The aim of this blog post is to provide more clarity on child and adolescent psychometric assessments including when they may be needed, what ages we assess for, the different categories of psychometric assessments used and some practical information about the assessment process. Please make contact if you would like to talk further about this topic or if you would like to book an appointment for your child. 

When are psychometric assessments needed?

Is your child having problems in school? Does your child have persistent problems focusing and paying attention at home and in school? Does your child get angry and frustrated frequently? Does your child seem anxious or depressed? Are your child’s language skills developing slowly? Does your child have difficulty making friends? Does your child frequently demonstrate insistence on sameness and routine, or have difficulty with change or transitions? These may be signs that indicate your child or adolescent may have an academic or psychological problem. Psychological testing can be extremely useful when there is a lack of understanding regarding the reasons and causes of various emotional, psychological, learning or behavioral issues of a child or adolescent.

What ages do we do psychometric assessments for?

The age/grade of the child that we are able to do assessment tests with depends on the assessment battery being applied as follows:

  • Scholastics: ages 6 to 12 (spelling, reading, writing, mathematics).
  • ADHD: ages 6 to 18 (attention, impulsivity, hyperactivity).
  • Cognitive: ages 7 to 16 (gives an indication of a client’s intellectual potential, as well as providing insight into particular areas of cognitive strength and weakness. It is used to obtain a differential picture of certain cognitive abilities).
  • Neurocognitive: ages 3 to 16 (provides neurodevelopmental information and is helpful for identifying neurodevelopmental disorders).
  • Aptitude test for school beginners: Grade R or Grade 1 (evaluates the cognitive aspects of school readiness and is used to determine whether a child is cognitively school ready).
  • Career and aptitude: Grade 9 to 12 (for Grade 9 learners, the assessment is aimed at helping with subject choice; for Grade 10 to 12 learners the assessment is aimed at helping with career choice).
  • Emotional: ages 3 to 18 (projective assessments and screening measures are used to identify emotional difficulties).
  • Personality: ages 14 to 18 (personality types are determined which can assist with parenting, learning, relationships, identity and self-esteem).

What are the three test categories?

Testing can be broken into three categories: psychological, psycho-educational and neurodevelopmental assessments.

Category 1: Psychological assessments

Essentially psychological testing involves assessing for a psychological problem. Psychological evaluations are typically intended to guide diagnosis and treatment from a psychological perspective, not from an educational perspective. Typical psychological problems assessed for include:

  • Emotional difficulties: Emotional assessments may be used to assess the child’s emotional state including anxiety, depression and anger. Emotional difficulties can also be related to self-esteem or self-confidence problems. Emotional difficulties include both internalising conditions (such as anxiety and depression) and externalizing conditions (such as attention and behavioural issues). Projective testing methods in particular invoke less anxiety as they indirectly assess an individual’s emotional state without the child having to directly answer uncomfortable questioning.
  • Behavioural difficulties: are usually externalising conditions such as disruptive behaviour and oppositional defiant behavior due to emotional difficulties. ADHD usually presents as behavioural difficulties related to attention-deficit, impulsivity and hyperactivity.
  • Personality characteristics and issues (only adolescents 14 years and older): Assesses personality traits and psychopathology. Indicates differing psychological preferences in how people perceive the world around them and make decisions. It provides a profile of a person’s personality structure that may be useful for vocational guidance and assists people to gain insight about themselves and how they interact with others. Use of this assessment can also help individuals improve how they communicate, learn, and work. It provides a powerful framework for building better relationships, driving positive change, harnessing innovation and achieving excellence.
  • Subject choice and career prospects: Does your child need to know what school subjects to choose for Grade 10? Aptitude assessments provide an indication of academic, commercial and technical aptitude. They are often used to guide Grade 10 subject choice, and can be used in conjunction with grade 11 and 12 career assessments. Aptitude is the potential a person has that enables them, with a given amount of training and/or practice, to reach a certain level of ability. Aptitude in a particular field together with interest, motivation, attitude and other personality traits, will to a large extent determine the ultimate success of the person in that field. Does your child need to know what career will suit them best? A career assessment will assist with career choice and career guidance for Grade 11 and 12 learners. We provide a career assessment service that can be used to help determine which career paths are suited to the individual.

