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Psychological assessments of children

psychological; assessment; IQ; psychologist; psychology; learning; development; behaviour; difficulty; disability;

A psychological assessment involves finding out what people know and what they can do to help understand and explain behaviour and feelings. It can involve watching the person, asking questions and having the person do some tasks.


A psychological assessment can be useful when children or young people are having difficulties at school or are acting or developing in ways that are not expected. It can help find out what a young person can do well, and what is hard for them. The results often help with planning programs for school and for home, and may provide some ideas about things that can be done to help.

There is a topic on the Kid's health section of this website called Psychological assessments which may help children understand what they will be doing.

Who does psychological assessments?

Psychological assessments are done by psychologists who are specially trained and experts in the area. They know about and must stick to very strict rules about how to do the tests and keeping information private.

  • A psychologist is a person who has trained in the scientific study of how people think, feel, learn and act.
  • They can help people understand more about thinking and behaviour through testing and talking with them and their family.
  • A psychiatrist is different to a psychologist – psychiatrists also help people with their thinking and behaviour, but they have been trained first as doctors and they can prescribe medications. They do not do psychological testing.

Psychologists who work with children and young people may also work with parents, teachers and other workers.

What kinds of psychological assessments are there?

There are lots of different psychological tests available. The psychologist will choose the ones that are most helpful depending on why the assessment is being done. Psychological assessments of children and young people often involve tests of their:

  • intelligence (thinking)
  • achievement (what they are able to do)
  • attention (how well they can concentrate)
  • memory
  • emotions (feelings)
  • behaviour (actions).

What happens in a psychological assessment?

Usually when children or young people have a psychological assessment:

  • The psychologist will talk with (interview) the child or young person and their parent(s)/carer(s). They may also interview teachers or other people who know the person well (with parent's consent if the child is under 16).
  • The psychologist will watch (observe) the child or young person during any formal assessment and in some cases will also observe them in their home or school.
  • The child or young person will be given standardised tests. These are tests that have been used in exactly the same way (standardised) with many people. By using standardised tests, the psychologist can compare your child's answers to those of others of the same age who have done exactly the same test.
  • During testing, children and young people will be asked questions and given tasks to assess a range of their abilities, for example, their thinking skills, skills in moving, reading, maths and writing skills and their behaviour. Some of these tasks are timed.
  • Parents and teachers may also be given standardised questionnaires to fill in.
  • Other information may be collected, including information from school or other records, or informal tests.

All children and young people will find some things easy and some things hard to do. They should know that it is normal to not get all the answers right or finish all the items.

During testing, psychologists are not able to give any help or say if the answers are right or wrong. No special preparation is needed. It is important that children and young people are as relaxed as possible and be encouraged to just ‘try their best'.

The child or young person and parent/carer may need to attend just one session or a number of sessions. Psychological assessment is often a complex and detailed process and it can take some time for a final report to be prepared and given to the family.

What do the results mean?

The psychologist will usually go through the report and the results of the assessment with you and your child to help explain what these might mean.

  • Any areas of strength or weakness that have been found will be talked about and usually suggestions will be made about things that can be done at home or at school to help your child.
  • Scores on many of the tests do not change much over time and they can often predict how a child or young person might manage tasks at home and at school.

However, even though psychological assessments can give some useful information, they DO NOT cover ALL of a person's skills, abilities or potential.

  • Scores on tests can be affected by many different things, including whether the young person was willing to do the tests, was interested in the tests, was able to concentrate and was anxious, angry, sad or happy.
  • Physical health and past learning opportunities (perhaps the child or young person has missed a lot of school) can also affect results and all these things must be thought about when the meaning of results is worked out.

If you or your child or young person have any questions about any aspect of the psychological assessment or the results, it is a good idea to ask the psychologist to explain.


South Australia
DECD (Department of Education and Child Development) http://decd.sa.gov.au  

  • School Psychologists come to schools to do assessments

CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services).  Psychologists in CAMHS can do psychological assessments for young people who are already getting CAMHS services.

Private educational or child psychologists who do psychological assessments can be recommended by your doctor or teacher. You can also find them listed in the Yellow pages telephone directory.

SPELD 298 Portrush Rd Kensington Tel: 8431 1655
SPELD SA is a non profit organisation that provides advice and services to support people with specific learning difficulties.

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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