There is the old saying that “children should come with a manual”. However, to the dismay of us all, children do not come with preset directions. Therefore, adults are often left with trial and error, as the means for determining “normal” development versus which behaviors should raise alarm. There are a few things to consider when determining whether a particular behavior is “normal” or not. Here is the acronym TEST to help you determine what’s typical and when it may be time to seek psychological testing:
Timing — How big is the concern? The first thing to consider is just how large of an issue is the behavior of concern. Three things to help you determine the size of the concern are frequency, intensity, and duration. Frequency refers to how often you are observing the behaviors. For example, is the child getting into fights with siblings and/or peers several times a week, as compared to once a month? Intensity refers to how strong the behaviors are. For example, is the child breaking things as compared to isolating themselves when angry? Lastly, duration refers to the length of time you’ve seen the behavior of concern. For example, did you just have this concern today or has it been for several months?
Effort — Who is the behavior affecting? Next on the list of considerations is the effort that the behavior is requiring or, in other words, the impact of the behavior. Is it disrupting school functioning or making home life intensely difficult? Are the behaviors of concern affecting your child’s usual eating, sleeping, or play habits?
Stage of Development — What is the child’s stage of development? – After considering timing and effort, it is then critical to consider the stage of development. As a rule of thumb it’s important to remember that all children, at various ages and stages, will demonstrate behaviors that may frustrate and grab attention. For example, it is expected that children who are less verbal will tend to “act out” behaviorally. Also, teenagers often engage in “acting out” behaviors, which is one reason that adolescence is often called a “second childhood.” Therefore, the point to remember is that behavior should be viewed within the context of the child and their current stage of development.
Treatments Tried — What treatments or things have been tried to address the behavior? Lastly, it is important to consider whether the behaviors of concern improved (or failed to improve) when various strategies have been attempted at home, school, or within the community.
In summary, at times parents may wonder if their child is in need of testing and evaluation by a psychologist. As a rule of thumb if the behavior(s) have increased in timing, require a lot of effort from the child or those around them, do not appear related to what is typical for their stage of development, and various treatments have been tried and failed – then it may be time to consider having your child evaluated. A comprehensive psychological evaluation can be useful in supplying answers to the questions you and the school may have about your child’s behavior, as well as their learning, social, and emotional needs.