Neuropsychological assessment uses non-invasive tests to measure specific brain functioning such as attention and concentration, memory and learning, visual-perceptual and visual-construction abilities, executive functions, and other specific domains that may be selectively impaired by brain injury. Neuropsychologists may use some of the same tests used by a clinical or school psychologist, but interpret the results in light of their special expertise in brain-behavior relationships. Neuropsychological assessment was originally designed to diagnose specific types of brain damage after an individual sustained some type of brain injury. Lately, neuropsychological assessment has expanded from the hospital setting into the community because it adds invaluable insights into how to help the students with learning problems, as well as cognitive identify strengths and weaknesses. A neuropsychological assessment saves valuable time by helping to determine what will help students reach their full learning potential.
Sometimes parents will hire a tutor, which is just what some students need. Other times, tutoring does not seem to help, or lots of time is wasted while the tutor uses a process of elimination approach to determine which method of instruction will actually help the student learn. Neuropsychological assessment removes any guess work and provides critical information to assist decisions about teaching approaches, remediation of deficits or compensation for deficits, and other decisions about intervention and support strategies.
Identifying a student with a learning disability is not a simple task—learning disabilities can be difficult to identify. A student’s ability to learn and acquire academic skills can be affected by several factors. It is possible that Jill can not read well because she has difficulty paying attention, missed too much school in kindergarten and first grade, suffers from anxiety that interferes with learning, or has some brain dysfunction that makes learning through traditional methods completely overwhelming if not impossible. A neuropsychologist designs a battery of test to administer that separates the many overlapping factors in order to provide the most accurate diagnosis possible. Through the use of tests, the neuropsychologist is able to differentiate whether or not a behavior is more likely caused by a biological defect in the brain or by an emotional or learned process.
Students who are having difficulty with learning or thinking obviously will benefit from neuropsychological assessment. Surprisingly, students with more subtle problems benefit most from neuropsychological assessment because they do not have severe disabilities with obvious symptoms; yet, these students do not function best within the typical learning environment. Also, some students may not need a full neuropsychological assessment—a partial assessment helps students understand how they learn best, determine if they have an attention problem or ADD/ADHD, or establish the need for extra time during important exams such as the SAT, GRE, or LSAT.