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A pediatric neuropsychologist is a licensed professional who helps children and adolescents overcome behavioral problems, developmental disorders, and emotional issues. A professional conducts clinical evaluations of young patients by reviewing their medical histories and assessing their behaviors and responses to diagnostic questionnaires. The results obtained from evaluations are used to determine if children can benefit from medication or follow-up counseling. Pediatric neuropsychologists work in many settings, including children's hospitals, rehabilitation centers, mental health clinics, and private practices.
The practice of neuropsychology is unique in that it combines principles of traditional cognitive and behavioral psychology with empirical medical knowledge of the brain. Most neuropsychologists are qualified to interpret computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans to identify areas of possible damage from injuries or cognitive deficits. CT and MRI results help them pinpoint the underlying causes of various disorders, including speech difficulties, autism, and different degrees and types of mental retardation.
A pediatric neuropsychologist also relies on his or her knowledge of brain development to conduct evaluations and interpret imaging results. The brain of a young child is considerably different than an adult's brain, in size, shape, and makeup. A pediatric neuropsychologist understands how a developing brain makes new electric and chemical connections and how different disorders may affect the process.
When meeting with a new patient, a pediatric neuropsychologist usually conducts a series of diagnostic tests that may include reading and puzzle-solving exercises to gauge his or her cognitive abilities. The professional may interview the child and his or her parents to learn more about symptoms, and compare findings with information from medical records. Depending on the type and scope of problems a child faces, the neuropsychologist can prescribe medications, schedule psychotherapy sessions, or suggest different home and school arrangements. Some neuropsychologists offer counseling services themselves, but most choose to refer patients to other professionals.
A person who wants to become a pediatric neuropsychologist usually needs to obtain either a Ph.D. in psychology or a doctor of medicine degree, participate in a clinical internship, and pass a licensing exam. Extensive education and training are necessary to ensure that an individual is fully prepared to handle the responsibilities of the position. New professionals are typically required to practice under the supervision of experienced neuropsychologists for up to two years before they can begin working independently. With experience in the field, a respected pediatric neuropsychologist may be able to become a senior consultant at a hospital or even open his or her own practice.
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