By: Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach, NESCA
NESCA recently welcomed Pediatric Neuropsychologist Renee Cutiongco Folsom, Ph.D. to its clinical staff. Dr. Cutiongco Folsom brings a wealth of experiences and vast knowledge in assessing and diagnosing autism spectrum disorders (ASD) as well as conducting international evaluations. Take a moment to learn more about Dr. Cutiongco Folsom from my interview with her.
Tell us about your background and how you got to NESCA.
I grew up in the Philippines. I started my career as a preschool teacher there for two years. At that point, I knew I wanted to work with children. I eventually got my master’s degree in psychology and took a neuropsychology class with a professor who was trained at Boston Children’s Hospital. I immediately fell in love with neuropsychology. I then came to the U.S. to pursue my Ph.D. and did my fellowship in neuropsychology at UCLA. I planned to go back to the Philippines but met my husband here in the U.S. and decided to stay here.
Since I did not go back to the Philippines, I was interested in practicing neuropsychology internationally, which I was able to do in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins. I was interested in the work NESCA has been doing internationally. The opportunity to work with a talented team at NESCA and the ability to do international evaluations was the right move for me.
What do you mean by looking beyond the data when conducting neuropsychological evaluations?
I refer to employing the “Boston Process Approach” in my evaluations and assessments because my mentor in the Philippines was trained in this approach when she did her postdoctoral work at Boston Children’s Hospital. She tried to ingrain this methodology in her trainees. What it means is that when we look at the data, we do not just look at a score. There is so much more to a child’s story than a number. As neuropsychologists, we are always looking at how the child comes up with an answer to a test. It is possible for a child to get a low score on a test of reproducing designs using blocks, for example, because the child threw or even ate the blocks! We must decipher what is behind the process by which the child produced the answer. This critical information falls outside of the data or what a score is. It tells us how the child learns, and what will help them at school, at home, and in their day-to-day life. This is the approach I take when I work with a child. I take a LOT of notes! I look to see what the child says and does, whether he or she is paying attention, and note other behaviors throughout the evaluation process. Then, I analyze all the data and look for patterns and discrepancies across various tests and measures.
When we see the data associated with the performance on a test, we must ask why, for instance, they achieved a low score. What other factors are at play? Is it anxiety or a visual-motor issue? What we observe throughout the evaluation can guide us to administer some tests that may not have been initially scheduled. Our knowledge, experiences, and careful observations help us to tease apart where a score came from and what it is telling us. We end up with a fuller picture of both the strengths and vulnerabilities of a child or adolescent.
What kind of international work were you doing previously?
After I completed my fellowship in neuropsychology at UCLA, my first job was with the Kennedy Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins. Because so many families go there from other countries seeking answers, the organization assembled interdisciplinary teams to serve international patients. We conducted week-long intensive and comprehensive evaluations involving a neurologist, neuropsychologist, occupational therapist, speech-language pathologist, and social worker who could help them access resources in their home country. At the end of the week of intense evaluation, we came together as a team to make a diagnosis, if warranted, and provide recommendations for interventions. It was a challenging and intense program because we needed to develop our impressions immediately. And we often saw some of the most difficult and complex cases because the families had already exhausted all the resources available to them in their home countries before traveling overseas.
What do you find most rewarding about being a pediatric neuropsychologist?
I have been practicing neuropsychology for a long time. I chose to work in pediatric neuropsychology vs. adult because we can do so much more with children. We have a particularly good chance of making a bigger impact on their lives at such an early age.
What I find most rewarding is to have patients come back for a follow-up evaluation, and I can see how the child has progressed. Their parents often thank me for providing them with a diagnosis and helping them to access resources and attest how far their child has come. Working alongside families to change the trajectory of a child’s life is very powerful.
You specialize in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). How do you make a diagnosis and differentiate ASD from its related challenges?
You rely on years of training, your knowledge and expertise, trust your clinical judgment, and factor in the wisdom of colleagues when needed. This is how you make meaningful conclusions and diagnoses that impact a child’s life.
What do you feel makes NESCA a unique environment and practice?
The beauty of a practice like NESCA is that we get a broad spectrum of clients who present with different challenges or diagnoses. We get to see a range of ages and draw clients from all over the New England region as well as internationally. That variety enriches your perspective and gives more insight into your clinical work.
I have been at NESCA for about a month, and they take collaboration to heart. My colleagues at NESCA are a giving group of professionals when it comes to sharing experiences and knowledge. The clinicians are humble, candid, open, and eager to help children, adolescents, and young adults. As a pediatric neuropsychologist, I also get to collaborate with transition specialists, educational consultants, OTs, SLPs, and more. The multidisciplinary approach, learning from other perspectives, is a refreshing addition to my work experience.
About the Author
Dr. Renee Cutiongco Folsom, Ph.D. has been working with families in the greater Boston area since 2015. Prior to this, she was on staff at Johns Hopkins University and trained at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She provides comprehensive neuropsychological evaluations of children, adolescents, and young adults who have learning, behavioral, and socio-emotional challenges. Her areas of expertise include Autism Spectrum Disorder and other conditions that usually co-occur with this diagnosis; Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder; Dyslexia and other Specific Learning Disabilities; and Anxiety/Depression. She thinks that the best part of being a pediatric neuropsychologist is helping change the trajectory of children’s lives.
To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s pediatric neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form.
NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, Londonderry, New Hampshire, and the greater Burlington, Vermont area, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.