Despite everyone’s best efforts, school continues to pose challenges for your child. You’ve agreed that an assessment is the best next step.
Typically, parents then struggle with:
- How will I explain the assessment to my child?
- Who is going to use this information and will it place a label on my child?
- What are the long-term implications of this decision?
Helping your child feel comfortable
Be honest when discussing the reason or the need for an assessment. Children are usually very aware of the struggles they are having. The wording you use is important here. For example, if your child is having behavioural challenges, explain that the assessment is there to support them in learning different ways to deal with situations, not a punishment for misbehaviour. If the issue relates to learning difficulties, assure them that everyone has areas of strength and difficulty, and that the assessment will assist teachers in knowing how to accommodate their specific learning style.
Once your child understands that the assessment is being undertaken to assist them, the practicalities should be addressed. Let him/her know that they will be meeting (most often individually) with someone who will ask them to engage in a variety of tasks and answer some questions. Most children find some aspects of assessment fun, but some of it will relate to school work, like spelling and math.
Reassure your child that this is not a pass/fail test and it does not relate to their report card. Encourage your child to be honest and let the psychologist know if they are feeling uncomfortable or tired. Psychologists are trained to take many factors into consideration when interpreting the child’s performance in the assessment.
Reviewing the Assessment Results
When you meet with the psychologist to review the results of the assessment, you will be provided with a detailed account of the types of tests that were given to your child and what they mean. Typically, numerous recommendations will be included in the report to assist you and teachers to support your child’s learning and behaviour. Sometimes, a diagnosis might be made. For example, if your child has significant difficulty learning to read or write, he or she might be diagnosed with a Learning Disability. Or, if making friends and reading emotions is a challenge, a diagnosis of ADHD or Autism might be considered. As well, Anxiety Disorders are occurring more frequently in school-aged children.
At this point, parents often express their concern over the issue of labelling their child. As a parent, you have the right to decide who has access to this information. It will not be shared with other children and is used only to help those supporting your child to understand what your child’s needs are. As well, a diagnosis is often helpful in accessing the appropriate supports, either in school or in the community.
Some psychologists in private practice might offer to meet with your school support team to explain the results of the assessment and recommendations. Many parents find this reassuring as the amount of information that comes from having an assessment can seem overwhelming. Feel confident in knowing that you will have plenty of opportunity to ask lots of questions!
Unlocking your Child’s Potential
Having practiced for numerous years in an educational setting, I generally advise parents that sharing the assessment and identifying the student as requiring ongoing support is the best avenue to pursue.
Understanding of children’s special needs, whether related to learning or mental health, has greatly improved over the years. Children are encouraged to participate in all aspects of school life, but are also provided with the supports they require to be successful. In schools, an Individual Educational Plan is generally developed for a student with exceptional needs. It is considered a working document and is revised as the child matures. A re-assessment is generally recommended if their needs change over time, particularly before they leave high school in order to access supports at the post-secondary level.
Parents are often relieved to hear that a diagnosis does not limit their child’s options. Many students with learning or mental health issues go on to college or university. You’ve taken an important step in advocating for your child. Psychological assessment has merit and is an important tool to help you and others unlock your child’s potential.
About Dr. Anita Burhanpurkar
Registered with the College of Psychologists of Ontario (CPO) since 2003, Dr. Anita Burhanpurkar is licensed by the College of Psychologists of Ontario to work with children, adolescents and families. She currently works for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board in Mississauga and also provides psychological services to children and adolescents through her private practice, Hummingbird Child Psychology.