By: Yvonne Asher, Ph.D.
NESCA Pediatric Neuropsychologist
One frequent question I have been asked by parents following a neuropsychological evaluation is, “Wouldn’t this process be helpful for everyone?” This tends to come up around the issue of disclosing results of an evaluation to children and teenagers and helping them better understand “how their brain works.” Many families with whom I have had the privilege of working come back months or years later with siblings of an initial client, noting that the process was so valuable the first time, they are hoping for a similar experience for their other child or children.
So, should we all get neuropsychological evaluations? Largely, I think this question is motivated by parents who are eager to help their children understand their own strengths and weaknesses. This is a wonderful goal, as self-understanding is one of the most valuable and lifelong gifts we can give our children.
In my experience, many people come to this kind of self-understanding naturally, over time, through experiences in adolescence and young adulthood. In particular, experiences that involve more independence in living and learning promote this kind of understanding. During childhood, we may learn our relative skill among family members (“I’m good at soccer, and my sibling is good at piano”), but these relative differences may not hold once we leave our family of origin. Many people venture out into the world and find that, compared to their peers, they are actually quite skilled at getting groups of friends together, doing everyday math, putting their thoughts down in writing, or staying organized. These real-world strengths often reflect the strengths that could be found through formal evaluation. As we gain self-understanding, we may be prompted to enter certain professions, take on particular hobbies, or pursue friends and partners with specific traits.
A neuropsychological evaluation can “speed up” the process of self-understanding, giving some young people a head start on the identity formation process that naturally occurs during adolescence. For some, this head start is vital – their brains are structured in ways that present clear, observable differences between them and their peers. This may be the case with diagnoses like autism spectrum disorder, a learning disability, or ADHD. For these individuals, the feedback from a neuropsychological evaluation can (under the best of circumstances) stave off feelings of inadequacy, negative self-esteem, and shame, helping a young person to recognize the deeply important strengths that are present alongside their more observable challenges. In these cases, a neuropsychological evaluation is not only for self-understanding, but also for self-compassion. Our goal as neuropsychologists in these cases is not just to help the child or teen understand themselves, but also to be gentle and kind with how they view their difficulties. Our hope is that, when these individuals venture out of their families and into the broader world, they are able to show resiliency in the face of the obstacles that will almost certainly be present.
About the Author
Dr. Yvonne M. Asher enjoys working with a wide range of children and teens, including those with autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays, learning disabilities, attention difficulties and executive functioning challenges. She often works with children whose complex profiles are not easily captured by a single label or diagnosis. She particularly enjoys working with young children and helping parents through their “first touch” with mental health care or developmental concerns.
Dr. Asher’s approach to assessment is gentle and supportive, and recognizes the importance of building rapport and trust. When working with young children, Dr. Asher incorporates play and “games” that allow children to complete standardized assessments in a fun and engaging environment.
Dr. Asher has extensive experience working in public, charter and religious schools, both as a classroom teacher and psychologist. She holds a master’s degree in education and continues to love working with educators. As a psychologist working in public schools, she gained invaluable experience with the IEP process from start to finish. She incorporates both her educational and psychological training when formulating recommendations to school teams.
Dr. Asher attended Swarthmore College and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She completed her doctoral degree at Suffolk University, where her dissertation looked at the impact of starting middle school on children’s social and emotional wellbeing. After graduating, she completed an intensive fellowship at the MGH Lurie Center for Autism, where she worked with a wide range of children, adolescents and young adults with autism and related disorders.
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