While school may be wrapping up, Summer is an ideal time to embark on transition assessment and services to ensure that your child’s IEP process is preparing them for learning, living, and working after their public education. The ultimate goal of transition assessment is to identify the necessary skills and services to ready a student age 13-21 for transitioning from high school to the next phase of life. To book an intake and consultation appointment, visit: www.nesca-newton.com/intake. Not sure if you need an assessment? You can schedule a one-hour parent/caregiver intake and consultation.

When Average Doesn’t Feel Like Average

By: Yvonne Asher, Ph.D.
NESCA Pediatric Neuropsychologist

When we conduct a neuropsychological evaluation with a child, adolescent, or adult, one important component involves administering a battery of assessments. This is certainly not the only, or many times the most important, component, but it is part of the unique skill set of a neuropsychologist. A large percentage of these assessments are interpreted by comparing an individual’s performance to the performance of others who are similar in age. For example, we may compare an 8-year-old’s reading skills to the reading skills of a nationally-representative sample of 8-year-olds. This comparison helps us to understand if the child’s reading skills are generally below their peers, about at the same level as their peers, or above the level of their peers.

A nationally-representative sample of children may not be the most salient comparison for some families. In fact, the concerns that bring parents to a neuropsychologist in the first place can often include comparing their child to friends’ children, classmates, or other children in their community. This is an almost inescapable process. As parents, it is nearly impossible not to compare children – meeting milestones, academic skills, temperament, behavior, sociability, etc. Although it can have significant negative impact when done in front of a child or in a detrimental manner (e.g., “Why can’t you be more like Johnny?” “Susie has already figured that out and she’s younger than you!”), comparing your child to others can be valuable in specific circumstances. Many parents have little experience with child development before having children, and the children in their community and friend group can serve as helpful “guideposts” for what to expect at different ages. Many times, a parent has brought concerns to a neuropsychological evaluation along the lines of “my child seems different than my friends’ children/nieces and nephews/other kids at daycare,” and I have confirmed a significant disability or disorder was present. Parental instincts are valuable and can be an important first step.

However, there are times where comparing a child to a very specific set of other children can be a fraught process, particularly when seeking neuropsychological evaluation. Parents may live in an area or socialize with a group of families who are far from the nationally-representative samples that we utilize in our evaluations. Cousins and the children of close friends may have unusually well-developed skills, unusually calm or easy-going temperaments, or unusually easy progress through school. Children may be learning in a school environment that is extremely competitive, the result of a highly selective admissions process, or inaccessible to most of the general population. Any or all of these can make a child seem more impaired than neuropsychological assessments may indicate.

This is certainly not to discount valid, important parent concerns. A child who is far behind their classmates, even when those classmates are part of a highly selective school environment with academic expectations far beyond most schools, is still struggling and may be suffering. What is vital for parents to understand is the profile of their own child, and from where the challenges that they see are coming. A mismatch between a child and their environment, be it a social environment or an academic environment, can still result in real, impactful struggles – even if the child appears “average” on neuropsychological assessment measures.


About the Author

Dr. Yvonne M. Asher enjoys working with a wide range of children and teens, including those with autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays, learning disabilities, attention difficulties and executive functioning challenges. She often works with children whose complex profiles are not easily captured by a single label or diagnosis. She particularly enjoys working with young children and helping parents through their “first touch” with mental health care or developmental concerns.

Dr. Asher’s approach to assessment is gentle and supportive, and recognizes the importance of building rapport and trust. When working with young children, Dr. Asher incorporates play and “games” that allow children to complete standardized assessments in a fun and engaging environment.

Dr. Asher has extensive experience working in public, charter and religious schools, both as a classroom teacher and psychologist. She holds a master’s degree in education and continues to love working with educators. As a psychologist working in public schools, she gained invaluable experience with the IEP process from start to finish. She incorporates both her educational and psychological training when formulating recommendations to school teams.

Dr. Asher attended Swarthmore College and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She completed her doctoral degree at Suffolk University, where her dissertation looked at the impact of starting middle school on children’s social and emotional wellbeing. After graduating, she completed an intensive fellowship at the MGH Lurie Center for Autism, where she worked with a wide range of children, adolescents and young adults with autism and related disorders.


NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; and staff in the greater Burlington, Vermont region and Brooklyn, NY, serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.


To book an appointment with a NESCA clinician, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.