Neuropsychological Testing Sounds Scary, But It Isn’t

by Bill Brenner on October 3, 2013

I’ve told you about our challenges helping our son Duncan manage ADHD. We recently ratcheted up our efforts by getting him neuropsychological testing. When his pediatrician suggested it, I wasn’t particularly happy. It sounded scary.

I pictured our boy hooked up to electrodes with his brainwaves being scrutinized on a bank of computers. The experience turned out to be nothing of the sort.

He spent three hours with the specialist, who walked him through a bunch of exercises she could use to observe his responses. He did a bit more testing Wednesday without his morning dose of Ritalin so the specialist could compare and contrast. The testing is designed to measure things such as how long it takes a child to respond to questions, write down lists of words and math problems, and so on. All the reading I’ve done suggests it’s a deliberately tedious process to ensure no mental stone is left unturned.

I got a taste of it with the thick stack of forms I had to fill out. The forms asked many of the same questions, in different orders and wording from one to the next. Questions include how long it takes my child to do homework, how long he takes to get dressed in the morning, how he reacts with other children, and whether he has any out-of-the-ordinary facial and hand movements. It took me more than an hour to complete the paperwork, and the specialist was surprised I did it so quickly. I explained to her that I read a lot of technical documents for work. But after she reacted that way I found myself worried that I wasn’t careful or thorough enough. So I took another half hour to read over what I’d filled out.

Why do all this?

Because even though it’s been a couple years since his diagnosis, there’s still much we don’t know. For example: Is it just ADHD that dogs him, or are other disorders mixed in? Is the medication he takes truly what he needs? Ultimately, we’ll use the information — as will his teachers at school — to make the necessary accommodations to help him succeed in school and elsewhere. He does very well academically and his teachers are working hard to give him what he needs, so I have hope.

It all goes to show that this is an ongoing process. I don’t think we’ll ever have all the answers or the perfect learning environment for Duncan. The key for us is to be consistent and keep hammering away at the problem. I really feel for Duncan when he has to go through the testing and classroom inconsistencies. We just want him to be happy. More importantly, though, we want him to realize his true potential. If this is what it takes, so be it.

He has much in his favor. Despite massive inconsistencies from one school to the next, we have many more tools to deal with childhood mental disorders than when I was a kid. Whenever I need a reminder of that, I just pull out my fourth-grade report card. Compared to the fourth grader I was in 1980-81, Duncan is light years ahead in mind, body and soul. I chalk most of that up to the fact that he’s got a deep creative streak, a fighting spirit and a heart of gold.

But the support system he has at home and school certainly don’t suck.

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