What We Do
The clinicians at the Yale Academic Skills Clinic take an individualized approach to psychoeducational and neuropsychological assessment. All students are complex, from those who are typically developing to those with complex learning problems and/or medical conditions. All have unique profiles of strengths and weaknesses. One of our central tenets is that, when developing teaching and learning strategies for students, it is just as important to understand their strengths as it is to understand their weaknesses. Strengths can be leveraged in teaching strategies and for compensatory mechanisms. For example, some students are excellent readers, but struggle with spatial reasoning. For these students, the process of verbal recoding (talking oneself through a graph or chart, for example), capitalizes on verbal skills and compensates for spatial weaknesses.
Our comprehensive evaluations include assessment of cognitive; academic, (reading, writing, math, and oral language, and often other content areas including science, social studies, and humanities); attention, impulse control, and executive functioning; visual-motor integration; language; adaptive behavior; and social-emotional functioning. We do not use a fixed set of instruments. Instead, we choose the standardized instruments that we believe will be the most likely to provide meaningful information. For example, we not only use the Wechsler IQ series (WPPSI-IV, WISC-V, WAIS-IV), but also the DAS-2, KABC-II, Leiter-3, UNIT, Stanford-Binet-5, Woodcock-Johnson-IV, and sometimes IQ screeners. In choosing the instrument(s) to be used, we consider a student's age, ability, referral question, primary language, previous assessments, and other factors such as attention. If previous assessment reports exist, it is sometimes useful to use the same assessment tool for progress monitoring, while at other times it is more useful to use a different assessment tool to broaden our understanding of students'abilities.
Another of our central tenets is that data cannot be interpreted in isolation. That is, it is not helpful for the development of an intervention plan to only assess academics, or to only measure IQ. As such, our psychoeducational evaluations are comprehensive and neuropsychological in nature. Data from multiple domains, as discussed above, are integrated into an overall picture of a student's functioning. Furthermore, any "red flags" within the core evaluation are further explored using additional assessment materials. For example, it is often important to more comprehensively explore the following:
- Memory (storage, retrieval, short term, and working, in verbal and nonverbal domains),
- Processing speed (academic and cognitive),
- Speech, language and communication (including nonliteral language, vocabulary, syntax, and grammar, in expressive and receptive domains, as well as nonverbal communication and narrative language),
- Reading processes (phonological awareness, phonological memory, decoding, encoding, word identification, reading vocabulary, comprehension (word, sentence, and text for concrete vs. inferential, and narrative vs. expository), and fluency (decoding, sentence, and word), and reading and spelling of regular vs. irregular patterns,
- We may find it desirable to speak directly with your child's teacher(s), to other professionals who have evaluated or work with your child, and/or to perform a classroom observation.
- Math processes (early numeracy, math concepts, written calculation, content areas (algebra, geometry, measurement, probability), mental math, understanding of math problem solving strategies, and application of skills to word problems, and math fact retrieval fluency),
- Writing processes (written vocabulary, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, meaning in sentences, combination of ideas, use of contextual conventions in text, story composition, argument structure, and writing fluency),
- Social reasoning (theory of mind, emotion recognition, social problem solving, understanding and use of visual/nonverbal cues, social inferencing, social interaction, interpretation of irony, interpersonal negotiation, and supporting peers)
- Creativity (convergent thinking, divergent thinking, and fluid reasoning in verbal, numerical, and spatial domains),
- Further assessment for the potential presence of specific disorders or syndromes, including autism assessment, genetic analysis, psychiatric consultation (and sometimes medication consultation), and personality assessment.
Our third tenet is that students, especially young students, are ever-changing. They interact in different ways and under different circumstances with fathers, mothers, siblings, peers, coaches, caregivers, classroom teachers, "specials" teachers, intervention teachers, tutors, and us as examiners. Rather than scheduling one or two long assessment days, we prefer to see students over three to four shorter (two to three hour) visits. This is especially useful for students with a strong "honeymoon period" or with anxiety, whose behavior may change with familiarity. We typically ask for questionnaire data from two parents (when feasible) and from two teachers (either a classroom teacher and a second teacher, advisor, paraprofessional, or interventionist; or two content-course teachers who may have different experiences with the student). For younger students, it is often useful for one or two clinicians to visit the student's classroom to observe how he or she functions during structured lessons, unstructured time, transitioning between activities, and with peers.
Finally, we feel strongly that the most important part of what we do is to provide useful recommendations to improve the student's experiences with living and learning, and parent/guardian experiences with the student. We can directly assess the functionality of current strategies (e.g., computer use, extra time, iPad for communication, etc.), and make recommendations for intervention programs, curriculum content, additional services/consultations, homework time, peer relationships, family relationships, adaptive functioning, and other areas that might benefit from some extra attention or teaching.
Our central tenets are:
- It is important to understand both students' strengths and their weaknesses.
- To be useful, data must be interpreted in context, considering the functioning of the whole individual.
- People change and grow, and assessment and teaching strategies must be adapted to current functioning.
- The goal of the evaluation is to provide useful recommendations to help students to be happier, more successful, and more fulfilled.