Does Scatter Matter? How to Understand Your Child Better

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Moira Creedon, Ph.D. 
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Families often come to testing with questions like these: My child is so smart, why is reading so hard for them? If she can remember the smallest conversation from three years ago, why can’t she remember the two things I sent her upstairs to get? If he can do all of the calculations, why can’t my son solve a word problem? The answer can show itself in the scatter.

Assessment measures are based on statistical conversions, where the number of points a child or teen earns is “translated” into a scaled or standard score. This helps us to understand how your child performs compared to other children their same age. Tests are largely based on the idea that scores should “hang together” – meaning that if your child is average for his or her age on one task (e.g., visual-spatial skills) then they should be average on another (e.g., verbal knowledge). And while this may be true for many people, it certainly it not true for all people. Many people have “scatter,” meaning that there is a statistical difference between their scores.

I will spare you the controversy about scatter in our field, about whether a certain degree of scatter or difference between scores means that you cannot calculate certain other scores. There is also specific knowledge of scatter needed to diagnose specific learning disabilities (e.g., if your child has high average verbal skills, how far apart do their reading scores need to be in order to fit the diagnostic criteria). While those topics are incredibly important to the field, my focus today is to build a little empathy for how scatter can matter.

There are times when this scatter can lead us to a diagnostic decision. For example, a relatively common pattern that I see is that of a very bright teenager whose cognitive and problem-solving are at least above average, while their basic focus and attention is below average. With other evidence that corroborates it, this can mean ADHD. A big difference between a child’s verbal knowledge/language skills and their ability to use their language for social purposes can suggest an Autism Spectrum Disorder. In these instances, the scatter absolutely matters. But, scatter can be meaningful to a child’s daily experience even if it’s not statistically “big enough” to warrant diagnosis.

Imagine being your child for a moment. Perhaps your child has a knack for building complex Lego sets and can spend hours assembling structures that are intricate, detailed, and involve more small pieces that my adult fingers could tolerate (let alone our feet as we step on them!). Perhaps your child’s visual-spatial skills are incredible, scoring in the high average range compared to their friends. Then you place a book in their hands and ask them to read a page aloud, where they struggle to sound out words, track their eyes smoothly across the page, or understand the meaning of anything they are saying. While you are left scratching your head as a parent, imagine the frustration and disappointment your child must feel wondering: why can I work with Legos better than anyone I know, but decoding words is torture?

In my mind, scatter can mean frustration. To feel exceptionally strong and confident in one skill domain and then barely hang on in another can leave your child disappointed, angry, and self-critical. Imagine having a vocabulary and encyclopedia of facts in your mind and your hand simply cannot keep up with your thoughts as you try to take notes or write down ideas for an essay. For an adult, it can be a bit like sitting in front of your computer with too many browser windows open and programs running at once, slowing down the entire operating system to the point that you growl in frustration (anyone else?).

While it can be easy to get lost in the controversy over the technical and statistical nature of scatter, it is important that we all have some empathy for what this must feel like for your child or teen. Empathy for this experience is a critical part of building the roadmap forward: where we can use those strong skills to build up the weaker ones, to grow new and stronger neural connections, and to give ourselves a little grace and patience when those weaker muscles get challenged.


About the Author

Dr. Creedon has expertise in evaluating children and teens with a variety of presenting issues. She is interested in uncovering an individual’s unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses to best formulate a plan for intervention and success. With experiences providing therapy and assessments, Dr. Creedon bridges the gap between testing data and therapeutic services to develop a clear roadmap for change and deeper of understanding of individual needs.


If you are interested in booking an evaluation with Dr. Creedon or another NESCA neuropsychologist, 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.

School’s Out For Summer

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Amity Kulis, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

With everyone home-schooling these last several months, there has been a push towards academics and getting work done. But now it is summer vacation, and the pressure is off. However, this is a summer like no summer we have ever known. Many families are continuing to spend more time at home, many activities are still closed, or at the very least, they are more limited. It can be hard to figure out what to do with all of this time.

