Pediatric Neuropsychology

What is Pediatric Neuropsychology?

Pediatric neuropsychology focuses on the relationship among brain development, thinking skills, behaviors and emotions. Pediatric neuropsychologists will work closely with your child’s medical team to assist with treatment planning and identify ways to support your child. Families often work with their pediatric neuropsychologist from the time of diagnosis onward. This relationship ensures that updated recommendations can be made to support patient and family needs at different stages of your child’s development.

Pediatric neuropsychologists:

  • Are licensed clinical psychologists with a doctorate (Ph.D.)
  • Have expertise in how thinking skills and behavior are associated with the development of brain structures and systems
  • Understand how a child’s thinking skills, behaviors and social-emotional development can be affected by cancer and cancer treatments such as brain surgery, radiation and chemotherapy
  • Study other conditions that can impact brain development and thinking skills, including neurofibromatosis type 1 and blood disorders such as sickle cell disease
  • Help families understand their child’s strengths and weaknesses by using formal tests and information gathered from caregivers and teachers
  • Provide recommendations to support patients and families at home, school and in the community
  • Work closely with your child’s medical team to assist with treatment planning

What is a Neuropsychological Evaluation?

  • Children complete computerized and paper-and-pencil activities to measure many types of thinking skills and abilities.
  • Caregivers complete formal questionnaires to provide information about their child’s abilities and behaviors in their daily environment.
  • With your permission, information will be gathered from your child’s teachers to help understand your child’s skills and behaviors at school.

Areas assessed include:

  • Overall intelligence
  • Language
  • Learning and Memory
  • Attention
  • Executive Functions (flexibility, organization, planning, problem-solving)
  • Visual-Spatial Skills
  • Fine Motor Coordination
  • Academic Achievement
  • Daily Living Skills/Adaptive Skills
  • Behavioral and Emotional Functioning
  • Social Skills

What Can I Expect?

The evaluation usually lasts several hours, sometimes a whole school day. Either before the assessment day or while your child is working, the neuropsychologist will complete an interview with you. This interview lasts about an hour and is an opportunity to share your concerns, provide information about your child’s development and ask questions. You will also complete several questionnaires about your child’s thinking skills, behaviors, emotions, social skills and age-appropriate daily living skills.

To prepare your child for the evaluation:

  • Your child should get a good night’s sleep the night before the appointment.
  • Your child should eat a healthy breakfast before arriving for the appointment. Your child will break for lunch and will also take several short breaks throughout the day.
  • You may bring snacks for your child to eat.
  • Please bring glasses, hearing aids, assistive devices or other supports your child uses to learn, communicate and safely navigate the environment.

What Should I Tell My Child?

  • Your child will complete a lot of activities, such as drawing, answering questions, playing with blocks and computer tasks.
  • The evaluation may seem similar to school.
  • The neuropsychologist will encourage your child to think hard and try their best.
  • It is OK if your child finds a task too hard or does not know an answer.

What Happens After the Evaluation?

  • Schedule a Neuropsychology Results Conference to discuss results and how the results may relate to your child’s medical diagnosis and treatments.
  • You will receive a report that describes your child’s strengths and weaknesses as well as recommendations to support your child’s development.
  • The report will be shared with the referring physician, usually the child’s oncologist, hematologist, transplant surgeon or neurosurgeon.
  • Share the report with your child’s school teachers and counselor.
  • The neuropsychologist will recommend ways to help your child succeed in school. School liaisons can help you work with the school team to implement these recommendations.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does my child get referred to a pediatric neuropsychologist?
A referral will be made by your child’s physician, such as the oncologist, hematologist, transplant surgeon or neurosurgeon.

Who will work with my child during the evaluation?

  • Pediatric neuropsychologist
  • Psychological technician
  • Children’s of Alabama is a teaching hospital. Advanced students and trainees may participate in the evaluation under direct supervision of the licensed neuropsychologist.

What types of recommendations might a pediatric neuropsychologist provide?
Pediatric neuropsychologists consider the results of the evaluation, information gathered from you and your child’s school team and information in your child’s medical record to determine appropriate recommendations. Recommendations may include:

  • Occupational or speech-language therapy
  • Therapy services with a mental health provider
  • School-based support such as orientation and mobility services or ways to support math and reading skills
  • Strategies to help your child at home

Several considerations include:

  • Not all children will require a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation.
  • If your child has a cancer diagnosis and has undergone cancer treatments, it is likely they will benefit from meeting with a neuropsychologist at some point during treatment or survivorship.
  • Children will receive a neuropsychological evaluation before undergoing medical procedures like blood and marrow transplantation or radiation.
  • Many children with neurofibromatosis type 1 and sickle cell disease will benefit from a neuropsychological evaluation to identify supports needed for home and school.

Can you tell me more about neuropsychological tests?

  • Neuropsychological tests evaluate different thinking skills and abilities.
  • They are administered in a computerized or paper-and-pencil format.
  • Results will help determine if your child’s skills are on track or if supports are needed to help your child succeed.

Our Team

Avi Madan-Swain, Ph.D.

Emily A.H. Warren, Ph.D.

Donna Murdaugh, Ph.D., ABPP-CN

Caroline Davis, M.S., and Tuwanna McGee, M.A., are school liasions who work with the neuropsychology team to help advocate for your child’s needs in school.