Tag

neurodevelopmental evaluation

Executive Function Skills in the Outdoors

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Renée Marchant, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Executive functioning skills are a “family” of skills that operate in a “top-down” process, controlling and regulating brain regions associated with attention, impulse control, emotion regulation, and meta-cognition or “thinking about thinking.” For more information about executive function skills, please refer to my previous NESCA blog “Teenage Stress and Executive Functioning.” As an evaluator, I often emphasize two key points about executive function skills: (1) Developing executive function skills is a combination of brain development and life experience; and (2) These skills are built through interactions (with others and our world) and practice.

Now with more access to New England summer weather, there are plenty of opportunities for children and teens to grow executive function skills in interaction with the natural world. I recommend a “must-download” if you want to review practical, science-based activities and games for children from the ages of six months old through adolescence, “Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence.” This is a wonderful resource that provides a clear list and description of practical activities to strengthen executive function skills based on a child’s age. This resource was developed by The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, a multidisciplinary team supporting research, policy, and practice for childhood development. Their website also provides excellent free resources for parents, clinicians, and educators related to topics such as stress, resiliency, play, and brain structure/development.

Here is a short list of outdoor summer executive function activities based on your child’s developmental age:

  1. 6-18 months-old: Peekaboo and Patty-Cake on the grass and other textures, such as dirt, mud, water, or wood (a multi-sensory experience), encourage joint attention and object focus by naming, pointing, and sustaining focus on natural objects at the beach or in the woods.
  2. 18-36 months-old: Match/sort natural objects, such as placing rocks in one bucket and flowers in another bucket, blow bubbles with a variety of wand shapes, pretend play as fishermen, construction workers, or farmers/gardeners.
  3. 3-5 years-old: Pretend to be an outdoor superhero in an obstacle course or race (e.g., running through Hula Hoops or around traffic cones), assist with cooking/preparing an outdoor picnic, or make a nature bracelet.
  4. 5-7 years-old: Play the I-Spy game and participate in scavenger hunts, use strategy board games (e.g., Uno, Concentration) on land or maybe even in the water, go on a sensory walk (name something you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch).
  5. 7-12 years-old: Star-gaze and find/name constellations, create a bird house or other wood structure through woodworking activities, garden one or more plants, play with a super soaker toy or laser/flashlight tag.
  6. Adolescents: Maintain a summer sketching and drawing journal of natural objects, participate in sunrise or sunset yoga or dance classes, outdoor animal-assistant yoga (e.g., Goat Yoga), or sports-oriented camps and activities.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Renée Marchant provides neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments for youth who present with a variety of complex, inter-related needs, with a particular emphasis on identifying co-occurring neurodevelopmental and psychiatric challenges. She specializes in the evaluation of developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorder and social-emotional difficulties stemming from mood, anxiety, attachment and trauma-related diagnoses. She often assesses children who have “unique learning styles” that can underlie deficits in problem-solving, emotion regulation, social skills and self-esteem.

Dr. Marchant’s assessments prioritize the “whole picture,” particularly how systemic factors, such as culture, family life, school climate and broader systems impact diagnoses and treatment needs. She frequently observes children at school and participates in IEP meetings.

Dr. Marchant brings a wealth of clinical experience to her evaluations. In addition to her expertise in assessment, she has extensive experience providing evidence-based therapy to children in individual (TF-CBT, insight-oriented), group (DBT) and family (solution-focused, structural) modalities. Her school, home and treatment recommendations integrate practice-informed interventions that are tailored to the child’s unique needs.

Dr. Marchant received her B.A. from Boston College with a major in Clinical Psychology and her Psy.D. from William James College in Massachusetts. She completed her internship at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute and her postdoctoral fellowship at Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, where she deepened her expertise in providing therapy and conducting assessments for children with neurodevelopmental disorders as well as youth who present with high-risk behaviors (e.g. psychosis, self-injury, aggression, suicidal ideation).

