What Is The Difference Between A Neuropsychological Evaluation And A Child Study Team Evaluation?
By: Gail Silverstein, PhD
Child Study Team Evaluation
When a student is struggling in school, the Child Study Team (CST) may do an evaluation. The primary purpose of this evaluation is to determine whether or not the child is eligible for special education services at school. Child Study Team evaluations usually include an IQ test and an achievement test. The interpretation of the results is generally very focused on the scores. If the achievement test scores are below average and statistically significantly lower than the IQ test scores, the CST will usually conclude that the student has a learning disability and the child will then be “classified” so as to be eligible to receive services. Depending on the needs of the student, speech, occupational therapy or physical therapy evaluations may be done. Background information will be gathered from parents and teachers. Parents and teachers may also be asked to complete questionnaires which ask about the symptoms of ADHD and/or emotional issues. However, the CST’s do not diagnose these types of issues; the family is generally referred to behavioral health providers for this. After the evaluations are complete, if the student is “classified”, the Child Study Team and the parents will meet and develop an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) which specifies goals for the student and includes specific interventions to meet those goals at school. Recommendations about what can or should be done outside the school to help the student meet their academic goals will not be made. Non-school related issues, such as behavior problems at home or social or emotional issues which do not affect school performance, will not be addressed.
Unlike Child Study Team evaluations, neuropsychological evaluations look at the whole person, not just the person as a student. Learning disabilities and ADHD don’t stop at the classroom door, but also affect the person’s functioning in their families, with friends, in the community, at work, etc. The person being tested and their family can learn valuable information about themselves and what they need to do to succeed at various aspects of life. The results of neuropsychological evaluations may lead to changes in parenting, methods of communication, expectations and opinions about the person in question, interpretations of their behavior, etc. Neuropsychological evaluations often use some of the same IQ and achievement tests as Child Study Team evaluations, but the results are analyzed in a more in-depth manner. The reports and feedback given to the family are less score-focused and more descriptive. While scores are important because they allow us to accurately compare the functioning of the person in question to that of other people the same age, much more useful information is acquired in the course of testing than just the scores. Careful observation of the way people go about solving the problems and answering the questions in these tests can yield a wealth of valuable insights. A neuropsychologist is more likely than a school psychologist to include these sources of information and to do an analysis of the errors people make on the tests. For example, one child may fail a given test item because he worked slowly and carefully and so was not able to complete his response before the time ran out. Another child may fail the same item because she responded quickly and impulsively and made a careless error. A third child may simply not know how to solve the problem. If these patterns persist throughout the testing, the three children may get similar scores but for very different reasons, suggesting the need for very different treatment strategies.
Neuropsychological evaluations also generally include tests which CST evaluations do not, such as measures of executive functioning. Executive functioning is what allows us to apply our abilities and skills in an efficient manner, and includes attention, self-control, mental flexibility, organization and planning, and working memory. Measures of executive functioning are very helpful in diagnosing ADHD. Neuropsychological evaluations also include measures of learning and memory. These allow us to discover the person’s learning style and to specify ways in which it would be best for them to study. Questionnaires designed to measure executive functioning, emotional issues, and social issues may also be used as part of a neuropsychological evaluation. Records of previous evaluations, relevant medical records, and old report cards will also be reviewed.
Neuropsychological evaluations can be helpful in many different situations. Not only are they used to investigate problems which are severe or complex, but they are also extremely useful for people with much less severe problems such as ADHD, learning disabilities, or any kind of school or vocational difficulties. People with concussions and autism spectrum disorders can also benefit from neuropsychological evaluations. Neuropsychological testing can be used to help formulate IEP’s. It can also provide documentation for extra time or other necessary accommodations on the SAT, ACT, LSAT, MCAT, GRE, or other admissions tests, or for necessary accommodations in college. Neuropsychological testing can be invaluable in helping people to understand family members and their needs better, and can also help therapists to understand their clients better. Any appropriate diagnoses can be made by neuropsychologists.