By: Maggie Rodriguez, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
Before I had children, I knew parenting would bring with it new demands. If you’d asked me what tasks I imagined would take a lot of my time and energy as a parent, I would have listed things like feeding hungry little mouths, washing adorable clothes, driving kids to and from school and activities, dealing with bath time, and reading stories at bedtime. What I would never have guessed is how much time and mental effort I would spend filling out paperwork. From the moment a child enters a parent’s life—regardless of what process brings them together as a family—it seems like there are unending forms to complete. As a parent of three children, I cannot begin to calculate how many hours I’ve spent filling out forms for doctors, daycares, schools, camps, babysitters, and extracurriculars. It’s a lot.
Perhaps that’s why I sometimes notice a very relatable subtle sigh when I hand parents forms to complete as part of their children’s neuropsychological evaluation. I get it, and I never want to add to a parent’s already overwhelming list of tasks to complete. Nevertheless, carefully selected questionnaires are an important part of a thorough neuropsychological assessment. Here are a few of the reasons why.
- Simply put, parents are the experts on their children. No doubt about it, a parent (or primary caregiver) knows a child better than just about anyone else could. Parents are uniquely qualified to provide invaluable information about their children and are a tremendous resource.
- Parents have more data points. During an evaluation, I typically spend about five hours with a child over the course of two testing sessions. It’s a limited glimpse into mere hours out of years of a child’s life. Parents are typically positioned to observe their children much more frequently and on many more occasions. I may see a child at their best or on a particularly bad day, and I don’t want to rely on my observations alone. Having information from many points in time, and from different settings, is incredibly useful and helps capture a more complete picture of a child.
- I want and need to know what happens outside the testing office. By design, the testing environment is deliberately developed to be a quiet space as free of distractions as possible to maximize a child’s ability to focus and participate in formal testing. It’s a highly structured situation and a one-on-one interaction. Life outside the office is…well, quite different. I want to get a sense of what happens during the hectic morning rush to get out the door, on the playground and the soccer field, and at the family dinner table.
- On a related note, people present differently in different settings, and having data helps us make sense of this. Many parents can relate to the concept of “restraint collapse.” Essentially, kids often work hard to keep it together in the academic setting throughout the day and “fall apart” when they come home after a long day of school. Similarly, children are often on the “best behavior” in public settings and with adults other than their parents. For this reason, I often don’t get to see this important aspect of things, so I rely on parent reports.
- Some things simply cannot be readily assessed using standardized testing measures in an office environment. Two skill sets that fall into this category are executive functions and social skills. Executive functions, which include skills like working memory, are not easily captured through tests in the somewhat artificial environment of an office. To assess working memory, we rely on tasks such as asking a child to recall strings of numbers. In the real world, working memory applies to more complex tasks, such as following multi-step instructions in a busy classroom or home setting. A child may do well remembering single digit numbers, but this doesn’t always translate to being able to remember and complete a series of directions in the “real world.” Similarly, interacting with one adult in a highly structured environment doesn’t allow a glimpse into a child’s social skills within the more complex, unstructured situations they face day to day.
In short, neuropsychologists rely on information from parents to gain a clear and complete picture of a child and to provide answers to the questions that bring a family to us. One of the ways we obtain this information is through questionnaires, symptom rating scales, and checklists. So, parents, thank you, for taking the time to give us your unique and invaluable perspective. We couldn’t do our jobs without it or without you.
About the Author
Maggie Rodriguez, Psy.D., provides comprehensive evaluation services for children, adolescents, and young adults with often complex presentations. She particularly enjoys working with individuals who have concerns about attention and executive functioning, language-based learning disorders, and those with overlapping cognitive and social/emotional difficulties.
Prior to joining NESCA, Dr. Rodriguez worked in private practice, where she completed assessments with high-functioning students presenting with complex cognitive profiles whose areas of weakness may have gone previously undiagnosed. Dr. Rodriguez’s experience also includes pre- and post-doctoral training in the Learning Disability Clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Neurodevelopmental Center at MassGeneral for Children/North Shore Medical Center. Dr. Rodriguez has spent significant time working with students in academic settings, including k-12 public and charter school systems and private academic programs, such as the Threshold Program at Lesley University.
Dr. Rodriguez earned her Psy.D. from William James College in 2012, where her coursework and practicum training focused on clinical work with children and adolescents and on assessment. Her doctoral thesis centered on cultural issues related to evaluation.
Dr. Rodriguez lives north of Boston with her husband and three young children. She enjoys spending time outdoors hiking and bike riding with her family, practicing yoga, and reading.
To book a consultation with Dr. Rodriguez or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.