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What is a Developmental Neuropsychologist?


By Jennifer Imig Huffman, PhD, The ABLE Center

When individuals are referred for a neuropsychological evaluation it is often their first experience learning about this specialty. It is not uncommon for there to be confusion about what will happen during the evaluation process. This article is designed to introduce you to the concept of a neuropsychological evaluation and address the most common questions asked by patients, including “What exactly is a neuropsychologist and what is it that you evaluate?”

Neuropsychology is a subtype of clinical psychology specializing in the relationship between brain functioning and behavior. Neuropsychologists have training in both psychology and neurology with extensive training in assessment and consultation. Although there are different educational paths, the clearest route to competency is a doctorate in clinical psychology with education and clinical training in neuropsychological assessment and neuroscience; a clinical internship including a major rotation in neuropsychology; and at least one, preferably two years, of postdoctoral residency in neuropsychology. Board eligibility and certification is the clearest indication of competency in this area.

Neuropsychologists are specifically trained to diagnose and assess conditions that are a result of damage and/or changes to the brain, including:

  • Conditions that arise before a child is born (i.e., cerebral palsy)
  • Conditions that develop or become more apparent during childhood (i.e., autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, or seizures)
  • Conditions that develop during adulthood (i.e., stroke and traumatic brain injury)
  • Conditions that develop in older adults (i.e., memory loss, dementia)

Within the field of neuropsychology, there are different specialties based on the age of the individual and the referral question. For example, some neuropsychologists specialize in working with children, some specialize in working with adults, and others, including developmental neuropsychologists, have expertise in working with individuals across the life span and can evaluate children and adults.

Developmental Neuropsychologist
A developmental neuropsychologist typically has extensive training in child neuropsychology and development and helps to identify conditions during development that may limit the child’s functioning at home or school. Children with problems achieving developmental milestones or who have complicated home, social, or academic difficulties are typically seen by them for a comprehensive evaluation. The evaluation is designed to determine the way the child processes and views the world. They also work with adults who have developmental concerns that are first identified in or continue to impact their functioning in adulthood.

Examples of common referrals to a developmental neuropsychologist include evaluations for children and adolescents with:

  • Acquired or congenital brain injuries
  • Autism, Asperger’s, or nonverbal learning disabilities
  • Complex ADHD or executive dysfunction
  • Tourette’s
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Seizures
  • Genetic disorders
  • Developmental, adaptive, or academic learning delays (i.e., dyslexia,
    dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia)
  • Giftedness
  • Complicated social or emotional functioning difficulties

The purpose of the neuropsychological evaluation is to provide a comprehensive and clear picture of the child’s overall functioning, including how the child’s brain works, their strengths and weakness, their preferred learning style, and possible diagnostic conditions that exist. Differentiating neurodevelopmental conditions and determining priorities for treatment is essential and often the purpose of the referral from the medical provider.

The neuropsychological evaluation culminates in a written report, which includes the results of the testing, noteworthy diagnostic considerations, and recommendations. This report, which integrates information gathered from all sources in the evaluation, includes specific recommendations that are designed to help the child achieve optimal functioning at home and school. It is recommended that the report be shared with the pediatrician, psychiatrists, allied health care providers (such as occupational, speech, and physical therapists, audiologists and optometrists), and the child’s school. Children do best when they have a team comprised of parents, providers, and school personnel working together to support their functioning at home and school. The overall purpose of the evaluation is to support and guide this team effort.

For more information, including information about whether a neuropsychological evaluation is appropriate for your child, contact Dr. Jennifer Imig Huffman at The ABLE Center in Bloomington, IL at 309-661-8046. Dr. Huffman, founder of The ABLE Center, is a developmental neuropsychologist. She is expertly trained in evaluation and treatment of childhood neurodevelopmental conditions, including autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, learning disabilities, TBI and concussion, tic disorders, giftedness and twice exceptional profiles (gifted and disabled), and emotional conditions.