The summer can be a great time to engage multiple aspects of our minds. I am often reminded of Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. His theory proposes there are eight aspects of human intelligence, each representing different ways of processing information. Without getting into the deep specifics of his theory, I think it is important to consider the many different ways that our brains interact with the world. When trying to plan out activities or experiences for our kids this summer, taking these multiple aspects of functioning into consideration might help to stir up some great ideas.

Visual-Spatial: This can include activities such as drawing and other art activities using maps, puzzles and patterning tasks. Young children can practice making patterns and completing puzzles while our older children can create using Legos or planning out a family outing on a map. The possibilities are endless.

Linguistic-Verbal: This can include reading, writing and speaking. Children and families can enjoy reading books together or creating stories. Even conversations at the dinner table can be a form of engaging these verbal skills.

Logical-Mathematical: Activities that tap into this skillset can involve the use of numbers and relationships using patterns. Science or experiment-based activities can fall into this category. Young children love creating volcanos with vinegar and baking soda. Allowing them to measure materials out and add food coloring is always a fun idea. Older children may enjoy cooking or other activities that involve numbers and measurement.

Bodily-Kinesthetic: These activities engage the body and can involve strength and physical control. During the summer, the options are endless: nature walks, running through the sprinkler, dancing, biking, scootering, etc. Anything that gets the body moving! These activities can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Musical: Think about rhythms and sounds. Activities can include singing and playing musical instruments. While certainly traditional tools like the piano come to mind, you can also turn pots upside down, get some spoons and create a drum circle. Or possibly work as a family to turn the lyrics of a favorite song into something silly or more meaningful to your family. This summer could also be a great time to learn a new instrument with plenty of music instructors offering virtual lessons throughout the summer.

Interpersonal: This one may be a little harder as many people continue to distance themselves. While our health remains a priority, we do have to acknowledge that practicing social skills is important for everyone. This can involve calling or virtually meeting with family members, possibly a distanced activity with others outside, or leaving notes for friends and neighbors. Anything that gets your child thinking about others, their own thoughts and feelings, and finding ways to stay connected is important. Embracing the relationships within your family during this time is also a great idea.

Naturalistic: This means being in tune with nature and exploring the environment. These types of activities involve being outside, interacting with plants and animals. Perhaps you start a family garden or go for regular walks in the woods. Focusing on bugs, sounds and smells within your environment. Outdoor activities are probably the most readily available during this time.

Intrapersonal: Personal enrichment and being in tune with oneself is so important during this time. Taking time to calm our own frustrations and anxieties is essential for our overall health as well as setting a good example for children. Numerous mindfulness activities aimed at improving self-regulation can be found online. Being more aware of what is going on in our bodies and minds is so important to help us get through this time.

The summer is a time to relax and enjoy being a family. This can be a jumping off point to get the creativity flowing then allow the kids to jump in and help find fun ways to spend this summer—one that is unlike any other we have experienced.


About the Author:

Dr. Amity Kulis joined NESCA in 2012 after earning her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, with a concentration in Children, Adolescents and Families (CAF). She completed post-doctoral training in pediatric neuropsychology with an emphasis on treating children with developmental, intellectual, learning and executive functioning challenges. She also has extensive training psychological (projective) testing and has conducted individual and group therapies for children of all ages. Before joining NESCA, Dr. Kulis worked in private practices, clinics, and schools, conducting comprehensive assessments on children ranging from toddlers through young adults. In addition, Dr. Kulis has had the opportunity to consult with various school systems, conducting observations of programs, and providing in-service trainings for staff. Dr. Kulis currently conducts neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments for school-aged children through young adulthood. She regularly participates in transition assessments (focusing on the needs of adolescents as they emerge into adulthood) and has a special interest in working with complex learners that may also struggle with emotional challenges and psychiatric conditions. In addition to administering comprehensive and data-driven evaluations, Dr. Kulis regularly conducts school-based observations and participates in school meetings to help share her findings and consultation with a student’s TEAM.


To book an evaluation with Dr. Kulis or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists and transition specialists, 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, 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.