I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Alex, an eleven-year-old girl whose parents were wisely thinking ahead about a high school placement for her. In our conversation, mom and dad shared that Alex had become increasingly challenged by school. She spent hours on her homework, yet her grades were falling. Her teachers suggested a lack of motivation, yet parents knew that to be untrue. There were many questions raised by Alex’s school experience, so I recommended the family schedule a neuropsychological evaluation for Alex to find some answers.
Answering the question, “Why?”
A neuropsychological evaluation is a process of examining the relationship between brain functioning and learning and behavior. Areas typically assessed include cognition, learning style (e.g. memory, language, and visual-spatial skills, etc.) attention, and academic performance. In Alex’s case, we had two important goals for this evaluation. First, we were looking to understand why her school performance did not appear to reflect her efforts or abilities. Second, we would then use this comprehensive information to help Alex find the high school that would be the “best fit” for her learning style.
Often families are unfamiliar with a neuropsychological evaluation and approach it with apprehension. Here I hope to offer some tips that will help demystify the process and enable students and parents to become active participants.
How to Talk With Your Child
The goal here is to help your child relax and see this process as a step to making school easier for her. Stress that the upcoming appointment is to understand how she learns. There’s no right or wrong; she just needs to be herself. With the results in hand, we will all be able to better understand and advocate for what will help her achieve at her level of potential. With an older student, you can go on to explain how the results can influence future planning including college selection and career decisions.
Preparing For the Evaluation
Almost every evaluation begins by collecting developmental, medical and academic history from the parent(s). If these data points aren’t readily accessible to you, you should review this relevant information prior to your first appointment. Written notes will ensure you won’t overlook something that may be important.
I also suggest you go into the evaluation with questions you would like to see answered. Does my daughter have ADHD? Are her difficulties due to a learning disability? Why does she seem to have difficulty maintaining friendships? These questions will help the evaluator in two important ways. First, it helps to illuminate your concerns. Second, it will then assist the evaluator to construct a battery of tests to target the areas in question.
Ensuring a Complete Picture
The interviews and testing that comprise the neuropsychological evaluation provide a wealth of information, but on their own, they are incomplete. You want to be sure the findings are linked to the environments where your child is experiencing difficulty, and, in most cases, this is the classroom. As such, the assessment must include teacher input regarding both strengths and areas for improvement. Likewise, if there is a particular setting where your child is thriving (e.g. art class, soccer), input from adults in those setting will also provide vital information.
The Final Report
There are professional and ethical guidelines that determine the components of the final report of findings. However, most evaluators will provide you with a draft and ask you for feedback. While you cannot request changing the results or other prescribed elements of the report, this is the opportunity to offer your thoughts and questions to be certain the document provides a full and accurate portrait of your child.
In Alex’s case what we learned is that she is quite bright, but, like her dad, she has mild dyslexia. This helped us understand why she was struggling in school. When the report was shared with the school, an IEP was developed to provide Alex with remedial services to build her reading fluency; her grades improved and her confidence returned. As her educational consultant, I was then able to steer Alex and her family to a high school that could continue to support her reading while challenging her intellect; in other words, the “best fit”.
The neuropsychological evaluation provided Alex and her family with the understanding of her difficulties and the path to promote her learning. As such, it became an invaluable resource for ensuring her current and future success and well-being.