There are times when children need psychological help the same as adults do. Some psychological disorders have physical causes; others are brought on by stress or trauma. Still other childhood psychological disorders are behavioral in nature. Although some of the psychological disorders affecting children are more common than others, none are part of a child’s normal developmental process. Many of these behavioral or psychiatric disorders can be treated.
Standardized psychological tests are used to assess a child’s cognitive and behavioral functioning. Psychological tests are used in clinical, educational and correctional environments to assess a child’s personality or to evaluate an adolescent’s attitudes, coping styles and behavioral patterns. Self-report tests assess cognitive, emotional and behavioral signs of depression in children and adolescents. Achievement tests are another form of psychological testing used to measure a child’s skills, aptitudes and intelligence.
Specific Types of Testing
The PORT, or (Perception-of-Relationships Test, measures the degree to which a child feels an emotional closeness to each parent. The test, which is designed for children age 3 and older, observes the personality strengths and weaknesses a child develops as a result of interacting with each parent.
The TAT, or Thematic Aperception Test, used to evaluate children age 7 and up, assesses personality by focusing on a child’s principal drives, emotions, attitudes and conflicts.
The MAPI, or Millon Adolescent Personality Inventory, is another test designed for assessing adolescent personality characteristics.
The Children’s Depression Inventory is a screening tool used to identify symptoms of depression based on a child’s self-reported feelings.
How the Tests Work
The PORT consists of seven tasks — most of them drawings. The tasks measure a child’s interactions with each parent as well as how the child behaves while interacting with a parent.
The TAT examiner shows the child pictures one at a time and asks the child to make up a short story about each.
Children and adolescents taking the CDI are asked to select statements that best describe their feelings during the past two weeks. Scoring looks for negative mood, interpersonal difficulties, negative self-esteem and the inability to experience pleasure
Who Uses the Tests?
School counselors, pediatricians, psychologists and other mental health professionals and clinicians use these and other psychological tests as tools in diagnosis and treatment planning for troubled and depressed children and adolescents. Clinicians use psychological neuropsychological assessments to differentiate neurologic disease or injury from psychiatric disorders. Psychological testing of children is also used to distinguish between emotional problems and learning disabilities. The court system often relies on psychological testing as a tool in gathering and assessing information before rendering decisions in custody cases.
Administering and Interpreting the Tests
A clinically trained examiner should administer any psychological testing. A licensed psychologist or psychiatrist with expertise in the particular area being assessed should score and interpret the tests. The clinician should base interpretation of the results on a child’s complete history including review of the child’s medical, psychological and educational records.