Dr. Marchant provides workshops and consultations to parents, school personnel and treatment professionals on ways to cultivate resilience and self-efficacy in the face of adversity, trauma, interpersonal violence and bullying. She is an expert on the interpretation of the Rorschach Inkblot Test and provides teaching and supervision on the usefulness of projective/performance-based measures in assessment. Dr. Marchant is also a member of the American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA) and continues to conduct research on the effectiveness of family therapy for high-risk, hospitalized patients.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Marchant or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Anxiety Reducers for Children and Teens with ASD

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Renée Marchant, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Research indicates that children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are more sensitive to heightened physiological sympathetic arousal (the “fight or flight” response), including increased heart rate, breathing rate, feeling “on edge” and body-based tenseness. Heightened physiological arousal is neurologically connected to sensory processing and emotional responses. This is why some children with ASD have “high startle responses” or sensitivities to specific sensations, such as touch or sounds. This is also why some children and teens with ASD are vulnerable to feelings of anxiety, particularly within social situations and settings.

There is growing research focusing on possible strategies and interventions that reduce anxiety and “buffer” the “fight or flight” response that can be activated for many children and teens with ASD.

5 Research-driven Anxiety Reducers:

Animals: Include companion or therapy animals in social groups or social outings (particularly new social events). In one study, children with ASD showed a 43% decrease in skin conductance responses during free play with peers in the presence of animals, as compared to toys (O’Haire, McKenzie, Beck, & Slaughter, 2015).

Exercise: Make a plan to engage in a “warm up” body-based activity right before a social event when anxiety levels are increasing (e.g., jumping jacks, burpees, squats). Research indicates that exercise calms the amygdala and decreases physiological arousal.

Relax or Distract: Practice progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). Recent research has indicated that regular and routine engagement in PMR sessions can be a useful strategy for individuals with ASD. Distract yourself from the anxiety-producing situation for the short term (e.g., count by 3s, name three things you can see and hear in the room, repeat words from your favorite song in your head).

Plan to Take a Break: Children and teens can benefit from having a healthy “escape plan” to take a break from socially-demanding and sensory-demanding settings (e.g., a large event like a play or concert, a college lecture, an interview for a job). Research indicates that “rest breaks” during mentally demanding tasks result in increased alertness, decreased fatigue and heightened relaxation.

Social Stories: Social stories provide the opportunity to practice and prepare for stressful situations, decreasing “fight or flight” responses. Read more about examples and applications of social stories in my colleague, Dr. Erin Gibbons’ previous blog post.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Renée Marchant provides neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments for youth who present with a variety of complex, inter-related needs, with a particular emphasis on identifying co-occurring neurodevelopmental and psychiatric challenges. She specializes in the evaluation of developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorder and social-emotional difficulties stemming from mood, anxiety, attachment and trauma-related diagnoses. She often assesses children who have “unique learning styles” that can underlie deficits in problem-solving, emotion regulation, social skills and self-esteem.

Dr. Marchant’s assessments prioritize the “whole picture,” particularly how systemic factors, such as culture, family life, school climate and broader systems impact diagnoses and treatment needs. She frequently observes children at school and participates in IEP meetings.

Dr. Marchant brings a wealth of clinical experience to her evaluations. In addition to her expertise in assessment, she has extensive experience providing evidence-based therapy to children in individual (TF-CBT, insight-oriented), group (DBT) and family (solution-focused, structural) modalities. Her school, home and treatment recommendations integrate practice-informed interventions that are tailored to the child’s unique needs.

Dr. Marchant received her B.A. from Boston College with a major in Clinical Psychology and her Psy.D. from William James College in Massachusetts. She completed her internship at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute and her postdoctoral fellowship at Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, where she deepened her expertise in providing therapy and conducting assessments for children with neurodevelopmental disorders as well as youth who present with high-risk behaviors (e.g. psychosis, self-injury, aggression, suicidal ideation).

Dr. Marchant provides workshops and consultations to parents, school personnel and treatment professionals on ways to cultivate resilience and self-efficacy in the face of adversity, trauma, interpersonal violence and bullying. She is an expert on the interpretation of the Rorschach Inkblot Test and provides teaching and supervision on the usefulness of projective/performance-based measures in assessment. Dr. Marchant is also a member of the American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA) and continues to conduct research on the effectiveness of family therapy for high-risk, hospitalized patients.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Marchant or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Click here to learn more about NESCA’s ASD Diagnostic Clinic.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Early Detection of Autism: NESCA’s New ASD Diagnostic Clinic

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Erin Gibbons, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) vary widely in terms of the intensity of their symptoms as well as the age at which symptoms emerge. In some cases, signs of autism are apparent during infancy. For other children, concerns about autism might not arise until toddlerhood or even early childhood.

