What is assessment?
Assessment is not just testing; a comprehensive assessment can clarify a child’s ability vel, areas of giftedness, weaknesses, emotional functioning, and learning style. It can help in making educational planning recommendations and also direct the parent toward appropriate resources. Assessment is a process that should answer the questions the parents have about the current situation.
Do I need an assessment for my child?
The specific questions you have should drive the evaluation process, and the professional can develop an assessment to answer your questions. There are many reasons for testing a gifted child, and assessment of gifted children can comprise many different things. Often, it involves intellectual and achievement testing for school placement issues. Sometimes, assessment includes behavioral evaluation or neuropsychological testing to evaluate the level of depression or anxiety, or to rule out problems such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Asperger’s Disorder.
My child’s IQ has been previously tested. When is a good time to re-assess a gifted child’s intellectual ability?
Professionals differ on re-assessment and its frequency. While some recommend every two to three years, regardless of circumstances, I believe there needs to be a reason to re-assess, not just because it is “time” to do it. What is the referral question? What new information are you hoping to gain? Are you looking for new understanding or new recommendations? Are you now considering full-grade acceleration or other accommodations that did not seem appropriate or feasible at the time of previous testing? Are you looking to judge progress? Getting more testing and new scores won’t mean much unless you know what you are hoping to do with them and the professional conducting the assessment knows the implications of scores in the gifted range. In terms of cognitive or intellectual testing, if you have an accurate and valid assessment of a child nine to eleven years old, you may not need to re-assess cognitive ability. If one testing shows a child is gifted, the purpose of any new testing should answer a different question than, “Is my child gifted?” You already have that answer.
What about re-assessment of academic achievement testing?
Academic achievement testing (with individual measures such as the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement or Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, for example) is a different story from intellectual testing, and it can be very helpful to see these results every year or two. These are most helpful to provide a baseline for later comparison, to gauge progress, to re-adjust curriculum or modify accommodations, or to find potential (or emerging) areas of concern. This testing also provides data for schools, which may doubt a child’s skills because of lack of performance in the classroom. Individual academic achievement testing is a great source of information that can be used regularly.
Who can do testing?
While any qualified psychologist technically can do testing, local resources with experience and background in giftedness can be hard to find. I believe the background in giftedness helps in the interpretation of results and determination of appropriate recommendations and services. Unfortunately, most psychologists are not familiar with the specific characteristics of gifted children or the implications of these characteristics in the testing setting. A psychologist who understands these characteristics and implications is less likely to misinterpret the asynchronous development of a gifted child as pathological. Once the results are obtained, a psychologist with a background in giftedness can discuss these in the context of giftedness, specifying how these results will impact school performance and personal adjustment, and provide specific recommendations for you, your child, and his/her education. By consulting a psychologist familiar with giftedness, a parent can avoid the typical conclusion of an evaluation by someone not familiar with giftedness and its implications: “OK, I have these results and now know my child is gifted. Now what?!?!?”
Does it matter if you don’t have a label for the “quirky” behavior displayed by a child?
Any label is meant to be the beginning of the process of intervention, and for that purpose can be very helpful. Sometimes, though, the label for the quirky behavior isn’t as important. A thorough assessment should help shed light on the nature of the “quirkiness” if you are concerned. However, if you or the child has managed to keep the quirks from resulting in significant impairment in functioning, and/or he or she is managing it well through appropriate interventions or accommodations, the label is less important. Ultimately, it comes down to quality of life. How am I doing? Does it work for me? Is it getting in the way of my getting things done? Understand and accept quirks—everyone has them. Make them functional and seek help if they are impairing.
How concerned should parents be about misdiagnosis?
Be careful! Issues of misdiagnosis occur when a professional labels a child with a disorder when the disorder is not actually present and the behavior can be better explained by giftedness. Missed diagnosis is also of concern. This occurs when one minimizes concerns and does not diagnose a gifted child when a disorder is actually present. Missed diagnosis may also occur when giftedness masks or obscures a problem. Both of these are equally important. Without accuracy in understanding the problem, it may be difficult finding interventions and accommodations that work.
What does an evaluation for ADHD typically involve?
There is no single test for ADHD, but many give some information. Many professionals will look for the behavioral pattern (e.g., impulsivity, inattention, or hyperactivity) first, typically using checklists and anecdotal information. They will first answer the question, “Does the child show the pattern typically associated with ADHD?” Some inappropriately stop there—if the answer is yes, medication may be recommended. However, the behavior pattern may have a different explanation than ADHD. For example, a bored gifted child can be inattentive, a nervous perfectionist can be fidgety and hyperactive, or an abused child may be both overactive and inattentive. The “treatment” for each of these is different. So, finding the behavioral pattern is a start, and then finding out what best explains it is next. In other words, it is important to rule out other possible reasons for the behavioral pattern before diagnosing ADHD. Additional testing (e.g., of ability, achievement or neuropsychological functioning) can give more information about attention, and also rule out some other possible causes. The thorough evaluation should determine if the child is impaired by hyperactivity, impulsivity, or deficits in attention.