Psychological and neuropsychological testing is usually done when someone responsible for a child asks the question, “What on earth is troubling this child?!” Speaking in more scientific terms, testing should take place if there is a discrepancy between the level on which the child should function according to his age and abilities, and the level of the child’s actual functioning.
Often times those discrepancies are first picked up by teachers, because they have seen an array of children, so that this type of inconsistency may be more apparent to them than to the parents. The manner in which an educator speaks to the parents can determine how the parents feel about the situation. They may feel grateful for this attention or help. On the other hand, they may feel intruded upon and blamed for the child’s difficulties. But even when parents initiate the testing process in order to learn more about their child, there are often misconceptions about what the testing can or cannot illuminate. Psychological testing can give parents and educators an idea of the child’s general intellectual functioning, as well as some insight into his areas of strength and weakness.
This is important when planning out strategies for intervention. In addition, neuropsychological testing can further illuminate very specific areas, such as linguistic functioning, visual-spatial abilities, memory structure, any types of processing deficits, etc., in order to create a background for the development of effective interventions.
Psychological testing also addresses the emotional and social growth of the child, allowing us to understand how the child is coping with their appropriate developmental tasks, and whether he has some specific developmental conflicts that have not been properly resolved. Through testing, it may become possible to shed light on how the child understands and conceptualizes a difficult or traumatic situation. This point, however, needs to be clarified for conscientious parents who come to a psychologist’s office with a request to test their child to “check” how he was influenced by a significant event in the past, or how he might be influenced by a potentially traumatic event in the future, such as an upcoming divorce.
While a report done after psychological testing will have specific numbers and percentiles, and scientific terminology, it will describe the child in terms of tendencies, proclivities, and possible routes of development. The testing will not uncover who is responsible for the child’s difficulties in math or what is going to happen for sure when the child goes off to college.
During a feedback session after the testing, I may try to answer such questions, but mostly in terms of probabilities. This is not because psychologists like to be evasive, but mostly because social, emotional, and intellectual functioning of a child or an adult is determined by a variety of factors. Nature and nurture are always involved in such an intricate and complex dance. So, while testing will provide you with an understanding of what is going on with your child and will map out a direction for future intervention, no testing will ever supply you with a cut-in-stone map of your child’s inner world.
Dr. Irina Volynsky
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