As neuropsychologists, we have become increasingly adept at detecting and diagnosing ASD using a combination of developmental history, clinical observation and standardized assessments. We are constantly learning more about ASD and fine-tuning the tools we have available to us to make a diagnosis.

One of the most important things we have learned through longitudinal research over the past 10 years is that early detection of ASD is a crucial part of a child’s prognosis. Young children who receive intensive services are much more likely to develop language, play and social skills. Because their brains are still in a state of rapid development, they are much quicker to acquire new skills and make progress in the areas where they are struggling. Children who receive early intervention for ASD are typically better able to participate in inclusion settings with same-age peers once they enter elementary school.

Unfortunately, many parents are told to “wait and see” when they express concerns about their child’s development – especially with children who are not yet in preschool. This is a risky and sometimes harmful approach as it leads to children with developmental disabilities not receiving the services they need.

In light of our understanding about the importance of early detection of ASD, NESCA is proud to introduce its ASD Diagnostic Clinic. The clinic offers testing that is targeted specifically at identifying ASD in children between the ages of 2 and 5. For children who do receive a diagnosis of ASD, the report will allow parents to start accessing services immediately. As with all of our families, we hope to establish a lifelong relationship and will be available for follow-up consults and additional evaluations at any time.

 

About the Author: 

Erin Gibbons, Ph.D. is a pediatric neuropsychologist with expertise in neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological assessment of infants,

children, and adolescents presenting with developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorders. She has a particular interest in assessing students with complex medical histories and/or neurological impairments, including those who are cognitively delayed, nonverbal, or physically disabled. Dr. Gibbons joined NESCA in 2011 after completing a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in the Developmental Medicine Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. She particularly enjoys working with young children, especially those who are transitioning from Early Intervention into preschool. Having been trained in administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), Dr. Gibbons has experience diagnosing autism spectrum disorders in children aged 12 months and above.

 

If you are interested in booking an appointment for the ASD Diagnostic Clinic or an evaluation with a NESCA neuropsychologist/clinician, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Key Facts about Early Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Renée Marchant, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Early diagnosis is a catalyst for propelling children on positive trajectories. If a family and child identify and focus on areas of growth earlier rather than later, there is more time and more possibility of change and improvement. This tenant is particularly critical for diagnosing ASD in toddlerhood and early childhood.

Here are critical facts about the diagnosis of ASD in early childhood and the positive impact of early diagnosis on youngsters as they age into adulthood.

  1. Most children with ASD are not diagnosed until approximately 4 years-old, yet ASD can be reliably identified by the age of 2. There is also expanding research on early identification of infants who may be at risk for ASD. Early detection is possible.
  2. Genes play an important role in ASD. A child’s odds of having an ASD diagnosis increases if he/she has a sibling or parent with ASD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), intellectual disability, schizophreniadepression, bipolar disorder or anxiety. Family medical history is an important factor for families considering a diagnostic evaluation.
  3. Co-occurring disorders (such as anxiety and depression) are more likely in individuals with ASD than the general population. Identifying emotion regulation issues in early childhood is thus essential.
  4. Neuroplasticity matters. Because ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, early treatment improves neuroplastic brain functioning and subsequent behavior. As a child develops, his/her brain becomes less plastic.
  5. Interventions geared at a child’s “first relationships” with their caregivers may exert a strong positive effect on the developmental trajectories of toddlers at high-risk of ASD and also have a positive impact on a child’s social skills with peers as they age.
  6. Research indicates that parent-child interactions in early childhood predict long-term gains in language skills into adulthood for individuals with diagnoses of ASD. Acquiring communicative, pragmatic and useful language by kindergarten has also been identified as a strong predictor of adaptive or functional “real life” skills, which are needed to navigate the environment in adolescence and adulthood.
  7. Social skills instruction in a child’s early years increases competency with peers in school. This social competency is associated with greater adaptive independence in children with ASD.
  8. Working with a “diagnostic navigator” early in your child’s life improves outcomes. Research clearly indicates that social support is vital to relieve stress associated with caregiving for a child with ASD and that a positive parent–professional relationship is helpful in alleviating family stress.

