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Whole Child Assessment   

Presenting Whole Child Assessment (WCA):   A Unique Way of Understanding your Child  

From the minute children are born, we are assessing them based on a whole range of physical and developmental milestones. Remember the Apgar score and your relief when your baby was pronounced “healthy and normal.” As your child grew and developed, other quantitative assessments, such as IQ and achievement tests, provided raw scores and percentiles to help schools understand how your child compared with others his or her age.

However, anyone who understands statistics knows that numbers don’t tell the whole story; when learning challenges or language difficulties inhibit success, IQ and achievement tests can miss important information. Also, other factors, such as attention, behavior, health, emotions and lack of rapport with the tester, can undermine the outcome of these tests. Schools also provide achievement test scores as a way of marketing the competitive education their school is providing. Often these scores are more indicative of the school population than of its skill at teaching to the needs of a particular student. We know it is unlikely a child will achieve an erroneously high score, but, there are many reasons children could have scored lower than their knowledge and skills would predict.

For the gifted, the simple fact that tests have ceilings can mean the test hasn’t revealed the full potential of the child. While these quantitative assessments can provide important information for parents and educators, they do not address other aspects of the child’s emotional and cognitive development. Parents and educators also need a way of evaluating non-quantitative factors, which can be critically significant to a child’s educational outcomes and successful life adjustments. What exactly are these other assessment options and how effective are they?

The Qualitative Assessment Approach

Qualitative methods of assessment have been used to assess products, programs, performance, proposals, research, organizations, and people, for a variety of purposes. Any method of evaluation that does not quantify, or measure, something can be considered qualitative. As the root of the term implies, it is an evaluation of the quality (or qualities) of something, usually taking into account its particular context and implications.

Qualitative assessments of children use in-depth, but unstructured, interviews, history, observation and interaction with your particular child to paint a picture of his or her needs. These assessments are usually performed by professional therapists, psychologists, or learning specialists with a background in educational environments. The particular approach used will depend upon the purpose of the evaluation and also the particular orientation of the assessor. For example, an educator may primarily look for information related to the child’s ability to learn and function at school; someone trained in identifying learning disabilities may be especially alert for hidden problems that could stem from learning disabilities; a behavior specialist may be watching for potential ways to reinforce or extinguish behaviors. The usefulness of these qualitative assessment techniques is very dependent on the skill, judgment, experience and insight of the individual professional performing the evaluation, not to mention the nature of the findings and recommendations that accompany these observations.

Roots of Whole Child Assessment

Whole Child Assessment is the result of a lifetime of studying and working with children who had challenges, as well as special gifts. I began my education in this area as the older sibling of a developmentally delayed sister and a brother who was treated for severe AD/HD from the age of two.

While a student in a program for gifted children, I met Dr. Linda Silverman, then a teacher and Ph.D. candidate in Special Education and Educational Psychology. She has been my mentor and dear friend ever since, always encouraging me and expanding my knowledge and experience in working with gifted children.

Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, I earned degrees in Psychology, Art, Education and Marriage and Family Therapy. I have taught children of all ages how to optimize their gifts, teachers how to inspire their charges, and parents ways to nurture and guide their children.

After raising three gifted children, I earned my License as a Marriage and Family Therapist from Phillips Graduate Institute (formerly the California Family Study Center); I have devoted my professional counseling life to helping families better understand each other so they can live together with loving, nurturing, and mutually satisfying relationships.

After years of counseling and coaching families and individuals, I decided to use my observations and experience to develop a tool that could provide parents with relevant and critical information about their children and family systems. WCA represents a synthesis of the models, techniques and philosophies of many giants in the world of psychology, education and philosophy—including Virginia Satir, Carl Jung, Jean Piaget, Kazimierz Dabrowski, Martin Buber, Maria Montessori, Linda Silverman, and, particularly, Annemarie Roeper, who originated the productive three-session format for use with the Annemarie Roeper Method of Qualitative Assessment.

Whole Child Assessment

Whole Child Assessment (WCA) is a type of qualitative assessment that allows me to better understand a child, based upon the qualities that make him, or her, a unique human being. When parental history, interviews, play therapy, other types of unstructured but strategic interactions, and in-depth observation are used, children can unveil themselves in ways that quantitative methods miss. WCA is not a substitute for quantitative tests; it complements standardized testing by collecting information about personality, learning style, emotional, spiritual and temperamental processes. All of these factors provide clues that allow a fuller understanding of a child’s unique approach to life.

WCA is used in conjunction with quantitative measures of the child’s intellectual potential and achievement and is not a substitute for such testing. But, through the WCA process, parents gain better awareness for what environments and parenting styles have a high probability of helping their child achieve a happy and fulfilling life experience. WCA focuses on “who” the child is, rather than “what” he, or she, is capable of doing (although generally it also results in revealing the child’s strengths and potentials).

