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  • Dr. Stuti Kumar

Advances in the field of Pediatric Neuro-Psychology: How does it affect the Autism Spectrum Disorder

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

Understanding the connections between the brain, on the one hand, and the "mind" and behavioral control, on the other, is the goal of neuropsychology. Even though people have always been interested in this topic, neuropsychology is a relatively new field of study. The study of the relationships between focal brain lesions and psychological problems was its conventional approach, but today's neuropsychology is equipped with sophisticated methodology and theoretical frameworks for comprehending both how the mind and the brain function. Despite the opinions of some who believe that neuropsychological research in cognition should be restricted preferentially to inquiring how the mind functions, leaving the brain to cognitive neuroscience, it is hoped that progress on both fronts will bring neuropsychology closer to the solution of the yet intractable mind-brain problem.

However, the search for systematic connections between constrained brain lesions and the loss of specific mental capacities laid the groundwork for neuropsychology in the 19th century. The development of investigations aiming at establishing correlations between mental performances and brain organization in healthy individuals and the improvement of the anatomic-clinical approach in patients with brain injuries marked the later evolution of neuropsychology. New methods for studying brain lesions in vivo and investigating typical activity in the living human brain have substantially aided advancements in clinical and experimental neuropsychology.

In the writings of eminent pioneers in the field of psychology like Gall, Broca, James, Watson, Lashley, Goldstein, Halstead, and Luria, the field of neuropsychology has advanced. The phrenologist Gall best illustrated the distinct modules of function that were hypothesized in early ideas of the connection between neurological functioning and cognition. This hypothesis proposed that particular brain regions, mirrored by bumps on the skull, were linked to particular behaviors. Broca improved our understanding of language processing, particularly in the area of expressive language functions, with the advancements in localization of function, which were made possible in part by patient case studies. The contributions of James and Watson to the principles of psychology in general and neuropsychology in particular enhanced awareness of the necessity for empirical evidence to support theories of cognitive function and the application of these ideas.

Understanding the connection between brain localization and behavior in people with healthy neurological systems and those who have neurological injuries is thanks to the work of Lashley and Goldstein. Through contrasting techniques, Halstead and Luria convincingly showed how the evaluation of overt behaviors may be utilized to precisely diagnose brain injury.

Even if modern neuropsychology rejects the assumptions of phrenology that are based on the form of the skull, identifying the neural underpinnings of cognitive function is still one of its core objectives. It is hypothesized that cognitive function depends on recursive connections between various brain regions that collectively support cognition and localized areas with specialized functions.

With such advancements in the field and ample research data that links the neural chemistry of the brain to psychological conditions and disorders, the field of neuropsychology has dramatically helped in the understanding of symptoms and curating accurate and fast-pacing treatment plans and pharmacological interventions for conditions like Autism Spectrum Disorder ( ASD) amongst others.

Brings back to the most asked question: how has this helped with creating a treatment plan for ASD in children?

The measurement of development, the identification and comprehension of the neurological processes behind maturation, the alteration of brain functions with age, and the evaluation of a neurocognitive function at any given time are all closely related to developmental neuropsychology. The development of brain-based interventions for kids and teenagers is becoming more and more dependent on developmental neuropsychology. The role of the developmental neuropsychologist is to offer a current assessment of neurocognitive function and recommendations on how to influence normal brain development and daily functioning positively. This has helped parents and caregivers diagnose the symptoms as early as 24 months old infants. Researchers have proven that early intervention in ASD has proven to help reduce symptoms and increase the cognitive learning power of the child faster compared to late diagnosis.

ASD is now seen through the lenses in terms of neurobiology (structural abnormalities, genetic syndromes, acquired brain injury), psychological processes (disorders whose core symptoms point to disruption of more or less specific behavioral systems that support attention, language, visuospatial functioning, social skills, and executive processes), behavioral clusters (attention-deficit disorder with and without hyperactivity, nonverbal learning disorders, Asperger syndrome), and manifestation. This has been a very big help in forming the right level of a treatment plan and therapeutic interventions.

Written by: Dr. Stuti Kumar, Consulting Child Psychologist

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