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USING ASSESSMENTS TO HELP KIDS interview with Dr. Gail Ross, who is the Head of the Pediatric Psychology Program at the New York Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical College


What kind of testing do you do?

There are four kinds of testing. I look at cognitive abilities which include verbal skills, memory, motor abilities and perceptual motor skills.

I make behavioral observations and use behavioral questionnaires.

I also look at academic abilities --reading, writing and math skills.

Sometimes, I assess emotional concerns through tests, such as having children tell stories about pictures or draw pictures.

Under what circumstances do you do an evaluation?

Physicians or parents call when they see a physical or emotional problem, difficulty in school or a developmental delay.

What is the goal of doing an evaluation?

What is hoped is that we'll have a better understanding of how the child is functioning and what would be the best way to remediate. I'll say to the child "This is a good way of finding out ways to help you."

Are you usually able to figure out what's going on?

Almost always. Having a history is helpful. For instance knowing if there has been a recent trauma or if the problem is chronic. However, sometimes a parent wants me to see the child without any history to get as objective and independent an assessment as possible.

Have you seen a change in diagnoses over time?

More kids have been brought in with ADHD, learning disabilities and pervasive developmental delays in the past 10 years.

Why do you think that's the case?

There's a greater sensitivity to children's development. Parents are better informed and want to remediate difficulties early, even before they appear.

What are some of the things you feel you can offer parents?

It's helpful to understand how different kids understand information -- to know how they best process information. It's possible to hone in on talents and use them to strengthen weaknesses.

What kind of recommendations do you make?

The recommendations are the most important part. Often, a child is suffering because he or she is in the wrong kind of school and does much better after transferring. Sometimes, children do fine in their current school with extra tutoring or therapy in a specific area.

Often, I suggest that teachers and parents learn a system of structuring the child's environment and rewarding behaviors, so that he or she can pay attention better. Educationally, children can often use their strengths to help them in areas of difficulty..

What are some other examples of how a strength can be utilized?

Children with strong verbal skills can learn to organize information verbally, so if they have perceptual- spatial difficulties, they may learn to talk themselves through a math problem or use verbal cues to figure out how to get from one place to another. Some children have great visual-motor skills; they can picture just what to do. These kids can use visual cues when they are reading or doing math and they can translate information into diagrams. In classrooms, a multi-sensory approach works well.

Are there particular tests that you've found useful?

I find the Wechsler Scales is very useful because it not only gives an overview of intellectual capacity, but also it is broken into many different components such as social judgment, different types of memory, spatial reasoning, and verbal expression.

After the Weschler Scale I'll often follow up with other tests that look into specific areas in more detail. For instance, if a child gives answers unrelated to the questions I'll look further at whether there are problems in auditory processing, attention, or emotional difficulties. Much of this testing process is a form of problem-solving -- like being a detective.

What else can you tell about a child?

During the assessment I can see if a child is motivated, anxious, or distractable. I also get an idea of how a child relates to other people.

What about kids with reading difficulties?

I can see if a child has trouble with decoding or comprehension. Does the child extract factual information but have trouble making inferences or visa versa?

Are parents prepared to hear what you have to say?

Sometimes the parents have a hunch and it turns out to be something entirely different. Most times, however, the parent's intuition is right on target. Many parents come in because they think there's a problem. When parents are unprepared they may be upset or feel overwhelmed. I try to help them see that there is much that can be done to help their child.

Most often parents are very supportive and responsive. They may understand that their child should be in a less competitive environment or a more structured setting. Parents want their kids to be in a place where they can be happiest and thrive.

How do the kids react?

Sometimes it's a big relief for kids to know why they have been having such a hard time. For instance, a child with great non-verbal skills but difficulty expressing himself verbally may feel very frustrated. Once we know what's going on, we can work on ways of making things better.

How can parents find someone in their area to do an evaluation?

Get recommendations from other parents. Find a person who has experience doing evaluations because he or she will know how to structure the assessment as well as how to interpret and communicate the results. The school can make suggestions, but sometimes parents want to have an independent assessment that doesn't go to the school.

What should parents look for in a person doing an evaluation?

Whoever does the testing should like kids and have a positive attitude toward children. He or she should be able to see the child's strengths first and foremost.

What would you like parents to know?

Everyone is unique. Everyone has a different profile. Every kid has strengths. There are practically no situations that can't be improved.


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Copyright© 2015, Dr. Istar Schwager
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