Explore This Treatment Program

The clinical professionals in the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP) at Massachusetts General Hospital have devoted their training, research and clinical practice to acquiring the specialized skills needed to assess children with learning disabilities, psychological disorders and developmental disorders. Our team loves working with children and has a natural ability to put them at ease.

The Department of Psychiatry at Mass General offers a depth and breadth of resources available at few other hospitals or psychiatric centers, meaning your child receives comprehensive, state-of-the-art care without leaving our campus. Services available through the MassGeneral Hospital for Children include:

  • Speech, voice and language therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Pediatric neurology services
  • Psychological and psychiatric care within the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

MassGeneral Hospital for Children also has several locations in Greater Boston. For example, we collaborate with our colleagues at the hospital's Lurie Center for Autism in Lexington, MA, to help children with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disorders.

A First-of-Its-Kind Program

After publishing the book Straight Talk About Psychological Testing for Kids with her colleague Gretchen Felopulos, PhD, in 2004, Ellen Braaten, PhD, was overwhelmed by parents seeking help for their children's developmental difficulties. To address this vital and growing health care need, the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP) at Massachusetts General Hospital was founded in 2008. Within a year, the program’s professional resources were doubled.

What to Expect

We have designed our clinical assessments to be a comfortable and often fascinating experience, and we find that many children enjoy the warm, one-on-one attention they receive. In addition, our professionals are adept at discussing the benefits of assessments with even the most skeptical of adolescents.

Depending on your child's particular challenge, the assessment may take a few hours, or a few days. We'll then make an appointment for a confidential parent conference at a later date to present our results and make recommendations. This appointment often takes a few hours.

Our Services

LEAP evaluations incorporate a collaborative assessment method to actively engage the patient, his or her family and the referring clinician. Following this evaluation, we make recommendations for treatment or counseling. In particular, LEAP offers the following evaluation and assessment services:

  • Neuropsychological Testing - Neuropsychological tests are specifically designed to measure psychological functions that are linked to particular brain pathways. These tests are often used to measure deficits. A complete neuropsychological assessment requires gathering and analyzing information about various aspects of your child’s development. Sources of information include observations by parents and teachers and behavior during scheduled appointments. We also administer standardized testing of intellectual, academic, language, visual-motor, memory and executive-function skills, as well as emotional functioning.
  • Parent Conferences - After testing a child and analyzing the results, a feedback session is held to review the comprehensive report, which includes recommendations and treatment strategies to help your child achieve greater success at school and at home.
  • Collaborations with Educators - As needed, we report our findings to the child's school teachers, administrators and/or therapists and discuss effective treatment strategies. Depending on the situation, we can meet with these professionals in person or via conference call.
  • In-school Observations - Sometimes gaining the clearest picture of a child's learning or emotional challenges requires observing him or her at school. We are available to spend a day (or more) in a classroom setting watching your child interact with peers and teachers, and then analyze and write a report on our findings. (Please note: A charge in addition to the cost of the neuropsychological evaluation applies to observation services. Insurance plans do not cover these services.)
  • Reevaluations - We also are available to reevaluate a child as recommended by his or her psychologist

Our Research

Research is an important component of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program's (LEAP) mission. Each clinical evaluation yields valuable information, which patient can choose to share to help further LEAP's mission. These data can be used to answer scientific questions that have implications for the patients we see and are always privacy protected to ensure anonymity.

LOGIC Study

The cornerstone of LEAP's research initiative, led by Alysa Doyle, PhD, is the Longitudinal Study of Genetic Influences on Cognition (LOGIC). This project has allowed us to build a permanent but flexible research infrastructure at LEAP, including a database to organize our enormous repository of information and a mechanism that allows patients to contribute to research.

Through this study, patients allow us to use information collected from their assessments. Patients can also fill out additional questionnaires and provide DNA for genetic analyses. The fluidity between the clinical and research realms that LOGIC represents resulted in this project winning the 2014 hospital-wide Clinical Research Day Team Award at Massachusetts General Hospital.

