Understanding psychoeducational assessments with children and teens

What do they entail and why would I consider getting one for my child?

Psychoeducational assessments for children and adolescents are comprehensive evaluations aimed at understanding cognitive, academic, as well as emotional and behavioral functioning:

1-Cognitive skills: These are mental abilities involved in thinking, learning, and problem-solving. They include things like memory, attention, processing speed, reasoning, and language skills. Cognitive skills are essential for understanding information, making decisions, and adapting to new situations.

2-Academic functioning: This refers to a person’s performance and abilities in educational settings. It includes skills such as reading, writing, math, and comprehension. Academic functioning also involves factors like study habits, learning strategies, and the ability to apply knowledge in different subjects.

3-Emotional and behavioral functioning: This encompasses how individuals regulate their emotions, interact with others, and manage their behavior. It involves understanding and expressing emotions appropriately, coping with stress and challenges, and forming healthy relationships. Behavioral functioning includes actions, reactions, and habits that affect social interactions and daily functioning.

Assessments involve a range of standardized tests, observations, and interviews conducted by qualified psychologists, psychometrists, or other specialists. They delve into areas such as intellectual abilities, learning styles, memory, attention, executive functioning, and socio-emotional well-being. By examining these factors, psychoeducational assessments provide valuable insights into a child’s strengths and weaknesses, learning needs, and overall developmental profile. 

Parents, educators, and healthcare professionals typically seek these assessments to gain a deeper understanding of a child’s learning and behavioral challenges, identify any underlying issues such as learning disabilities, ADHD, or emotional disorders, and formulate tailored intervention plans. Ultimately, psychoeducational assessments empower individuals with knowledge about the child’s unique characteristics, enabling them to make informed decisions regarding educational placement, accommodations, and support services, thus fostering academic success and emotional well-being.

Jean-Phylippe Provencher, M.A.,is a psychometrist supervised by Dr. Nalini Iype, C. Psych., at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR). Using a personable and engaging approach, Mr. Provencher provides psychological services to families by conducting psychoeducational assessments. Beyond determining the presence or absence of diagnoses, the purpose is to determine the best ways in which parents and teachers can support children to reach their full academic potential and thrive in their personal and family lives.

How Can Your Child Benefit From a Psychoeducational Assessment?

School can be difficult for children of any age, with academic and social pressures increasing with every new grade. Children who struggle in school can be at risk for a host of negative experiences such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and behavioural and social issues. As time goes on and workloads increase, struggling children may find that the strategies that have helped them in the past are no longer working effectively and it takes more time and even more effort just to maintain the level at which they are currently performing. When difficulties are left unaddressed, children can often feel lost, unsupported, and hopeless about the future. Fortunately, there are ways to identify children’s difficulties and how to better support them both in school and at home. One such way is a psychoeducational assessment, conducted by a psychologist and their relevant team.  

What is a Psychoeducational Assessment?     

A psychoeducational assessment helps children in many ways. It can help:    

  • Identify areas of strength along with areas of difficulty 
  • Determine the presence of learning disabilities, and/or disorders such as ADHD and ASD. 
  • Determine the presence of giftedness       

The aim of this kind of assessment is to provide a better understanding of your child’s development relative to other children their age and can help get your child the supports they need at school. The report received from this assessment can be provided to your child’s school to inform them of the types of supports or accommodations your child is likely to benefit from so that they can perform to the best of their ability (e.g., extra time, one-on-one support). It can even act as a basis to monitor progress and change over time, throughout your child’s academic career (in the case of multiple assessments).  

A psychoeducational assessment can provide you and your child with a better understanding of themselves, their abilities, and can set them up to learn strategies to help them succeed both in and outside of school.  

If you believe a psychoeducational assessment may be helpful for your child, our CFIR-CPRI clinicians are ready to support you in this process. Contact us via admin@cfir.ca and a member of our team will be happy to assist you.

Massimo Di Domenico, M.A.,is a therapist working under the supervision of Dr. Nalini Iype, C.Psych. and is also working towards the completion of his PhD in Clinical Developmental Psychology. He provides both treatment and assessment services to individuals of all ages – children, adolescents, and adults. Working with an integrative framework, he treats those suffering from depression and anxiety, difficulties in social relationships, and concerns related to parenting and family dynamics. For those seeking answers on how they, or their child, learn or work best, he also provides assessment services for learning disorders and ADHD.

Navigating the Teenage Years

We were all teenagers once, yet sometimes trying to understand what’s on your teen’s mind is harder than advanced high school calculus. What can make matters worse is when, in your parental quest to figure out your teen’s thoughts, feelings and motivations, both you and your child end up having a conflict and/or experiencing feelings of confusion, frustration, and at times, ultimate helplessness.

