Should My Child with Autism Have a Neuropsychological Evaluation?

Should My Child with Autism Have a Neuropsychological Evaluation?

Neuropsychology and Autism, Neuropsychological and psychological testing

Parents want what is best for their children, no matter what specific challenges their child might face. For some parents, the idea of neuropsychological and psychological testing for their child with Autism is intimidating. However, when it comes to neuropsychology and autism, testing might be the answer to how you do what’s best to help your child best prepare to live a happy and healthy life.

Here are some answers to questions many parents have regarding neuropsychology and their child:

Q: What are Neuropsychology and Neuropsychological testing?

A: Neuropsychology seeks to study the relationship between brain function and our behavior, our emotions, and how we think, understand, learn, and remember things.  Neuropsychological tests are tools to better understand the challenges and strengths for each individual and how he or she perceives, processes, and responds to his or her world. The tests are administered individually and include tasks such as answering questions, working with puzzles, drawing, and other activities. The results of a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation provide a foundation for making decisions about treatment and educational strategies in the home and school environments. Completing the assessment may take up to 6 or 8 hours, depending upon your child’s specific needs and what the referring doctor is trying to learn about your child to guide and improve treatment. The evaluation may be completed in a single day or over several, shorter appointments, depending upon the capabilities of the child and preferences of the parents.

Q: How does a Neuropsychological Evaluation differ from the testing they do at my child’s school?

A: When a child has been identified as meeting criteria for an Autism Spectrum diagnosis, the schools often provide specialized instruction  and assessments to meet the student’s academic and behavioral needs in the school environment.  The assessments conducted by the school, while providing excellent information about psychoeducational skills, lack the level of detail of a neuropsychological assessment. Neuropsychological evaluations include a close look at the child’s attention span, executive functioning (including working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, problem solving, planning and execution), general intelligence, language skills, learning proficiencies, memory aptitudes, and visual perception. By understanding the child’s skills and challenges in these domains, parents, teachers, and doctors working with an Autistic student can identify the context within which academic, emotional, and behavioral difficulties are observed, and these insights allow development of more effective strategies to improve your child’s functioning and quality of life.

Q: What does testing provide parents and child?

A: While the total spectrum of autistic cases varies, the core features of autism include difficulties in social interactions and communication.  These children may engage in restrictive and repetitive activities, interests, and behaviors, and they often struggle in aspects of their academic efforts. They may also present behavioral challenges in home and school environments. These challenges require the development of individualized strategies to meet their needs.  Parents of autistic children understand that their child has difficulties that are impacting his or her social, academic, and other important areas of functioning. A neuropsychological assessment enhances understanding of each child’s unique strengths and challenges to guide treatment. Given the variety of challenges and strengths these youngsters can demonstrate, it can sometimes be difficult to know what is causing some of the academic, emotional, and behavioral issues you experience with your autistic child. Testing helps define the challenges experienced by your individual child, providing insight into the reasons behind the behavior, and most importantly, it provides a framework for how to develop interventions to improve your child’s day to day life. Ultimately, the testing will help you understand your child’s current emotions, traits, and functioning as an individual and how these attributes contribute to his or her ability to cope with and adapt to life’s experiences.

Q: When should I consider having  my child tested?

A: Most cases of autism are identified by the age of three, although some atypical cases may not be recognized until a later age. Diagnosis at early ages often emerges from developmental evaluations focusing on your child’s progress meeting developmental milestones.  Neuropsychological testing builds upon the foundation of developmental evaluations to gain greater understanding of your child’s unique thinking skills and emotional/behavioral needs.  We recommend that children be at least six before they have a neuropsychological evaluation.

Does my child have to have a neuropsychological evaluation?

A: No. However, we recommend one to help assess what you can expect as your child develops. Better understanding their strengths and challenges and monitoring their progress is important to help manage their needs as they age. These evaluations measure progress in developing skills for independence, and they can help in understanding potential causes of regressions/setbacks or the effects of other complications. The results from neuropsychological testing can be helpful for monitoring your child’s progress and how their unique skills impact their ability to negotiate the challenges of living with Autism.

It is natural to wonder if you should subject your autistic child to either psychological or neuropsychological testing. But when it comes to neuropsychology and autism, chances are that these assessments will help both you and your child better understand the challenges involved with his or her condition, and the testing is likely to help you both manage the behavior that results from his or her condition to maximize his or her potential.

Sources:

Happé, Francesca, et al. “The Neuropsychology of Autism.” www.jocdp.jp. Web. 28 September 2015. <http://www.jocdp.jp/php/info2/data/20121024100034.pdf>

Lowinski, Ph.D., Lisa. “Ask an Expert: What is a neuropsychological evaluation?” www.autismconsortium.org. 6 February 2013. Web. 28 September 2015. <http://www.autismconsortium.org/blog/detail/ask-an-expert-what-is-a-neuropsychological-evaluation>.

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