Help in Answering the “Why” - Pediatric Neuropsychological Testing
As a young child we begin to gather information on the world around us by repeatedly asking the question: “Why?” This question serves us well in the early learning process and continues to be of great assistance throughout life. I am quite fortunate, as a clinical psychologist with a specialized focus in the area of pediatric neuropsychology, to have a job that allows me to ask this question on a daily basis.
Pediatric neuropsychology is defined by the Division 40 (Clinical Neuropsychology) of the American Psychological Association (APA) as “a professional specialty concerned with learning and behavior in relationship to a child’s brain.” Information on the learning potential, cognitive ability and behavior that presents with a child is often gathered through a formal testing process. Neuropsychological testing assess a wide range of cognitive abilities and behavioral tendencies in order to assist parents, teachers, treating physicians, therapist and often the child, in understanding how the brain works and how this individual’s unique make up leads to the choices they make and to the areas where they may have difficulty. Special attention is also paid to the developmental stage of the child and how this impacts the areas of concern.
Areas assessed with neuropsychological testing often include:
- General Intellectual Ability
- Executive Skills (i.e. organization, planning, inhibition, flexibility, etc,)
- Learning and Memory
- Language Abilities
- Visual-Spatial Information Processing
- Motor Skills
- Achievement Skills (i.e. math, reading, writing)
- Behavioral and Emotional Functioning
- Social Skills
- Adaptive Functioning
Neuropsychological testing is valuable in explaining the “why” behind an area of weakness. Once the “why” is identified it is often easier to develop an intervention plan. Without the “why” symptoms can be treated in a fashion that may not lead to effective improvement for the child. For example, many children show signs of ADHD; however, the cause of the inattention, restlessness, forgetfulness and other associated traits with this disorder may be due to many different etiologies. Learning Disabilities, auditory processing weaknesses, speed of information processing inefficiencies, Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities (NVLD), Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), a variety of mental health issues and organic brain impairments can all produce symptoms of ADHD. Interventions in each of these cases would be different if one hoped to have an optimal outcome.
Neuropsychological testing is not the answer for every concern that presents with a child or teen, but can often be quite helpful in helping everyone involved to understand the larger picture.