Usually, the results of the WCA process will reinforce some of what parents already suspect. But, WCA also illuminates aspects, both positive and negative, that might have gone unnoticed; this might include hidden learning challenges such as auditory or visual processing difficulties, or, conversely, spiritually evolved gifts, such as ethical concerns or an unusual capacity for empathy and compassion. In addition to personality type, learning style, temperament and interests, I will help parents learn best practices for parenting this particular child, with his or her specific needs. All this information is important and relevant to fully understand and fulfill the needs of your child.  

Process of Whole Child Assessment

WCA involves three sessions. The first session is an interview with you and your spouse for approximately one hour. Prior to session one, you each will be asked to complete informational forms that include a developmental history, releases and informed consent regarding the legal limits of confidentiality and parents’ rights.

The most important pre-meeting document is the Anecdotal History. In this history, each of you writes a narrative description of your child. The first session is a time to elaborate upon these written thoughts, stories and concerns. This document should be viewed as an opportunity to illustrate all the ways your child is special and individual. Most parents view it as an opportunity to relive and codify benchmark events and prominent memories. It is one of the few times in life that you are required to brag about how wonderful your child can be.

Your child is the star of the second session of WCA; it can last up to one and a half hours, depending upon his or her age and attention span. During this session, children get the chance to unfold who they are. After meeting me, and experiencing my home, children are usually delighted to be able to explore the toy room, revealing themselves to me through what they say, and what they choose to do. They are in control of this time as we go through the necessary stages of trust-building, play, exploration, and sometimes boundary testing. Children are asked, in advance, to bring something they would like to share about themselves or their interests; this session involves mostly conversation, play, and observation. It allows the child to bask in the reflection of positive regard. I am fully present, accepting and attentive; because of this, children usually feel safe enough to reveal many of their hidden feelings and beliefs about themselves and the world. It is through this complex interaction that I come to understand your child’s motivations, challenges, and core values.

About a week later, I will meet with you again to explain my observations (with implications), and to make recommendations for future plans. At this time, you can address specific concerns around education, socialization, remediation, and general parenting etc. You will also receive a short summary of my thoughts generated from the first two sessions.

If you are interested in a more detailed report, please request it prior to the second session, and there will be an extra charge of $150/hour for preparation (it takes approximately two hours to prepare.) Often parents or families will opt to continue our counseling relationship after the formal WCA is complete. This can be accomplished through subsequent individual or family work contracted on an hourly basis as needed.  

Sample WCA Report
View a sample Whole Child Assessment Report  >>  WCA report   (Microsoft Word)

View the WCA Presentation from the Second National Symposium on Assessing Gifted Learners, March 27, 2009, Van Nuys, CA.  >>   WCA Presentation    (Microsoft PowerPoint)

Linda Powers Leviton M.A., M.F.T. is the Director of the West Coast office of the Gifted Development Center and a licensed Marriage, Family and Child Therapist. I have 35 years of experience working with children, parents, administrators and teachers to help individuals fully understand the people in their lives. I specialize in working with the gifted population, particularly twice exceptional children and their families.

All three sessions of WCA will be in my home office in Granada Hills. Children are more comfortable in the home environment, and just as I am observing them, they appraise me for trustworthiness by being welcomed into my home space. Parents can wait in other parts of the house during session two, or can go for a walk. Several shops and restaurants are within a few blocks of my home.

At the final session, you will receive a brief written report of my observations and general recommendations. Prior to session 2, you may request a more detailed report, prepared at my hourly rate ($150/hr).

Tape recording
You may record the first and third sessions, if desired. Parents are responsible for bringing the necessary equipment and tape. Children tend to be more candid during the second session if they know it is relatively confidential, so taping of this session is discouraged.

$750, payable in three payments:  $150 at the time the appointment is made, $300 at the end of Session I, and $300 at the end of Session III.  I accept Cash, Check, Credit Card or PayPal. Checks should be made payable to Linda Powers Leviton.

What next
Call me at (818) 203-5987 to start the process with forms and appointments for the three sessions.    

Instructions for Anecdotal History

Each parent should write his or her own anecdotal history about the child: include pleasant, as well as worrisome stories; describe examples of strengths, as well as weaknesses.

Write as much as you like, but email or post it to me at least a week before the first session is scheduled. The best email address is:  My mailing address is: P.O. Box 33993, Granada Hills, CA 91344.  

Please include a list of concerns you might want me to address as part of the WCA .   

Linda Powers Leviton M.A., M.F.T.
Director, Gifted Development Center- West  or
P.O. Box 33993 Granada Hills, CA 91394
Bus. Cell:  (818) 203-5987

DISCLAIMER:  At the Gifted Development Center, we are skilled at working with the entire range of giftedness, including profoundly gifted, and with children from 3 1/2 through adolescence. We also work with gifted adults. We have expertise in diagnosing learning disabilities. However, we do NOT have expertise with severe attentional deficits, autism, Asperger's Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Delay, or severe emotional problems, such as manic depression, schizophrenia, etc. Specialists in these areas should be sought, if applicable.