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Assessment 101: Overview of Evaluation
by Aida Khan, Ph.D.

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Assessment 101 is a series of three articles about developmental assessments by Dr. Aida Khan, clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist and Lecturer in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Overview of Tests & Evaluations

Your Fun-Loving Second Grader...

Your second grader is a delightful, fun-loving, caring little girl.  She is still struggling to learn letters and beginning arithmetic.  She’s not as quick at following directions and conversation as her younger sister.  She often misunderstands, sometimes in funny ways that are easy to laugh off.  Sometimes she uses words in cute idiosyncratic ways.

Her second grade teacher tells you that academics frustrate your child. She is making excuses and clowning around to get out of doing work.

Her teacher suggests a neuropsychological evaluation.

A Precocious 4 Year Old...

Everyone sees your son as precocious.  He’s reading at 4.  He’s chatty and curious, full of questions.  He uses complex language to express his thoughts.  Adults love him.  But other children do not.

He’s having trouble getting along with other preschoolers.  They don’t invite him for play dates.  He stands too close to other kids.  He rarely smiles.  His face lacks animation.  His tone of voice has a lack of expressiveness that is different from the exuberance that most kids this age show.

Teachers notice that your son is clumsy.  He drops things and bumps into people and objects.  You sense something is not quite right but can’t put your finger on it.

The school guidance counselor suggests your son see a psychologist.

The World of Testing and Evaluation

You are now poised at the edge of the world of psychological and educational assessment.  This is a land filled with percentiles and scaled scores and unfamiliar terms like language processing problems, social cognition, and dyslexia.

How do you make an informed decision in this sea of jargon?  This is your child. The stakes are high.  You want to—no, you have to—make wise decisions.

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Most of the professionals you talk with use language you have not heard before.  They have different letters after their names and it’s hard to know who’s who.  You need to know who does what and what you can expect to learn from different types of evaluations.

As a pediatric neuropsychologist, I receive calls from parents who say their child needs a neuropsychological evaluation.  I ask if they know what a neuropsychological evaluation is.  Most don’t.  They say their child’s teacher or pediatrician told them to call, that their child is struggling, and can I see them as soon as possible.  They are often anxious.  They know they need to do something but are not sure what that should be.

An assessment by a skilled evaluator can be enormously helpful in planning your child’s education.  An assessment can help your child (and you) manage challenges in learning, emotional functioning, or behavior.

Child Development

Each child grows and learns at a unique pace. Some kids are late bloomers. Some kids learn everything early.  Most kids are in between.

As long as a child acquires new skills within the window of time considered normal for acquiring that skill, the child is on track developmentally.  If a child’s development is outside of that normal range, the child’s teacher or physician is likely to suggest an evaluation.

The main areas of development are

  • Language
  • Nonverbal processing (thinking visually and spatially)
  • Attention and self-regulation
  • Memory
  • Fine and gross motor skills

Social and emotional functioning are also aspects of development.

Sometimes a child has trouble with academics, friendships, or behavior.  It can be hard to figure out exactly what is going on.

Often, the reasons for a child’s difficulties are not obvious.  Some problems are developmental, which means the child will outgrow them.  In these cases, patience and waiting for your child to mature are the solutions.

Other problems or patterns are enduring.  They are part of how your child is put together.  You can influence and shape these aspects of your child but these elements of temperament and style are likely to endure beyond childhood.  Your child will not outgrow them.

If these patterns are identified early enough, it is possible to shape or even circumvent them. The earlier you identify enduring patterns, the earlier you can work to minimize their impact.

The second article in this series describes the five most common types of assessments.  These include:

  • Neuropsychological assessments
  • Speech language evaluations
  • Psycho-educational and educational evaluations
  • Occupational therapy evaluations
  • Personality and projective evaluations

About the Author

A clinical psychologist and pediatric neuropsychologist, Aida Khan, Ph.D. trained at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Harvard Medical School.  She has held academic appointments at Harvard Medical School and Tufts University School of Medicine. Dr. Khan is currently in private practice in Massachusetts and is a Lecturer in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Dr. Khan welcomes comments and can be reached at: aidakhan<at>msn<dot>com

Copyright © 2013 Aida Khan, Ph. D.

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Revised: 03/30/13


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