Assessing anxiety problems in young children can be difficult because most existing measures involve written assessments. However, Kathrin Dubi of the Department of Psychology and the Department of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology at the University of Basel in Switzerland and her colleagues recently developed a tool that allows clinicians to more accurately evaluate anxiety in children who are too young to read. The Picture Anxiety Test (PAT) is an alternative to traditional measures and can be easily administered to children. Additionally, pictures encourage more attention and focus and keep younger children more interested in assessments. This type of measure provides professionals the opportunity to better gauge a child’s true level of anxiety.
The PAT is designed to capture specific behaviors related to phobias and anxiety, including avoidance, separation, and externalizing. The ideal delivery of PAT would be in conjunction with other methods, including parent reports. Although the PAT has been previously tested on a relatively small sample of children, Dubi recently administered the PAT to 153 children between the ages of 4 and 8. For her study, Dubi enlisted a group of mental health professionals to compare the results of PAT to traditional scales. The findings revealed that the PAT was highly consistent in accurately capturing the anxiety levels of the children.
The results of the current study revealed anxiety and phobia scores that were in line with other samples taken from the general population. Additionally, the psychologists reported that the findings collected from the PAT were similar to those from other picture scales. The PAT showed that the girls had higher avoidance anxiety than the boys and that separation anxiety diminished with age. However, Dubi also found that the parent reports from her study differed quite a bit from the data produced from the PAT. She said that her findings support use of PAT as a method for evaluating anxiety in young children. But, she added, “Use of the PAT is recommended for supplemental use along with a structured diagnostic interview conducted with parents.”
Dubi, K., Lavallee, K. L., Schneider, S. (2012). The Picture Anxiety Test (PAT) psychometric properties in a community sample of young children. Swiss Journal of Psychology 71.2, 73-81.
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