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How We Evaluate Children

People often ask, “How do you test babies?” This is a good question because assessments look very different depending on the age of the child. When evaluating babies, the parent is always present because the young child performs best in interactions with the parent. The psychologist talks to the parents about their concerns and asks about their own observations. The test materials for babies are bright and colorful and look more like toys than test materials. The evaluation looks more like play than testing, but a trained psychologist can observe many details about a baby’s development during the structured play setting, such as vocalizations, social responses, grasping, problem-solving or sitting.

Preschoolers have longer attention spans and are usually more independent, but they still need testing materials that capture their interest. Since they are older, they can give us more information about their development, particularly in language and problem-solving areas. Children are tested without parents being present when they are at a stage that they can separate without too much worry. At this age, they perform best when working with the psychologist alone.

Infant Developmental Assessment

A developmental assessment of an infant or toddler can provide very helpful information to parents. There are various reasons a parent or pediatrician might request that an infant receive a developmental evaluation. The infant may have been premature or have had other risk factors during the pregnancy, delivery, or neonatal period. The infant may be doing well in some areas of development, e.g. social skills, but seem to be lagging behind in others, e.g. motor skills.  Other babies have clear developmental delays but parents may not know the extent of them or where to get help.

The Developmental Evaluation Clinic can begin seeing babies as early as the first month of life, but more typically at 4-6 months.

Each baby is unique. Although babies do not develop according to a set schedule, they do progress through the same sequences of development and according to a loosely defined time table.  A developmental evaluation provided by a trained psychologist helps to identify an infant’s strengths and weaknesses, determine whether further specialist evaluations are needed, and offers referrals to early intervention programs that help young children achieve their full potential.  A developmental evaluation is often the first step towards receiving early help.

Preschool Developmental Assessment

The ages 2 to 5 are a period of rapid learning.  Preschool-age children need close monitoring by their pediatrician and parents because they are often not yet in a structured setting, such as school where their progress is being closely watched. A developmental assessment can provide valuable information about a child’s strengths and weaknesses that can be used to make sure the child is receiving any special help that he or she might need.  For children who are only slightly below age expectations, the psychologist  provides the parents with suggestions for stimulating development at home. When children are appearing more delayed in an area such as speech, learning, social or motor skills, the psychologist is likely to refer the child to a specialist for more in-depth evaluations in the areas of weakness.  The child may also be referred to a program where the child can begin to receive direct service. There are early intervention programs in every region, beginning at birth for children who meet specific eligibility criteria.  The psychologists are very familiar with these criteria and can help parents and children link to the services they need.

Reasons for referral are varied but may be learning problems, language difficulties, motor delays, behavioral concerns, early signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism disorder or global developmental delays.  Early intervention can make a big difference in the life of a young child, and a developmental evaluation is often the first step towards receiving early help.

Psychoeducational Testing of School-Aged Children

Assessment of children over age 6 is offered on a limited basis for those children or adolescents who need specific, neuropsychological assessment due to a medical history of seizures, traumatic brain injury or current complex learning challenges. Children who benefit most are those whose needs are not being addressed through available school district services. 

These evaluations usually involve discussing concerns with parents, extensive testing of the child, and reviewing results and what they mean with parents. The psychologist then writes a detailed report that provides results, recommendations and referrals. Recommendations may include ideas for parents, suggestions to teachers or descriptions of the child’s learning style that can be used by parents, teachers and therapists who work with the child. The psychologist’s test results may also reflect the need for an evaluation by another specialist such as a school speech pathologist. Some of the more common reasons for referral are to evaluate the possibility of a specific learning disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or autism spectrum disorders.