When children show signs of learning difficulties, an appropriate assessment of their skills and abilities is essential. Children need to be adequately assessed and diagnosed to be provided with the right kind of support to succeed in their academic and personal lives. When we need to gather comprehensive information about a child’s brain to understand the sources of problems, the brain’s strengths and weaknesses need to be examined. A neuropsychological evaluation is an important step and can provide some valuable insights.
What is Neuropsychology?
Neuropsychology is the study of the relationship between the brain and behavior. This field is a subspeciality of clinical psychology that encompasses the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of the various disorders that can impact the central nervous system, generally the brain and spinal cord. Moreover, neuropsychology focuses specifically on changes in cognition, emotion, and behavior that results from brain injury or disease. Neuropsychology is aimed at obtaining a comprehensive assessment of an individual’s cognitive abilities and emotional functioning.
Neuropsychologist VS. Psychologist, is There a Difference?
Before diving into the differences, it might be helpful first to explain what neuroscience is. Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord, and neurons. Neuroscience is an interdisciplinary field meaning it integrates other areas such as anatomy, chemistry, biology, psychology, and physics. Despite both neuropsychology and psychology being related to the brain and behavior, each branch takes a different approach.
Neuropsychologists and psychologists receive different training. Psychologists mainly deal with emotions and behavior. Psychologists see patients and commonly conduct psychotherapy or talk therapy. They treat people with short-term problems such as grief and stress as well as chronic problems that range from anxiety to depression. Neuropsychologists are trained to use “task-based metrics such as Trail-making test to evaluate functional capabilities of a person’s brain.”
Why Consider a Neuropsychological Evaluation?
Children’s primary ‘job’ is to learn; when a child fails to acquire the academic skills expected, it might be an alarm that there is an underlying problem such as a subtle brain dysfunction of a developmental nature. It is imperative to identify the brain-related dysfunction to have the proper academic and behavioral intervention. Early and appropriate intervention is vital to help the child stop struggling in school, which can have even more adverse effects on the child’s emotional state and behavior.
Some children might be easily diagnosed through a school-based evaluation program. However, other children might need a more comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation of cognitive abilities.
What Can a Neuropsychological Evaluation Help Assess?
A neuropsychological evaluation is conducted to provide the optimal plan for treatment, receive services or benefits, readiness to return to work, make important decisions about and whether an individual can continue to live independently, drive safely or make decisions about financial or other personal affairs. A neuropsychological evaluation can be used to
- to quantify a child or adolescent’s patterns of cognitive strengths and weaknesses to diagnose existing developmental disorders and obtain the necessary accommodation at school (i.e., attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disorders, autism spectrum disorders, and epilepsy)
What is a Neuropsychological Evaluation?
A neuropsychological evaluation has various components. It is composed of a clinical interview and observation of the child, reviewing relevant school and medical records, and administering a series of tests that measure areas of brain functioning. These tests can include attention, memory, executive functioning, fine motor skills, language, visuospatial abilities, sensory-perceptual functioning, academic performance, and behavioral and emotional functioning. Neuropsychological tests include intelligence tests such as a comprehensive test of intelligence (IQ tests). However, testing should not be limited to the IQ test and assessment of achievement levels. It does not provide sufficient information regarding the child or the adult brain’s functioning; therefore, adequate intervention methods cannot be provided.
The type of questions used depends on the problems that the child exhibits and the referral questions, and any suspected or documented diagnosis. In order to effectively interpret the information, the evaluator must analyze all the following: information obtained from the evaluation, knowledge of the suspected disorder, knowledge of the anatomy of the brain and function, and understanding of developmental issues.
How are Neurospcyholgical Tests Assessed?
Neuropsychological tests are standardized; they are administered and scored in the same manner to all patients. The test scores are interpreted by comparing the score of the person being tested to a healthy individual’s scores of a similar demographic (meaning same gender, similar age group, etc.).
A learning disability is a lifelong condition. Therefore, early identification of neuropsychological strengths and limitations is essential in facilitating educational and treatment planning. Every case should be provided with a holistic and appropriate evaluation.