Everything you need to know about psychological testing and how it can help you or your child
Psychological testing is a useful tool in better understanding a person’s behavior, intelligence, personality traits, mental health, strengths, and weaknesses. Although it can be intimidating, it is meant to help you. Psychological tests are advised specifically for the individual, there is no pass or fail, and they purely help all involved to gain understanding. It can assist you in choosing the right career path, aid in the diagnosis of a learning/functional disorder, or highlight gifted intelligence. Some tests can evaluate whether you are experiencing anxiety or depression, and others may support you as a parent to find the underlying cause of a child’s behavioral problems at school. With children, psychological testing can be particularly useful. By implementing specific tests, it can help to identify a learning disability, developmental delay, aid in the diagnosis of autism or ADHD, or help assess a child’s intellectual ability.
Learning environments can play a key role in student achievement. Research shows that the type of learning environment that a child is exposed to has a significant impact on their educational success. A positive, safe environment with clear set expectations, leadership, and organized spaces for learning is proven to aid in student achievement. Now, sometimes it is difficult for parents and teachers to pinpoint where learning and behavioral problems are arising. Adaptive functioning, developmental testing, and differential diagnosis testing can assist in confirming emotional, behavioral, learning, and developmental diagnoses.
With such a range of psychological tests available, it is necessary to break down the different types of tests, in order to explain the benefits in more detail.
Types of Psychological Tests, Their Use, and Benefits
Cognitive Functioning and Intelligence Testing (IQ Testing)
Intellectual quotient (IQ) testing does not measure actual intelligence, but, components of intelligence and intellectual potential. Sean Hayes PsyD, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist at Thriveworks in Sterling, VA, discusses that intelligence itself is not a single construct. On further discussion with Hayes, he advises that “although people are given a single IQ score, what is more helpful are the components of that score. Some people are stronger in certain areas (like different types of memory, processing speed, abstract reasoning, concrete reasoning, attention, social skills, emotional intelligence) than others. This information is especially helpful because, we can then say what kinds of things you’re especially good at and how to compensate for weaknesses in other areas.”
IQ testing has been available for over a century, however, it has progressed significantly since the first tests were introduced in the early 1900s. The most common IQ tests currently used are as follows:
- Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale – measures five factors of cognitive ability including fluid reasoning, knowledge, quantitative reasoning, visual-spatial processing, and working memory. Measuring both verbal and non-verbal responses, it can be used to help diagnose developmental or intellectual deficiencies in young children.
- Universal Nonverbal Intelligence – is a good alternative to the usual verbal based IQ tests. It is designed for children aged 5 years to 17 years 11 months.
- Differential Ability Scales – tests a range of cognitive abilities such as reading, math, and spelling for children aged 2 years 6 months to 17 years 11 months.
- Peabody Individual Achievement Test – is an achievement test administered to individuals between ages 5 and 22 years. Assessing areas such as reading recognition, general information, reading comprehension, mathematics, written expression and spelling, it returns a grade range between Kindergarten and grade 12.
- Wechsler Individual Achievement Test – a reading, numerical, and language achievement test for ages 4 to 25 years 11 months, giving an indication of overall academic functioning.
- Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale – the most commonly used intelligence test in the world, specifically designed for adults.
- Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children – is similar to the adult intelligence scale but designed for children aged 6-16 years generating a full IQ scale.
- Woodcock Johnson III Tests of Cognitive Disabilities – a collection of 20 different tests assessing cognitive abilities and achievement for ages 2-20 years. It can be used to identify individuals who have exceptional intelligence levels, incidence disabilities such as ADHD, mild intellectual disability, specific reading, math, and written language disabilities, and low incidence disabilities.
IQ testing is useful if you are worried your child may have an intellectual disability, if your child is falling behind at school, or if they are displaying behavioral concerns. It may also be used alongside other tests as part of reaching a diagnosis. In addition, IQ testing can be used for career guidance in adults. Aptitude testing is also useful to help you find the right career path by aiding you to work out your strengths and weaknesses. It is important to remember that IQ and achievement are only one form of intelligence. Research shows that social and emotional factors also contribute to intelligence, perhaps having more impact on determining life success than IQ.
Differential Diagnosis Assessments
When talking about a differential diagnosis, it means that there is more than one possibility for your diagnosis. Sometimes a diagnosis is not always clear. Many conditions present similarly, or co-exist. Hayes advises that differential diagnosis assessments can give a direct and definitive answer to this problem. “For example, there’s a big difference between how we treat autism vs. anxiety, but there are cases in which the two diagnoses can look pretty similar. Testing helps to tease apart diagnoses, or figure out if it’s both.” If you are concerned that you or your child may have a differential diagnosis, then this type of assessment is available to help pinpoint what is going on.
Adaptive Functioning and Developmental Testing (Including ADHD and Autism Testing)
Adaptive functioning and development tests can be used to evaluate life skills and abilities. They also assess the social and emotional maturity of a child in relation to their peers. These types of tests may be part of the process when trying to confirm if your child has a condition like ADHD or Autism.
