Frequently Asked Questions

Regarding Psycho-educational Assessments

What is a psycho-educational assessment and why is it helpful?

Through the use of standardized instruments, an assessment tells you how your child takes in information and learns, and the reasons for his or her difficulties at school. This knowledge can lead to improved teaching strategies for your child’s teacher or tutor. The assessment gives you an understanding of the reasons for the difficulties your child is experiencing at school or when doing homework. Many parents report that they have more patience when working with their child when they understand the nature of the difficulties. Sometimes, teacher and parents feel that the child is lazy. This is seldom the case. Children often appear to be lazy when they are overwhelmed.

An assessment measures your child’s overall intellectual ability, as well as their ability to use oral and written language, their ability to reason logically and abstractly, and their ability to analyze and work with information that is presented in a visual format. Auditory and visual memory skills are measured, as well as the ability to hold information in memory while working with it, an important skill in math and writing. Organizational skills and planning ability (executive functions) are also the focus of an assessment. The ease and speed with which simple writing tasks are performed, as well as fine motor skills, are also measured. Phonological processing (the ability to work with sounds), an essential skill for reading and spelling, is also assessed. At times, the focus of the assessment may be the child’s ability to pay attention and avoid distractions, or an impulsive working style.

In addition to the above-mentioned cognitive skills, an assessment measures academic functioning, such as reading (including comprehension), writing, spelling and math (computation, fluency, and problem-solving). The assessment indicates the strengths and weaknesses in these areas and provides the grade level at which the student is working in each area.

An assessment provides an understanding of a student’s weaknesses, strategies to ameliorate these, and, when appropriate, the information the school requires to identify the student as an “exceptional” learner. The assessment team may, when appropriate, diagnosis a learning disability, attentional disorder or emotional impairment.

Does my child need an assessment?

An assessment is completed to obtain information regarding an individual’s strengths and weaknesses, and can help the student and his/her teachers or instructors understand why he or she may be struggling academically and/or behaviourally.

Your child’s teacher may recommend an assessment because your child is struggling at school. Perhaps they are having difficulty learning to read, or to grasp math concepts. Some children who are strong verbally may nevertheless have great difficulty putting their ideas into writing. Other children are underperforming because they have difficulty sustaining their attention and focus. Some children have memory weaknesses or struggle to connect concepts. Problems with organization or social interactions may also prompt a teacher to recommend an assessment.

Sometimes parents notice a problem before the teacher. They may see the difficulties their child experiences while doing homework or staying focused on tasks that are not of high interest. Parents often observe that a child cannot retain a series of instructions, or becomes overwhelmed when too much information or material is presented.

At times, an assessment may be performed to determine eligibility for a “gifted” program. This type of assessment is not a comprehensive psycho-educational assessment and is not diagnostic in nature.

How long does it take to get an appointment?

We understand that when you make the decision to have your child assessed, you are eager to have it happen as soon as possible. There are times of the year when our wait time can be extended for a few weeks. We do everything we can to keep the wait time as short as possible, but our services are in high demand. We can assure you of a highly professional service when your appointment time arrives.

Is it necessary for both parents to attend?

We prefer that both parents attend the assessment to ensure that information is communicated directly to both parents. This will ensure that each parent has the opportunity to voice their own concerns regarding their child. Please note that if one of the parents is able to attend only one of the sessions, we recommend the final review session. When both parents attend, there is also greater flexibility to bill your insurance carrier.

How can I prepare my child for the assessment?

The child should be informed about the assessment at least a few days before the actual date (preferably not the morning of the assessment itself). The assessment should be framed as a positive experience. It might be described to the child as a look at their learning style, to find out all about their strengths and figure out ways to help them do better at school at tasks they find more difficult. The child may be told that they could be asked to answer different types of questions, solve different types of problems, do some pencil-and -paper tasks, and do other types of activities which many children find quite enjoyable. Avoid using the word ‘test’ because it often elicits unnecessary anxiety. Conversely, do not mislead the child by telling them they will spend a day doing only games and puzzles, as this can result in an abrupt loss of rapport with the assessor when they are presented with some of the more academically-oriented tasks.

Also, a child who has received enough sleep the night before the assessment, and has eaten breakfast that morning, will be more alert. This will have a positive impact on test performance.

What if I am (or my child is) ill on the day of the assessment?

