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Identifying Cognitive Disabilities in Your Child

POSTED BY: Florida Hospital

As part of our goal to care for our community through every age and every stage, we partner with our doctors and specialists to find areas of practice that are being overlooked or underserved. Dr. Michael Westerveld is leading the charge in one such arena, children’s behavioral psychology at The Center for Neuropsychology at Florida Hospital for Children in Orlando. We felt it was important to focus on this for the sake of the children, the parents desperately seeking answers, and the schools and communities which we serve.

Dr. Westerveld advised on how cognitive disabilities are identified and treated in children, and how you can watch for warning signs yourself.

Recognizing Cognitive Disabilities

Cognitive disabilities can occur in almost any child but those with complex medical conditions such as epilepsy are at higher risk. Three to five percent of all people have epilepsy, and though there are many paths to epilepsy, it is a condition that most people live normal lives with. But for some children it can lead to challenges that can make them feel isolated and depressed. These feelings, in turn, can lead to poor performance in school, acting out in class, and other behaviors seemingly unlike the child’s normal behavior.

“Children without epilepsy may also have a cognitive disability that can lead to the same sort of behavior patterns, and any child can experience difficulty,” says Dr. Westerveld. “If, for instance, your child’s behavior becomes noticeably different from their normal state, like sleeping a lot, being withdrawn, a loss of interest in things that they used to enjoy, etc., they may have a cognitive disability and should be tested for it. These changes don’t need to be radical, just a noticeable and significant change from their once normal behavioral patterns.”

Children with cognitive disabilities will often end up acting out, at home or in school, because they are either frustrated by not being able to do the school work or can’t grasp the concepts being presented. Depression can be another reason for behavior change, but for similar reasons (difficulty in school). Whether the child is frustrated or depressed by their lack of ability to understand the coursework, having them tested soon after a problem is suspected can lead to better outcome.

Getting Tested for Cognitive Disability

The first step is to make an appointment to come in for a basic evaluation where we’ll spend time going over your child’s history, as well as trying to identify any possible risk factors that could be contributing. At the end of the initial visit we will develop a plan that may include comprehensive testing to learn about your child’s cognitive development, how it affects their learning and behavior, and develop more detailed, individual recommendations.

“The testing visit, if one is required, will be like a full school day where we’ll give your child a full neuropsychological evaluation,” Dr. Westerveld explains. “After that, a follow-up session is scheduled with parents and their child to review the results and discuss the implications. Older children and adolescents may also get a separate session from their parents to give them a chance to ask questions or talk about things they may not be comfortable talking about with their parents.

The Center for Neuropsychology at Florida Hospital

At the Center for Neuropsychology, we’re committed to identifying these cognitive disabilities in children and working with the child, the parents, as well as coordinating care with other physicians, and working with the schools to come up with an everyday treatment plan.

Our direct resources are for the evaluation and treatment of cognitive disabilities, but we’ve also taken the lead in this field by providing external resources for physicians treating the general population, the schools that serve our communities, and the parents and teachers of the children.

If you have noticed a significant change in your child’s behavior, a drop in performance in school, or if they’ve begun acting out in class, we recommend you bring them in for an evaluation where we can start building a plan for the well-being of your child. Please visit us at the Center for Neuropsychology or call 407-303-KIDS to schedule an evaluation.