At a glance
Pediatric neuropsychologists diagnose and treat kids with learning and thinking differences.
They focus on how learning and behavior are tied to brain development.
They use the same tests that school evaluators use, but they may use additional tests or assessments.
If you think your child may have learning and thinking differences, where do you go to find out? You can ask to have your child evaluated at school. Or you can take your child to a specialist for a private evaluation. One type of specialist who diagnoses, and sometimes treats, kids with learning and thinking differences is called a pediatric neuropsychologist.
Here’s what you need to know about pediatric neuropsychologists.
What pediatric neuropsychologists do
Pediatric neuropsychologists are licensed psychologists who work with kids. They have extra training and expertise, however. Their focus is on how learning and behavior are related to brain development.
These specialists have a doctoral degree in psychology and work in private practices and hospitals. They also complete a two-year fellowship in neuropsychology.
They’re not medical doctors, so they can’t prescribe or manage medications. Their main role is to diagnose conditions. Some may also provide therapy and academic interventions.
These specialists give kids many of the same tests used in school evaluations to look for areas of strengths and weakness. But they may look at the results in different ways or do additional testing.
Pediatric neuropsychologists can identify issues in these areas:
- Sensory and motor skills
- Attention and focus
- Language skills
- Visual-spatial processing
- Academic skills, such as reading or math
They use their knowledge of brain development when assessing the test results. From there, they can make a diagnosis and explain not just the areas of weakness, but what’s causing it. In some cases, that might be multiple challenges or conditions.
For example, if your child is struggling with reading, there are many possible reasons. It may be an attention problem. It may be a reading fluency issue or . There are other possibilities, too. And testing may reveal that your child has more than one issue that’s causing trouble with reading.
The evaluation process with a pediatric neuropsychologist
The evaluation process can take anywhere from five to 12 hours. You and your child will need to meet with the specialist several times. Here’s what to expect at these meetings.
- Initial visit: The neuropsychologist will take a detailed case history. You may be asked to fill out questionnaires about your child’s development and behavior. From there, the specialist will decide on the appropriate tests to give your child.
- Testing: Your child will return for anywhere from two to four sessions of testing. A session can last from 90 minutes to three hours. The specialist will determine the session length that’s right for your child.
- Review and diagnosis: Once the neuropsychologist has reviewed the test results, you’ll meet again. If your child is a teen, your child will likely be part of this discussion. The specialist will describe what the tests show and how they explain what you’re seeing in your child’s learning or behavior. If your child has one or more learning and thinking differences, the specialist will identify them.
The neuropsychologist also might suggest types of help for your child or come up with a treatment plan. In the report, the neuropsychologist may recommend that your child get specific supports and services at school. Some neuropsychologists also provide more specialized therapy in their offices or at a hospital.
You might also get a referral to other types of professionals. These might include a psychologist, speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, reading specialist, or health care provider who can prescribe medication.
How pediatric neuropsychologists work with schools
Once you have the test results, the or team at school will meet to discuss them. Often, they will have done their own evaluation as well. A clinical diagnosis isn’t the same as the identification of learning disabilities that a school makes.
The school will have the specialist’s report. But it’s a good idea to have the neuropsychologist be part of the conversation. That can happen over the phone or in person. She can help make sure that the school’s treatment plan addresses all of your child’s issues.
Let’s say your child’s diagnosis is . The school might include special reading instruction in their IEP. But your child may need other supports or services to help with particular problems. Maybe your child has trouble with phonological awareness. The specialist might recommend that your child work with a speech-language therapist.
Those types of details can be lost or minimized in a long report. Having the specialist there means that she can answer the team’s questions and explain key details in the report.
Your role in the process
Finding a good pediatric neuropsychologist is the first step. But depending on where you live, you may not have easy access to one.
Talking with friends and other parents is one of the best ways to find one in your area. Your pediatrician may be able to refer you to one, as well. You can also ask the guidance counselor at your child’s school. It’s best to choose an expert who is familiar with your school district.
Getting a private evaluation can be quite expensive. In some cases, the school will pay to send a child to a neuropsychologist for certain testing. But if you seek a private evaluation for your child, you’ll need to pay for it yourself (insurance may cover part of it).
You may also need to advocate to get some of the specialist’s recommendations into your child’s IEP. The more you know about the process, the better prepared you’ll be. Learn about the differences between private and school evaluations. And find out what you can do if your child is denied services.
A pediatric neuropsychologist may find that your child has more than one issue.
This expert should be part of the school meeting where your child’s learning and thinking differences are discussed.
This professional will develop a plan for supports and services to help your child’s issues.
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About the author
About the author
Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.
Nelson Dorta, PhD is a pediatric neuropsychologist and an assistant professor of medical psychology in child psychiatry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University.