Getting a diagnostic psychological evaluation

By the time a child has been referred for a diagnostic psychological evaluation, parents have often been put through the wringer.  Parents have worried about their child, tried things on their own (more strict, less strict, talking to their child, ignoring behavior, no sugar, all sugar!).  Parents eventually talk to the pediatrician, who either says “Bah, don’t worry about it” (and then parents continue to worry), or “Yes, let’s get that checked” (and then parents continue to worry).

Parents tell me that by the time they have are in my office they have been worried for at least a year.  They have shared their concerns with family members, teachers, doctors, and others.  Here are some lessons shared with me from families, and happily passed on to you:

  • Advocate. Assert yourself, speak up, share your concerns, again and again, until you are heard.  Talk to teachers, pediatricians, your friends, and neighborhood parents.  Eventually, someone will understand what you are saying and point you in the right direction.  If you think something is amiss with your child, keep asking questions and telling the story until you feel sufficiently heard, and are pointed in the right direction.
  • Directly request an evaluation. Ask your pediatrician if your child should be evaluated.  Pediatricians know everyone: Ask for the names of the top 3 psychologists who conduct evaluations in your area, and the top 3 therapists in your town.  Call them all.  Ask the psychologists who they recommend for treatment, and ask the therapists who their preferred psychologist are for evaluations.  Ask around the neighborhood: who do your friends and neighbors suggest?  Why do they suggest these providers?
  • Practice patience and persistence. Now that you are ready to get an evaluation, you may run into road blocks.  Top providers have busy schedules.  You may need to wait for an evaluation or treatment.  Ask if there is a cancellation list.  Ask if there is any paperwork you can complete ahead of time.
  • Follow Through! You are ready for an evaluation, and you may also have feelings trepidation. (What if this is serious?  What if you were wrong?  What will an actual diagnosis mean for your family?  How might a diagnosis change things?)  Sort through your feelings (and they may change, sometimes rapidly!) and show up to the appointments!  Ask questions, advocate for your child, and make sure your evaluator really, really understands your situation. Follow through on any recommendations.
  • Find your people! You are not alone.  Find support in your family and friends, online, in your local community.  Ask about local resources: what is the best school/karate teacher/orthodontist for a child like yours?  Families with kids like yours know where you need to be – ask them.  Soon enough, people will be asking you for advice!

While many parents feel like a diagnosis is the ultimate end goal, I might suggest that a diagnosis is a piece of the puzzle of life.  It certainly helps to have a diagnosis on paper, but that is really just a bit of guidance about what you need to do next.  Advocate, get the eval, get some guidance, and then follow through!  You got this!


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