Evaluation for ADHD and Learning Disabilities – What to Expect

EvaluationIf you are reading this, then chances are you are thinking about having your child tested for ADHD or another learning difference. While this process is pretty standard, it may seem confusing, frustrating, and even scary when thinking about what all goes into it.

Who Does the Testing?

Before you begin the testing process you must first find someone to do the testing. Typically there are two types of practitioners: 1) psychologists, and 2) educational diagnosticians.

While both psychologists and educational diagnosticians can administer the necessary cognitive assessments, only psychologists are able to give diagnoses of ADHD and other learning differences. This is important to keep in mind as many schools, particularly universities, will require a diagnosis to set up an accommodation plan. Educational diagnosticians, who usually work in school districts, can only provide feedback and recommendations; educational diagnosticians cannot diagnose ADHD and other learning differences.

I highly recommend that you consult with a licensed psychologist when considering testing for your student. In my experience, the best way to find a good match for your student is to ask his school counselor or ask your own friends for a referral. If you are in the Austin area, I’m happy to provide some excellent referrals.

Once you have selected a psychologist to work with you will then schedule your first appointment. Psychologists can be booked several weeks ahead, so don’t get frustrated if you cannot get in right away. If time is of the essence, you can try calling a few different psychologists or put yourself on the cancellation list.

The testing process consists of three separate parts. Depending on your psychologist’s availability, it may take 2-4 appointments to finish everything.

1.  The in-take interview (1 hour)

During this hour-long interview, the psychologist will talk to the parent alone, the child alone, and then the parent and child together. During the interview, the psychologist is trying to get a feel for the problem by gathering relevant information from all parties. Don’t be alarmed if some of the questions seem invasive…remember, it’s the psychologist’s job to talk about EVERYTHING. The more open and honest you and your child are, the better diagnosis the psychologist can make.

2.  The day of testing (2-6 hours)

Sometimes the day of testing will be the same day as the in-take interview, depending on how much testing is necessary. Other times the day of testing may fall on a separate day or even be broken into two days, again depending on the amount of testing necessary and the age of the child. But generally psychologists want to get everything finished in one session.

During the day of testing, your child will meet with the psychologist by himself for two to six hours. Typical assessments for ADHD and learning differences include and IQ test, a personality test, an academic achievement test, an attention test, and a social/emotional test. Most of these are standard assessments that require a lot of patient/psychologist interaction. It can be exhausting, especially for a student who struggles with attention issues, so your child will likely receive frequent breaks. It is also recommended that the child bring food and a drink to stay sharp.

While your student is working with the psychologist, you may actually have a few assessments to fill out. These are usually behavior scales that have you answer questions about your child’s behavior on a scale of 1 to 4. You will likely fill these out in the waiting room while your child is testing.

Once the testing is finished, the psychologist will give you some general feedback on your child’s performance and schedule a follow up appointment to go over the results in detail. Testing reports can take several weeks to write, so again, don’t get frustrated if it takes longer than you’d like.

3.  The feedback session (1 hour)

The feedback session is your chance to review the comprehensive testing report that outlines the results of every assessment given to your child. The end of the report will provide the diagnosis, if any, and offer recommendations for treatment. Your psychologist should go through this report with you and make sure you understand everything. It can be a hard report to understand if you are not well-versed in these psychoeducational concepts, so make sure to ask plenty of questions and write down as much as you can so you can review it later.

Receiving a diagnosis of ADHD, dyslexia, or any other learning difference can make many parents feel like their child is doomed. But fear not, having this much information about your child is priceless. If you’ve gone through the process to have your child tested, then you already have a suspicion that he is struggling with something. A diagnosis is validation that your intuition was spot on. It’s also the first step to addressing the underlying issue and remediate any weaknesses.

Once your child has been diagnosed, you should follow up with your pediatrician to discuss possible medication and consult with his school counselor about possible academic accommodations (IEP or 504). Academic mentoring can also provide effective treatment for many educational-impacting disabilities.