When your child is experiencing difficulty in school and you have exhausted the school's resources and still are experiencing anxiety, frustration and feelings that there is a problem that no one has addressed, you need to seek outside professional help. But, who should that person be?
The school's process can take a while but is designed to try to meet the needs of students without labeling them for special education. When their interventions have failed and you have met over and over with the teacher, a school psychologist is likely called in to do an evaluation. Their goal in doing this evaluation is to determine if your child meets the criteria for specialized services outside of the regular classroom - usually in a special education setting such as resource or self contained. In the process you may receive a label and additional services but you may leave unsatisfied that the central problem is not being explained and you still have not fully met the needs of your child.
You may decide that this process has been unsatisfactory to answer your questions or you may wish to circumvent the time frame and involvement of school personnel. If so, you may seek a private evaluation. There are many professionals who can provide assistance from pediatricians to psychologists to psychiatrists. Just where should you start? A pediatrician can evaluate for any physical developmental issue. For example, if you suspect that your child is ADHD they may give you a rating scale to complete along with some for teachers to complete and then give you a medication to try. A psychiatrist may also provide you with a diagnosis and medication. In order to get a better understanding of all the factors impacting your child's behavior and learning, however, it is best to start with a comprehensive, developmental evaluation provided by a psychologist. To choose the right psychologist, keep the following things in mind:
The training of the psychologist - Many psychologists providing independent evaluations are trained school psychologists. This means that they have obtained an Ed.S. degree and are qualified to administer and interpret psychological tests. Their experience may vary widely so it is important to ask about their years of experience and any additional training they may have obtained after receiving their degree. Other psychologists have obtained a Ph.D. degree and have more training in analyzing and understanding statistical data on which testing is based and in reading and applying current research. Many of them will have devoted more time to internships (usually twice as much time as required of Ed.S. level students). Again, you should ask about any additional training that psychologist has received post doctoral. Additionally, there are neuro-psychologists who typically explore functional brain disorders and do not spend a great deal of time on academic testing. These are always Ph.D. level psychologists. Often they will have masters level assistants who do the actual testing and then they do interpretation based on the scores. A blend of a neuropsychological approach with a school psychology approach is called school neuropsychology. These psychologists have received a year of additional study and evaluation by a board in order to be recognized as a school neuropsychologist. These psychologists are required to do 70 hours of continuing education per year in order to maintain their certification.
The type of evaluation they do - what are their typical tests? Do they give an IQ test along with achievement testing and rating scales? Or, do they look at all aspects of cognitive functioning, sensorimotor functioning, issues that may inhibit or facilitate cognitive functioning, academic achievement, social emotional functioning, memory, executive functioning skills, and attentional factors? It is appropriate to ask these questions when deciding who would best provide you the information you need.
The cost - there are some variations and you are likely required to pay at the completion of the evaluation. Insurance pays a limited amount, if any, and most providers do not bill insurance. That is something you will be required to do once they provide an invoice. School evaluations are at no cost. Private evaluations can range from $2,000 to $20,000 depending on the location. In our area, the typical cost is about $2,000. In the upstate of South Carolina it is around $5,000. In other states and metropolitan areas the price goes up. You should not pay up front but rather when you get the results.
The time frame - sometimes psychologists can work you in quickly. Others have a 6 month waiting period. A provider should give you a written report within 2 weeks of completion of the evaluation. They should meet with you and give you complete feedback about the results as well as answer any questions you have. They should provide you with recommendations based on the test results as well as recommendations for the school and for the student. These meetings can take up to 2 hours to complete. Then, they should meet with your student to go over the results in an age appropriate format. This empowers the student with information as well as recommendations of what they can do to control their outcomes.
And finally, choose a psychologist who is willing to meet with you and the school team when needed to provide professional input about the testing and to help in developing a plan for the school to implement.