Neuropsychological evaluation: Nuts and bolts

Ann Simun -Neuropsychological testingDr. Ann Simun, Los Angeles clinical neuropsychologist and licensed psychologist, discusses the nuts and bolts of a neuropsychological evaluation.

What is neuropsychology?
Neuropsychology is best described as a scientific evaluation of the functions of the brain and nervous system.

What is the purpose of a neuropsychological (NP) evaluation?
An NP exam can be very helpful in making a specific diagnosis of a person’s strengths and needs and establishing a baseline, or “before” picture of intellectual function to be used for future comparison. A good evaluation will reveal a developmental or neurological problem and clarify how a problem is manifesting in the brain.

With children, generally we are investigating how a child learns and what patterns of strengths and needs are evident. The evaluation will also provide suggestions of what may be done to alleviate a problem. A good evaluation will give the family and the medical/educational team information about what type of intervention is appropriate.

What disorders is an NP assessment used to identify?
An NP assessment is valuable in diagnosing conditions such autism, Asperger’s disorder, ADD and AD/HD. It is also useful in identifying learning disorders such dyslexia, math disorders, executive dysfunction syndrome, and other problems such as brain injury, dementia, and amnesia.

What is an NP evaluation like?
In contrast to medical evaluations, neuropsychological testing is not invasive. Activities are short and often fun and game-like. When children are tested, the evaluation is spread over several days. For adults, testing may take an entire day. The complete evaluation also includes a detailed history, interviews (such as with parents and teachers), and direct observations of home and school performance.

What skills are evaluated in an NP assessment?
The exam gives a detailed view of intellectual functions such as attention, memory, learning ability, visual and auditory perception, fine motor speed and control, abstract thinking, organization and planning, and impulse control. A comprehensive evaluation looks at academic proficiency, adaptive behavior, social ability and emotional skills.

How is the information used?
The information gained from the assessment is used to design a plan to capitalize on areas of strength and alleviate areas of need. NP evaluations are also helpful in monitoring the effects of neurological conditions such as epilepsy, ADHD, spina bifida, and traumatic brain injury.

How can NP assessments help parents “get to the heart” of their child’s needs?
An NP exam can identify the type of problem the child is experiencing. Sometimes, what appears to be irresponsibility and behavior problems, for example, is actually poor executive functioning skills that appropriate training and support can help to alleviate. Another typical example is when suspected attentional problems are found to be a sensory processing disorder.

When should an NP evaluation be given?
Children who are suspected of having neuro-developmental disorders such as those listed above should have a neuropsychological evaluation to assist in the development of an individualized plan of learning and social interventions. Children with traumatic brain injury should have evaluations periodically as they age to determine the extent of their recovery, and to help focus remediation efforts.

What are some ways that an NP exam can help parents make treatment decisions for their child?
Neuropsychological evaluations can be very helpful in planning for IEPs and in determining eligibility for Regional Center or disability services. The results indicate the type of services that will assist a child. Referrals are typically made to services such as occupational therapy, educational therapy, speech therapy, neurology, and cognitive rehabilitation.

How are neuropsychologists trained?
A neuropsychologist is a doctoral level psychologist (PhD or PsyD) with specialized training in neurology and biology. In addition to the normal doctoral training, a neuropsychologist must spend an additional two years undertaking specialized training in neuropsychology.

Dr. Simun is a clinical neuropsychologist and licensed psychologist working in West LA and the San Fernando Valley. She has 20 years of experience evaluating and treating children and young adults with disabilities. She specializes in diagnosis of complex cases, educational evaluations and expert witness services.

Dr. Simun can be reached by email at drsimun@earthlink.net or by phone at 310-478-8888.

Visit Dr. Simun’s website.

About Dr. Kari Miller, PhD
Students with learning difficulties MUST believe in their intelligence and skill in order to succeed in life! Enjoy Dr. Miller’s collection of thought-provoking articles to help you maximize your child’s academic achievement! Register here and we’ll send the collection of articles right to your email inbox. We’ll also send you our free monthly newsletter. You can discontinue at any time.

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