As another school year comes to a close, summer is the time to take a breather from the hectic months of the school year and slow down. This is a good time to allow our children to do the same as we all need down time, regardless of our age. Before going into summer mode, though, evaluate this past year. What was the overall theme of the feedback you received from your child’s teacher regarding his/her academic, social and emotional development this year? Did the teacher express concern about any areas? If so, do the teacher’s concerns resonate with your experience at home with your child? Then, what should you do next to help your child?
As a neuropsychologist, I often have parents share a common statement when they attend their initial appointment. As they sit down and share why they decided to schedule the neuropsychological evaluation they say, “Well, we believed we needed to wait another year for Johnny to mature and then his grades would improve, making friends would be easier or the meltdowns would stop.” Then, another year passes and the teacher’s feedback or the parents’ concerns remain the same. Quite often parents follow the wait and see approach, with hopeful anticipation that this year will be the year the light switch turns on and Johnny begins to read fluently or cultivates a tight knit group of buddies. By the time the first quarter ends, grades and teacher feedback may confirm the ongoing concerns and reveal that Johnny hasn’t made those leaps just yet.
Taking the next step can be overwhelming as it means accepting that something outside the walls of school and home should be done. I encourage parents to take a deep breath and explore the benefits of neuropsychological evaluation, particularly positioning yourself with important information prior to the beginning of the school year.
A neuropsychological evaluation includes objective assessment of a child’s neurocognitive strengths and areas of challenge (e.g., IQ, academic achievement, attention/concentration, inhibition, problem-solving, memory, visual-spatial, language, fine-motor abilities) as well as social skills and emotional development. The results can inform not only the parents but teachers and other providers of the child’s needs as well as the strengths that can be capitalized upon to help the child grow and reach his/her potential.
While a comprehensive evaluation is time intensive (e.g., typically a full day) and a financial investment, the outcomes can be enlightening and even lead to an “Ah ha” moment as the ongoing concerns are now understood relative to Johnny’s peers and even explained in relation to brain development and expected developmental trajectories. More often than not, during the feedback appointment (e.g., when results of the assessment are reviewed with parents), parents feel their concerns are validated and now they can move forward with an active plan to make changes for their child and family. They walk away with a written document that includes a formal plan of attack not just at home but for the school as well. When making the phone call to the neuropsychologist in the late fall after receiving mid-semester or end of the 1st quarter grades and feedback, by the time the evaluation and finalized report is prepared it cannot be realistically presented until the end of the semester, which means lost time for your child.
With summer upon us, it is a good time to evaluate whether this past year concluded with the gains you and the teacher hoped would happen. If not, the neuropsychological evaluation can delineate what needs to be done to assist your child in those areas of development that remain of concern. Using the summer months allows parents to implement changes within the home and prepare for the upcoming school year.
If your child’s neuropsychologist recommends private tutoring or a medication consult, summer is an opportunity to start tutoring without the simultaneous demands of school or even trialing a new medication under your watchful eye as mom and dad. Further, the neuropsychological report can be finalized and ready to present to the school’s Child Study (CST) or educational team prior to school beginning for the new year. This means starting the next school year with a plan in place versus waiting mid-year before implementing changes.
Starting on a positive note can make the world of difference for a child, not just academically but socially and emotionally. It just takes one phone call to get the ball rolling and moving forward to a successful year.