Neuropsychological Evaluations: What Are They? & When Should You Consider Them?
By: Laura Miller, LMSW
Over the last year learning environments have drastically changed due to COVID-19. Many students have transitioned to remote and hybrid learning models and faced virtual learning challenges. For example, students must maintain focus despite home distractions being readily available, manage technical issues, all while coping with decreased socialization. These changes require a new set of skills and it’s entirely understandable if your child has needed extra support this school year.
However, in some cases, it may be important to consider if your child is struggling with something beyond the difficult transition to remote learning. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, one in five children in the United States experience learning and attention issues indicative of a learning disorder. Furthermore, forty-eight percent of parents falsely believe that children will outgrow these brain-based difficulties, when a child may actually require more support and intervention.
In order to more fully understand your child’s learning profile, an assessment known as a neuropsychological evaluation can be completed to identify your child’s strengths and weaknesses as well as determine the kinds of supports that can help your child thrive. Keep reading to better understand what this type of evaluation includes as well as know when it may be helpful to consider.
What is a Neuropsychological Evaluation?
Neuropsychology refers to the study of the relationship between behavior, emotions and thoughts and brain function. Neuropsychological testing gathers information through several sources, including standardized tests, observations of the child during testing and questionnaires completed by both parents and teachers. By gathering this information, evaluators can determine how a child learns and processes information.
In order to further understand how someone processes information, a range of domains including verbal, spatial, attention, memory, reasoning and organizational skills are assessed. Academic skill development is also measured so that there can be a clear picture of where a student is in terms of their reading, math, spelling and writing skills. Furthermore, this in-depth assessment can help identify underlying problems that a child may be having. For example, if a child is struggling to follow directions, an evaluation can help determine if the child has difficulty concentrating when directions are given, difficulty comprehending directions received, difficulty remembering directions, or a combination of several difficulties. Once underlying causes are determined, then appropriate supports can be put into place.
Gathering the information needed for a neuropsychological evaluation can be a lengthy process. Often times, this process usually requires several meetings and involves both the child and the parent. While lengthy, many children actually report enjoying the process because they are interacting with a supportive adult and receiving positive attention.
After the evaluation is complete, a report will be written that explains a child’s history, their tests results, and a recommended plan of intervention. Often times, this report can be used to advocate for special services within the child’s school system so that the child’s needs are best met.
When Might My Child Benefit From More Testing?
Of course, when you see your child having any difficulty in school, there is the natural
instinct to want to help. So, how do you determine if your child truly needs
neuropsychological testing? One of the ways to make the decision is to ask; “Is there a persistent problem across contexts? For example, are multiple teachers having concerns
regarding attention, behavior or academic performance? Do problems persist despite tutoring sessions? Is your child’s overall well-being being negatively impacted by their cognitive, emotional or behavioral abilities? For example, a child may do poorly on their math test and it might be a point of concern, yet not have ongoing negative impact. However, if a child is consistently doing poorly, and hasn’t gotten higher than a C- in the last six months and is now reporting a negative view of their overall ability, it may be an indicator that there are problems to further investigate. Below is a list of some behaviors that may indicate a need for neuropsychological testing:
· Inability to sustain attention
· Anxiety /fear or reluctance to engage in developmentally appropriate activities
· Slow acquisition of academic skills compared to peers
· Behavioral problems in school
· Difficulty maintaining organization and focus for sequenced (multiple-step) tasks
· Low self-esteem and anxiety about school performance
· Intellectually mature yet inconsistently performing or underperforming academically
If you’re wondering if your child may need a neuropsychological evaluation, start by reaching out to your child’s teachers and gathering information on their functioning in school. Often times, school districts will also have the ability to complete some testing within the school or can provide a recommended list of trusted evaluators. You can explain to your child that all kids learn differently and everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and that you want to help them figure out how they can learn best! Ultimately, a neuropsychological evaluation will help your child get on the path to being their most effective and productive self in school. Check out this webinar on evaluations to continue to learn more!