What is neuropsychology?

The American Psychological Association (APA) has recognized clinical neuropsychology as a specialty area of practice that applies principles of assessment and intervention based on scientific study of human behavior as it relates to normal and abnormal functioning of the central nervous system. The specialty is dedicated to enhancing the understanding of brain-behavior relationships and the application of such knowledge to human problems.

Who is a neuropsychologist?

Neuropsychologists are professionals with doctoral degrees in psychology who have expertise in psychological assessment and treatment, along with specialized training in the functioning of the brain and the impact of brain dysfunction on the broad range of human skills, emotions and behaviors. The practice of clinical neuropsychology is rooted in the study of psychological or behavioral manifestations of neurological, neuropathological, pathophysiological, or neurochemical changes in brain disease and the full range of abnormalities in the central nervous system that may arise during development.

Who should be referred for specialty assessment by a neuropsychologist?

Children who have known or suspected brain abnormality or dysfunction should generally be referred for a neuropsychological rather than psychological evaluation. The child might have been born with a problem in terms of the way the brain formed and grew, might have a medical condition involving the brain (e.g., epilepsy, brain tumor, stroke) or a medical illnesses with a direct or indirect effect on the brain. Sometimes the child might have sustained a head injury or other trauma, have a genetic condition, or psychiatric disturbance reflecting brain dysfunction. Children with learning disabilities of developmental or organic basis may also be referred from pediatricians, pediatric neurologists, and the schools. In general, children seen for neuropsychological evaluation have some underlying medical diagnosis, and are typically referred by their physician.

What can a neuropsychological assessment do?

Neuropsychological assessment helps provide an understanding of behavior as it relates to brain development and functioning. Using a combination of approaches and assessment methods, neuropsychologists attempt to understand not only a child's overall level of functioning, but also any meaningful pattern of strengths and weaknesses of their skills that may be related to brain functioning. That information and perspective may assist in the child's medical, social and educational planning. Neuropsychological assessment may be helpful by offering:

  •  Delineation of baseline functioning in one or more areas of concern
  •  Quantification and qualitative description of disturbances to brain functioning
  • Assistance in diagnosis of relevant syndromes (e.g., Williams Syndrome, Autism)
  • Monitoring of changes in brain functioning over time
  •  Monitoring the progression of an illness or disease process
  • Tracking the recovery from an illness or injury
  • Development of a rehabilitation program, based on current neurobehavioral functioning
  • Description of the neuropsychological processes that will have impact on the person's ability function in school or work
  •  Recommendations about a child's need for supervision or other environmental accommodation
  • Assistance to parents and guardians with life decisions (e.g., school placement