Q: My son is in fourth grade and is having trouble in his language arts and social studies classes. He gets easily distracted and then gets silly and disruptive. His teacher is frustrated with his behavior and is recommending he get tested for ADHD. My husband is concerned that this would lead to labeling and meds. What should I do?
A: This is a great question. Many parents have heard the term “psychological testing” but there is a great deal of confusion about what it really involves. Parents may be asking, “What will this look like?,” “What does it accomplish?,” or “What could the results mean for my child?”
Therefore, it is often helpful and comforting for parents to have a basic understanding of what is involved in this process and how to know if it might be appropriate for their child. Here are some steps to follow and helpful pieces of information:
Talk to a psychologist who conducts psychological evaluations about the possibility and appropriateness of ADHD testing for your child. This will help you determine whether your child’s school difficulties are actually due to inattention or whether they may be caused by other environmental issues, such as poor teacher-student fit or social stress.
Individualized psychological testing will assess for other possible issues that could be impacting your child’s school performance and focus (such as anxiety or learning disorders, for example).
Many parents are concerned that ADHD testing will automatically lead to prescription of stimulant medication. The psychologist can help clarify this issue. It is important to know that the psychologist cannot prescribe medication. If the testing does produce a diagnosis of ADHD, the psychologist would likely refer the child to physician (i.e., a psychiatrist or pediatrician), who would then determine how or if the child would benefit from medication.
The focus of the testing will be determined by the nature of the problem. If a child has difficulty concentrating, for example, areas that can be impacted by inattention and poor focus will be evaluated. Psychologists who provide assessments carefully and extensively interview patients so that they can identify the presenting problems and utilize the appropriate tests to assess the child.
Following a comprehensive evaluation, parents should not only know whether their child does or does not meet criteria for ADHD, but they should also have a clear understanding of their child’s intellectual strengths and weaknesses, learning style, related symptoms, and some recommendations for addressing these issues.
Another very important thing for parents to consider is how to discuss the need for testing with their child. Parents can ease their children’s minds somewhat by clarifying that testing is not for finding out what’s wrong with them, but rather for helping to find solutions that will help them
meet their potential and struggle less in school.
Dr. Daniel Sheras is a clinical psychologist at Orenstein Solutions in Cary. He focuses on the treatment and evaluation of children, adolescents and young adults. He has more than five years of clinical experience in mental health and school settings and specializes in the treatment of anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD and attachment issues. Sheras is a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and North Carolina Psychological Association (NCPA) and has presented at several professional conferences on a variety of topics, including childhood depression, ADHD in college students, and effective teaching strategies. Sheras can be reached by phone at 919-428-2766, ext. 9, or by email at email@example.com.