Learning Disabilities and ADHD Articles

Assessment 101: Common Questions about Psycho-Educational Assessments

Written by:
Mary Makowski
Psychology Intern, B.A. (Hons), MEd SACP student
Oct. 10, 2019

Psycho-educational assessments are important in that they can help you understand your child’s learning and behavioural profile. They identify the way your child learns best and help you understand your child’s behaviour. For example, your child may struggle to perform as expected in reading, writing, or mathematics. A psycho-educational assessment would help to identify areas of need and help you and your child understand their strengths.

Psycho-educational assessments are commonly strength-based. Therefore, your child would be able to advocate for themselves in the classroom and in daily life using the psycho-educational results. Strength-based reports emphasize your child’s well-developed abilities and provide suggestions for how your child can use their strengths to support some of their lesser developed skills. For example, your child may have strong visual spatial skills. They may also have weaker working memory abilities, which means they may struggle to manipulate, retrieve and hold information in their minds. In the classroom, this student can then support their learning through visual-spatial tasks, such as using physical manipulatives and doing demonstrations for projects and tests. In this way, the student can learn techniques to help use their strengths to support and accommodate their working memory abilities.

What is involved in the psycho-educational process, and who does it?

Assessments often look at your child’s developmental history, cognitive functioning (including thinking and reasoning abilities, phonological processing, motor skills, etc.), academic skills, and socio-emotional profile, including executive functioning (e.g., planning, initiation, and organization). However, as psychologists differ in their training and the services they offer, it is important to ask what is included in their assessment. When choosing a psychologist to do an assessment for a person with a suspected Learning Disability, it is also a good idea to ask the psychologist what their training or experience is in this area.

Psycho-educational assessments typically involve an in-depth interview with the parents, the teacher, and the child, multiple standardized assessments, and observations of the child. Usually, assessments to identify Learning Disabilities are done around Grade 2-3, however assessments can be done to investigate learning and behavior needs at younger ages as well. Adults can be assessed too.  Psycho-educational assessments are completed by psychologists, and are available at private agencies, hospitals, and school boards. While general physicians/pediatricians cannot diagnose Learning Disabilities, they can offer additional diagnostic support along with psychologists, counsellors and psychiatrists. If you have an assessment completed by a private psychologist, you have the option of releasing the report to whomever you wish. 

What are some questions that psycho-educational assessments can help answer?

  • What can parents and teachers do to help your child learn their best?
  • Is your child able to process information quickly, or does she/he need more time to do their best?
  • Does your child struggle to pay attention in class?
  • Does your child feel that they can’t filter through all the thoughts in their head?
  • What recommendations are there to help your child learn in the classroom, or understand your instructions at home?
  • Does your child have a Learning Disability, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Anxiety, Depression or perhaps another disorder?

What are some possible signs that my child is struggling?

  • Unexpected behavioural reactions to small problems
  • Low grades in school
  • Frequent notes home from teachers
  • Inability to complete homework or stay focused
  • Anxiety surrounding school, performance, or separation from parents
  • Sudden change in attitude towards school, friends, or their own ability
  • Excessive amount of time spent on homework
  • Absenteeism or skipping classes
  • Increased concern over doing things perfectly or correctly
  • Increased stress, behavioural outbursts or withdrawing from others
    * please note that you do not need any or all of these signs to come in for a psycho-educational assesment

We ALL have strengths and weaknesses. A comprehensive psycho-educational report will help you target areas that your child can benefit from extra support. Additionally, it helps teachers target specific areas of need (e.g., decoding, reading comprehension, math fluency) so that your child is able to improve their understanding and performance. The psycho-educational process may also result in a diagnosis which could help your child receive directed supports through their school. Additionally, an assessment could support your child’s entry into a specialized school placement. The psycho-educational report will include specific interventions that can be implemented at home and at school.

But what if I’m afraid about my child being labelled?

Many parents are concerned about getting an assessment for fear of “labelling” their child. In fact, it can be empowering for the child to know and understand their diagnosis. Melanie Reader discusses the fears of parents and how to reframe the assessment process:

“For some, it is because they feel that the student will use the diagnosis as an excuse for inappropriate behaviours or for not putting in the effort. For others, it is because they feel that the student will feel “different.” However, [it] can provide a sense of relief for the student. Students are often the first to know that something is wrong or that they are different and often feel isolated as a consequence. Without accurate information, students will likely meet with much frustration. Many students with Learning Disabilities come to believe that their problems are bigger than they really are. They can come to the misconception that they are “dumb” or “stupid.” These terms are much more negative than any actual diagnostic term.” (Melanie Reader, Registered Psychologist and Manager of Psychological Services and Programs). See related article "Setting Students Up for Success through Self-Awareness and Self-Advocacy". 

How can I explain the psycho-educational assessment process to my child?

At Estelle Siebens Community Services at Foothills Academy, some Psychologists like to explain themselves as detectives. Here is a helpful sentence that you could use to help your child understand why they are getting an assessment done.

“Psychologists are like brain detectives! It is their job to discover how your brain works and how you learn best. This information is used to help your teachers and parents help you learn to the best of your ability. The assessment process involves different tasks and games that are fun, and also some tasks that are like what you do at school.”

If I have already had my child in for an assessment, when should I bring him in for another?

It is often recommended that your child have an updated assessment every 2-3 years. Because children are constantly growing and changing, an updated assessment can help their teacher understand their up-to-date learning profile and target areas of growth. This will then help in developing learning goals and possibly developing a new Individualized Program Plan which is a goal-based document that measures your child’s progress in obtaining various socio-emotional and academic goals in the classroom.

If the current assessment report continues to represent the child’s needs and supports required, the 2-3 year timeline can often be stretched. It is recommended, though, that you bring your child in for a new psycho-educational assessment when they are going through stages of transition, such as moving from elementary to junior high, to high school, or to post-secondary or work placements. Additionally, if you are seeing new behaviours at home or your child is struggling more in school, a new assessment may be required. Often, teachers may request an updated psycho-educational assessment if they are seeing certain behaviours, or if the student is struggling.

In the meantime:

If you are awaiting a psycho-educational assessment, discuss with your child what areas they would like to improve, and what support they would find most helpful. Open discussions about you and your child’s feelings, strengths and individual differences can ease any fears about the process and also help build your child’s self-advocacy skills.

Further Resources

  1. Managing your Child’s Assessment Process.( Learning Disabilities Association of Canada)
  2. Private vs. School Evaluations: Pros and Cons (Understood.org)
  3. Understanding Evaluations (Understood.org)
    (Please note that these last two links refer to 504 and IEP plans, which are American terms. In Alberta, identified students may receive a Special Education Code and an IPP.)