Neuropsychological assessment, when done well, is much more than the administration of a set of tests. It is a process of information gathering that addresses the child as a whole. Its purpose is to give parents as complete an understanding of the child as possible, to guide their parenting at home and support their education at school.
There are lots of different kinds of “testing” out there, and this can be confusing to parents. The neuropsychological assessment is the most comprehensive. It covers all bases, identifying the child’s strengths and weaknesses in learning, attention and impulse control, language processing, mood and behavior, and social emotional function.
It differs in both scope and purpose from a psycho-educational evaluation done by the school district, which is used to determine whether the child qualifies for Special Education services, and if so, what type of program and support are needed. There is some overlap, however, as both include a battery of cognitive tests (e.g. WISC) and academic tests (e.g. WIAT, W-J).
While the neuropsychological assessment does result in a set of test scores, this is not the most important information. The tests are only a tool for crafting and interpersonal interaction with the child, during which I pay careful attention to every aspect of the child’s behavior – their attitude, interpersonal style, body language, comments and questions, emotional response to novelty and challenge, problem solving strategies, the timing and quality of their verbal and motor responses, and much more. This is what provides insight into the child.
Equally important, the neuropsychologist must provide a safe and inviting opportunity for the child to be their true self. Patience, warmth, acceptance, and positivity are all important for gaining a real understanding of the whole child, as is taking time with the parents and listening deeply to their observations and concerns.
A comprehensive neuropsychological assessment is a major investment in time and cost, but it can enormously valuable when it is done with the intention of understanding rather than diagnosing. As parents, we cannot make our children who we want them to be, but we can help them discover who they are meant to be.