If you suspect your child has or is at higher risk for ASD and you are looking for a “diagnostic navigator” for your child, consider an evaluation with NESCA.  While early diagnosis of ASD can make a positive impact on a child’s trajectory, obtaining the accurate diagnosis and recommendations for interventions at any age is critical.

 

References:

Elder JH, Kreider CM, Brasher SN, Ansell M. Clinical impact of early diagnosis of autism on the prognosis and parent-child relationships. Psychol Res Behav Manag. 2017;10:283-292. Published 2017 Aug 24. doi:10.2147/PRBM.S117499.

Dawson G, Jones EJ, Merkle K, Venema K, Lowy R, Faja S, Kamara D, Murias M, Greenson J, Winter J, Smith M, Rogers SJ, Webb SJ. Early behavioral intervention is associated with normalized brain activity in young children with autism. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2012 Nov;51(11):1150-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2012.08.018. PMID: 23101741; PMCID: PMC3607427.

Jokiranta-Olkoniemi E, Cheslack-Postava K, Sucksdorff D, Suominen A, Gyllenberg D, Chudal R, Leivonen S, Gissler M, Brown AS, Sourander A. Risk of Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Among Siblings of Probands With Autism Spectrum Disorders. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016 Jun 1;73(6):622-9. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.0495. PMID: 27145529.

Kasari C, Siller M, Huynh LN, Shih W, Swanson M, Hellemann GS, Sugar CA. Randomized controlled trial of parental responsiveness intervention for toddlers at high risk for autism. Infant Behav Dev. 2014 Nov;37(4):711-21. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2014.08.007. Epub 2014 Sep 26. PMID: 25260191; PMCID: PMC4355997.

Mayo, J., Chlebowski, C., Fein, D.A. et al. Age of First Words Predicts Cognitive Ability and Adaptive Skills in Children with ASD. J Autism Dev Disord 43, 253–264 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-012-1558-0.

Siller, M., Swanson, M., Gerber, A., Hutman, T., & Sigman, M. (2014). A parent-mediated intervention that targets responsive parental behaviors increases attachment behaviors in children with ASD: results from a randomized clinical trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(7), 1720-1732.

Xie S, Karlsson H, Dalman C, Widman L, Rai D, Gardner RM, Magnusson C, Schendel DE, Newschaffer CJ, Lee BK. Family History of Mental and Neurological Disorders and Risk of Autism. JAMA Netw Open. 2019 Mar 1;2(3):e190154. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.0154. PMID: 30821823; PMCID: PMC6484646.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Renée Marchant provides neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments for youth who present with a variety of complex, inter-related needs, with a particular emphasis on identifying co-occurring neurodevelopmental and psychiatric challenges. She specializes in the evaluation of developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorder and social-emotional difficulties stemming from mood, anxiety, attachment and trauma-related diagnoses. She often assesses children who have “unique learning styles” that can underlie deficits in problem-solving, emotion regulation, social skills and self-esteem.

Dr. Marchant’s assessments prioritize the “whole picture,” particularly how systemic factors, such as culture, family life, school climate and broader systems impact diagnoses and treatment needs. She frequently observes children at school and participates in IEP meetings.

Dr. Marchant brings a wealth of clinical experience to her evaluations. In addition to her expertise in assessment, she has extensive experience providing evidence-based therapy to children in individual (TF-CBT, insight-oriented), group (DBT) and family (solution-focused, structural) modalities. Her school, home and treatment recommendations integrate practice-informed interventions that are tailored to the child’s unique needs.

Dr. Marchant received her B.A. from Boston College with a major in Clinical Psychology and her Psy.D. from William James College in Massachusetts. She completed her internship at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute and her postdoctoral fellowship at Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, where she deepened her expertise in providing therapy and conducting assessments for children with neurodevelopmental disorders as well as youth who present with high-risk behaviors (e.g. psychosis, self-injury, aggression, suicidal ideation).