Depending on the nature of the illness, it may be wise to reschedule the appointment, as illness can negatively affect testing results. While it is inadvisable to assess a child who is unwell, and every effort will be made to reschedule the appointments as expeditiously as possible, please be aware that there may be a significant delay before alternative appointments are available. If you have doubts, please contact us without delay to discuss the various options.

Should my child take prescribed ADHD medication on the day of the assessment?

Withholding a prescription from a child who is usually medicated at school may produce scores which underestimate the student’s potential, particularly on tasks which are more dependent on attention and concentration. As a rule of thumb, the assessment should endeavour to represent the student’s “typical” performance. If the child is typically taking medication at school, then you may wish to continue his or her regular dosage on the day of the assessment, since you would be likely to obtain a more accurate sampling of their current classroom behaviour and skill levels. However, if you anticipate either a change or discontinuation of the medication in the imminent future, it may be beneficial not to administer the medication. Please call for further assistance with this issue.

What should I bring to the assessment?

Parents are asked to bring the following information with them to the assessment:

  • Any rating scales (e.g., Conners) which were sent for them to complete prior to the assessment (unless these were completed online).
  • Copies of report cards, including the most recent report card and, if available, report cards from the primary/junior grades (i.e., grades K to 6). This is extremely important, as it is often necessary to establish a history of a problem before a diagnosis is made.
  • For younger children, a favourite toy or book to keep them occupied while they are waiting. There are some videos and toys on site, but a favourite toy can be comforting for some children.
  • Any copies of previous assessment reports, including psycho-educational assessments, academic screening, speech-language assessments, etc. This is particularly important, because some of the specific tests that are often utilized may not be repeated within a certain time frame. Further, it will be crucial for the assessor to know if the child has had prior exposure to any tests, to avoid invalidating Chisholm test results.
  • A sampling of recent schoolwork can be helpful, but is not necessary, as the assessor will obtain samples of work during the evaluation.

When a child is being assessed, may parents watch while the testing is taking place?

Although parents are generally not allowed in the testing office itself during testing, they are welcome to remain in the waiting area within the building, or they may choose to leave the building to conduct their daily business and return to pick up their child at the designated time. The administered tests are standardized, which means that strict guidelines must be adhered to in order to ensure that a valid assessment takes place. Having a parent present poses the risk of invalidating these guidelines, and can often be distracting for the student being assessed. Some children may be too self-conscious with a parent present, and may not take risks on more challenging tasks for fear of making errors, which may result in an underestimation of a student’s actual potential.

How will the assessment proceed?

The testing process is usually scheduled over two half-days; however, there is some variability. Clients are requested to arrive 10 to 15 minutes before the scheduled appointment time to complete some paperwork. If the assessment is for a child, this time will also allow the child to become accustomed to the new environment. Arriving on time is essential because a specific window of time is schedule for each assessment.

Once the paperwork is completed, the assessor will usually spend 30 to 45 minutes meeting with the client or parent(s) to obtain background information. During this time, children remain in the supervised waiting area (supplied with books, drawing paper, games, etc.). In some cases, adolescents may be present during this information-gathering session. The assessor will ask a series of questions to clarify major concerns and obtain information regarding relevant developmental, medical, academic, and social history.

The assessment then proceeds, with the assessor working interactively with the child for two to three hours to administer the first half of the various assessment tools. The tasks are varied and not too extended, to allow for maximum attention and performance. Some seem like games, and the one-on-one interaction with the assessor is usually enjoyable for the child. Short breaks are taken as needed, during which time the child may be offered a drink or snack. Please notify us of any allergies, or if you prefer that we not offer anything. If the assessment has been scheduled for an entire day, a one-hour lunch break will take place at the time indicated by the assessor; parents are requested to take the child out for lunch, as there are no cafeteria facilities at Chisholm. During the second day of testing (or the afternoon session), the assessor will work with the child for two to three more hours to complete the assessment.

Once testing is finished, the assessor meets with the parent(s) to provide some preliminary feedback regarding the assessment results. This may take place immediately after the completion of testing, or, in some circumstances, the feedback session may be scheduled for another day. Since the feedback meeting can last from 30 to 60 minutes, parents are encouraged to bring a favourite toy or book to keep younger children occupied while they remain in the waiting area if the feedback session is not scheduled on a separate day. The assessor will discuss the major findings of the assessment and provide some recommendations. After our psychologists have thoroughly reviewed the assessment, a full written report containing specific recommendations is provided. The report is sent directly to the client within 30 days, and, at the client’s request, to other professionals. While 30 days may appear to be a lengthy period of time, hours of time are required to score, write, review and process your report to ensure accuracy. Verbal feedback can also be provided to another professional shortly after the assessment, once again, at the request of the client. The formal report will contain the assessment results (including a diagnosis, if applicable), a description of the tests and actual scores, and a summary section that will provide a list of recommendations and strategies to address areas of weakness. If a diagnosis is appropriate (e.g., learning disability or attentional disorder) and was not made during the preliminary feedback, parents (or adult client) will receive a call so that this may be explained and discussed.

