Unlocking the mind: what is neuropsychological testing?

Written by: Dr Bijal Chheda-Varma
Edited by: Cal Murphy

As our understanding of the human mind advances, it becomes ever more clear that psychological conditions can be as serious as physical ones and can have just as much of an impact on patients’ lives. However, in most cases, psychological problems cannot be diagnosed by blood tests or scans; instead, neurodevelopmental and neurocognitive assessments can help a doctor make a diagnosis. Expert psychologist Dr Bijal Chheda-Varma explains:

What happens during a neurodevelopmental and neurocognitive assessment?

Neuro-developmental and neuro-cognitive assessments help in diagnosing and screening children, adolescents and adults suspected of autism spectrum disorders (including Asperger’s syndrome), ADHD, learning difficulties and other co-morbid issues. These assessments consist of psychometric testing using “gold standard” tests which are regulated, standardised, normed and evidenced as the good sound tools to differentiate traits and conditions. A comprehensive history of the individual is recorded and several other sources of information such as school reports and teacher feedback are obtained. This method of assessment is known as the triangulation approach, where various points of information inform the psychologist to understand the presenting problems and traits.

Neuro-cognitive assessments are focussed on how our brains function. Areas of brain functioning include attention, memory, learning, perception, reaction and processing speed, language, computational abilities etc. These assessments provide a breakdown of scores in each area of brain functioning. The scores are then interpreted by a psychologist to provide information of areas of strength and development.


How long does this assessment take?

Assessments generally take 2-2.5 hours; however it depends on the tests used and the response style of the patient.


How is an assessment tailored for children?

Assessments for children have to be conducted and administered in a manner that allows children to be relaxed and be themselves. Hence testing and assessment is normally done with the parent in the room and at a time of the day when they would engage well. Specialist psychometric tests designed for children would be utilised.


After your assessment, what are the next steps?

Following the assessment and after obtaining all the information on a patient, the psychologist’s task is to bring together the information, both qualitative (through the interview with the patient or parent and other reports and feedback) and quantitative (through the test scores). The scores are interpreted and a formulation of the presenting profile (presenting traits and difficulties) is built. If the patient shows clinically significant scores towards any condition, that is highlighted.

However the biggest aim of any good assessment is not only to understand what is going on and provide an explanation, but also to provide recommendations and strategies to help the patient. This would form an essential part of the report.

By Dr Bijal Chheda-Varma

Dr Bijal Chheda-Varma is a consultant chartered psychologist (CPsychol, BPS), registered psychologist (HCPC), and a licensed psychometric and neuro-psychiatric test user based in London.

She is the founder and director of the Foundation for Clinical Interventions (FFCI) which specialises in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment/support for autism, Asperger's syndrome, ADHD, and other neurodevelopmental and neurocognitive conditions.

Dr Chheda-Varma's niche is in offering intensive, but goal-oriented and time-limited treatment and therapy. She uses evidence-based treatment models and CBT is her predominant therapy style in both individual and group therapy. She sees a wide spectrum of clinical and complex psychological conditions but specialises in mood disorders, anxiety disorders, OCD and eating disorders.

After beginning her career as a lead psychologist within a rehabilitation unit for addictions, Dr Chheda-Varma went on to be the lead clinician for the Nightingale Hospital's CBT team from June 2013 until June 2014. Currently, she also practises as part of The Blue Door Practice alongside her own private clinic.

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