If you think your child may have learning and thinking differences, where do you go to find out? You can ask to have him evaluated at school. Or you can take him 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:
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 auditory processing disorder. There are other possibilities, too. And testing may reveal that your child has more than one issue that’s causing his 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, he’ll 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 her report, she 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.
How Pediatric Neuropsychologists Work With Schools
Once you have the test results, the IEP or 504 plan 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 dyslexia. The school might include special reading instruction in his IEP. But your child may need other supports or services to help with particular problems. Maybe he has trouble with phonological awareness. The specialist might recommend that he 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.