1. What can a school neuropsychologist do?
School neuropsychologists are a type of clinical psychologist that specializes in treating children and adolescents. They can diagnose, develop a rehabilitation plan, and provide therapy for Anxiety, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorders (including Asperger’s), Depression, Learning Disabilities, Giftedness, and Traumatic Brain Injuries.
To address learning, a school neuropsychologist can use cognitive testing to get information on how an individual student processes information. They can then take that information and help develop interventions and/or plans of action to facilitate that student’s learning. Cognitive testing does generate an “IQ” score, but more importantly, it provides a professional with a profile of an individual’s strengths and weaknesses in learning. The most effective plan is usually linked to a student’s strengths, not weaknesses.
Sometimes, the picture is not clear enough with just the cognitive profile. In those cases, a school neuropsychologist can administer special tests to measure such areas as executive functioning, visual-motor integration, and sensory-motor functioning. These are the same tests used in a hospital/clinical setting when there has been a brain injury. Whether or not the parents can recall a specific head injury, there might be developmental “glitches” in the wiring of the student’s brain that affect their ability to learn. Often, when no damage is evident on a CT-scan or MRI, a patient is sent to a neuropsychologist to find more subtle processing difficulties.
2. Who can benefit from a cognitive or neuropsychological assessment?
The answer is: children all along the learning spectrum! Some examples are:
Gifted children are not required to be serviced by special education law. However, they often deal with high levels of frustration when they don’t understand why everyone else doesn’t understand concepts as quickly as they do. They perceive that they are different than their peers, but they don’t always understand why. Because of this, they often have difficulties with social relationships. Gifted children can also be gifted in the level of their emotional responses. This can lead to hypersensitivity about interpersonal relationships, new situations, or possible failure. Gifted children actually have a higher rate of both dropping out of school and suicide than the average population. They may need help understanding how their brains work, and developing a niche for themselves in society as a whole.
Children who struggle in school often present a puzzle to parents and educational personnel. They don’t seem to respond to traditional teaching methods. Actually the majority of the population does NOT learn best with the “sit quietly while I teach you” method used in many classrooms; but with large class sizes, teachers often have little freedom to incorporate more relaxed learning atmospheres. Children, parents, and teachers can all benefit from understanding how a particular student’s brain works. Perhaps this child learns better through pictures, or that one through having the body in motion. Perhaps this student can demonstrate learning on a multiple choice test, while this one can write stories, and that one demonstrates through speaking rather than writing. A personalized cognitive assessment can empower learning.
3. What does an assessment entail?
First, the parent/guardian meets with the psychologist to determine what tests are most appropriate. Sometimes this can be done over the phone. Usually, the full cognitive battery will yield the information needed. While the child is being tested, the parent/guardian can complete forms that provide vital information. The psychologist then analyzes all of the information and develops a learning strategy guided by the way that child’s brain learns best. During the last visit, the psychologist explains the results to the parent/guardian in person. If the child is old enough, he or she might benefit from attending the meeting.
When neuropsychological testing is required, there will often be two testing sessions.