What the Heck is Neuropsychology and Psychoed Testing?

Posted on March 15th, 2013 in Current Hits, For Parents, Study Tools and Resources


Last week, Tim and I had the pleasure of joining two incredible neuropsychologists for lunch: Dr. Dana Chidekel and Dr. Deborah (Deb) Budding. We met at one of my favorite lunch spots, Le Petit Café, and got to talking about all sorts of things pertaining to brain development, learning differences, and horse therapy (I’ll explain later.). In between bouts of eating baguette, nicoise salad, and poached salmon, Deb and Dana fed our minds with their latest insights in the field of neuropsychology.

Try saying the colors of the words without reading the words out loud.

Try saying the colors of the words without reading the words out loud.

After chatting with Deb and Dana, it became clear
to me that the sorts of assessments conducted by neuropsychologists are often conflated with the ‘psychoeducational testing’ administered by other professionals (e.g. psychologists, educational therapists, and school district administrators). Consequently, the power of neuropsychological tests and their implications for educating students are lost.

(For a much more detailed description of neuropsychology and its assessments, please check out this document written by Dr. Chidekel. Her writing is what informed this post, and the ‘Reading Disorder’ example cited below is directly taken from her description of neuropsych evaluations.)

I know this post already sounds a little ‘highfalutin’, so let me see if I can break it down in a way that makes it relatable.

Let’s say that your child has difficulty with reading comprehension and focusing his attention in-class. You decide that it’s helpful to have a formal ‘psychoeducational assessment’ through the school district in order to locate possible learning differences – perhaps attention deficit disorder (ADD) or a visual processing issue (i.e. a disconnect between the visual input of the outside world [viewing the text of a book] and making sense of and storing that information in memory [comprehending text and remembering it later]).

When your child goes in for his assessment, it will typically involve the following: a clinical interview, an I.Q. test, a figure drawing test, a review of academic performance (report cards!), parent/teacher/child/checklists, and a personality test. Based on the logic of the person analyzing the results (typically a psychologist or educational therapist) these measures are quantified into a numerical or qualitative scale. For the sake of being simplistic, your student’s ‘score’ on these different measures will suggest that he is either proficient or has a learning difference in any number of areas.

Ultimately, the assessment gives you really fancy and scientific-sounding labels for your child’s performance on the aforementioned measures: ‘poor executive functioning and self-organization, poor visual processing, poor attentional skills, etc.’ These labels form the language of ‘learning differences’ or LDs.

On one hand, these labels can point you to a thousand different strategies for ‘coping’ with a specific LDs. There are specific techniques  to help students with LDs approach education, learn more efficiently, approach things like SAT test prep and overcome other important achievement obstacles. However, the exact origins of these LDs, and consequently, the best strategies for remediating them, are not easily identified.

Launch Education Neuropsychology 2

For example, if your child is diagnosed with a ‘reading disorder’, there is not a singular cause for all reading disorders. In fact, there could be a number of reasons why your child had difficulty with reading on his testing. Perhaps he had issues retaining focus, initiating the reading activity, recalling sight words and letter sounds…or maybe the whole testing situation just made him INCREDIBLY anxious, and thus, he performed terribly.

“…the neuropsychologist can see the brain’s contributions to this poor performance.”

With a neuropsychological assessment, the neuropsychologist can administer tests that directly link behavior (i.e. poor performance on a reading test) with underlying brain functioning and activity. So in addition to seeing the problematic reading performance, the neuropsychologist can see the brain’s contributions to this poor performance.

It turns out that your child has extremely high levels of activity in the ventral prefrontal cortex, which point to OCD and anxiety. The anxiety was responsible for your child’s inability to properly read, focus, and remember key information during the assessment. You now recall that your child described a mental ‘haze’ during the testing that you initially attributed to laziness.

With the assistance of the neuropsychologist, you work with your child to devise strategies for managing anxiety and feelings of security. You also investigate medication that will help regulate hyperactivity in the prefrontal cortex.

Launch Neuropsych 5

Another fun brain test!

As you can see, doing a million reading drills and/or tutoring sessions wasn’t what your student needed (although he may have been prescribed this after a typical psychoeducational assessment). Without the assistance of the neuropsychologist, you may have fruitlessly attempted a number of unnecessary reading activities, memory-building interventions, or visual tracking drills that had little to do with the underlying problem of anxiety.

Mark my words, the impact of neuropsychology on the fields of teaching, assessment, and educational therapy are going to be HUGE. I only hope that I can continue to keep up with the times and ensure that Launch’s team is well-informed!



