Should your young child be tested?
Notes coming home from teachers? Are they telling you your child’s not focusing or they’re wandering off during circle time? With schools under much stress these days to keep to government performance standards, many teachers are recommending to parents that young children be tested for learning problems. Most are young boys. Is this helpful?
Most classroom adjustment issues are temporary. They don’t require testing. They are developmental – and buying your child time often does the trick. But if teachers continue to recommend testing, how should you proceed – and what’s the right age to do it? For common early behavior issues (that are mostly showing up at school but not home), I’d wait until 7 years old (or a bit older) as testing very young children doesn’t yield as much reliable data.
Second, what “tests” are used and “who” does the testing matter. At the least, a WISC (intelligence test) is valuable. Also some educational tests too (those are simple grade-level tests to assess ability on typical classroom tasks… such as language and number skills). Be wary of quick scales (the Conners, the Vanderbilt, and the Achenbach are typical examples) that teachers and parents are told to fill out. Those are highly subjective. In my opinion, they yield much less valuable information, especially for very young boys. They are also geared toward looking for hyperactivity, impulsivity, and focus… sending (mostly boys) down an ADHD path and to medication. These are self-report style scales should never be used alone (independent of more powerful, better designed tests) and shouldn’t be relied on exclusively to make diagnostic decisions.
If the school offers to do 1-1 testing – performed by a good/qualified (at least masters level psychologist) – consider having it done. But ask them up front specifically what tests they plan on using and how experienced is the tester. Also, ask up front what they plan on doing with the test information and does it necessarily require you adopt their special education services… it might, and that’s generally ok, but you want all that explained first. Then, if you agree to testing, see where the data falls. Think of it as a snapshot. It may reveal an underlying developmental lag that does deserve some extra (in class or out) help. Hopefully the school will provide that service. Also, check with your pediatrician on basics. Vision and hearing, sleep, getting enough physical activity, diet and allergies… many things can cause behavior issues at school, including stress at home. every child is different. Keep up with good behavior training at home (see my other posts).
For most boys, who have a rocky start to school, they just need time. Some continue with struggles and need special services, and a few may need something more – a different school environment (smaller classes, more boy-friendly activities and matched teaching style). Again, buying a little time makes the most sense. Not rushing the developmental process. Not automatically reacting to teachers who may themselves be struggling or stressed. It gives your youngster time to grow and develop and adjust to new demands.