Diagnostic Assessments

Families often seek assistance because of concerns they have about children’s behaviors, moods or other symptoms. Sometimes others involved with children may observe signs of possible mental health needs and recommend that parents pursue a diagnostic assessment. Other times, mental health or developmental screenings may identify early potential mental health problems. This usually results in referring these children to a mental health professional for further evaluation.

A diagnostic assessment is a written evaluation conducted by a mental health professional to determine whether a child or youth has a mental health disorder. The mental health professional interviews the child and/or family to gather information about the child’s life situation, such as:

  • • Effects of symptoms on functioning in home, school and community
  • • Onset, frequency, duration and severity of current symptoms
  • • History of current mental health problem (developmental incidents, strengths, stressors, etc.)
  • • Relevant family and social history

  • During the interview, the mental health clinician will also examine the child’s general behavior, motor activity, speech, alertness, mood and cognitive functioning. The clinician must ask enough questions to decide if additional data is needed to determine whether or not the child’s symptoms are severe enough to be diagnosed with a specific disorder.

    After the interview, the mental health clinician determines if the child has a mental health diagnosis. This diagnosis then drives the treatment goals, plans and services needed by the child. The diagnostic assessment may reveal the need for referrals for other services, such as psychological testing, physical examination or chemical dependency assessment. It also plays an essential part in determining medical necessity and eligibility for specific services that are developmentally and culturally appropriate.


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