Autism Spectrum Disorder and Psychoeducational Assessments

I have been asked by several parents about the difference between a psychoeducational assessment and an assessment for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or Aspeger's Disorder. There is some confusion out there, and several parents have arranged for the wrong kind of assessment in order to obtain the services they need. So I'll try to explain when you need each of these types of assessments: Psychological Assessment, Psychoeducational Assessment and Autism Disorder Assessment very briefly.

An Initial Psychological Assessment
In British Columbia parents are often sent to a registered psychologist by their school or physician when autism is suspected. Initially you should be arranging an appointment to have the psychologist meet you and your child and do a brief psychological assessment. This usually can be done in one session. You may be asked to complete a number of forms, such as the SNAP-4, some behavioural forms, and maybe an adaptive behavioural assessment form (ABAS).  These can sometimes be sent to you before the examination and returned so that the psychologist is ready to meet you. The psychologist will interview you, observe your child and take a comprehensive history. Form this a determination can usually be made about what is the best way to proceed. Often what looks like autism spectrum disorder or Asperger's can be something else, such as ADHD or a developmental disorder. Perhaps anxiety, or a specific learning disability. The psychologist can then help you proceed down the correct path.

A Diagnostic Assessment for Autism
If autism is suspect, or Aspegers Disorder, your psychologist will then proceed to complete a comprehensive assessment for autism spectrum disorder. This includes two critical examinations that are necessary for funding in British Columbia. These are the Autism Diagnositic Rating Scale (ADOS) and the Autism Diagnostic Interview (ADI-R).  There are a number of other autism tests and tools out there, but these are the two that are necessary for funding from the ministry in British Columbia, and for services through any school district. If your child goes to public school in Burnaby, Vancouver, New Westminsiter, Coquitlam...anywhere in the province, the psychologist who completes the assessment must be trained in using these tools and use them for the diagnosis. Nothing else will do. Sometimes parents go to a professional who uses other tools and completes this assessment in another way. If they do the assessment will not qualify, so make sure you see someone who uses these tools for the autism assessment.  These are not the only tools he or she might use, but these are essential. For children under six years old a separate assessment by a speech pathologist and medical doctor need to be part of the process as well. If a full psychoeducational assessment is not being done, usually some sort of intelligence/cognitive testing is necessary to rule out other possible disorders.

The Psychoeducational Assessment
Along with the autism assessment most schools require a comprehensive psychoeducational assessment. This assessment looks at bith intelligence and academic ability. Children from age 3 up can be given a psychoeducational assessment, although in British Columbia schools seem unwilling to assess younger children due to financial constraints. It is best practice and done throughout most of North America, but not common here. The two components of the assessment, the intelligence and academic parts, are then compared and from that information we can make determinations about specific learning disabilities. Most children with ASD have a comorbid learning disorder. Nearly 50% of children with ADHD have a comorbid learning disorder. And without understanding the cognitive strengths and weaknesses of a child it is difficult to develop an Individualized Education Plan.

These are the three main types of assessments children and adolescents go through in order to develop an educational and behavioural plan. You often hear of a neuropsychological exam as well. These are highly specific examinations of brain processes that help with both diagnostic questions and developing education plans. Most of the time a good psychoeducational assessment and autism assessment (if necessary) are enough to move forward with.

Costs? Full psychoeducational exams can cost from $2,200-$3,600 depending on who you see and what tests are completed. Your school can and should be providing this exam for free, however here in BC there are very long waiting lists. An Autism Assessment runs around the same, but the two can often be done together. Again, the Provincial government can provide these services, for free, however there is again a waiting list, and some parents prefer to have an autonomous outside professional see their child rather than the ministry.

I hope this information is valuable. My best advice is to make sure the professional you see is a registered psychologist, that they have experience with children or adolescents, and have experience working with the schools. Understanding the system is as important as understanding the tests.

For information on services that I provide please visit my web page at: www.relatedminds.com
I provide autism and Aspergers assessments not only for children and adolescents, but for adults as well.