Testing was Recommended, But What Kind?!

Lauren Siegel, Psy.D.
February 22, 2024

When a teacher or doctor recommends an evaluation for a child for learning or behavioral concerns, parents are often left with a host of questions. Where do I go for this evaluation? What does it cost? Who’s going to do it? But the most common question we hear is “Exactly what kind of evaluation does my child need?” They might be told to get a psychological evaluation, or an ADHD evaluation, or a psychoeducational evaluation. Sometimes the words neuropsychological or comprehensive are used. If you’re wondering what all of these labels mean and how they relate to each other, you are not alone.

The truth is, even psychologists don’t always use these terms consistently. The labels used for different evaluations vary by organization and from person to person. There are, however, some useful distinctions that can make the landscape easier to understand. First, psychological evaluation is typically a broad term that refers to any evaluation of a person’s brain and/or behavior functioning. In the world of education, the most common term is psychoeducational evaluation. In most cases, this refers to an evaluation that focuses on basic cognitive and academic skills; an IQ test or another measure of verbal and nonverbal reasoning is often paired with a test of academic achievement in reading, math, and writing. This type of evaluation is commonly conducted in school settings and is fairly brief, usually taking only a few hours to administer. It provides a snapshot of a person’s cognitive abilities and academic performance.

A more in-depth evaluation that goes beyond basic cognitive and academic skills is a neuropsychological evaluation. These evaluations generally include cognitive and academic measures as described above, and they also look at the underlying processes that impact day-to-day functioning. Skills like attention, memory, executive functioning, and language processing are assessed directly. A good neuropsychological evaluation might also include in-depth measures of reading, writing, and math, which helps determine whether a learning disability may be at play. Sometimes families might be advised to look for an evaluation that just targets one area of concern, such as ADHD or reading. While it is possible to find short, stand-alone evaluations that target specific areas, this type of assessment may not be detailed enough to get the full picture of a person’s functioning.

The last major category of testing is called social-emotional testing. Brief screening measures of social and emotional functioning (in the form of parent and teacher questionnaires) may be included in various types of evaluations, but in-depth testing is warranted if you want to understand the impact of issues like anxiety, depression, or autism. Sometimes, the term comprehensive is used to signify that an evaluation includes social and emotional testing. These evaluations can help tease out, for example, the impact of anxiety on attention or the impact of autism on classroom participation.

Testing can be a significant investment of time and money; getting it right counts. At Kingsbury, we specialize in thorough neuropsychological evaluations that are often more in-depth than those provided in schools or at other practices. Our philosophy of testing is to understand and treat the whole person, and our goal is for families to feel genuinely heard and understood through the evaluation process. We believe that it is worthwhile to be as comprehensive as possible so that families aren’t left with a recommendation for more testing at the end of the process. Our evaluations can often uncover learning challenges that are below the surface, such as with bright students who are gifted but also meet criteria for a learning disability. We are also skilled at deciphering the relative impact of emotional concerns on school performance or general daily functioning.