Neuropsychological evaluations are designed to identify neurocognitive strengths and relative weaknesses and may help to determine the most appropriate supports and strategies to succeed in school, work and daily living.
“Neuropsychological Evaluation” is a term that is used to describe a battery of tests that measure a child’s cognitive skills and overall brain functioning. They include formal evaluation of skills such as intelligence, visual perception, language, memory, learning, attention, and executive functioning. A neuropsychological evaluation should be completed with a psychologist who has special training in neuropsychology – and, if appropriate, training in autism and developmental disabilities as well.
Almost every child with a neurodevelopmental disorder will at some time require a neuropsychological evaluation. Because an autism spectrum disorder impacts your child’s developmental trajectory, it is important to monitor his or her progress closely. For children who have had a developmental regression, or who have another complicating medical factor such as a seizure disorder, ongoing neuropsychological evaluations are often an essential part of care. Children as young as 4 or 5 years old can complete neuropsychological testing. Some young children will complete neurodevelopmental evaluations with a neuropsychologist who specializes in early development.
Nonverbal children have many other skills that are important to understand. School evaluations for nonverbal children are often limited to parent-report and observations, which do not fully capture a child’s underlying cognitive skills. In this case, it is especially important for parents to find a neuropsychologist who has extensive experience working with nonverbal children and young adults.
Neuropsychological evaluations can take place over a single or multiple visits. Most neuropsychologists will want to speak with the parents and meet with the child before they begin formal testing. This first visit is an opportunity for the parent to share specific questions or concerns (for example, Why is it so hard for my child to follow instructions? How can I help my child with school or homework?) Many children with autism spectrum disorders do best once they are familiar with a new environment. This first visit allows the child to meet the neuropsychologist and familiarize him or herself with the office. It is important to share previous evaluations and pertinent medical and school records with the neuropsychologist.
On the day of the formal testing, be sure that the child has had a full night’s rest and eats a healthy breakfast. Arriving a few minutes early will allow the child to settle in, without feeling rushed. From the child’s perspective, testing will seem like a series of games or activities. Depending on their age and skill level, this will include puzzles, races, and questions. Testing can last up to several hours. Together with the neuropsychologist, parents may decide to break the evaluation into several smaller sessions, if needed. Throughout the day, the child will be allowed breaks and it is always a good idea to bring preferred activities to support the child’s optimal performance if necessary.
After the evaluation, the neuropsychologist should prepare a written report that includes the results of the evaluation, as well as some information about what the results mean and what to do next. Specific treatment and educational recommendations are often included. It may be helpful to share this report with the child’s teachers, IEP team, and doctors.