Understanding how to interpret your child’s psycho-educational testing results, including diagnoses, is a critically important step in understanding placement options.
First and foremost, it’s important to remember that people are not people on paper, no matter how exhaustive, professional, or complete the testing is that they have received. This does not mean that your child’s testing is inaccurate or unnecessary, just that it is only a part of the picture, an important piece in a larger puzzle, but not a complete story in itself. Testing provides a snapshot, a data point, a place of reference, a set of stars, but not the complete constellation. Testing alone is not predictive of either future failures or successes, but it can provide valuable insight into some of your child’s unique areas of strengths, as well as indicate some of the supports or services which could help them overcome challenges.
As you digest this blog, think about reading your teen’s testing four different times:
- Expect to be completely overwhelmed, exhausted and retain little to nothing. It is normal.
- You will begin to see things and make notes, but mostly focus on the negative pieces.
- Breathe and this time read and see the strengths that your teen has.
- The fourth read, you are getting ready for the questions that have crystallized and be ready for the conversation that you will have with the professional who created the testing.
To understand your child’s diagnosis, it is valuable to remember that one of the key purposes of testing and diagnosis, originally, was to create a common lexicon for mental health professionals to be able to discuss client cases. Diagnoses became shorthand for “looks mostly like this.” This has developed into a language to help explain the complexities of human behavior in an apples-to-apples comparison. But no matter how specific the testing is or how clearly defined a diagnosis may be, a diagnosis is still just an approximation, a ballpark, a generality.
There is also a strong correlation between diagnosis and treatment. Put simply, diagnosis follows effective treatment - which is to say that nobody is being diagnosed with Social Media Anxiety Disorder. As soon as there is a viable treatment for helping us deal with our fears and insecurities surrounding keeping up our Twitter accounts and avoiding being tagged in embarrassing Facebook posts, there is sure to be a diagnosis to follow. The good news here is that for almost any identified challenge, there is also likely some identified intervention which can help. Therefore, a diagnosis shouldn’t be read as a life sentence, but rather a signpost pointing the way toward effective treatment.
Chances are, when you read your child’s testing, you’ll also see that each diagnosis comes with a code. That’s the number you see after the Diagnosis (ie ADHD, 314.01). The code after the diagnosis is there to identify conditions other than disease or injury which will have significant impact on current or future care. Most importantly, those codes are used for managed care and billing purposes, and they will have significant impact on treatment coverage. Again, this means that a specific diagnosis may, in fact, open a door to supportive treatment, and it also means that diagnoses are designed to facilitate the flow of information through the medical and insurance systems. Again, people are not people on paper.
Finally, if you have recently received testing, spend time to go through the conclusions with the professionals in your life. Have them explain the various elements, the tests they conducted, and the implications of the results. Ask them to explain your child’s strengths, as is indicated in the testing. Ask them to explain sub-test scores, and request that they help explain the treatments and supports which are outlined in the recommendations portion of the testing. Confer with them about if, when, and how to share the testing with your child. The better you understand your child’s testing, the more you’ll be able to be active and informed partners in planning future treatment.
Understanding the purpose of testing, and your child’s results, and diagnoses, is often an important step in the treatment process. Good testing can unearth previously unknown challenges, undeveloped strengths, and can help explain challenging educational or behavioral patterns, and can help provide a roadmap for effective and clinically-informed treatment. While testing may not be the whole picture, it can often be a cornerstone of well-informed planning and care.
About the Author
Jake Weld holds a masters degree in education and has over twenty years of experience in traditional, LD, and therapeutic schools, adolescent and young adult programs, and conventional, wilderness, and residential settings. He has served as the Executive Director of a therapeutic boarding school, the Assistant Headmaster of a specialized LD boarding school, and as the Academic and Program Director of various schools and programs. He is currently the Director of Admissions and Business Development for Mansfield Hall, a specialized college support program in Burlington, VT, and Madison, WI.