Category 2: Psycho-educational assessments

Psycho-educational tests are geared towards understanding a child’s learning profile and identifying cognitive strengths and weaknesses. It guides the development of classroom accommodations and supports from an educational perspective. It focuses primarily on intellectual ability and academic achievement testing. The objectives of a psycho-educational assessment are multiple and include:

  • School readiness.
  • Educational assessments provide insight into your child’s unique learning profile (strengths and weaknesses). It is a way to objectively measure your child’s abilities therefore enabling you and their educators to tailor learning experiences that match your child’s abilities and provide an effective individual learning program.
  • Identification of Learning Disabilities (e.g. reading and writing disabilities, nonverbal learning disability, ADHD, ODD).
  • Identification of giftedness.
  • Comprehensive and practical recommendations for school and home, including classroom strategies tailored to the child’s specific learning needs and profile of strengths and weaknesses.
  • It can be used for exam concessions or dispensations, such as extra time, spelling dispensations or application for a scribe.
  • Assessment of your child involves both cognitive and educational testing in order to understand their abilities and areas where they may experience difficulties. The tests consist of a variety of questions, puzzles, drawings, stories and games.
  • A psycho-educational assessment involves a comprehensive assessment of cognitive and academic functioning, as well as an evaluation of various information processing skills essential in learning (e.g. memory, oral language, phonological awareness abilities and executive functioning skills).

Psycho-educational Assessments can be broken into three categories: cognitive, school-readiness and scholastic skills testing:

Cognitive testing examines a child’s general intellectual abilities or potential, including verbal and non-verbal potential, notable intellectual strengths and weaknesses and educational vulnerabilities. An intellectual assessment might be requested for various reasons. For instance, a parent’s interest in supporting their child’s intellectual development, scholastic difficulties, as part of a school application process, pediatricians, psychiatrists or psychologists may also refer families for an intellectual assessment to aid in the child’s treatment planning.

Cognitive assessments are used to establish the child’s basic cognitive potential and where his or her strengths and weaknesses lie. Cognitive tests measure abilities such as attention, memory, auditory and visual processing, language skills, eye-hand coordination, planning ability, verbal reasoning and perceptual and spatial skills. It is important for children and adolescents to reach their potential, from children with exceptional abilities to those that are cognitively handicapped. With the help of cognitive assessments these children can then be slotted into appropriate education programs. The vast majority of assessments conducted assist in identifying barriers to learning such as specific learning disabilities in children with at least average cognitive potential.

School-readiness testing helps to guide parents and educators on whether a child, who is eligible to enter Grade 1, is “school-ready”. Early identification of delays in development is important in order to assist the child in this regard. Grade 1 to 3 is commonly known as the “foundation phase” and lays the foundation for learning in subsequent grades. Thus it is important for a child to be school ready in order to form a firm foundation for later learning.

Scholastic skills testing indicates at what chronological age and grade level a child is functioning in reading, spelling, mathematics and written expression skills, including academic fluency (speed of reading, writing and calculating), listening comprehension and oral expression skills.

The results show up the nature of your child’s barriers to learning and where the gaps lie. An important outcome of scholastic skills assessments is ascertaining whether a child’s scholastic skills matches with their intellectual potential. When a child is underachieving and there is a significant gap between their skills and actual potential, or a specific learning disability is identified, recommendations are made either for remedial teaching lessons to close the gaps and support development or for placement in a more appropriate learning environment such as, a remedial school, when the deficits are severe and longstanding. Sometimes in cases of immaturity, it may be suggested that it would be best for a child to repeat a grade to consolidate his foundation skills. When an intellectual assessment provides an explanation as to why a child is a “slow learner” and not coping in a mainstream class i.e. that he is a “learner with special educational needs”, an independent education program, a special class placement or referral to a special school may be recommended and implemented.

