The Basics of Neuropsychological Evaluations
Updated: Mar 30
If you’re in the process of seeking a neuropsychological evaluation for the first time, you likely have many questions about the process and everything it entails. While the evaluators that conduct these assessments will likely have different ways of working with clients, there are some “standards” that you should expect to encounter, regardless of the clinician with whom you work. The below should read as an FAQ of sorts, to help families understand and navigate the process.
What is it?
The term “neuropsychological evaluation” refers to a process whereby a qualified clinician, typically a licensed psychologist, collects information about their client (you or your child) from different sources, puts it all together, analyzes it, and determines if there are any neurological (e.g., brain-based) reasons why certain activities such as school, work, behavior, or maintaining social relationships, might be challenging. The goal of the neuropsychological evaluation is to comprehensively explore and explain anything that may be getting in the way of somebody’s success, and to provide specific, individualized recommendations for how that person can function better. Once an evaluation is complete, the clinician will provide you with a long, comprehensive report that outlines all of the data collected and the resulting recommendations.
How long does it take?
There are two timelines to consider: The amount of time your child spends, one-on-one, with the clinician in their office, and the overall length of the process, from when you first schedule an evaluation to when you are given the report, signifying the end of the process. Typically, for a complete neuropsychological evaluation, students should expect to spend around eight hours with the clinician, in a one-on-one setting. The time can vary depending on the child’s age, motivation, level of distractibility, etc. Generally, once all data are collected, a report is provided within a month or so.
What does it entail?
A complete neuropsychological evaluation assesses a broad array of cognitive abilities, academic skills, social/emotional functioning, and behavior. Specifically, the client will be tested on verbal reasoning, visual reasoning, processing speed, visual-spatial skills, memory, language, fine motor, sensorimotor skills, attention, executive functioning, reading, writing, math, social perception, emotional functioning, adaptive functioning, and often even more.
Why should I get one for my child?
There are many reasons why people seek an evaluation for themselves or their child. Maybe your child’s school is requesting that you get an evaluation to help them better serve and teach your child. Maybe the school tells you there’s “nothing wrong,” but you have a feeling that the behaviors you’re witnessing while watching your child struggle through homework suggests otherwise. Maybe your child is a straight A+ student, but as a 6th grader, is staying up until midnight to get his good grades. Maybe your child is a B+ student, but everybody agrees she should be doing much better. If you’re thinking about pursuing an evaluation but are not sure if it’s right for, speak with a psychologist that conducts evaluations and ask for a phone consultation.
Where do I find one?
Once you have decided to get an evaluation, it’s a good idea to speak with your school to see if they have any recommendations. Often, schools have experience with a number of evaluators that they know and like. Psychology Today's directory is another great resource.
OK, I’ve gotten one…now what?
After you go through the neuropsychological evaluation process, you’ll be left with a lengthy report filled with information and strange-sounding terms. Hopefully, and importantly, you should have several pages worth of recommendations that are tailored to your child’s “cognitive profile” (a term psychologists use to refer to the various areas of strength and difficulty that were determined during testing). At the end of the process, you will meet with the evaluator to go over all the evaluation findings. While in that meeting, make sure you ask questions, understand the recommendations, and get help from the evaluator to see those recommendations through to completion. The evaluator should also provide information about who should be responsible for implementing the recommendations. Additionally, it is important to share the evaluation with your child’s school so they have the information they need to be able to help your child best. Parents can also schedule meetings with the school’s learning support personnel to review the evaluation findings and determine a plan for next steps.
Written by: Sara Douglas Psy.D., NCSP in Psychology Today