With school back in session, all of us have schedules, classes, and homework on the brain. But what happens when your child is having trouble focusing academically or is frustrated — and it seems like more than just difficulty transitioning from summer mode to school mode? Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital (MWPH) may be able to help.

MWPH recently opened a new Learning Assessment Center (LAC) in the village of Mount Washington — rather than on the hospital campus. Why off campus? “The growing need for psychological testing services has grown faster than we can provide outpatient space at MWPH!” said Dr. Jill Gatzke, Psy.D and Program Coordinator for the LAC. “We were able to find a great location in the town of Mt. Washington that is accessible to families, but keeps us close and connected to the hospital. Our office in Mt. Washington is conveniently located, and provides a quieter atmosphere than the hospital, which is ideal for the type of testing we perform at the LAC.”

We caught up with Dr. Gatzke in her new office to chat about learning assessments, when parents should think about having an assessment done, and what to expect during the assessment process.

Dr. Jill Gatzke, Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital Learning Assessment Center - (cool) progeny

Chatting with Jill Gatzke, Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital Learning Assessment Center

As children head back to school, what are some things parents should keep an eye out for that might indicate their child is struggling?

Parents should keep an eye out for any signs that their child may struggling to learn. Common signs include difficulties decoding words and reading sight words, organizing thoughts and expressing them in writing, and completing math computation and word problems. Additionally, it is important to look for less obvious signs unrelated to academic material, such as difficulty focusing, not completing work in a timely fashion, work avoidance, and frustration. Often times behavioral issues can emerge as children become frustrated with their inability to complete work as easily as their peers.

When should a parent call the Learning Assessment Center?

A parent should contact the Learning Assessment Center (LAC) at the first sign that their child is struggling with any of the areas discussed above. Early detection and intervention is key in ensuring future success.

Before the first visit, families have the option of scheduling their initial consultation and feedback session on location, or from their home via secure videoconferencing through the Mt. Washington Telepsychology program. Why is this an important part of the diagnostic process?

The initial consultation is important in helping to develop the appropriate battery of tests, as learning challenges are unique to each individual. At that first appointment, I am able to gather background information and discuss with the family the areas of concern that they have. From there, I tailor a specific battery of tests that will provide an in-depth assessment of those areas that are more challenging for the child so that the appropriate recommendations can be made. After testing, a feedback session is conducted to provide a comprehensive explanation of the measures given and the results of the child’s performance to the families. I also provide the families with the ‘next steps’ so that they leave the feedback session knowing how to move forward and help their child succeed academically.

Take us through the testing process at the Center. What can parents (and kids!) expect?

The evaluation is typically about 3 hours. Parents can expect to have some work to do themselves as well! Parents are provided with report forms that allow us to incorporate their observations regarding their child’s performance at home, in regards to executive functioning, as well as social, behavioral, and adaptive functioning. I will also elicit feedback from classroom teachers as well. Kids can expect to play some ‘brain games,’ do some tasks that are a little like school, and earn some prizes along the way.

What happens after a diagnosis?

The reason for conducting these assessments is to help the child move forward in a way that can promote their academic success and help them feel confident in their ability to perform to their best potential. So what happens after the diagnosis is the most important part. After results are explained to the families during the feedback session, several copies of my report are sent home to the families so that they can share the information with whom they choose, typically schools, pediatricians, and any other treatment providers. This report will have extensive recommendations to help support and foster success for each individual as they move forward in schooling.

About how long does it take for a family to get an appointment for an assessment?

That’s the great news! Families are typically seen for the initial consultation within a week or two of calling the LAC. Testing can be done within a few weeks of that and the feedback as well. So the whole turnaround is quite quick!

What is one thing you wish families knew before scheduling testing?

Families should not be apprehensive about having this type of evaluation done. While parents never want to think that anything is wrong with their child, it is better to identify the areas where a child struggles early on so that the appropriate support can be given. That being said, sometimes challenges don’t arise until much later in schooling, such as when teenagers are preparing for standardized testing and college. As such, there is never a wrong time in a child’s academic career to have this type of evaluation done.

Want to learn more or schedule an appointment? Visit MWPH’s Learning Assessment Center website or call 410-578-5037.


Editor’s Note: Photos by Laura Black