Should I Have My Child Tested?
by Dr. Merle Marsh
Maybe your son (or daughter) doesn't seem to be learning as you think he should. First you decide that he is not working hard enough or perhaps paying enough attention in class. You work with him, and the teacher does also. You can tell that he's bright, and the teacher agrees. Nevertheless, no matter what you try, he just doesn't seem to be coming along like you expect. That's when you wonder about having him tested for learning problems, or perhaps, his teacher, a school psychologist or principal suggests testing.
The thought of testing for learning disabilities can be disturbing to parents. They worry not only that severe problems may be found, but also that their child might be labeled as someone who doesn't learn like the others and that this labeling will continue throughout the child's school career. As a school administrator, I've heard parents voice these worries many times. They feel better, however, when I show them a sample testing report and go to recommendations at the end. I tell them that these recommendations are what we, both educators and parents, use to help students. We work together to decide what's best for the child. I tell them that if they are worried about their child's learning (even if the child's teacher is not), it's best to go ahead and get the child tested.
Parents need to make sure that their children don't see the testing as a punishment or that something they're doing because they are not very smart. It might be presented as something your family does, like going to regular medical checkups. Stress, for example, that the testing will be about talents and getting homework done faster. Don't focus upon the testing, and don't have your children prepare for it.
If you are one of those parents thinking about testing, the best place to start is by talking with your child's teacher, school counselor, or principal. Public school systems often provide testing services for children who are experiencing difficulties. If your child is in an independent or religious school that doesn't provide testing for learning disabilities, you can, in most cases, get free testing from the public school system in the school district of your residence. Your child's school should have information on the people to contact in the public system.
If you'd rather go with private testing, ask at your child's school for recommendations. Schools often have lists of specialists and agencies that do testing for learning problems. Fees for testing will depend upon how extensive the testing is and who is going to test your child. I often recommend, especially for children who do not seem to have severe problems, to start with a local psychologist or an educator (perhaps a professor of education at a nearby university) who does basic testing for learning difficulties. This is usually far less expensive than the complete batteries of testing and interviews offered by some agencies. If, after following the suggestions of the local tester, the child doesn't improve, then I suggest that parents look into more extensive testing.
Extensive testing may be done by agencies that your child's school or pediatrician may recommend. Testing generally includes (depending upon the age level) one or two days of testing and on-site interviews with parents, telephone interviews with teachers, etc. It is often recommended, especially with young students, that follow-up testing be done in a year or two.
Testing agency representatives will discuss the options for testing, which will probably include ability (verbal and non-verbal), psychological, and specific learning disability measurements. If you are interested in extensive testing, you'll want to survey the web sites of several agencies to find additional information about programs, services, fees, and scheduling. Even if you decide against full testing, you will find the information on these sites useful.
Be aware that some testers and agencies do not talk with the child's teacher(s). A parent may request that the school not be contacted, or the person testing may not call the school. However, unless you feel that talking with the teacher(s) would cause problems, I suggest that the tester or testing agency talk with the teacher(s). It's important for the person or persons testing to get all the information possible for assessment. Keep in mind that a child in a classroom may react differently than when being tested by one person. You'll also want the tester or agency to be aware of the type of school program your child is taking. Let's suppose your child is in an accelerated class section or in a school with a very rigorous curriculum. If the testers don't know this, they may find that your child is on level. That might be on level for the grade, but not for the program of studies being taken.
After the testing, a report will be sent to you or presented to you by the tester or agency. The report, depending upon the extent of the testing, may be approximately 3 to10 or so pages in length. Tests will be described, results will be discussed, and recommendations will be offered. Testers and testing agencies will send reports to your child's school and to the child's pediatrician if you request. Make sure your child's teacher receives a copy of the report, and after the teacher has had time to read and digest it, you and the teacher should get together to discuss the findings and recommendations. Recommendations often include suggestions such as: seat the child in front of the room, give the child visual and verbal opportunities for learning, extend test-taking time, offer tutoring, let the child use a work processor, etc.
Usually, even before the report is received, teachers will be carrying out many of the recommendations. It's those recommendations that haven't been tried that you'll want to focus upon during the parent-teacher session. Keep in mind that not all recommendations may be possible in a classroom situation. You and the teacher will have to work together on what can be accomplished at home and at school. It may be suggested, for example, that your child be enrolled in special after-school or in-school program, do specific in-school lessons, or attend a different school program. All of these are suggestions only and need to be thoroughly discussed with your family and school personnel keeping your child in mind. If medication is offered as a recommendation, whether to put your child on medication will be up to you and your doctor. Teachers and school officials will not ask you to put a child on medication; that is a parent and doctor decision.
Don't worry that all reports are filled with doom and gloom. They aren't. They'll show your child's strengths as well as weaknesses. Keep in mind that we all have our weaknesses. There are countless successful people and world leaders throughout history who experienced learning disabilities. We learn to use our strengths to overcome our difficulties. Many of the weaknesses mentioned in these reports may be overcome by following the recommendations and with the passing of time and the onset of maturity as these children learn to make use of their strengths. Never underestimate, however, the value of the united efforts and understanding parents and teachers. And when the testing agency is working along with them, it often creates a powerful team - a team dedicated to providing the very best for the child.
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