Is it Wise To Secure an Independent Psychological Evaluation for Your Child?

Psychological Evaluations, usually performed by a masters or doctoral level psychologist, are used in schools, mental health agencies and in hospitals to justify authorization of services, identify psychological disorders and determine a client’s cognitive abilities (e.g., their IQ). School Psychologists, for example, often perform psychological evaluations as part of a child’s IEP, especially if a student has a history of mental illness, poor academic performance, or behavioral issues. In contrast to a Comprehensive Clinical Assessment (CCA), which is usually a psycho-social assessment that lasts 1-2 hours and relies heavily on previous testing and self-report, psychological evaluations take several visits to complete and employ a variety of diagnostic tests, the purpose of which is to either confirm or deny the existence of a learning difference or mental disorder. Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is an example of a common ailment for which psychological evaluations screen, though they can be customized to address a variety of situations and concerns.

Children who struggle with either behavioral or academic issues are often assigned to the School Psychologist for such tests, as public schools in the United States are required to offer additional assistance to children with Learning Differences. While this law is intended to protect children, it also has a way of overwhelming school staff, as the definition of “learning difference” is so broad that in theory every child at a school could qualify for their own IEP. While School Psychologists no doubt do their best to perform a thorough evaluation for all students, the reality is that time is limited and often critical information simply gets missed. Fortunately, parents do have other options.

Concerned parents certainly have the right to seek an independent psychological evaluation. This is no different than getting a second option on any other medical condition. The cost of such an evaluation may be an issue with many parents, but this can be discussed with insurance companies or handled with private pay. There are also certain situations where the district will fund your independent educational evaluation. This can include a wide variety of evaluations, not just psychological evaluations. You have rights under 34 C.F.R. 300.503 to obtain an independent educational evaluation of your child. To learn more about these rights, you may want to consider consulting with an attorney that specializes in education law.

Parents who seek an independent evaluation can find psychologists employed in private practice or in private agencies, where their main role is to perform psychological evaluations for new clients. They tend to have smaller caseloads than their school counterparts and often have the ability and the time to customize evaluations in ways that School Psychologists cannot. Your insurance provider can usually refer you to a provider in your area.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of different tests that psychologist use to confirm mental health diagnosis. ADHD is a great example of a diagnosis that can benefit from a psychological evaluation. Children are usually diagnosed with ADHD based on diagnostic criteria from the DSM 5, which is the manual that clinicians use to determine if criteria for a mental disorder have been met. Symptoms of ADHD include hyperactivity, difficulty concentrating and impulsive behavior. That seems simple enough. However, there are several other mental disorders that look a lot like ADHD. Children with severe anxiety, for example, also have difficulty with concentration, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. Trauma also looks exactly like ADHD in children as well, so the presence of symptoms is enough to make a diagnosis, but oftentimes the diagnosis is simply wrong.

Clinicians treat ADHD in different ways than they do children who have experienced trauma, so an incorrect diagnosis can be at best counterproductive. Psychological evaluations, on the other hand, can employ a battery of tests specific to ADHD, or to PTSD, or to Generalized Anxiety Disorder, in effect ruling out one in favor of the other.

Parents should have an open and continuing conversation with the psychologists about their concerns. Psychological evaluations can be blunt instruments, but with proper guidance and information from parents, psychologists can tailor their evaluation to meet each child’s individual needs. As there are many different types of assessments, psychologists really rely on authentic and comprehensive information from parents, but also active participation from the child.

On a final note, parents who wish to determine their child’s IQ can certainly do so with a psychological evaluation, provided the child willingly participates in what are boring and drawn out activities. Often, the results of an IQ are either slewed or become impossible to validate because the child refuses to participate, intentionally sabotages himself, or simply does not try. Savvy psychologists realize this and are hesitant to complete the test if the child is not willing to participate.  There is a silver lining to this, though, as a child’s refusal to take such a test can often be an indication of more clinically significant issues, such as test anxiety or even oppositional behavior.

Psychological evaluations, when done correctly, provide invaluable insight into a child’s actual presenting concerns. CCAs, while useful diagnostic tools, often lead to a misdiagnosis, particularly with disorders that present in similar ways in children.  While psychological evaluations are not immune to error, they do employ valid and reliable diagnostic assessments that can help parents and clinicians better understand the nature of their child’s issues. While a school psychologist is certainly capable of providing a psychological evaluation, independent psychologists tend to have more time and more resources which result in more thorough results. To see if your child may be a candidate for an independent evaluation, give Montgomery Law a call at 215-650-7563.

Note, nothing in this article or on this website is to be considered medical or legal advice. 

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