While teenagers sometimes aren’t as vocal and open with their parents, a crucial step in a parent confronting a teenager’s psychological challenges is helping them identify the source and then exploring options to address it.

“My teen is withdrawing from the family.”  

“You’re not the boss of me.” Or “You just don’t get it!” How many times did you say this to your parents as a teen? How many times have you been on the receiving end of those words? One of the most widespread challenges of adolescence is the parent-teen relationship. Parents often grapple with a balance between providing support while allowing teens to make their own decisions and life choices. Here are some things you can do:

  • Accept: Your teenager is exploring an unfamiliar life stage – – one in which friends and classmates are considered the most influential. You can continue to play a very prominent role in their lives often by merely letting them know that they can reach out to you when they need to. 
  • Avoid why questions: Checking-in with your child is essential. But try to avoid “WHY” questions. What you believe to be a simple question of curiosity might be interpreted by your teen as the ‘Third Degree’ leaving both of you equally frustrated. Instead of saying, “Why on earth did you do that?” maybe try rephrasing the question as “What did you hope would happen?” 
  • Plan activities: Shared interests (or maybe not…) Venturing into your teen’s world to learn about a new videogame might be an opportunity for him or her to teach YOU something new. Or maybe you can offer to teach your teen a new skill. Whether it’s teaching your teen a new recipe or how to change a tire – that might be another way to connect – – but remember: DON’T FORCE IT!   
  • Share your own experience:  Often times, teens appreciate hearing about their parents’ own teenage experiences. Feel comfortable sharing your own adolescent experiences and give your teen the opportunity to ask you questions. Most importantly, try to make connections between your skills and your teen’s current ones. 
  • Monitor screen time: Like it or not, screens – – whether they are smartphones, tablets, portable games, video game consoles, computers, and TVs – – have become an integral part of teenagers’ daily lives. If you’re hoping it’s a stage, I have news for you – – this is unlikely to change soon. As such, setting limits on screen time use for the entire family (e.g., dinner time, movie nights) will encourage face-to-face communication among family members, without teens feeling singled-out.

“My teen experienced a traumatic event. How do I offer support?” 

Talking about a traumatic event, at any age, can be overwhelming. Teenagers might not know who they should talk to, how to talk to someone, how much is appropriate to share, or where to start. Some teens might feel more comfortable talking to a friend, a sibling, or a mental health professional. Meeting your teen at a level where he or she feels comfortable is KEY! If your teen has reached out to you for support, it’s important to consider the following:

  • Try to stay calm/composed: Although you, as a parent, are also experiencing heightened levels of emotions, it’s vital for you to remain calm for your teen when talking about his or her traumatic experience so you can foster feelings of safety and security. 
  • Avoid judgment: Traumatic experiences often lead to feelings of self-blame and guilt. It’s crucial to listen openly and empathically, and, most importantly, convey the message that this was NOT the teen’s fault. 
  • Show openness to questions: Allow your teen to ask questions and try your best to answer these questions openly and honestly. 
  • Know your limits: if your teen is having difficulty talking about the experience with you, don’t take it personally. It’s not uncommon for a teenager to “not want to share” with a parent (at least initially). What’s most important is that your teen receives appropriate support. Consider reaching out to a mental health professional for guidance. 

“My teen can’t seem to meet school deadlines or focus in class.” 

High school has never been easy. At some point or another, many teens experience difficulty in school – whether it’s their ability to focus in a particular class, study for an exam, or find the motivation to do homework. For some teens, these daily difficulties pose challenges to their overall learning experience and impact their overall functioning.  As teenagers advance in school, academic demands increase, and challenges sometimes become more apparent. As a result, it is essential to understand when these challenges might be a sign of a learning disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (or more commonly referred to as ADHD):

  • Has your teen experienced changes in attitude toward school/school attendance? For example, a teenager who previously enjoyed school now demonstrates resistance or a negative attitude toward school. 
  • Has your teen expressed emotional concerns like feeling anxious or overwhelmed about completing school work or writing exams? 
  • Has your teen complained about difficulty keeping up with school work/devoting an excessive amount of time to homework compared to other classmates? 
  • Has the school expressed concern regarding challenges (e.g., applying skills and knowledge, impulsive and disruptive behaviours, difficulty with focus) that are interfering with your teen’s ability to reach his/her academic potential?
  • Is your teen experiencing consistent difficulty with planning and organization, remembering details, and time-management? 

If you answered “YES” to any one of those questions, a psychoeducational assessment might provide a clear understanding of your teenager’s cognitive and academic strengths and challenges. In addition, an assessment might also inform you and your teen of appropriate accommodations that can be made at both the secondary and post-secondary level to ensure that your teen performs at an academic level reflective of his or her abilities.