Mental Health: Neuropsychological Testing for Adolescents
Adolescence is a chaotic period for most people, but it can be especially trying for those struggling with cognitive or behavioral impairments. Given the rapid changes in brain development during this time, arriving at a root cause can be a challenge. Because the part of the brain responsible for planning and decision making isn’t fully developed until adulthood, the part responsible for emotions, impulses, and instincts takes a greater role as teenagers respond to a confusing and often frustrating new reality.
Sorting through the chaos of a changing brain
Separating what is “just a part for growing up” from disease- or injury-related causes can be tricky, which is a good reason to pursue neuropsychological testing. A neuropsychologist is a highly trained professional who investigates where in the brain mental disorders originate. Although brain scans such as CTs and MRIs are useful, the neuropsychologist is most interested in observing the mind in action.
To do this, neuropsychologists administer standardized tests (often pencil and paper, sometimes computerized) in a clinical environment to measure cognitive performance. A referral question (e.g. “Why am I so anxious?” or “Why can’t I concentrate?”) determines which abilities are tested during neuropsychological testing. The results are then compared against healthy individuals of a similar demographic to see where deficiencies (or proficiencies) lie. From there, an informed diagnosis and plan for treatment or management can be made.
What abilities can neuropsychological testing measure?
- Memory: episodic (long-term), procedural (how to do something), working (short-term)
- Executive functions (problem-solving, planning, organizational skills, selective attention, inhibitory control)
- Visuospatial functions
What issues might neuropsychological testing reveal?
- Learning disabilities
- Genetic/chromosomal syndromes
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Eating disorders
What questions about adolescents with special needs do neuropsychologists attempt to answer?
- What is the cognitive baseline? (how do healthy individuals of similar background perform or how did the patient perform prior to an injury or trauma)
- How does the patient emotionally function?
- How might cognitive impairments impact school and learning?
- What accommodations might the patient benefit from? (many diagnoses are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act)
- Can any treatments be applied to manage or improve the condition?
After the test, ECCM is here to help.
Once the test is complete, an experienced care manager provided by ECCM will help you create a recovery or treatment plan based on the results of the test. Since neuropsychological testing is one of the services provided through ECCM’s Health Choices program, if you are an adolescent or know an adolescent that could benefit from neuropsychological testing, please contact ECCM today.