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referral question

Neuropsychological Evaluations at Different Stages of Childhood & Adolescence

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

Having been at NESCA for more than 11 years, I have been fortunate enough to follow many clients throughout their childhood. In some cases, I have conducted two or three neuropsychological evaluations on the same student at different points in their life. After their first experience with an evaluation, parents will often ask, “Will we need to do this again?” or “How often should we get evaluations?”. As is the case for most things, the answer is different for every child depending on their needs. When determining how often to seek an evaluation, it might be helpful to think about what information you are trying to gather depending on the child’s age.

Preschool (2-5)

  • Concerns about developmental delays (not meeting milestones)
  • Concerns about autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Transition from Early Intervention into preschool
  • Transition from preschool to kindergarten

Elementary School (5-10)

  • Concerns about academic skills – assess for dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, or other specific learning disability
  • Why is the student not making expected progress in school?
  • Concerns about attention and executive functioning (possible attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Concerns about ASD (if not already diagnosed)
  • For children who already have an identified disability – need to monitor progress
  • Plan for transition to middle school

Middle School (10-14)

  • If this is the first neuropsychological evaluation – it is usually because the child did okay in elementary school but is now struggling with increased demands in the areas of academics, executive functioning, and social
  • For students with a previously identified disability – need to monitor progress
  • Plan for transition to high school

Early High School (14-16)

  • Monitor progress – how is the student managing increased demands of high school?
  • Mental health – emerging concerns about anxiety and/or depression
  • Start planning for postsecondary transition
    • Is the student on track to graduate in 4 years?
    • Does the student need programming beyond 12th grade?

Late High School (16-18)

  • Heavy emphasis on postsecondary transition planning
  • Do we need to work on vocational skills?
  • If the student is college-bound – determine whether any accommodations will be needed
  • If the student is not going to college – what is next?
    • Remain at high school with ongoing special education services
    • Gap year
    • Young adult transition program for students with disabilities
  • Consult with transition specialist to help with planning

Early Adulthood (18+)

  • If the student is in college – do they need additional supports?
  • If the student is still accessing special education services – where should we be putting the emphasis?
    • Academics
    • Vocational
    • Life Skills
  • For students with developmental disabilities, need to plan for adult services
    • Should the parents seek guardianship?
    • Is the student eligible for DDS or other adult service agencies?
    • What resources are available to the family?
  • Combine with transition specialists to help navigate adult services

 

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 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, Londonderry, New Hampshire, and Burlington, Vermont, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

What Do We Mean by Individualized Neuropsychological Evaluations?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

Previous blogs in our recent series addressing frequently asked questions during the intake process, have covered the important differences between school-based testing and an independent neuropsychological evaluation. A neuropsychological evaluation should always be comprehensive, meaning that it covers various aspects of the student’s learning profile: cognition, language, memory, attention, and social-emotional functioning. However, the evaluation should also be individualized. Essentially, a good evaluation should aim to answer the questions that are specific to that student, not just a cookie-cutter list of tests.

Prior to starting testing, the clinician reviews any previous records and holds an intake appointment with the student’s parents or caregivers. Through this process, the clinician gathers information about the student’s early developmental history, medical background, and current challenges. If the student is already receiving services – either privately or through the school district – that is also important information. All of this helps to shape the “Referral Questions” for the evaluation. In some cases, the questions are very specific; for example, “Does my child have dyslexia?” or “Does my child have ADHD?” In other cases, the question is less defined, such as when we are asked “What is going on with my child and how do I help them?”

We often get asked by parents or caregivers if their child can have all of the tests available performed during their child’s neuropsychological evaluation. As clinicians, we understand that temptation. An evaluation is both an investment of time and money for the parents or caregivers. But neuropsychological evaluations are a lot of work for children, so we want to be sure to tailor the tests to what is actually going to yield beneficial findings for them or will help answer the referral question.

Some families request the list of tests that will be included in the evaluation. Unfortunately, this is not always possible until after testing is underway. Following the intake process, the clinician starts to develop the “battery” – the specific tests that will be administered to the student. Most clinicians have a skeleton battery of tests that they include for every client – an intelligence test, some academic tests (reading, writing, and math), and tasks that assess skills, such as language, memory, and attention – as described above. The clinician then fills in the testing battery based on the specific questions for that student. For example:

  • An evaluation designed to test for dyslexia should include several tests of reading as well as tests that look at very specific skills related to reading (e.g., phonological processing). When there are no concerns about reading, this aspect of the evaluation would be briefer.
  • An evaluation designed to assess for autism spectrum disorder should include a variety of tasks that examine social communication and reciprocal social skills. These types of tasks would likely not be included for a student who has never had any challenges in the social domain.

If a school district or another provider is asking for the list of tests that will comprise the neuropsychological evaluation, please talk to your clinician about this during the intake process. The final list might not be available until testing is complete, but this is definitely something that your clinician can provide as soon as possible.

 

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 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.