If tests indicate a significant deficit between intellectual ability and scholastic ability, further investigation (usually neurodevelopmental testing) is carried out to understand the difference.

What are neurodevelopmental assessments?

Often cognitive and scholastic assessments may point to areas needing further investigation such as attention, executive functioning, language deficits, auditory perceptual and processing delays, memory weaknesses and visual perceptual or fine/gross motor co-ordination difficulties. In this case a neurodevelopmental assessment may be carried out to provide more information. The results of these assessments may be utilised to guide appropriate school placements and referrals, and may inform a neurodevelopmental disorder diagnosis.

Essentially neurodevelopmental testing involves assessing for impairments of the growth and development of the brain and central nervous system (CNS). These impairments may affect emotion, learning ability, self-control and memory, and unfolds as an individual develops and grows. Typical neurodevelopmental problems include:

  • Intellectual disability characterised by deficits in general mental abilities such as reasoning, problem solving, planning, abstract thinking, judgement, academic learning and learning from experience.
  • Communication disorders including Language Disorder, Speech Sound Disorder, Social Communication Disorder and Childhood-Onset Fluency Disorder (stuttering).
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) characterised by persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) defined by levels of inattention, disorganization and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that impairs functioning.
  • Motor disorders include Developmental Coordination Disorder, Stereotypical Movement Disorder and Tic Disorders.
  • Specific Learning Disorder refers to ongoing problems in one of three areas, reading, writing and math, which are foundational to one’s ability to learn.

What is the assessment process?

We are committed to ensuring that the assessment process enhances an understanding of the underlying cause(s) of a child’s difficulties. It is also important to us that the results are put to good use. We are ready to work with your child’s school and other professionals involved in your child’s support system to help interpret the results of the assessment and to use the information to enrich their understanding of your child’s needs.

The tests are geared towards understanding how your child thinks, learns, feels and behaves. It is made up of a set of procedures that are administered and interpreted to obtain a comprehensive picture of a person’s functioning.

How do I prepare my child for testing?

Preparing your child for testing can reduce anxiety and encourage cooperation through the upcoming battery of tests.  It is advisable to begin talking about the testing several days in advance. Reassure your child that the reason for testing is to understand his or her strengths and the areas in which help is needed. Most importantly, explain that the evaluation will show adults how best to help. Testing can be stressful to a child thus we want to make the process as comfortable as possible. The testing process is done at the child’s pace and capacity and is not rushed. Please ensure that your child is well rested and has eaten on the day of the assessment.

The testing process involves:

Step 1: Informational interview with the parents of the child being tested. The child may also be present at this interview, depending on their age and maturity. Please bring any relevant reports with to the interview including school, medical history, psychological, etc. A background information form will be provided with your intake email. Please complete and return before your appointment to save time asking the same questions during session.

Step 2: School observation, if required, would result in us observing the child in the classroom environment.

Step 3: The testing phase is usually done over two days, so the child will be fresh and able to put in their best effort. Early morning is ideal. Please ensure that your child is well rested and has eaten. Assessment test batteries such as the cognitive battery are administered depending on the need of the child.

Step 4: The feedback process is typically a 60-minute meeting with the parents. The child can also choose to come to this appointment.  A written report detailing the results of the evaluation is provided at the meeting. Conclusions are drawn and recommendations are included in the report.

How long do psychometric assessments last?

We will be able to give you an indication of the number of times and duration that your child will need to come to our offices to have tests administered. This will however vary slightly depending on how fast we are able to progress through the test material. Generally assessment sessions are limited to 2 hours per day, preferably in the morning, to enable the child to perform at their best.

How often can I assess my child?

For psycho-educational assessments please note that there has to be a gap between retesting a child. Cognitive assessments require at least a 2 year gap and scholastic assessments require at least a 6 month gap. This is due to test learning relating to the child remembering the assessment questions. Psychological assessments such as for anxiety or depression can be administered as often