Dr. Marchant provides workshops and consultations to parents, school personnel and treatment professionals on ways to cultivate resilience and self-efficacy in the face of adversity, trauma, interpersonal violence and bullying. She is an expert on the interpretation of the Rorschach Inkblot Test and provides teaching and supervision on the usefulness of projective/performance-based measures in assessment. Dr. Marchant is also a member of the American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA) and continues to conduct research on the effectiveness of family therapy for high-risk, hospitalized patients.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Marchant or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neurodevelopmental Evaluations – Where and When to Start

By | NESCA Notes 2018

**Creating Roadmaps for the Lifespan: Preschool Neurodevelopmental Evaluations to Life After High School**

NESCA Pediatric Neuropsychologist Dr. Erin Gibbons will be presenting on neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological evaluations in a free educational workshop at NESCA’s Plainville, MA office on Monday, March 9 from 6:30 – 8:00 PM. NESCA Transition Specialist Becki Lauzon will be co-presenting to address the transition process/how to start preparing for life after high school.

For more information, visit the event page. To register to attend the event, email Jane Hauser at jhauser@nesca-newton.com. As a preview to what attendees can expect to learn at the event, read Dr. Gibbon’s blog post.

 

By: Erin Gibbons, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Parenthood is a daunting task to say the least. Not only must we worry about keeping our children healthy and safe, but we are constantly bombarded with information about potentially harmful foods, chemicals, toys, etc. Many parents also have concerns about whether their children are meeting developmental milestones on time and/or whether they should worry about certain behaviors their children are displaying.

When concerns arise about older children, parents are often advised to seek a neuropsychological evaluation to rule out possible attention, learning, or developmental challenges. However, parents of children under 5 are often urged to “wait and see” or might be told it is “too early” to seek an evaluation. The truth of the matter is that it is never too early to have your child evaluated when you are worried about his or her development.

Where do I start?

If you have concerns about your child’s development, it is always a good idea to start with your pediatrician. Describe what you are seeing at home and any difficulties you have noticed. Your pediatrician might recommend that you seek a comprehensive neurodevelopmental evaluation to assess for any developmental delays.

What is a neurodevelopmental evaluation?

This is a comprehensive set of tests designed to assess all aspects of your child’s development, including cognition, language, motor, and social skills. This type of evaluation is conducted by a pediatric neuropsychologist. First, you will be asked to provide information about your child’s developmental and medical histories. Your child will then be asked to participate in a series of activities over the course of 2 or 3 hours. For example, he/she will have to solve simple puzzles, label pictures, or play with different types of toys.

Why is a neurodevelopmental evaluation useful?

After completing the evaluation, the neuropsychologist will analyze all of the information and develop a comprehensive picture of your child’s developmental profile. In addition to helping you understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses, the neuropsychologist will also identify any developmental delays that require intervention.

What happens next?

An evaluation will identify developmental delays that need to be treated in order to help your child catch up with peers. Some examples include speech/language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy or applied behavior analysis (ABA).

For children under 3, this means they can start receiving Early Intervention services right away. Early Intervention is a system of services for babies and toddlers who have developmental delays or disabilities and is available in every state in the US.

For children over 3, parents can seek services privately, or can work with their local school district to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for their child. Having an independent evaluation completed prior to your child’s transition to public education is extremely useful as it provides the district with the child’s type of disability and informs the process of developing necessary services.

Where can I go?

Neurodevelopmental evaluations are available at many local area hospitals as well as private neuropsychology clinics. Parents can also contact their insurance company for a list of providers or search through the Massachusetts Neuropsychological Society: https://www.massneuropsych.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageID=3309.

At NESCA, we are proud to offer neurodevelopmental evaluations for children ages 1-5 and will provide parents with a comprehensive report, extensive recommendations for services, and ongoing consultation through the years. Our clinicians are able to do observations of children in their natural environments (e.g., day care, preschool) to gain a full picture of the child and provide environmental recommendations that would be most supportive. Moreover, we are available to attend meetings with early intervention specialists and special educators to help a child’s team fully understand their individual learning and service needs.

