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What is a neuropsychological evaluation?
A neuropsychological evaluation is a specially designed assessment to investigate how a student is processing information with the goal of understanding processing strengths and challenges. It is a comprehensive study of the student/patient and includes as well understanding academic, emotional, social and personal functioning. Through such a study a “blueprint” can be developed that will map out the specific strategies and techniques that can help the student be successful in school and life.
The school system has said they can do an evaluation on my child. How is this different from a private neuropsychological evaluation?
School systems are particularly interested in determining if a student is eligible for special education services. These evaluations tend to be less in-depth and focused on providing information to school teams in determining eligibility. A private neuropsychological evaluation answers the question as to what is causing the actual difficulty by going more in-depth in looking at neuropsychological processes. This information is then used to design specific techniques and strategies to help the child. The neuropsychologist makes diagnostic decisions while most evaluations through the school system do not make such diagnoses. School system evaluations are free of cost as long as the student has gone through required processes and a team referral for a school system evaluation is made. You can usually expect much more explanation and time between the neuropsychologist and parent than in a school situation.
Is there anything particular I should know when considering a school evaluation compared to a private neuropsychological evaluation?
It is very important that you make a decision as to which way to go – either private or through the school system. Let’s say that you think you will have the school system do an evaluation first and then do your own private evaluation. Not a really good idea. The reason for this is that the school system may use certain tests or assessments that cannot be repeated due to the familiarity the student now has with the tests. This usually means that such assessments cannot be used for about one year. The same thing happens in the reverse situation. If you seek a private evaluation after having a recent school evaluation, it will be quite important to inform the neuropsychologist of the tests utilized and see if that professional would be able to still evaluate the student using other methods.
I have a young child who is definitely having some problems. Various people tell me I should see a speech and language therapist, or enroll in physical therapy, or occupational therapy, or get vision therapy, or enroll in a specific program or school, etc. It is so confusing - I don’t know what to do. What are the first steps to take in such a situation?
If at all possible it is recommended that you see a neuropsychologist, who has no vested interest in the results of the evaluation, first. The neuropsychologist will look at everything and identify the areas of strength and challenge and make specific recommendations. They may then refer you to therapies such as speech and language or physical and occupational therapy. Many times if you go directly to a specific provider of services, it is likely that they will suggest that particular service is needed. However, they have not looked at the entire – full picture of the needs of the student. It is generally important for you to get an independent and comprehensive look at needs before enrolling your student in a program or services. It is also important that you study the scientific background of the proposed services to assure that the approach is legitimate and research validated. There are many situations where parents don’t do this and spend much money and wasted time in their desire to help their child. For example, I have found in my practice that it is very rare for a student to be assisted by vision therapy but that usually is recommended when a parent seeks help. There are some legitimate reasons for vision therapy but beware of anyone who says they can cure your child of _________ (just fill in the blank) with their services.
How should I prepare for an initial IEP meeting?
Meetings such as this are often very, very difficult for parents. This is not always so but it happens quite frequently. You’re in a situation where there may be 8 to 10 school personnel around a table and “you. Of course, this is intimidating. In many circumstances, a decision may already have been made by the school personnel about what they want to do. If you have had a private evaluation, you and the neuropsychologist or psychologist need to spend time to help you know how to handle the situation. You may ask that the neuropsychologist attend the meeting if possible, to help advocate for what your child needs, but this is often not possible due to time constrictions. Frequently, it is helpful for the neuropsychologist to attend the meetings through phone interaction over a speaker. There are also advocates who are very familiar with special education law that you can hire to go with you.
It is important that you do your background study before attending an IEP meeting. Go to the State Department of Education and research both the requirements for the disability and how eligibility is determined. Be ready with questions if you are not comfortable with the way the meeting is going. (See the button giving more specific details). As in many other circumstances, knowledge is power. I do not recommend that you go in an adversarial manner but also be aware that you have more power as a parent than you think you do.
To help parents when attending an IEP meeting I have prepared a one-page form that you can take with you and fill out as the meeting is progressing. Asking and getting satisfactory answers to these questions is pivotal in both your understanding and to make sure you have valid input into the process.