A neuropsychological assessment can be extremely valuable, but only if it addresses the whole person, their cognitive and social emotional strengths as well as their challenges. We all have different kinds of brains, designed to learn and do some things better than others. We have evolved this way on purpose, so that we can do all the different kinds of jobs that need to be done in our complex society. To expect everyone to learn the same way, to be interested in the same things, to function equally well in all situations, is to misunderstand human nature and the neurodiversity that is our nature. To be valuable, a neuropsychological assessment must go beyond the diagnosis, the clarification of the nature and extent of the difficulty, it should illuminate the person’s cognitive and social emotional style, what kind of thinker and learner they are, what are they born to do best and enjoy most.
ThinkPrint is my way of explaining people’s brains to them. It evolved over many years of trying to help my clients (and parents and teachers and family members) understand and apply the results of their neuropsychological assessment. ThinkPrint is based on the brain’s five information-processing systems: Sensory, Motor, Executive, Affective, and Cognitive. It is a framework for understanding how our brains work, and how each of our brains works a bit differently.
As a neuropsychologist, I tend to think of people as information processors. When I meet people, or read about them, or watch them do what they do best – build rock walls, play the guitar, listen to and interpret the thumps and swooshes of my heart and lungs, I marvel at the way their neural circuitry directs their activity so effectively, doing things that I am not able do. (I do realize that this is not what most people are thinking, as they’re waiting for their mechanic to tell them why their car won’t start and how much it’s going to cost to fix it. I’m definitely a bit of a geek.)
To some extent, we are who we are when we’re born. We inherit a certain kind of intelligence, and a certain emotional makeup, or personality, from our parents. Our interests and preferences, our tendencies and sensitivities, individual differences in how we think, learn, feel and behave, are apparent from very early on. At the same time, though, from the moment we are born and as development unfolds, our experiences modify this genetic programming. We learn, we change, we grow. And as we learn, the neural circuits in our brains get wired up, and rewired, and change the way we think and respond. Our positive experiences enhance our strengths, and our negative experiences can deepen our vulnerabilities. This is why it is so important to first understand and accept ourselves, or our child, or the person we love. We can help each other grow, or we can hold each other back. Understanding is the first step.
You already know many things about yourself (or your child), but you need a framework for understanding what you know. For example, what do you do when you can do whatever you want? How did you play when you were little? Did you make friends easily? Do you tend to worry about upcoming events? Are you happiest when you are physically active? Are your feelings easily hurt?
We can think about a spectrum of emotionality – some of us naturally feel emotions very strongly, and others do not. We can think about a spectrum of sociability – some of us very much want to be connected to other people, others do not. We can think about a spectrum of novelty seeking – some of us seek things that are new or different, others like things that are familiar and don’t like surprises. These are all examples of differences in how our brains are wired from the start. Of course these tendencies can be modified by experience, but they are powerful elements of our ThinkPrint.
With a better understanding of your child’s ThinkPrint, you are better able to help them become the best version of themselves that they can be.