Neuropsychological evaluations: what they are and how to know if your child needs one
Based on the name alone, undergoing a neuropsychological evaluation sounds like an intimidating process. In reality, it’s a comprehensive look at your child’s day-to-day functioning at home, at school and in the community. Whether your child has been referred for a neuropsych eval, or you’re just curious about what it entails, read on.
What is a neuropsychological evaluation?
According to Dr. Lori Tall, founder and clinical director at the Center for Comprehensive Neurobehavioral Care (CCNC), a neuropsychological evaluation is a comprehensive exploration of your child’s intellectual abilities, attention, learning and memory, language, executive functioning, processing skills, academic skills, and social-emotional functioning. Dr. Tall and her colleagues take a holistic approach to assessment; this includes direct observation at school as well as consultation with parents, teachers, and other outside providers involved in a child’s daily activities. As a traditional doctor evaluates presenting symptoms to identify and address a medical problem, neuropsychologists aim to identify a child’s neurobehavioral strengths and weaknesses to provide support or intervention as necessary.
“We’re trying to capture the whole child,” says Dr. Tall of her practice at CCNC. “And then, we come up with a plan.”
When is an evaluation recommended?
Most commonly, evaluations are recommended if a parent or an educator has any questions about a child’s development. Maybe a child is having a hard time learning to read, or difficulty transitioning to new situations because they seem a little anxious. “Most of us have a basic understanding—even just based on ‘walking by 1, talking by 2’—that things happen by a certain time, and if they don’t, then it says something about brain development,” says Dr. Tall.
It’s never too early...
“There used to be this mindset that you had to wait until a child was 6 or 8,” says Dr. Tall. “But one of the great things that autism research has taught us is that it’s never too early. Leading researchers in childhood learning say we can spot kids that are at risk for a reading disorder as early as age 4 or 5. If we can catch them then, we have a really good chance of making a difference.” While pediatricians often recognize developmental delays, they may opt to “wait it out” when it comes to concerns regarding learning, language or social development, but Dr. Tall emphasizes that waiting isn’t necessary. “We could intervene and diagnose—or not—and put some supports in place at the early stages.”
...and it’s never too late.
Dr. Tall points out that some parents of high school children regret not taking the initiative to seek out an evaluation sooner. “They think, ‘We should have been here four or five years ago,’ but it’s never too late.” CCNC believes that there is always room for some form of support or intervention once a challenge has been identified. Even with something like autism, Dr. Tall says, “it’s not that your child is necessarily going to completely move off of the spectrum, but we can certainly improve upon his ability to socialize, communicate and engage with the world around him.”
What to expect from a first-time evaluation
The process begins with an initial intake conversation with Dr. Tall. During this conversation, Dr. Tall is able to gather important information which aids in her understanding of the presenting problem and guides the child’s individual assessment plan. Testing is typically completed over the course of two separate days. Then, results are interpreted by Dr. Tall and families are provided with a report detailing the findings. Dr. Tall schedules a sit-down with parents to discuss their child’s strengths and challenges, answer questions, and provide guidance and recommendations for next steps. Dr. Tall is also available to meet with a child’s educational team to relay any findings and suggestions for appropriate accommodations in the classroom.
Treatment and next steps
“Next steps will really depend on the given diagnosis,” says Dr. Tall. For instance, if it’s reading-related, there will first be an exploration to see what educational resources are available in school to support the child; then if there are additional resources available, parents might look into the possibility of working with a specialist over the summer or after school. If it is determined that a child may benefit from a different educational setting, CCNC’s educational consultant is available to help families navigate this process. For something like autism, there will likely be different types of recommendations, such as Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy, speech and language therapy, social skills training, etc. Though some treatments may call for medication, CCNC’s practice is to also explore other alternatives. “If it’s ADHD, for instance, we’d consider medication,” says Dr. Tall, “though there are also behavioral interventions and strategies that may be effective for some kids.”
After the feedback session, CCNC remains involved in a child’s ongoing care. This may occur by monitoring progress through re-evaluations or through specific interventions such as parent coaching, pediatric behavioral consultation, individual therapy and social-skills training. All of these services are available as an extension to the initial evaluation at CCNC.
For more on CCNC’s complete services, visit ccncchicago.com.
Posted on August 28, 2019 at 11:52 AM