Thinking of having your child evaluated? Gifted children can be an enigma, and a round of educational or psychological testing can help sort things out. But the process can be intimidating, to say nothing emotionally taxing. Here’s what I learned the hard way, and what I wish I had known.
I have a folder buried deep in a drawer in my closet. It’s about two inches thick, stuffed full with a battery of psychological and educational evaluations.
I rarely pull it out. I rarely even think about it. But it hearkens back to a time in my life when I was certain of three things:
- My child was broken
- I was the worst mother in the world
- God had given me something I could not handle
Fortunately, I’m way past that point. None of my children are broken: they are brilliant, amazing, creative, funny, thoughtful people who fill my day with joy (and frustration, but you get the idea). I’ve come to the realization that while I’m not the perfect mother, I am pretty darn good at the gig anyway. And as far as my little issue with the Heavenly Father, he’s helped me realize it’s the journey that matters most.
Thinking of Having Your Child Evaluated? Here’s What I Wish I Had Known
No matter what the tests reveal, your child is still your child
Whether it confirms or denies something you were worried about; whether the results come out of the blue. The child God gave you is still the child you have after the results of the evaluation. No diagnosis, label, or quantitative score will change that, nor will it change their love for you.
Evaluation (and its results) can be overwhelming, but it’s worth it in the long run
While it’s true no label or diagnosis will change your child, it will change the services and opportunities your child can access. Programs for gifted students like Johns Hopkins CTY require some form of evaluation for admittance; a documented learning disability opens doors for appropriate services through the schools (even for homeschoolers). Consider your reasons for the evaluation in addition to the toll it may take on your child and your family. If the results of the evaluation would be beneficial, go ahead and give it a try.
School-based standardized tests only offer part of the picture
Because they are standardized tests, they are catered to children who take that particular form of assessment well. A Twice-Exceptional or a child with test anxiety might not perform as well as her neurotypical counterpart, thus causing her to be left out of the system’s GATE programs. Seeking further evaluation from an outside team can provide a better picture of your child’s individual make up.
Know what your evaluation will include
Different organizations offer different screenings. Our family has had our children tested via the Woodcock-Johnson, the KTEA, and the WISC. Every test is designed to measure some aspect of your child’s individual constellation. Make sure the tests your child is given will measure what you want to find out.
Evaluation is expensive, but you can do it for low or no cost
- In many states, the local school district can provide evaluation free of charge because you pay taxes, for public school, private school, and homeschooled students alike. If you go this route, be aware that you will have to prove to the screening committee that there is something impeding your child’s academic progress. They will not evaluate your child simply to determine IQ. To ensure they will take your case further up the ladder, make the situation look as desperate as you can. You aren’t throwing your child under the bus here, rather, you are trying to impress upon the committee that your family needs help.
- Several university graduate programs offer an evaluation for a reduced fee. The drawback is that you are working with students working toward their appropriate licensure, but these students are always under the guidance of a licensed professional. Check with your local university system to see what they have to offer.
- Some online learning programs offer disability screening for a small fee. I recently had my eight-year-old screened for dyslexia using Nessy and it cost me all of $20. We don’t have an official diagnosis, but at least I know in what direction to head.
Your evaluation results may lead to an IEP meeting. This is its own can of worms.
Some school districts offer IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) on the sole basis of giftedness; some require an exceptional learning need. Either way, you will likely be invited to a series of meetings to determine what accommodations your child needs. This can be a stressful situation. Check this post for advice on how to handle communication with the IEP team. (NB: if your child doesn’t qualify for an IEP, he might qualify for a 504. You can read about the differences here. Also, public institutions are the only schools required by law to provide the specific accommodations laid out in the IEP or 504. A private institution is only required to provide those services and accommodations which are reasonable within the confines of the environment.)
IEPs are not set in stone, and you are not required to have one
You can also revoke your consent at any time. Expect to attend periodic IEP meetings even if you are a homeschooler. We eventually decided the stress of the meetings was too much for our family so we revoked our consent to our daughter’s (kind of useless) IEP at the end of her first-grade year. (We haven’t missed it one bit).
Sometimes an evaluation doesn’t even matter – especially if your kiddos are young
Opinions differ on this, but I don’t think you need evaluation until something is happening in your child’s educational or social/emotional experience. If your two-year-old is reading and solving simple math problems but otherwise on level for development, you probably don’t need to seek an evaluation.
On the whole, I don’t look back on that period of my life with fondness.
But it has been an integral aspect of our growth as a family: my husband and I know our children better; our kids are thriving and better able to advocate for themselves. It’s not as terrifying or terrible a process as it seems from the outset. As long as you make your decision armed with information, you (and your kiddos) will be fine.
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