may look at:

  • Intelligence: These tests look for developmental delays, intellectual gifts and/or disabilities, language and communication skills, nonverbal reasoning skills, and speed at absorbing and processing new information.
  • Achievement: By measuring mastery of reading, mathematics, and writing, psychological and educational tests can identify academic strengths and pinpoint such learning disabilities as dyslexia. For children with special needs, the psychological assessment can help develop a Special Education Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) at a Planning and Placement Team meeting (PPT).
  • Memory and attention: Neuropsychological testing is often used to identify attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This set of tests can also measure memory skills, reasoning abilities, and executive functioning, like planning and organizational skills.
  • Behavioral, emotional and social development: Social-emotional and personality evaluation tools examine depression, anxiety, or social deficits that may contribute to difficulties at home or school. If there are mental health concerns, the assessment provides direction for behavioral management strategies to be used at home or school. It can also provide therapists with information for treatment planning, including whether or not medication is appropriate.

What should parents of children undergoing psychological assessment expect?

Before the first appointment, parents complete the first step of a psychological assessment, filling out questionnaires regarding the child’s developmental, medical, social, and academic history. This information, along with results of earlier evaluations and reports from school, is the beginning of the psychological assessment plan.

The next phase consists of interviews with both the parents and the child. Parents provide information about the child’s strengths and weaknesses and discuss areas of particular concern. The child then has several testing sessions, which examine cognitive, educational, and social-emotional functioning.

Once the written report is completed, the evaluator meets with parents to review the results and discuss the proposed recommendations.

What makes Yale Medicine’s approach to psychological assessment unique?

The Psychological & Educational Assessment Program provides a broad range of testing services to school-age children and youth throughout Connecticut and the New York metropolitan region, including comprehensive evaluations for children in grade school, middle school, and high school.

The Child Study Center has a longstanding reputation as both a leader in research on child development and an innovator in developing programs that connect families with the extra help—including mental health treatment and educational supports—that their children may need. 

Our evaluation team consists of highly trained clinicians who are passionate about helping children overcome their obstacles and fulfill their potential. As researchers, we explore and evaluate the efficacy of new treatments; in a clinical setting, we’ve worked with some of the most challenging and complicated situations, developing a unique perspective and level of expertise that benefits all children they see.

Public schools and other agencies often refer medically and psychiatrically complex children and teens to the Child Study Center because they appreciate how current and comprehensive our evaluations are. Another benefit of working with us is the ready access to other services. For instance, if a child needs to see other specialists, we can coordinate those consultations.

As a preeminent research center focused on child development, the Child Study Center uses current, scientifically based testing measures to provide a holistic view of a child. We also empower parents to act on their child’s behalf. For example, our clinicians often accompany parents to school meetings to help them advocate for their child’s educational needs.