Solving the Puzzle: Creating a Plan for Success through Psychological and Educational Assessment

Presenter: Lisa Ahern, PhD

View the webinar’s corresponding slides here       

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When students are struggling in school, teachers and parents often wonder what might be causing the problem and what they could be doing to help. With over 15 years of assessment experience in school, hospital, and private practice settings, Dr. Ahern explains the testing process including when to consider testing, what questions can be answered through psychoeducational testing, what recommendations can be made, and how testing information is used in a school setting. Dr. Ahern specializes in assessment for ADHD, learning disabilities, and other psychological concerns.


  1. KelleyT says:

    What if I believe my child should be eligible for special education services, but the school disagrees?

    • Dr. Lisa Ahern says:

      First, be sure you understand the eligibility requirements for special education and what being eligible would entail. There must be a disability that fits under one of the categories of special education, there must be an adverse impact on educational performance, and there must be a need for specialized instruction in order to make progress. There is typically a continuum of services that can be provided in general education as well, and the school may be offering to provide those. However, if you believe your child meets all the criteria based on the data collected, eligibility for special education is a decision that is made by the IEP team, not just the school participants. Request an additional meeting to discuss why you believe your child needs services and what services you are asking for. Consider asking for an independent evaluation, which often can occur at the expense of the school district, though the cost allowance may be restricted. Having a private evaluator participate in your IEP may be helpful. Consider going through a mediation process with the school. If all else fails, hiring an educational advocate or special education lawyer may be needed. Request a copy of your parental rights in special education (PRISE) in order to understand due process procedure if courts need to become involved.

  2. KelleyT says:

    Can licensed LDTCs administer psychoeducational testing or only psychologists? Learning consultant in New Jersey can give WJIV cognitive and achievement? Just wondering if they can administer both in private testing?

    • Dr. Lisa Ahern says:

      I’ve done some research to answer this question, talking to several LDT-Cs and the director of a local, public special education program in NJ. Cognitive tests must be administered by a professional who has been trained to give them and to interpret them. Most LDT-Cs I spoke to have not been trained to give them and would not feel comfortable giving them. While LDT-Cs in public schools do not give cognitive tests, private LDT-Cs with doctoral degrees who are trained to give and interpret the WJ-Cognitive may give the test. However, I have been informed that most public schools would not accept that cognitive test done by the private LDT-C as part of a child study team evaluation.

  3. KelleyT says:

    The school tested my child last spring, but I’d like to get a private evaluation done this fall. Is there anything I should know? Should I tell the school I’m getting a private evaluation?

    • Dr. Lisa Ahern says:

      It is important to know that many tests again cannot be performed within one year of administration. Therefore, your private evaluator may need to use different tests than the school used. While you are not under any obligation to tell the school your child is being tested or share the results with the school, you should definitely let them know if they are currently in the process of testing your child or getting ready to test your child for any reason. Additionally, children often need to miss school for testing, so you may need to let the school know the reason for your child’s absence. You may wish to share the results with the school so that they can use the information to provide better services for your child.

  4. KelleyT says:

    Do you sometimes get any obstruction from teachers or child study team members to your recommendations? What happens if that’s the case?

    • Dr. Lisa Ahern says:

      I try to base my recommendations on the testing data as well as on what I know to be reasonable given the teacher’s concerns and the educational environment the child is in. However, sometimes schools and teachers are reluctant to implement some of my recommendations, and they are under no obligation to follow them just because I recommend them. Typically, I try to figure out the reasons they are reluctant. Perhaps in their view, based on how the classroom is being run and their observations of the child, they do not believe a certain recommendation to be necessary or reasonable. Perhaps they do not have the resources to provide what I am suggesting or the logistics of what I’m recommending don’t work out with the child’s schedule. Some schools and teachers have a different philosophy than I do regarding intervention and that holds them back. For example, it is well documented in the research that kids with ADHD often need positive reinforcement to build new behaviors and habits. This can be in the form of tangible reinforcers (like a prize box) or in the form of earned privileges (like computer time). I have had some districts be reluctant to reward children in this fashion because they believe in developing intrinsic motivation (having an inner desire to do things, not just because they are being rewarded). Certainly we want this for all kids, but it is difficult to develop intrinsic motivation to do things that are very difficult for you.Teachers may also not know how to implement something I’m suggesting and some consultation is needed to figure out what is going to work best for the child in this particular classroom.