If you are interested in scheduling a consultation or evaluation at NESCA, please complete our on-line intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

About the Author:

GibbonsErin Gibbons, Ph.D. is a pediatric neuropsychologist with expertise in neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological assessment of infants, children, and adolescents presenting with developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorders. She has a particular interest in assessing students with complex medical histories and/or neurological impairments, including those who are cognitively delayed, nonverbal, or physically disabled. Dr. Gibbons joined NESCA in 2011 after completing a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in the Developmental Medicine Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. She particularly enjoys working with young children, especially those who are transitioning from Early Intervention into preschool. Having been trained in administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), Dr. Gibbons has experience diagnosing autism spectrum disorders in children aged 12 months and above.


 

Neurodevelopmental Evaluations – Where and When to Start

By | NESCA Notes 2018

By: Erin Gibbons, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Parenthood is a daunting task to say the least. Not only must we worry about keeping our children healthy and safe, but we are constantly bombarded with information about potentially harmful foods, chemicals, toys, etc. Many parents also have concerns about whether their children are meeting developmental milestones on time and/or whether they should worry about certain behaviors their children are displaying.

When concerns arise about older children, parents are often advised to seek a neuropsychological evaluation to rule out possible attention, learning, or developmental challenges. However, parents of children under 5 are often urged to “wait and see” or might be told it is “too early” to seek an evaluation. The truth of the matter is that it is never too early to have your child evaluated when you are worried about his or her development.

Where do I start?

If you have concerns about your child’s development, it is always a good idea to start with your pediatrician. Describe what you are seeing at home and any difficulties you have noticed. Your pediatrician might recommend that you seek a comprehensive neurodevelopmental evaluation to assess for any developmental delays.

What is a neurodevelopmental evaluation?

This is a comprehensive set of tests designed to assess all aspects of your child’s development, including cognition, language, motor, and social skills. This type of evaluation is conducted by a pediatric neuropsychologist. First, you will be asked to provide information about your child’s developmental and medical histories. Your child will then be asked to participate in a series of activities over the course of 2 or 3 hours. For example, he/she will have to solve simple puzzles, label pictures, or play with different types of toys.

Why is a neurodevelopmental evaluation useful?

After completing the evaluation, the neuropsychologist will analyze all of the information and develop a comprehensive picture of your child’s developmental profile. In addition to helping you understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses, the neuropsychologist will also identify any developmental delays that require intervention.

What happens next?

An evaluation will identify developmental delays that need to be treated in order to help your child catch up with peers. Some examples include speech/language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy or applied behavior analysis (ABA).

For children under 3, this means they can start receiving Early Intervention services right away. Early Intervention is a system of services for babies and toddlers who have developmental delays or disabilities and is available in every state in the US.

For children over 3, parents can seek services privately, or can work with their local school district to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for their child. Having an independent evaluation completed prior to your child’s transition to public education is extremely useful as it provides the district with the child’s type of disability and informs the process of developing necessary services.

Where can I go?

Neurodevelopmental evaluations are available at many local area hospitals as well as private neuropsychology clinics. Parents can also contact their insurance company for a list of providers or search through the Massachusetts Neuropsychological Society: https://www.massneuropsych.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageID=3309.

At NESCA, we are proud to offer neurodevelopmental evaluations for children ages 1-5 and will provide parents with a comprehensive report, extensive recommendations for services, and ongoing consultation through the years. Our clinicians are able to do observations of children in their natural environments (e.g., day care, preschool) to gain a full picture of the child and provide environmental recommendations that would be most supportive. Moreover, we are available to attend meetings with early intervention specialists and special educators to help a child’s team fully understand their individual learning and service needs.

If you are interested in scheduling a consultation or evaluation at NESCA, please complete our on-line intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

About the Author:

GibbonsErin Gibbons, Ph.D. is a pediatric neuropsychologist with expertise in neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological assessment of infants, children, and adolescents presenting with developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorders. She has a particular interest in assessing students with complex medical histories and/or neurological impairments, including those who are cognitively delayed, nonverbal, or physically disabled. Dr. Gibbons joined NESCA in 2011 after completing a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in the Developmental Medicine Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. She particularly enjoys working with young children, especially those who are transitioning from Early Intervention into preschool. Having been trained in administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), Dr. Gibbons has experience diagnosing autism spectrum disorders in children aged 12 months and above.