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Neuropsychology

What is Neuropsychology?

Neuropsychology is a professional specialty within the field of psychology concerned with the relationship between learning and behavior and the brain. A neuropsychologist is a licensed psychologist who has undergone specialized training in both the structure and functioning of the brain and who has expertise in how learning and behavior relate to the development of brain structures and systems.

The neuropsychologist conducts comprehensive evaluations to assess brain functioning and uses the information to develop treatment and/or intervention plans.  Often, the neuropsychologist works as part of a larger team of physicians and therapists to evaluate and monitor an individual’s development/progress and response to intervention.

What is the Purpose of a Neuropsychological Evaluation?

The purpose of a neuropsychological evaluation is to assist in better understanding functioning across cognitive domains, such as general cognitive ability, attention, executive functioning, learning and memory, language, fine motor skills, visual-spatial skills, and academic ability. Most often, a neuropsychological evaluation is recommended when there are unusual circumstances that may include injury or disease that impact the brain.  The evaluation can have a number of goals, including:

  • To provide information about specific brain functions.

  • To determine the individual’s pattern of strengths and weaknesses.

  • To establish appropriate interventions and/or treatments to help the individual function better in the daily environment.

  • To predict an individual’s ability to achieve success in particular settings.

  • To measure the impact of interventions.

  • To make informed school placement or vocational decisions.

What is Included in an Evaluation?

A neuropsychological evaluation considers all possible factors for the individual and the environment that might be contributing to his/her pattern of strengths and weaknesses. The evaluation of a child, adolescent or adult may include an assessment of:

  • General intellectual abilities

  • Adaptive living skills

  • Academic achievement

  • Language

  • Visual perception/Visual spatial skills

  • Attention

  • Executive functioning

  • Learning and memory

  • Sensory and motor functioning

  • Social and emotional functioning

The neuropsychologist will typically complete a clinical interview with the child and the child’s parent(s) or the adult and their spouse or other family members in addition to speaking to any other professionals working with the child or adult.  The information gathered is used to tailor the assessment battery to meet the individual’s unique needs.  As such, some abilities may be assessed in more detail than others.  Emerging skills in younger children can be assessed; however, these evaluations are typically shorter in duration as the child’s skills are still developing. Similarly, when evaluating dementia, a screening approach is often used and these evaluations are shorter than the typical neuropsychological evaluation.    

Who Should Be Seen for a Neuropsychological Evaluation?

  • Children/adults with acquired brain injuries (e.g., brain injury, concussion, seizures/epilepsy, and stroke).

  • Children with developmental disorders that affect the brain (e.g., spina bifida, cerebral palsy, premature birth).

  • Children/adults with medical disorders that affect the brain (e.g., multiple sclerosis, lupus, diabetes, hydrocephalus, brain tumor, leukemia, sickle cell disease).

  • Adults with memory-related problems (e.g., suspected dementia)

What Will the Results Tell Me?

Neuropsychologists typically meet with the child if they are a teenager and parents/guardians or the patient and their spouse/family members to discuss test results and recommendations. Parents or the adult patient are also provided with a detailed evaluation report, summarizing the test results and recommendations.  A copy of the report may also be sent to other professionals (physicians, school personnel, therapists), per parent/guardian/patient request.

Testing can provide better understanding of an individual’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses and learning/vocational needs. It can provide information that may explain why the individual is having difficulties in school, at their job, or inter-personally. Overall, the evaluation can guide parents, teachers, spouses, families, and therapists to better help the individual achieve his/her potential academically/vocationally, behaviorally, and socially.

What Should I Bring to the Initial Visit?

It will be helpful for you to bring all available medical records (e.g., hospitalization records, MRI or CT scan reports, copies of the MRI on CD if accessible, other testing results) and school records in the case of children (e.g., report cards, standardized test results, IEPs) when preparing for your initial visit with the neuropsychologist.