To date, LOGIC has collected data from over 1,000 children and adolescents. We have used this information to publish papers and garner grants from various foundations and the National Institutes of Health. The questions we are interested in answering include:

  • What factors contribute to risk for further difficulties versus resilience/positive outcomes in children with learning and emotional concerns?
    • How does neuropsychological functioning play a role in risk and resilience?
    • Does neuropsychological functioning contribute to social, emotional and behavioral problems?
    • Does social functioning contribute to emotional and behavioral problems?
  • What are the patterns of overlapping and distinct neuropsychological impairments across different learning and emotional disorders?
  • Can we capitalize on discoveries in the field of genetics to help future generations of patients?
    • Can emerging genetic information contribute to better models of how neuropsychological impairment and psychopathology develop?
    • Can understanding genetics help us better identify and support children and adolescents at risk for further difficulties?

This research infrastructure has also allowed us to develop collaborations across the hospital, including:

  • Understanding neuropsychological functioning in children with pediatric-onset multiple sclerosis
  • Developing a new measure to assess processing speed difficulties in youth

Research Plans

Our team aims to grow the baseline sample of LOGIC to data from 3,000 youth. A data set of this size with information about genetics, neuropsychology, learning and emotional problems will allow us to answer the questions above and learn more about conditions like autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, mood disorders, anxiety disorders and psychosis.

We also aim to launch the longitudinal follow-up of the LOGIC study. In this arm of the project, we will meet with youth enrolled in the study over time. This follow-up will allow us to learn more about why some children do well while others continue to struggle. Understanding different trajectories should also create new opportunities for early identification of those at risk.

Finally, we are using our database to train a new generation of clinical researchers. The Fellows who rotate through LEAP can develop or contribute to research projects relevant to the LEAP population. Papers currently under development include understanding sensory processing and social difficulties across a range of conditions.


Staff Psychologists

  • Hillary Bush, PhD
  • Michael Capawana, PhD
  • Gina Forchelli, PhD, NCSP
  • Jennifer A. Murphy, PhD
  • Amanda Ward, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellows

  • Amy Balko, PsyD
  • Sarah O’Dor, PhD
  • Kate Terrell, PsyD

Administrative Staff

  • Darlene Maggio, Practice Manager
  • Megan Murray, Administrative and Front Desk
  • Madeline Plansky, Psychometrician & Front Desk
  • Tanae Young, Receptionist & Front Desk

Media & Publications

See publications

Ellen Braaten, PhD

Podcasts & Webinars

Webinar: Women Taking the Lead

Webinar: If My Kid Is So Smart, Why Is He So Slow?

Blogs

Contributing Blog: Pros and Cons of a Private Clinic Versus Public School Evaluation

Contributing Blog: When to Talk About the Birds and Bees

News Stories

 

‘What did we miss?’ Mom of teen who committed suicide now works to help others
Dr. Braaten contributes to this story about the rise in teen suicide and how we can work to prevent it.

Books

Straight Talk About Psychological Testing for Kids

How to Find Mental Health Care for Your Child

The Child’s Clinician Report Writing Handbook

Publications

Braaten EB, O’Donnell E. (2010) Neuropsychology and pediatrics, in A Practical Guide to Neuropsychological Testing for Patients, Practitioners, and Other Professionals edited by E Arzubi & E Mambrino. New York, NY: Springer Publishing.

Grush, L., Braaten, E.B., & Willoughby, B.L.B. (2010). Neuropsychology and Child Psychiatry. To be printed in E. Azurbi (Ed.), A Guide to Neuropsychological Assessment for Practitioners and Professionals. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.

Presentations

Nowinski, L.A., Willoughby, B.L.B., Wilson, H.K., O'Donnell, E.H., Glover, R.L. Colvin Putnam, M., & Braaten, E.B. (2009). Exploring the Impact of Parental Psychiatric and Personality Factors on Parental Reactions to Their Child’s Psychiatric Diagnosis. Poster presented to the annual conference of the American Psychological Association. Toronto, ON.

Willoughby, B.L.B., Nowinski, L.A., Putnam, M.C., Glover, R.L., O’Donnell, E.H., Wilson, H.K., & Braaten, E.B. (2009). Parental reactions to their child’s psychiatric diagnosis: A family-stress framework. Poster presented to the annual conference of the American Psychological Association, Toronto, ON.

