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Sara Douglas Psy.D., NCSP

The Emotional Benefits of Neuropsychological Evaluations

What students stand to learn

There are many reasons why families seek out neuropsychological evaluations. Maybe your child’s school gently requested one; maybe you’re responding to your gut instinct that something just “isn’t right,” or maybe your insightful child wants to know why they work so hard and don’t get the results they deserve. No matter how you got to the evaluator’s office, families often overlook one of the most important features of neuropsychological testing: the fact that your child can now understand themselves better.

Especially as students get older and develop increasing autonomy, they have the sometimes-dangerous tendency to equate academic failure with fundamental personality flaws. Lacking any other information to disabuse them of their self-defeating beliefs, children and adolescents will often attribute their academic failures (and in the particularly precarious case of overachieving students, their academic non-A’s) to a sweeping statement and wildly inaccurate generalization about their overall intelligence. This can be an incredibly harmful attitude for developing minds to adopt, as they readily integrate misguided feelings of inadequacy into their already fragile and highly malleable sense of self.

Consider the following:

A 6th grade student with an undiagnosed writing disability gets a C- on their essay, while their friend (who “definitely spent WAY less time” than they did) got an effortless B+. They simply say, “It’s fine. I’m not gonna be a writer anyway.”

An 8th grade student with an undiagnosed reading disability says, “How can I not know how to read as well as that 7th grader, Erin? I’m such an idiot.”

A rising junior, eagerly anticipating the SATs, says, “How did Sean finish the math section so fast?! I didn’t even get to the last page. I know I’m bad at math, but I didn’t realize I was that bad. Sean doesn’t even do his homework…”

When students are given the chance to truly understand themselves and their capacities, as they are after reviewing neuropsychological testing finds, they can more accurately attribute their difficulties and internalize their strengths. Understanding there are actual reasons for these difficulties can be quite validating, and grant students ownership of their performance.

Once students have information about their learning, their insightful questions can be answered. Their insecurities can be given context. Their strengths are recognized. I repeat: their strengths are recognized. When students are empowered with knowledge, we are educating them; when students are endowed with knowledge about themselves, we are enabling them.

While the emotional benefits of a neuropsychological evaluation are far from uniform (younger children, for example, who have had less time to develop the unfortunate feelings of inadequacy and incompetency that often accompany learning disabilities, will likely find evaluation findings less fruitful), they have the potential to be profound. It is important that families consider the emotional benefits that neuropsychological evaluations can provide to their confused children, seeking answers without knowing the questions.