Neuropsychology: A Guide For Parents

From the caring pediatric neuropsychology team at Chicagoland Neuropsychology

Parents wouldn’t be parents if they weren’t concerned with what was best for their child. Taking the first steps to having those concerns addressed comprehensively, and then getting a real roadmap for how to best help your child brings tremendous relief. Pediatric neuropsychology evaluations provide just that. After getting a full evaluation, you will start to see your child beginning to thrive, making the time and effort spent to receive help worth it. More importantly, however, is the relief that the children we work with so often feel as they become happier and more able to live up to their potential.

Should my child see a neuropsychologist?

To determine whether it makes sense to discuss your pediatric neuropsychology concerns with Dr. Brietzke, please consider the following questions:

  1. Does your child have difficulties with distractibility or paying attention (in class or when someone is speaking?
  2. Are there emotional difficulties such as sadness or anxiety that are more severe than in other children?
  3. Does your child have trouble remembering what they are told, forget important items or have completing tasks?
  4. Does your child sometimes have strange or unexplained behaviors or big anger outbursts?
  5. Staying organized, planning ahead and thinking before one speaks/acts (impulse control) develops over time, but is this an area that your child has more trouble with than others do?
  6. Does your child have problems making and keeping friends?
  7. Does your child have particular trouble in one class or do they get lower overall lower grades than they should?
  8. Has your child been given a diagnosis in the past that just doesn’t seem to fit?

Answering yes to one or more of these questions doesn’t diagnose anything, but it does suggest that discussing the benefits of a neuropsychological evaluation would be a good idea.

How to explain this to my child

It is normal for children to be a little nervous on the day of the appointment. That anxiety usually passes quickly once your child figures out that this is actually going to be kind of fun. For some kids, it’s important to tell them that there won’t be anything painful and that Dr. Brietzke won’t give them any shots either. It usually makes the most sense to tell kids that ‘testing’ really isn’t a good word because a lot of what we do is closer to playing games, doing puzzles and drawing than taking a test at school. These special ‘games’ just happen to tell us how your child’s brain is working.

You can also reassure them that they can always take breaks to come see you, go to the bathroom or just rest. It is probably best not to emphasize that the whole process takes 4 hours or so. This can seem overwhelming to some kids, even though this is much shorter than a normal schoolday. It is often good to bring a snack or something to drink as well. For younger children it can be good to bring a familiar toy for them to play with during breaks.

Getting the results & taking the next steps

About a week after your child finishes testing, a feedback session is scheduled. Anyone who is involved with your child is encouraged to come. At the beginning of the meeting, you will get a copy of the report and the rest of the time is spent explaining what the report means as well as answering whatever questions you have. This process usually takes about an hour, but Dr. Brietzke always schedules extra time to make sure everything is making sense.

The report will contain an explanation of test results, a diagnosis,(if relevant) and a number of personalized recommendations that will help leverage your child’s strengths to make up for their weaknesses.It will also contain suggestions for other types of other treatment that will be most useful. These kinds or recommendations are useful to parents, physicians and teachers. In particular, they can also be used by the school to implement services and accommodations to help your child succeed.

Will my child be diagnosed with ADHD and given medication?

ADHD is a very real disorder, but it is also a disorder that is handed out too quickly these days. Part of why it is so over-diagnosed is that there are a number of other problems that can mimic the symptoms of ADHD. It is only through carefully considering multiple possibilities and considering objective data (i.e., neuropsychological test results) that any diagnosis can be made.

If, indeed, your child has ADHD (or another disorder), medications can be useful, but there are often other holistic treatment options that can be as or more effective than taking a pill. The ability to predict what options would be best can only come through actually assessing your child, because this process gets to the real reason of why things are not right.

My unique, holistic approach considers the parent’s concerns, alongside the child’s medical history, their emotional (feeling) and cognitive (thinking) abilities as well as the family structure. I also integrate cutting-edge pediatric neuropsychology functional brain imaging into the evaluation for more complex cases. Most importantly, my approach is designed to be as kid-friendly as possible. I learned long ago that comfortable, relaxed kids provide the most useful data when they are being tested.