Nathan Doty, PhD

Publications

Contributing author: Parent’s guide to emotional first aid: Helping children and adolescents cope with predictable life crises. Editors: G.P. Koocher & A. La Greca.

Doty, N.D. & Kazak, A.E. (2011). Challenges and coping in non-traditional families. In G.P. Koocher & A. La Greca (Eds.), Parent’s guide to emotional first aid: Helping children and adolescents cope with predictable life crises. New York: Oxford University Press.

Doty, N.D. (2010, August). Child and Adolescent Neuropsychological Evaluation: A Family Stress Approach.Paper presented at the annual conference of the American Psychological Association. San Diego, CA.

Presentations

Family-based Approaches to Neuropsychological Assessment of Children & Adolescents. Presented at the 2010 annual conference of the American Psychological Association. San Diego, CA.

Ellen O'Donnell, PhD

Publications

Braaten EB, O’Donnell E. (2010) Neuropsychology and pediatrics, in A Practical Guide to Neuropsychological Testing for Patients, Practitioners, and Other Professionals edited by E Arzubi & E Mambrino. New York, NY: Springer Publishing.

Putnam MC, Braaten EB, O’Donnell E, Gorman MP, & Chitnis T. (2009). Cognitive and psychological functioning in pediatric-onset multiple sclerosis. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, Seattle, WA.

Presentations

504 & IEP plans: Recognizing the Need and Advocating for School Supports for Pediatric Patients with Chronic or Complicated Medical Illness. Talk presented by Ellen H. O’Donnell, PhD at the 3rd Annual Office Management of Common Pediatric Issues: Improve Care and Reduce Risk Fall 2011.

Molly Colvin Putnam, PhD

Publications

Putnam, M.C., Wig, G.S., Grafton, S.T., Kelley, W.M., & Gazzaniga, M.S. (2008). Structural organization of the corpus callosum predicts the extent and impact of cortical activity in the nondominant hemisphere. Journal of Neuroscience, 28(11), 2912-2918.

Funk, C., Putnam, M.C., & Gazzaniga, M.S. (2009). Consciousness. In G.G. Berntson and J.T. Cacioppo (Eds.) Handbook of Neuroscience for the Behavioral Sciences.

Putnam, M.C.*, Steven, M.S.*, Doron, K.W., Riggall, A., & Gazzaniga, M.S. (2010). Cortical projection topography of the human splenium: Hemispheric asymmetry and individual differences. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 22(8), 1662-1669.

* Authors contributed equally Putnam, M.C. & Blais, M. (2010). Neuropsychology and Adult Psychiatry. In E. Arzubi and E. Mambrino (Eds). A Guide to Neuropsychological Testing for Health Care Professionals.

Brian Willoughby, PhD

Publications

Grush, L., Braaten, E.B., & Willoughby, B.L.B. (2010). Neuropsychology and Child Psychiatry . To be printed in E. Azurbi (Ed.), A Guide to Neuropsychological Assessment for Practitioners and Professionals. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company

Presentations

Willoughby, B.L.B. (2010 August). Assessing family relationships in pediatric neuropsychological evaluation: Innovative measurement strategies. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Washington, DC.

Willoughby, B.L.B. (2009). Advancement in the assessment of autism spectrum disorders and nonverbal learning disabilities/. Society for Research in Child Development, Denver, CO.

Willoughby, B.L.B. (2009). Assessment of autism spectrum disorders. Learning and Developmental Disabilities Evaluation and Rehabilitation Services (LADDERS), Lexington, MA.

Willoughby, B.L.B. (2009). Evaluation and treatment of autism spectrum disorders. University of Massachusetts, Boston, MA.

Willoughby, B.L.B. (2008). Adolescent peer crowds. University of Massachusetts, Boston, MA. Willoughby, B.L.B. (2008). Peer crowd relationships and health behaviors/em>. Suffolk University, Boston, MA.

Funding

We are grateful for the funding that has allowed us to grow our research program. We are particularly indebted to the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT for their ongoing support, as well as to the David Judah Foundation for helping us to launch our research program and to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

If you would like to support the work of the LEAP program, please visit our giving site to make a donation.

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