How do I know if my child needs a psychological assessment?

How do I know if my child needs a psychological assessment?

It is not uncommon, when working with parents of teenagers, to have them ask if their son or daughter should have a psychological assessment. Sometimes I’m asked by parents who are concerned about their child’s behaviour and whether this might be due to learning disabilities or some other type of psychological disorder. Other times, I am asked because the school has suggested to the parents that their child would benefit from a psychological assessment.

So, how does one determine who might need a psychological assessment? There is no single answer as this question can only be answered on an individual basis after taking into consideration the parent’s concerns and those of the school; as well as, other factors such as past history and family dynamics. I will, however, outline some of the issues to be considered when making this determination.

Firstly, it must be noted that there is no quick and easy answer to this question – just as there is not one for any other type of health care concerns. Psychological assessments are only conducted after careful consideration by both parents and professionals leading to the conclusion that such an assessment would be beneficial.

In making this decision, it is important to keep in mind that most psychological disorders are complex and unlikely to be due solely to one factor; but rather, a combination of things (i.e., biological factors, personality factors and environmental factors). For example, if a child has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) it is not due solely to family conflict or to poor parenting skills. Rather, it is likely that biological factors (e.g., heredity), personality factors (i.e., the child’s temperament and how they express themselves in relationships) and environmental factors (home environment, parenting style) all contribute to this disorder.

Biological Factors: Biological factors that may contribute to psychological disorders include genetics and even prenatal development (i.e., substance use of the mother). However, we do not know how much of a role these biological factors play in causing certain problems and whether these factors are due solely to heredity or if they can be altered by the environment. For example, we know that ADHD is due partly to genetics and prenatal development; but also, can be affected by environmental factors (e.g., exposure to toxins such as lead and alcohol).

Personality Factors: Personality factors include how a person thinks, feels and acts in relationships with others and themselves (i.e., self-concept). A child with ADHD, for example, may have difficulties in school due to impulsivity and distractibility. These same difficulties can affect social relationships at home and school because the child has difficulty respecting limits and following rules. Similarly, a child who is struggling with learning disabilities might be caught up in themselves and their inability to succeed at school, which can lead to social difficulties.

Environmental Factors: Environmental factors include parenting, bullying at home and school, family conflict and the impact of negative life events (e.g., death of a loved one). A child who is struggling with ADHD or learning disabilities may fall behind in school due to not understanding the work; but the child may also be experiencing bullying at school. On the other hand, if a child has trouble following rules and seems to always get into trouble, it is possible that they are not being adequately supervised at home or that there is family conflict. Similarly, parents who are feeling overwhelmed by managing their ADHD child’s behaviour problems might find themselves fighting with each other more often.

Ultimately, in most cases of psychological disorders, there will be a combination of these factors (i.e., biological, personality and environmental) that need to be considered when looking at the various causes; but no single one explains why the child is struggling. This can make it difficult to pinpoint exactly what is happening or how best to help the child.

For this reason, it may be helpful for parents to speak with a psychologist or other mental health professional who can assess the child’s problems and recommend some strategies for helping. A psychological assessment also enables professionals to identify if there are any other issues that might need to be addressed, such as learning disabilities or behavioural problems at home and school.


If you have any concerns about your child’s development or behavior, the best thing to do is call a professional. Dr. Judith Friedman is one of the top psychologists in the area and can help assess whether or not your child would benefit from therapy. Don’t wait until it’s too late – give Dr. Friedman a call at (818) 324-3800 or visit reflectneuro.com today!

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