NEUROPSYCHOLOGY

In theory Neuropsychology is the study of how the functions of your
brain and nervous system affect the way you think and behave. For some time
now, neuropsychology has helped hospital clinicians assess patients who have
experienced head injuries to determine how neurological damage affects their
patients' thinking skills and behavior. Clinical psychologists have also
benefited from neuropsychology because it helps them more accurately assess
the causes of some patients' behaviors.

Recently, education experts have begun to use neuropsychology to explain why
some children have trouble acquiring language skills, learning to read,
developing arithmetic reasoning skills, and so on. Using neuropsychology in
schools can help teachers serve children with learning disabilities more
effectively because a child who has neurologically related disabilities does
not benefit from the same teaching techniques (such as repetition) that a
student who learns at a slower rate benefits from. 

Neurological assessment is a tool for evaluating how much a child's
performance may be influenced by unusual functions of the brain and nervous
system. It helps school psychologists systematically measure a child's skills
and determine the best learning environment for the child.

In practice a complete neuropsychological assessment requires gathering and
analyzing information about the child's development physically, socially, and
psychologically as well as the child's education. This information comes from
a variety of sources:

* Parents' observations are a valuable source of information because parents
are the first 
observers to evaluate such things as their child's motor skills, language
acquisition, 
and the like.

* Formal observation, for example, watching the child copy designs, pronounce
words,
or figure out an arithmetic problem is also part of the assessment.

* Some standardized assessment measures with established validity and
reliability 
already exist--for example, asking a child to generate rules from examples
or to state
socially accepted behaviors for given situations.

* Other tests are designed to help assess neuropsychological development as
well. The
two most common tests are:

- the Halstead-Reitan Neuropsychological Test Battery (which includes the
revised 
Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children) and

- the Luria-Nebraska Neuropsychological Battery.

WHY IS NEUROPSYCHOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT IMPORTANT FOR EDUCATORS?

Recent laws for the handicapped encourage it. Educators have turned to
neuropsychological assessment in an effort to comply with recent laws for the
handicapped. The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (Public
Law 94-142) and The Education and Handicapped Act Amendments of 1986 (Public
Law 99-457) require schools to search for and serve all handicapped children
who are three years old and older. The act and its amendments require
educators to screen, assess, and identify children with learning disabilities
early on so that these children can receive an education that is best-suited
to their needs.

Schools today offer a wide range of programs.Programs in most schools address
a wide range of functioning levels from the severely developmentally disabled
to the gifted or talented. For these programs to work effectively, the school
psychologist must identify the learning strengths and weaknesses of each
child so that the children will be placed in the educational environment that
will help them reach their full learning potential. 

The more extensive the psychologist's repertoire of insightful tools, the
more complete the evaluation. And, the more complete the evaluation, the more
appropriate the child's placement.

Learning disabilities are difficult to identify. Identifying learning
disabled students has never been an easy task. Students' ability to acquire
learning skills can be affected by many factors, ranging from physical
make-up to home environment. It is possible that Johnny can't read because he
has not been in school enough, has emotional problems that interfere with
learning, is unable to listen to instruction, or has a brain dysfunction that
prevents the acquisition of learning material through traditional methods. 

In order to separate the many overlapping factors and provide the most
accurate diagnosis possible, the school psychologist must use the best
diagnostic instruments available. Children with subtle problems benefit most
from neuropsychological assessment because they do not have severe
disabilities that have obvious symptoms; yet, these children do not function
best within the normal learning environment.

HOW DO SCHOOLS USE NEUROPSYCHOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT?

Just as the medical practitioner uses diagnostic tests to rule out or to
corroborate diagnoses, the school psychologist assesses abilities using
neuropsychological assessment. Most students are not formally assessed. If a
teacher notices that a child seems to have learning problems, the teacher may
modify teaching methods accordingly. If the student fails to respond, then
more extensive assessment may be done to determine the best instructional
approaches to meet the student'sneeds.

WHAT ARE SOME LIMITATIONS OF NEUROPSYCHOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT?

One of the advantages of neurological assessment is that it can accurately
detect neurological damage or dysfunction without the need for obtrusive
medical tests. However, some limitations should be kept in mind:

* To perform neuropsychological assessments well, you must be a thoroughly
trained professional.

* The results of a neuropsychological assessment are not an absolute score or

completely accurate proof. You must use results along with data that are
compiled
from many different sources.

* Many experts question the validity of basic norms of neuropsychological
assessment 
because the norms were originally derived from groups that were
predominantly adults; 
only a very small sample of children were represented in the populations
that were 
studied to produce the norms.

* Neuropsychological assessment batteries are long and extremely time
consuming 
when used in their complete form.

Neuropsychological Assessment in Schools. ERIC Digest.
Authors: Merz, William R., Sr.; And Others American Institutes for Research,
Washington, DC.; 
ERIC Clearinghouse on Tests, Measurement, and Evaluation, Washington, DC.

THIS DIGEST WAS CREATED BY ERIC, THE EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES INFORMATION
CENTER.FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT ERIC, CONTACT ACCESS ERIC 1-800-LET-ERIC