Parents of children with learning difficulties are often faced with the decision of which type of evaluation will best meet the needs of their child. It is important to ensure that the most appropriate assessment is accessed in order to identify interventions and supports that will provide the greatest potential for success.
A Paediatric Neuropsychologist is specially trained to evaluate brain-behavior relationships in children and adolescents. It is important to seek out a Registered Neuropsychologist - this doctor has completed a Ph.D. or D.Psych in Clinical Neuropsychology with intensive training and experience in assessment, diagnosis, case formulation and appropriate treatment recommendations. To ensure the Neuropsychologist you have chosen has the appropriate level of expertise and meets the highest standards of the profession, they should be a member of, or be qualified for full membership with the Australian Psychological Society's College of Clinical Neuropsychologist (CCN). Refer to the CCN website for further information (https://groups.psychology.org.au/ccn/).
There are a number of reasons why a thorough neuropsychological evaluation performed by a specially trained paediatric neuropsychologist is superior to a psycho-educational evaluation. These include differences in the training of clinicians performing psycho-educational evaluations, the narrow focus of psycho-educational evaluations, and the failure of psycho-educational evaluations to assess brain-behavior relationships.
A psycho-educational evaluation usually assesses a child's intellectual abilities and basic academic skills (reading, mathematics, spelling). The outcome is usually enough information to identify specific learning disabilities or learning delays. However, these assessments do not identify nor formally assess learning difficulties associated with attention (i.e., ADHD), memory or executive functioning weaknesses. These types of evaluations usually provide recommendations for very general learning and counselling support.
In contrast, a neuropsychological evaluation includes a thorough investigation of a child’s developmental, medical, learning, social, and psychological history. A comprehensive testing battery is used to examine a wide range of abilities including, but not limited to, intellectual, academic, attention/concentration, executive functioning, language, visuo-spatial, memory, sensory and fine motor skills, in addition to psychological and social functioning. Neuropsychological evaluations can therefore not only diagnose intellectual or learning difficulties, but more importantly, they can identify any cognitive or psycho-social weaknesses impacting on WHY the student experiences difficulties with learning (e.g., do they have a language disorder, attentional difficulties, fine motor difficulties or executive functioning difficulties). With this understanding, remediation and accommodations strategies can be targeted accordingly.
Therefore, although psycho-educational evaluations quantify the end product of children's learning efforts, neuropsychological evaluations assess the underlying neurocognitive processes impacting overall development and learning, and recommendations for learning are made upon a clear understanding of brain-behaviour relations.
Additional information regarding what a clinical neuropsychologist does is available at https://www.psychology.org.au/public/clinicalneuro/