P.S. No, I never got back to the bit about ‘horse therapy.’ Just send me an email and I can tell you more about it. Really interesting stuff!

Launch Education Team

At Launch Education Group, we pride ourselves in our unique approach to academic tutoring and test preparation, which addresses learning at multiple levels. Ultimately, it is our goal to help students of all ages and ability levels to achieve their potential and develop independence. We believe we have done our job when our students no longer need our support. Follow us on Facebook.

  • Cynthia

    Thank you for writing this.It’s hard to know why kids have difficulties in school and this kind of testing/diagnosis could save a lot of time, heartache and money. p.s. equine therapy? for autism?

    • mattsteiner

      Thank you for reading, Cynthia. You always leave the most thoughtful comments. And you’re right – equine therapy! But not in the context of LDs or autism – more for folks who are trying to gain some serious insight into themselves. There’s something incredibly zen about horses (and handling them) that leads to a quiet kind of searching…or so I’m told. :)

  • Jordan

    This is an extremely fascinating topic, Matt. I think you bring up an important subject which is that there is no blanket diagnosis when it comes to why a child does or doesn’t learn. Great article.

    • mattsteiner

      Awww – thanks so much, Jordan. That’s exactly what I want people to see. Learning difficulties are multiple, but so are their origins and their paths toward remediation. Neuropsychology can helps us take the ‘road less traveled’ when it comes to identifying the best kinds of intervention.

  • http://twitter.com/CarpoolGoddess Carpool Goddess

    Great information for anyone who is seeking help and answers for their children. Thanks for sharing.

    • mattsteiner

      You’re very welcome Mrs. Goddess. ;) I so appreciate your support!

  • http://www.facebook.com/rowe.kaple Rowe Kaple

    Matt, you really want to read: http://www.scirp.org/Journal/PaperInformation.aspx?paperID=16774

    and then see the tests that have been developed to help identify RPS in younger children:

    RPS Testing Guide


    RPS EXAM Kit


    RPS/WLD Remediation Guide


    • mattsteiner

      This is INCREDIBLY helpful, Rowe! How did you find the blog? You obviously know your stuff! So glad that you sent me the links.

  • http://twitter.com/TheTwinCoach Gina Osher

    You’ve hit on one of my favorite subjects, Matt: Brain development! This really is fascinating how they are using it to figure out learning differences. And I agree…you are right that all aspects of neuroscience are going to be huge in the coming years. Thank you for this article. I am definitely sharing!

    • mattsteiner

      YAY! Thanks, Gina!!!! Glad to have another neuropsych buff in the ‘mom group.’ I always adore your insights – please let me know about any posts that you write re: neuropsych or brain development.

  • http://twitter.com/katiefhurley Katie Hurley

    Really well written and great info, Matt. I’ve referred many LD clients for Neuropsych testing over the years – always very helpful in painting the whole picture.

    • mattsteiner

      Hey Katie – I’m always looking for neuropsychs in the South Bay. Please let me know!

  • Christina Simon

    Very interesting and informative!

    • mattsteiner

      Thank you for reading, Christina. I’m glad you found my post helpful!

  • jessica bern

    Ok, dumb question, is this something we, as parents, pay for or does the school system offer the assessment?

    • mattsteiner

      Not a dumb question at all, Jess. Technically, your school district is supposed to provide the assessment for free if you have ‘reasonable cause’ to obtain it (i.e. your child has poor academic performance, noticeable delays in learning, etc.). It’s also helpful to have recommendations from a teacher, therapist, or doctor who may identify symptoms of learning differences or psychological issues that affect achievement (i.e. anxiety, depression, OCD, ADHD, etc.).

      However, the assessment that you receive from the district may not have the same level of detail that you would receive from a private professional – a neuropsychologist, educational psychologist, educational therapist, etc. You may not get as much information regarding neurological issues, and thus, the interventions you are prescribed may not be as effective.

      Still, the assessment that you receive from the district is better than no assessment at all. Let me know if you have more questions!

  • stacy hughes

    Have you seen NILD education therapies? Rhythmic Writing and such. I think they would be good therapies for specific issues, and they have focused for many years on the link between the brain and learning issues. However, it is very general in scope and is not specific to the child’s needs, unless they have changed in the last few years. However, they did spark in me an interest in mind, brain and education. I’m dying to pursue my studies in this area, but have to get a few of my own kids through college first!

    • mattsteiner

      Just saw this, Stacy! Sorry for the delay! I haven’t seen NILD education therapies but will totally do some research on them.

      Get your kids through college, and we can chat neuropsych in greater depth! :)