The purpose of a psycho-educational evaluation is twofold: It is used to determine if a child has learning disabilities, and if so, how his particular disabilities can best be addressed. It is therefore critical to ensure that the person performing the evaluation is a qualified and experienced professional that can also work well with you, your child, and the school. Use the following guidelines to help you find the right evaluator for your situation.
Location, Location, Location
For those who live in small towns or rural areas, your best bet may be a hospital clinic. Many hospitals have clinics within their pediatric department that offer comprehensive developmental and educational evaluations. The advantages of having your child evaluated at a hospital clinic include access to a multidisciplinary team (e.g., social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, neurodevelopmental pediatricians, speech and language therapists, etc.). In addition, the clinicians can prescribe medication if warranted and follow your child if indicated. Furthermore, most hospitals take insurance.
The disadvantage of using a hospital-based clinic is that the process can be long and drawn out. It might involve a long wait before you get started, followed by numerous appointments spread out over many months.
If you’re in a city or suburb you’ll likely have the option to select from a number of psychologists who conduct psycho-educational evaluations privately. Having a choice is advantageous—but it does mean that you need to do your homework to ensure that the evaluator is a suitable fit for you and your child. Use these questions to guide your decision:
- What degree does the evaluator hold? For these in-depth evaluations, look for an individual with a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in psychology.
- Does the psychologist do all her own testing, or does she use interns to do some of the testing and/or writing? If the latter, dig deeper to help determine your level of comfort with someone else doing the actual testing:
- What is the intern’s experience with testing?
- Does the psychologist observe the testing?
- How much supervision does the intern receive?
- Who makes the diagnosis?
- Is there a wait before your child can be seen? If so, how long?
- How many testing sessions are required? And how long will each session last? Some people prefer many sessions that allow the child to sit for less time; others prefer fewer but longer sessions to minimize the amount of school missed.
- How long will it take to receive the final report? It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months depending upon the person you use. If your child is struggling in school you might need a specific classroom placement or certain accommodations that are contingent upon the report. In that case, waiting three to five months to receive the report may be too long.
The clinician should offer concrete recommendations once she has tested your child. If you have a child who is struggling to learn to read, you want an evaluator with an understanding of what is involved in learning to read so that the recommendations provide specific ideas for remediation and the approach required to help your child learn best.
Style matters. Some psychologists are warm and friendly and offer flexibility during testing. If a child needs to have a snack, walk around, or take a break, it is OK. Other professionals take a more formal approach. Check the psychologist’s style to determine if she’ll be a good fit for your child. If your child is defiant, difficult, or very active, a formal person may be a good fit. If your child is shy and hesitant, you may need someone who is warm and more nurturing.
Most private evaluators do not take insurance. If that’s the case, make sure she will provide you with a proper receipt that includes testing and diagnostic codes. You’ll need those when you submit to your insurance company for reimbursement.
The most important part of an evaluation is finding out what is happening with your child. Make sure there is a follow-up appointment for you to sit down and go over the results and recommendations with the psychologist. If your child is age six or older there should be an additional appointment with him, separate from yours, for the psychologist to explain in age-appropriate terms areas of strengths and weaknesses and what the recommendations are. Your child is more apt to agree to the recommendations if the explanation comes from the evaluator rather than you.
Finally, the evaluator will understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else. Make sure she will be willing to speak to the tutor/learning specialist if there are questions going forward. There should not be an assumption that the psychologist will spend hours consulting with others about your child; however, there are often questions that arise once remediation starts and the psychologist should be available to answer a question at no extra expense to you.
Dr. Lisa Rappaport is a neuropsychologist, specializing in the treatment of children with LD, ADHD, and developmental disorders. She is also an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.