  5. KelleyT says:

    I’m worried about the stigma of sharing my child’s diagnosis with her teachers and other parents. Should I tell other people about it?

    • Dr. Lisa Ahern says:

      This is a personal decision, but there are a few things to consider. If your child is having difficulties in the classroom, teachers are typically already aware there is something going on and may assume that the behaviors are purposeful or attribute them to a lack of manners as opposed to a disability. Knowing that a child is diagnosed can be very helpful in terms of the teacher’s understanding of the behavior and what to do about it. However, sometimes teachers will assume that children cannot do certain things because of their disability and may not challenge your child enough due to that preconception. It is important to make sure the teacher understands your whole child, both strengths and weaknesses, when disclosing. You may wish to wait to share your child’s diagnosis with other parents until you know the family well or unless your child’s disability is affecting her ability to make and keep friends. People who know you and your child as people first and the disability second are then able to better understand that the disability is part of your child’s experience, but it does not define her. They may also be better able to reconcile their preconceived notions about the disability with reality when they know your child for who she is. That is not to say the disability should be hidden – many people do not know much about many of the disabilities our children are managing every day and educating others about your family’s experience can help break down those barriers.

  6. KelleyT says:

    My child’s teacher keeps punishing behavior that I think is related to his disability. What can I do to get the teacher to be more supportive and understanding?

    • Dr. Lisa Ahern says:

      First, make sure that the teacher understands your child’s disability and why the behavior might be occurring. This is best done by setting up a meeting with the teacher – acknowledge that the behavior is happening and can be frustrating in the classroom, but the behavior may be something that is hard for your child to control. Providing an evaluation report or some brief articles for the teacher to read can be helpful. Give some suggestions based on what works for you at home, if appropriate. Some behaviors may need to be ignored or channeled into a more appropriate place and time. Using specific, positive reinforcement to increase behaviors you want to see happen more often is a great strategy. Setting up a daily report card in which kids are rewarded with privileges at home for good behavior at school may be helpful https://www.additudemag.com/daily-report-card-to-improve-adhd-classroom-behavior/

  7. KelleyT says:

    I’m interested in your thoughts on the link between adequate sleep and school success for a child.

    • Dr. Lisa Ahern says:

      One of the first questions I ask when adolescents are brought in for an evaluation demonstrating signs of ADHD, anxiety, or depression that have only recently become an issue is “How well are you sleeping?” Often children are on screens late into the night and have to wake up very early for school. Research shows lack of sleep to be related to mood problems, problems with attention and memory, problems with behavior, and increased likelihood of health problems. Kids who use caffeine to stay awake (coffee, energy drinks, supplements) exacerbate the problem. Some medications can also increase the chances of sleep problems, so talking to your pediatrician is a good idea. If there are significant sleep problems that aren’t related to medication or physical problems, meeting with a psychologist to deal with it behaviorally may help. Here is a great article from the CHOP sleep center: http://www.chop.edu/news/back-to-school-bedtime-routine-sleep-schedules

  8. KelleyT says:

    My child has an IEP, but I’m not sure that it’s working. Should I get a private evaluation?

    • Dr. Lisa Ahern says:

      It is important to define “working.” For some children, as long as your child is make adequate progress for themselves, even if they haven’t caught up to grade level, the IEP may be working. Sometimes it is a matter of making sure the services and accommodations in the IEP are actually being provided at the frequency and intensity that is necessary to help your child progress. Ask to have an IEP meeting to address your concerns, and ask to see data from teachers to show the progress your child is making. Make sure teachers know what is in the IEP and what kind of communication you would like to have regarding your child’s progress. How often will you be in contact? What are you expecting the hear from the teachers? Remember that school personnel may start to dread contact with you if it is too frequent, unexpected, or negative. Develop a relationship with your child’s case manager who can make sure the IEP is being followed. You may ask the school to evaluate your child even if they are not due for their triennial evaluation yet if there are specific questions that need to be answered using testing. You may wish to get a private evaluation if you are concerned about issues that the schools typically do not diagnose (ADHD, anxiety, Tourette’s, depression, OCD, etc.). A private evaluation can sometimes be more in depth than a school evaluation and provide useful insights and recommendations. Keep in mind that schools are not required to implement recommendations from a private evaluator, but there may be a better understanding of how the child learns and what needs to be changed in the IEP after the private evaluation.