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Deciding on evaluation

Should I Wait to Get My Preschooler Evaluated for Learning and Attention Issues?

By Elizabeth Harstad

My daughter is in Pre-K and is having a really tough time following directions and participating in circle time. Is this OK for her to be doing at her age? Should I wait and see if she grows out of it or go ahead and request an evaluation? When is the right time to get a child evaluated for learning and attention issues? How can I tell if she’s too young and I’m overreacting?

Elizabeth Harstad

Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician, Boston Children’s Hospital

There’s no “right” time to be evaluated. But generally, in my experience, getting an evaluation early can help. An evaluation can help point out specific areas of difficulty. And knowing specifics can help you figure out the best ways to help your child succeed.

If your daughter qualifies for special services and supports, she certainly wouldn’t be the first preschooler to have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). And even if she doesn't qualify for services, the evaluation team may still provide you with some recommendations about how to help your child.

If you’re unsure whether or not to have your child evaluated, reach out to her teachers. Ask them what they see as your child’s strengths and areas of difficulty. Talk to the teachers about why they think circle time seems challenging for your daughter. For example, you could ask the teachers:

  • “Does it seem like she doesn’t understand what you’re asking her to do?”
  • “Does she seem to understand but then forgets what she’s supposed to do?”
  • “How does her behavior compare to the way her classmates behave?”
  • “Are you concerned about her behaviors?”

Getting specifics from her teachers—and letting them know if you’re seeing any of these behaviors at home—can be helpful for both of you. It’s also a good idea to discuss your concerns with your child’s doctor.

In the meantime, you may want to read want to read about the evaluation process as well as some of the reasons kids can have trouble following directions.

You can also explore tips on how to help your child follow directions.

About the Author

Portrait of Elizabeth Harstad

Elizabeth Harstad

Elizabeth Harstad, M.D., M.P.H., is a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.

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