Will my child be labelled?

All students who struggle are labelled by teachers and other students. They may be seen as lazy, lacking in intelligence or trouble-makers. These labels are usually incorrect and mask the real difficulties a student is experiencing. If a student is labelled, an assessment will ensure that they are given the correct label, one that leads to solutions. Sometimes a child may meet the criteria to be diagnosed with a learning disability or attentional disorder. At other times, a child’s profile may indicate some weaknesses in academics or processing. Our assessments also outline the strengths of a student. When the label (diagnosis) is made by a psychologist, it opens the door to additional services available at school.

What information will be given to me at the end of the assessment?

Preliminary feedback typically consists of a discussion of the student’s areas of strength and weakness, as determined by the tests, and some scores may be provided. However, if feedback takes place on the same day, all tests may not have been scored by the time the feedback session happens. Recommendations are also discussed in this meeting. The final report will address all areas of concern cited by the parents, and will include a discussion of all of the test results. Further, the assessor will provide several recommendations that may be implemented at school or at home.

What happens to the information? Does it go to the school?

All information obtained through the assessment is held in strict confidence. Parents receive a copy of the final psycho-educational report; however, absolutely no information is conveyed to any third parties (including the child’s school) unless written consent is formally obtained from the parents. This is the case even if the child’s teacher recommended the assessment. Of course, it is usually to the child’s advantage for parents to share the assessment findings with other professionals (e.g., teacher, physician, etc.), as this may enable additional supports to be put in place. Further, all files are reviewed by our senior psychologists, and assessment results may be reviewed with our team to ensure the most comprehensive service. The assessor would be pleased to address any questions regarding the release of the assessment findings to outside parties, and, will review information on the limits of confidentiality during the initial parent meeting.

Are the reports (and any diagnoses) recognized by the school boards?

Chisholm’s assessment reports are very comprehensive, and are highly regarded within the school systems in the area. There may be some variability regarding the actual implementation of recommendations, which may depend on the resources available at the child’s school. When a diagnosis is made by Chisholm, the school boards accept our findings and will begin the IPRC process.

Should I have a copy of the assessment report sent to my family doctor?

Your family doctor will benefit from receiving a copy of this report, as well as any other reports that are prepared by other health-care providers. This will allow your physician to have a complete picture of your child’s profile. If you are claiming this assessment as a medical expense, it is helpful if our records show that we have sent a copy to your physician.

What if I have questions after I receive the report?

The assessor would be happy to address any questions you have after the assessment is over. Parents are often surprised by the volume of information they learn about their child, and it can sometimes be difficult to take it all in at once. Do not worry if you find some of the information confusing or overwhelming. We will do our best to help you understand the information you have been provided.

What constitutes an intellectual assessment (IQ)?

A cognitive assessment is an assessment with a focus on establishing a child’s intellectual or cognitive abilities. The standardized instrument used in the assessment measures the student’s ability to use and reason with language, his/her perceptual or nonverbal reasoning, working memory and simple processing speed. A screening of academic functioning in reading and math is also performed. This assessment is completed in a half day and is used to determine eligibility for special programs such as giftedness or intellectual disability.

How and when do I pay?

On the final day of testing, our staff will provide you with an invoice. Payment may take place by cheque, debit or credit card. If you require an insurance claim form, our staff will be pleased to assist you. Although the services of a psychologist are not covered by OHIP, most employers have major medical insurance plans covering the services of a registered psychologist and, therefore, all or part of the assessment cost may be covered. Some Employee Assistance Programs offered through your employment may also defray the cost of our services. The services of a psychologist may also be claimed as an income tax deduction.

Post-secondary students receiving OSAP loans should also inquire about the availability of a bursary to cover all or part of the cost of the assessment. There may also be federal funding for students with a disability. Since Chisholm is part of the Regional Assessment Team at Queen’s University, many student are covered through alternate funds. The Student Services department of your college or university can assist with these financial questions.

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