Recently diagnosed with a seizure disorder, the 30-year-old woman came to Lydia Wardin and the Adler School’s new Adler Community Health Services (ACHS) Neuropsychology Clinic with a complex medical-social history and no insurance coverage.
She hoped to find out whether returning to school was even possible with her seizures, struggling memory, and cognitive problems. During her daylong outpatient evaluation with Wardin, details came to light. A history of suffering sexual abuse, with no medical attention. Multiple traumatic brain injuries as far back as childhood. Anxiety.
“She was on a lot of medication to control her seizures,” says Wardin, a fourth-year student in the School’s Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology (Psy.D.) program in Chicago. “She wanted to go back to school, and just didn’t know if she could do that.”
The woman is among a growing number of Chicago-area men, women, and children referred to ACHS and its new clinic providing comprehensive, individualized neuropsychological evaluations for adults and children ages 9 and older. Clinicians in training like Wardin conduct the evaluations under the supervision of board-certified clinical neuropsychologists on faculty.
Comprehensive neuropsychological evaluations normally cost up to $5,000 and are covered only in part, if at all, by many insurance providers. The ACHS clinic primarily sees clients with no insurance at all, and provides evaluations for them on a sliding-fee scale.
A waiting list for services
Opened last September, the clinic already has a two- to three-month wait among clients referred from Chicago-area primary-care providers, neuropsychology and other private practices, local community colleges, hospitals, and community agencies.
“We made a conscious decision to see these patients who don’t have the money for these services,” said Douglas Whiteside, Ph.D., ABPP/CN, Professor of Clinical Psychology in Chicago, and ACHS Neuropsychology Clinic Coordinator. He also is Neuropsychology Coordinator for the Chicago campus’ Psy.D. program, responsible for developing and maintaining new student practica sites—so far, 10 including Rush University Medical Center, the University of Illinois- Chicago, and University of Chicago.
“The demand is quite large. It’s grown faster than I think anyone anticipated.”
Neuropsychological evaluations are often recommended for children and adults with a wide range of problems: memory, learning, and attention problems; traumatic brain injury; brain tumors leading to cognitive, psychiatric, and emotional issues; seizure disorders; dementia; stroke effects; academic learning difficulties; attention deficit disorder; autism spectrum disorders; developmental disorders; or multiple sclerosis and other neurological disorders.
“An evaluation alone can change someone’s life,” Wardin says. “The recommendations can help an individual put the pieces of her life together.”
Wardin began the competitive ACHS neuropsychology practicum with extensive prior training through the Adler School—conducting inpatient diagnostic assessment at Madden Mental Health Center; outpatient therapy with children and adolescents at Will County Behavioral Health; and in- and outpatient neuropsychological evaluation with the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Department of Neurology and Rehabilitation.
The evaluation process
At ACHS, after a telephone intake with each prospective client, Wardin consults with Whiteside or Linda Rice, Ph.D., ABPP/CN, Assistant Professor in Chicago’s Psy.D. program, on information gathered to date and recommended assessments. The client comes to ACHS for a day of evaluation that commonly includes assessments of verbal processing, reading, spelling, math, memory, and other cognitive functions.
“We explain to the client that they’re like school tests—a lot of memory tasking, how well they can learn,” Whiteside said. “People hear ‘neuro’ and think of brain scans and imaging, which is not the case in outpatient evaluation.”
The comprehensive evaluation also enables Wardin to extensively talk with clients, uncover information, and parse through complex situations, she says. For example, Wardin and Whiteside worked together with a 9-year-old girl diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and struggling in school. In talking with her and her family, “when we heard she was 1 pound, 4 ounces at birth—that has a lot of long-term developmental implications,” Whiteside said.
After testing and evaluation, Wardin meets with Whiteside or Rice to identify recommendations and any appropriate diagnoses. She develops and reviews findings with each client about two weeks after evaluation. With client permission, or in work with agencies in which case managers are involved, ACHS also releases information to the referring provider.
For the family of the 9-year-old girl with ADHD, Wardin’s report provided recommendations and information to work with the school district. “We also helped her parents better understand their child and her developmental behaviors,” she said.
For the woman struggling with seizure disorder and the effects of past trauma and brain injury, Wardin was able to provide validation: “This is what you’ve been experiencing. This is what you can do,” Wardin said. “She was very intelligent, and it was important to separate her problems from that. If she wants to pursue higher education, she can. We provided accommodations she can request and some strategies to apply.”
Wardin’s work and that of others through ACHS are making a powerful impact, Whiteside said. “We’re serving underserved populations. There aren’t a lot of places that can do what we’re doing to fill the need.”
This story appears in the summer 2014 issue of Gemeinschaftsgefühl, the Adler School's annual magazine for alumni and friends.
About the Adler School
The Adler School of Professional Psychology has provided quality education through a scholar/practitioner model for 60 years. Its mission is to continue the pioneering work of Alfred Adler by graduating socially responsible practitioners, engaging communities, and advancing social justice. The Adler School enrolls more than 1,200 students in doctoral and master’s degree programs and offerings at its campuses in Chicago, Illinois, and Vancouver, British Columbia, and through Adler Online.
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