Ask An Expert / Diagnosis

When should you get a neuropsych evaluation for a child starting school in the fall?

If a child may need help, spring is not too early to start

Matthew M. Cruger, PhD
Matthew Cruger, PhD

Senior Director, Learning and Development Center

Child Mind Institute

Hi, I am emailing to see if there is a published timeline to begin neuropsych evaluations for children entering kindergarten next fall.This is a hot topic among families of CPSE/CSE students, so it would be helpful for you to address on your website.

This is a great question because there is no published timeline for when to start a neuropsychological evaluation, but if there is a need for this kind of assessment, planning ahead is important.

If you think your child has learning or behavioral issues that merit special placement, you should get started as early as a year before he will start school.

That’s because it is essential to get any test results into the hands of the group that will make decisions about your child — the Committee for Special Education (CSE) or Committee for Preschool Special Education (CPSE) — prior to the meeting in which his needs will be discussed. In my experience, a month or so in advance is an adequate time for the members of the committee to review the results, but of course the testing needs to be complete, and sometimes these meetings take place in the spring before school starts in the fall.

For those who don’t know, a CSE, or CPSE, is a committee, comprised of the parents, professionals, and school district employees, convened to make a determination of a child’s special education needs. This could include interventions at school, selection of specific types of classrooms within the school district, and decisions about whether an alternate placement in a specialized school outside of the district is required for a child who struggles in a “mainstream” setting.

Sometimes everyone involved agrees on the student’s needs and a recommended course of action, but sometimes, especially when an outside placement is being considered, there is not clear agreement.

If you believe that your child needs services that the district cannot easily provide, it’s important to come to that first CSE meeting with the best data you can get, to make the strongest possible case. School districts may have done informal, and even formal, assessments of your child’s abilities, and the committee will use this information to support its recommendations. If you’ve decided to pursue a neuropsychological evaluation, which may show your child’s specific deficits and difficulties more clearly than other testing, you want the report of that evaluation to be included in any review that might take place before the meeting.

In considering the time frame, remember that scheduling testing can take time—sometimes the assessment takes a month or more to complete and there may be a longer wait if your area lacks sufficient specialists. Ask any expert you talk to about the time frame for completing the report, so that you can plan accordingly.

The neuropsychological report may also indicate that some other information should be collected before a determination is made about your child’s needs, and the school may recommend additional testing as well. And if a formal evaluation has not been completed within the district, they may decide to do it at that point. Thus, you should budget some time for another round (or rounds) of evaluation, report writing, and consultation with professionals when there is a debate about what services to provide.

If there is disagreement it may also lead to some protracted negotiations with your school district, looking at special education settings that your district offers, and finding out more about the schools that you think are the best fit. These specialized schools may have limited admissions as well, which means that the earlier you can discuss matters with those placements, the better.

Most often, everyone wants the best outcome for students, but finding the right placement for a child with special education needs can take some time and a neuropsychological evaluation is often an important first step in that process.