Friday, December 7, 2018

Neuropsychology Evaluation: Vivian and Elena

In September, Vivian had a neuropsychological evaluation. Basically, Jason and I had seen some unexpected changes in Vivian since her epilepsy diagnosis in January.

The differences were slight, except for the obvious change in energy/tiredness. She stopped reading long novels, and wasn't working on independent projects like she used to--projects that could last over a few days. Sometimes they were construction projects, sometimes painting, sometimes stories. They just seemed to vanish.

We weren't sure if it was a lull, or a real change, or if it was or was not related to epilepsy. I found out her condition qualified her for a visit to the neuropsychologist.

Vivian was evaluated over the course of two days. The eval consisted of a few questionnaires for me on her behalf, and a series of IQ/problem solving tasks. In short, Vivian is very intelligent, a good problem solver, highly motivated and enjoys being challenged. What was surprising was sometimes she misses "the big picture" type of question. While we'll never know whether or not this was always how Vivian was, or was going to be, Jason and I believe our observations of Vivian (types of books, projects, etc.) are different than they used to be. We've also seen her reading comprehension scores slide, even though she's on the higher level of scores related to her peers.

The neuropsych eval strongly hinted that this has been seen in epileptic patients. Normally this is not a side effect of medication, and was my suspicion, but rather a function of seizure effect/brain damage. Vivian's MRI shows no abnormalities. The evaluation gave us strategies to help Vivian as she grows older with things like reading comprehension, should we need them. In essence, this is a "baseline" for us, in case Vivian starts behaving differently or starts having trouble in school.

I'm glad Vivian was evaluated. I was disappointed that this was never recommended for Elena, so I asked the doctor about it. We had a good, long talk; basically, I noticed that when filling out the questionnaires for Vivian, I would have essentially recorded the opposite for Elena (self-sufficiency, social behavior, responsibilities, etc.).

She told me that currently, if a baby is born and determined to have a brain injury (as Elena was), their record is immediately flagged for a neuropsychology evaluation during her elementary school years. This can help a child who struggles with independence, personal responsibility, executive function, and social interaction--basically, all fields Elena (and many other kids) require assistance/help. It can provide strategies for her, and our family, to help achieve goals, manage expectations, and improve self-sufficiency. I wish I had known about this sooner.

I had Elena evaluated in November.

Our main question for the neuropsychologist was regarding our expectations for Elena, and if they were reasonable. They are not outrageous. She is intelligent, even though she struggles with some concepts, and is verbally talented. There is more to her stubbornness and lack of progress (in self-care) than just "being a teenager". It's a mix of "other', teenage angst, learned helplessness, and unwillingness to change (she is happy how things are, doesn't want to do more for herself--other people doing things for her suits her just fine, etc.).

The biggest message we got from the evaluation was that Elena is exhausted. Mentally and physically--the day exhausts her. She feels overwhelmed. By everything. She does not get excited about learning something new, it does not motivate her to do more with it--it just exhausts her. (She is not depressed.)

I thought that was how someone feels if the subject matter isn't interesting to them. I get that; if you don't like what's being taught at school or at home, it's a drag. To me, this would indicate nothing at school interests her--which I know isn't the case. And even though it's exhausting to her, she is doing much less than your average teenager--she has to be able to handle more, if she's ever to be a functional adult. Or functional teenager, for that matter.

The psychologist and I were a bit at odds, mostly b/c she was talking about how to encourage Elena through constant praise, very Kazdin-method type of lifestyle. I am convinced this doesn't work on a smart teenager--she can see right through shallow praise, and it backfires on us.

So, in short, we've been trying to encourage good behavior and try to be more patient. It basically just gave us more responsibilities than ever, and didn't help our home life much.

But, we eventually had a breakthrough. And that's where we are now.