By: Amity Kulis, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
One of my favorite activities as a neuropsychologist is getting to conduct school observations. Many parents ask why would I need a school observation? And the answer is simple, they provide a wealth of information about your child and their everyday experience at school. For so many, understanding the comings and goings of a child’s day at school is something most parents do not have the opportunity to explore. You ask your child, “how was your day?” and for many, all you get is a “fine” or “okay” with no elaboration of what actually happened. Understanding a child’s experience of the school day is important for all families, but especially important if your child is having difficulties at school such as learning, social or emotional stressors.
After conducting a neuropsychological assessment of a child, I am able to get a good understanding of the child’s learning profile and a good grasp of the child’s strengths and needs. With this information, I am able to conduct school observations with a lens towards what the children I am seeing might need and how they interact with their environment. For the majority of the children I observe at school they are already getting specialized services and for one reason or another, their parents are concerned.
During the observation, I am able to gain a better understanding of a child’s social functioning within the context of their peers at school. I often purposefully schedule observations during a combination of structured class time as well as less structured time such as art or gym, and finally during an unstructured time such as lunch or recess. This combination of environments allows me to see the child interact with peers in a variety of settings. I am able to answer questions about where a child does best and what types of environments might be more challenging. Are they a rock star during group lessons or are they leading a group of peers across the playground? For other children they may fade into the background, refusing to participate during large group instruction but become more animated during one-on-one time with their teacher. Or maybe they are a child that cannot handle the unstructured recess time and hide in the corner isolating themselves. Gaining a better understanding of a child’s social successes and then relating that information to their neuropsychological profile can help to explain why a child is struggling and how best to support them.
Beyond looking at a child’s social functioning during the school day, I am also able to observe the delivery of instruction and how the child responds. I am always watching how a teacher deliveries information to the class and then seeing how the child is able to respond. Does the child follow the direction the first time they are heard or do they need them repeated and modeled by watching other students begin the activity first? I also look at how a child interacts during whole group instruction or discussion versus a small group or more individual work. I also love the opportunity to speak with teachers during the observation to understand what curriculums they are using as well as answering questions about how they see the child interacting in the classroom. If a child is on an education plan I am also paying close attention to how accommodations and supports are being integrated into and across the child’s school day.
In addition to being a fun and engaging part of my job, observations also provide such valuable information from which I can create very specific and targeted recommendations for a child based on their own school environment. There is definitely not a one-size-fits-all recipe for helping a child with a particular profile because an environment is so influential on a child’s successes and challenges. An amazing relationship with one teacher can go a long way toward helping a child take chances and make progress, just as the opposite is true. With a school observation, there is the opportunity to gain more clarity into a child’s everyday school life to help foster their strengths and support their vulnerabilities.
About the Author:
Dr. Amity Kulis joined NESCA in 2012 after earning her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, with a concentration in Children, Adolescents and Families (CAF). She completed post-doctoral training in pediatric neuropsychology with an emphasis on treating children with developmental, intellectual, learning and executive functioning challenges. She also has extensive training psychological (projective) testing and has conducted individual and group therapies for children of all ages. Before joining NESCA, Dr. Kulis worked in private practices, clinics, and schools, conducting comprehensive assessments on children ranging from toddlers through young adults. In addition, Dr. Kulis has had the opportunity to consult with various school systems, conducting observations of programs, and providing in-service trainings for staff. Dr. Kulis currently conducts neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments for school-aged children through young adulthood. She regularly participates in transition assessments (focusing on the needs of adolescents as they emerge into adulthood) and has a special interest in working with complex learners that may also struggle with emotional challenges and psychiatric conditions. In addition to administering comprehensive and data-driven evaluations, Dr. Kulis regularly conducts school-based observations and participates in school meetings to help share her findings and consultation with a student’s TEAM.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.