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – can be difficult to diagnose. There is no single test to diagnose ADHD but a collection of assessments, monitoring, medical exams, checklists, and observations are used. Hayes advises that it is better to get testing sooner than later if you suspect you, or your child has ADHD: “Once diagnosed, it can be relatively straightforward to treat with medication, and therapy resulting in a quick and significant improvement in performance, which could be invaluable.”
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – can take time to diagnose. Like ADHD, no single test is considered enough to make a diagnosis. Doctors will look at developmental history, behavior, and may perform comprehensive developmental and functioning assessments. Signs can appear very early in life but are sometimes missed. Just a few of the key signs to look out for include:
- Avoiding eye contact.
- Very little interest in engaging with other children, peers, or parents/teachers.
- Problems with language and communication.
- Getting upset by minor changes in routine.
Diagnosing ASD as early as possible is important to make sure that children receive the support and interventions that they need to reach their full potential.
Career Interests, Skills, and Coaching
Do you worry that you have hit a dead-end in your career? Or perhaps you have never felt that your career is the right fit for you. Maybe you want to take the next step in your career but want to know how to use your strengths to aim higher! Many career-specific tests assess aptitude, personality, interests, and abilities. These types of assessments can improve your leadership skills, communication skills, or guide you to the right career or best position in an organization. Why does that matter? Well, being fulfilled in your career has been found to have direct links with being efficient, happy, and confident.
Personality Assessments and Diagnosing Personality Disorders
Personality is a complex tapestry developed throughout childhood years under the influence of genetic, environmental, and social factors. “Personality testing can be really useful for somebody who keeps running into the same roadblocks over and over again and cannot understand why or what is getting in the way. It is incredibly helpful at revealing unconscious conflicts and motivations that we may not have otherwise realized,” states Dr. Lindsay Brancato, a Clinical Psychologist and Psychoanalyst. Personality testing can be used if you are having relationship difficulties. Perhaps you feel you are going around in circles, do not understand each other’s point of view, or you cannot get to the bottom of a problem? Personality testing can help you to understand each other better.
Personality assessments are also used when diagnosing a personality disorder such as schizoid, borderline, obsessive-compulsive, or narcissistic personality disorders. By recognizing the correct diagnosis, individuals can receive the therapy and support that they need.
Learning Functioning Assessments and Diagnosing Learning Disabilities
Learning disabilities can vary greatly from very mild to very severe. If someone is diagnosed with a learning disability, it means that they find it harder to learn everyday life skills. These types of skills may include household tasks, communicating, socializing, reading/writing, personal care, or managing money. Some people with a learning disability may only need very little support, such as assistance getting a job, whereas others require a lot of help with all their daily activities. It is vital to get a diagnosis so that an individual can receive the support that they need. A range of tests are used in the process of diagnosing a learning disability such as IQ, achievement, language, and visual motor integration tests.
Learning difficulties are different from learning disabilities, however, it can be sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two. They can also coincide together. Learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dyspraxia do not affect general intellect. Often carried out in an educational setting, a range of tests are available to assess for learning difficulties.
Gifted Placement Evaluations
Hayes explains some interesting points about gifted placement evaluations: “These types of evaluations are especially helpful if you suspect your child is not being challenged enough in school. Sometimes very intelligent children perform poorly in school because they are so far ahead of their peers, and they are bored. By confirming a child is gifted through testing, it can help to find settings that are more challenging, allowing the child to be more successful. However, you should never coach a child for this (or any) kind of testing. If they get a high score that is not consistent with their actual intelligence, advancing the child to a setting where they do not belong is likely to be a negative experience.”
Cognitive and Neuropsychological Testing
These types of tests are often used in the diagnosis of conditions such as brain injuries, concussion, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Cognitive and neuropsychological testing measures abilities such as memory, visual awareness, motor function, math skills, language skills, and spatial skills. They assess if a problem with your brain is affecting your cognitive skills, motor skills, or behavior. Short tests such as the Mini-Mental State Examination and Montreal Cognitive Assessment can be done by various medical professionals to provide a quick assessment of cognitive skills. However, in-depth neuropsychological testing is done by a specialist and can take several hours. Tests are often repeated, and results compared to the first test, to identify if there are any changes, or if a condition has progressed.
Depression and Anxiety Testing
Although depression and anxiety can be identified without testing, it can be useful to pinpoint the cause of the depression/anxiety. By identifying the problem that has led to depression or anxiety, it can help a professional tailor treatment plans to support the individual. Sometimes, this type of testing may be used to highlight that a person is suffering from anxiety or depression to a medical professional so that they can receive the treatment that they need.
The bottom line is that psychological testing is there to help you as an individual. It gives both you, and the people around you, a better understanding of how your brain works. It can empower you to take control of the problems you are facing or assist you in progressing forward. If it is a child that you are concerned about, it will enable you to seek the right level of education, support, activity, or therapy that they need to be as successful as they can be.
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