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What’s the Difference Between Psychological Testing and a Neuropsychological Evaluation?

By Fraser Psychologist Jennica Tomassoni • psychological testing, neuropsychological testing, neuropsych, psych testing, neuropsych testing, psychological evaluation, neuropsychogical evaluation, autism testing, autism evaluation, testing for autism, mental health evaluation, cognitive evaluation, testing for seizures, testing for ADHD, ADHD evaluation, learning disability testing, learning disability evaluation, developmental delay testing, developmental delay evaluation • November 08, 2023

When your child is struggling, you want to help them, fast. Maybe you’re concerned your child has autism or a developmental delay, and you want to get them evaluated as soon as possible. But you may be unsure of what kind of evaluation to get.  

“A common misconception I encounter is that people think a neuropsychological evaluation is used to test for autism. I think they hear the neuro part and think of neurodiversity, so it makes sense to them,” says Fraser Psychologist Jennica Tomassoni. “But psychological testing can be used to diagnose autism, and especially at Fraser, our psychologists on staff are well-trained to diagnose autism.”

Also, it’s typically faster to get a psychological testing appointment scheduled because the tests are shorter and more people are trained to conduct these, says Tomassoni.

So, who is a neuropsychology evaluation for?

Neuropsychological evaluations are for children at least 6 years old through adults. Physicians often refer children and adults for evaluations. The evaluations are recommended for people with a history of head injuries, who have had MRIs or seen a neurologist. A neuropsychology evaluation is also appropriate for someone who has seizures or is dealing with visual processing issues. If an individual had in-utero exposure to substances like alcohol or drugs, a neuropsychology evaluation may be recommended. The evaluation can diagnose mental health issues as well, but the focus is typically on these other types of concerns.

Tomassoni also says testing non-English speakers with a neuropsychological evaluation is nearly impossible because the tests can’t be translated without significantly impacting the tests themselves. The existing standardized scoring method doesn’t include for the variable of an interpreter, so a psychologist wouldn’t be able to give the individual a standardized score. So that would basically invalidate the results of the test. However, in this case, psychological testing can be completed and assess for a variety of different diagnoses.

So, who is psychological testing for?

Psychological testing is for children as young as 2 up through adults. It tests for broader mental health issues like depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It can also diagnose autism, ADHD, language disorders, learning disabilities and developmental disorders.

How does the structure of neuropsychological evaluation and psychological testing differ?

A neuropsychological evaluation is typically 6-8 hours long, while psychological testing is usually a 1-3 hour appointment. So, a neuropsychological evaluation is more in-depth and is meant to reveal conditions that may be a little subtler to diagnose. Psychological testing focuses more on mental health issues.

Both types of testing require records and history from schools and medical doctors. If a child is being tested, both types of appointments usually include some play. The younger the child, the more play will be included. There will also be testing, including where individuals answer questions on paper, do puzzles and participate in computer tests.

“When I explain these appointments to kids, I usually say there will be brain games to see how your brain works, kind of like school,” says Tomassoni. “But unlike school, there aren’t really right and wrong answers.”

What might be diagnosed?

A neuropsychological evaluation may result in a diagnosis of a learning disability, neurodevelopmental disorders, ADHD, autism, cognitive difficulties or a developmental delay. A psychological evaluation can reveal conditions like autism, ADHD, OCD, depression, anxiety, developmental delays and intellectual disabilities. Either can also show that a child or individual doesn’t have any of these conditions and is developing appropriately.  

What happens after a diagnosis?

After a child or individual receives a diagnosis, a psychologist reviews their recommendations for the family or individual. Following a neuropsychological evaluation, they might recommend services like individual and family therapy, medication, a case manager, a developmental pediatrician, a neurologist or school services like an individual education plan (IEP) or a 504 plan. It’s also possible that a child or person will qualify for county services like case management, a personal care assistant (PCA) or respite care, depending on their diagnosis.

After a diagnosis during a psychology screening, a Fraser psychologist might recommend supports like individual and family therapy, medication, a developmental pediatrician, a case manager or school services like an IEP or a 504 plan. If a child or individual is diagnosed with autism, Fraser offers a wide variety of programs, based on an individual’s needs.

“So even though two people have different diagnoses — say depression vs. fetal alcohol syndrome — they may both referred for family therapy,” says Tomassoni. “So they’ll be addressing different things and have different target goals, but they’ll both benefit from family therapy.”

If you want to schedule a neuropsychological evaluation or get psychological testing, call or email our intake line or contact our Fraser Hope Line, Monday through Friday from 9-5 p.m.