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When to consider testing, and what to expect from an assessment

Michelle Matusoff, Ph.D., Orange County, CA psychologist,
Often times our children struggle in one or more areas of functioning, such as academic, behavior, emotions, or social skills. As hard as parents might try, it is difficult to determine what might be causing such problems, and what we can do to help. We frequently hear these problems described using "catch words" or labels such as, "He's ADD," or "Maybe she's bipolar," which add to a parent's concern and confusion.

Psychological assessment is a somewhat underutilized yet very valuable tool for getting to the root of an issue, and determining exactly what actions should be taken to help the child. Before embarking upon months (or years) of therapy, or considering psychotropic medication, a psychological assessment should be conducted to pinpoint the problem, and develop a very specific diagnosis.

The following is a list of situations in which psychological assessment might be considered:

  • Your child experiences a sudden drop in grades with no clear explanation.
  • Your child is described as "bright" yet struggles in one or more academic areas.
  • Your child is described as "lazy" or "unmotivated," neither of which seem like accurate descriptions to you.
  • Your child exhibits symptoms including (but not limited to) difficulty with attention or focus, nervousness and/or restlessness, noticeable changes in sleep or appetite, difficulty with social skills and/or social functioning, or behavior problems.
  • A diagnosis has been suggested by a pediatrician or other clinician, and you would like clarification or confirmation.
  • Your child has received one or more types of therapy over a period of time, yet does not appear to have made progress.
You should expect the following from a psychological assessment:
  • A definitive diagnosis. Beyond a simple "label," this should include an explanation of how the diagnosis was determined, e.g. what specific symptoms or behaviors led to this decision, and what alternative diagnoses were considered.
  • A complete history (developmental, educational, social etc) and interviews with parent and teacher have been conducted. It is important that interviews are conducted with individuals from more than one setting. Parents and teachers should also be asked to complete behavior rating scales.
  • Detailed information about your child's strengths and weaknesses. It is just as important to understand where your child excels (each and every child excels in some area) as it is to understand where the problem lies. Your child's strengths must be reinforced and nurtured.
  • Comprehensive therapeutic recommendations, as well as recommendations specific to parents and teachers. It is very important that you know exactly what to do in order to help your child, once the problem has been identified. In addition, those who work with your child (e.g. teachers) should receive very specific recommendations.
  • A follow up session that includes a detailed explanation for the child. It is important that your child understands the nature of the findings and what he/she can do to help him/herself. Information must be presented in a manner that is consistent with your child's level of understanding, and the child should leave the session feeling empowered.
  • Referrals should be provided as needed, complete with all contact information. For every issue that is identified in the assessment, you should be made aware of resources that are available and how to access those resources.
  • The examiner should be available for any necessary follow-up and/or consultation with other professionals. It is important that the assessment does not end once the report is furnished. It may be necessary for the psychologist to consult directly with other professionals who work with your child.

Michelle Matusoff, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who conducts psychological and psycho-educational assessments of children and adolescents. Dr. Matusoff has a practice in Newport Beach and can be contacted at (949) 275-5225,, or via her website

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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