Editor's note: This week, we feature guest blogger Laura Jansons, Psy D. Please read her full bio below.
According to the American Psychological Association, Pediatric Neuropsychology is a professional specialty concerned with learning and behavior in relationship to a child’s brain. A pediatric neuropsychologist is a licensed psychologist with expertise in how learning and behavior are associated with the development of brain structures and systems. Formal testing of abilities such as memory and language skills assesses brain functioning. The pediatric neuropsychologist conducts the evaluation, interprets the test results, and makes recommendations. The neuropsychologist may work in many different settings and may have different roles in the care of your child. Sometimes, the pediatric neuropsychologist is a case manager who follows the child over time to adjust recommendations to the child’s changing needs. He or she may also provide treatment, such as cognitive rehabilitation, behavior management, or psychotherapy. Often, the neuropsychologist will work closely with a physician to manage the child’s problems. Some neuropsychologists work closely with schools to help them provide appropriate educational programs for the child.
How Does a Neuropsychological Evaluation Differ From a School Psychological Assessment?
School assessments are usually performed to determine whether a child qualifies for special education programs or therapies to enhance school performance. They focus on achievement and skills needed for academic success. Generally, they do not diagnose learning or behavior disorders caused by altered brain function or development.
Why Are Children Referred to a Pediatric Neuropsychologist?
Children are referred by a doctor, teacher, school psychologist, or other professional because of one or more problems, such as:
- Difficulty in learning, attention, behavior, socialization, or emotional control;
- A disease or inborn developmental problem that affects the brain in some way; or
- A brain injury from an accident, birth trauma, or other physical stress.
A neuropsychological evaluation assists in better understanding your child’s functioning in areas such as memory, attention, perception, coordination, language, and personality. This information will help you and your child’s teacher, therapists, and physician provide treatments and interventions for your child that will meet his or her unique needs.
What is Assessed in a Neuropsychological Evaluation?
A typical neuropsychological evaluation of a school-age child may assess these areas:
- General intellect
- Achievement skills, such as reading and math
- Executive skills, such as organization, planning, inhibition, and flexibility
- Learning and memory
- Visual–spatial skills
- Motor coordination
- Behavioral and emotional functioning
- Social skills
- Personality functioning
Some abilities may be measured in more detail than others, depending on the child’s needs. A detailed developmental history and data from the child’s teacher may also be obtained. Observing your child to understand his or her motivation, cooperation, and behavior is a very important part of the evaluation. Emerging skills can be assessed in very young children. However, the evaluation of infants and preschool children is usually shorter in duration, because the child has not yet developed many skills.
What Will the Results Tell Me About My Child?
By comparing your child’s test scores to scores of children of similar ages, the neuropsychologist can create a profile of your child’s strengths and weaknesses. The results help those involved in your child’s care in a number of ways. Testing can explain why your child is having school problems. For example, a child may have difficulty reading because of an attention problem, a language disorder, an auditory processing problem, or a reading disability. Testing also guides the pediatric neuropsychologist’s design of interventions to draw upon your child’s strengths. The results identify what skills to work on, as well as which strategies to use to help your child. Testing can help detect the effects of developmental, neurological, and medical problems, such as epilepsy, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, or a genetic disorder. Testing may be done to obtain a baseline against which to measure the outcome of treatment or the child’s development over time.
Different childhood disorders result in specific patterns of strengths and weaknesses. These profiles of abilities can help identify a child’s disorder and the brain areas that are involved. For example, testing can help differentiate between an attention deficit and depression or determine whether a language delay is due to a problem in producing speech, understanding or expressing language, social shyness, autism, or cognitive delay. Your neuropsychologist may work with your physician to combine results from medical tests, such as brain imaging or blood tests, to diagnose your child’s problem.
Most importantly, testing provides a better understanding of the child’s behavior and learning in school, at home, and in the community. The evaluation can guide teachers, therapists, and you to better help your child achieve his or her potential.
Please see this page for comprehensive information about Executive Function in Elementary students.
Laura Jansons, Psy.D. is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and recently entered Board Certification with the American Board of Professional Neuropsychology (ABN). Dr. Jansons assesses developmental disorders including autism and ADHD, learning disabilities, executive dysfunction, learning and memory problems; she also provides assessments for degenerative disease including Alzheimer’s and other dementias and TBI. Dr. Jansons has consulted for A & E Cable show, "Intervention". In February 2014, she spoke at the Neuroscience Center in Deerfield, IL, on the topic of Neural Network Dynamics. More recent presentations have been on Cognitive Development and Effects of C-section births; and Arnold Chiari I Malformations. Her practice is in Arlington Heights, IL. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.