December 6, 2010

To Evaluate or Not To Evaluate

To have a child evaluated or not? That is often the question at this time of year, when it may become apparent that a child's test and report card grades are not reflecting his/her intelligence, ability or potential. The child doesn't seem to be grasping material, or s/he doesn't seem to stay focused on information long enough to absorb it. Alternatively, the child may do the work only to lose it or forget to hand it in on time.

Sometimes, there is a clear explanation, especially if this is not a typical scenario for the child. Perhaps the adjustment to a new grade or school is taking more time than anticipated. Or, perhaps an event or a difficult transition at home is the reason. Children's grades can decline when a parent is laid off, deployed in the military, or first separated from a spouse, for example. Often, though, lower than expected school performance is a pattern that has surfaced previously. Some parents have heard the same concerns from teachers before. Others find that despite numerous discussions -- both calm and heated -- with their children, the puzzling results don't change, or at least not in any lasting way. The right strategy to address the problem seems elusive.

So, the question arises: Should the child be evaluated? The biggest reservation parents seem to have is that their child will be labelled. Does s/he have a learning disability, an attention difficulty or a processing weakness? It's certainly hard to consider that one's child may have to deal with something beyond the parent's ability to change or fix.

Yet, consider the "side effects" of not getting an evaluation and of not identifying a problem that does exist. The child will be labelled, alternatively as "lazy," "dumb," or "rude." The child is then faced with adults' blame and frustration on an ongoing basis. Motivation and self-esteen can plummet. For the child, the information that s/he may have a learning disability, for example, can be a tremendous relief. It's not that s/he is stupid; adults can recognize that the child IS trying to learn.

Most importantly, the child, parent and teacher now have a basis for successful strategies and interventions. For the first time, the strategies will be targeting the underlying cause. As a result, they will have a real chance of making an impact.