When I decided to focus on neuropsychological testing and assessment, I thought I would have an office filled with children. As it turns out, there are many children who need the services we offer at C&C, but we get a surprising number of calls from people seeking assessment for adults who are leaving high school, entering college, re-entering higher education settings, or struggling on the job. In other words, the “grownups” are heading up our inquiry and testing list.
It may sound counter-intuitive. In fact, it took us a bit of time to figure out what was going on, too. We thought, “Wait a minute. Where are all the little kids?” But the more we thought about it, the more it made sense. Each person’s story was brimming with common themes. While I certainly cannot paint with too broad a brush, I noticed these commonalities:
The people walking through our door are bright, motivated and goal-oriented.
The people walking through our door had struggled in school, even as children.
The people walking through our door were trying so hard in the face of a stressor.
The people walking through our door were experiencing psychological issues related to their functioning.
These adults are not coming in with a pile of developmental weaknesses that were keeping them from going for their goals. On the contrary, what we often see are adults who have more going for them than they realize. Most of them, truly, score in high average or even superior ranges on many measures. The patients are surprised to learn of their tremendous strengths and frequently few and discrete growing edges. The people who are come into our office are likely envied by others for their skills.
Interestingly, I hear a similar story from most all of my adult patients. It usually goes something like this: I always had to work twice as long and hard as everyone else for the same grades. My grades fluctuated sometimes. I got extra help with tutors or after-school, but it was all informal. My parents encouraged me to go to education-based activities and camps for extra help. No one really gave me a hard time about my grades – they said I was smart but not giving academics enough effort. I gave up too easily or did not work to my “full potential.”
This may not be too surprising, but the men and women walking through our door had something recent come up that was threatening their goals. Some examples included: possible dismissal from a job for performance problems, the threat of losing scholarship money, a rejection letter from a preferred college choice, losing a place on a sports team due to poor grades, and not being able to keep up with the demands of academics after time away in a career.
Finally, the people walking in the door were literally and figuratively wringing their hands. The fear of loss of hard-won goals or achievements was weighing so heavily, that their anxiety was actually getting in the way. To put it simply, their worry about their functioning or perceived functioning was overwhelming their attempts to keep fighting the good fight.
Now, here we are with these adults, many of whom are quite successful in their endeavors seeking neuropsychological testing to answer the question: Why am I struggling?
The answer is not simple, of course. But, while the themes of those coming through the door had similarities, so did the conclusions we drew. Here are some of the very common things we have found:
People have worked around an undiagnosed learning disability (reading, writing or math) their entire lives.
People have managed the hard parts and even learned how to capture the amazing strengths associated with attentional issues like ADHD.
Current stressors are making their unique work-arounds less practical, functional or adaptive.
All this hard work they have been putting in is not paying off, is exhausting and is resulting in (sometimes paralyzing) anxiety.
But, do not despair! Testing allows a person to understand why certain things have been so draining or unsuccessful. It will help them appreciate their creativity and ingenuity in working around issues that have brought others to their knees. Testing offers answers AND recommendations to shore up areas of struggle. Adults who are diagnosed with learning, memory or attention issues later in life may feel that puzzle pieces finally fall into place. Also, because the stakes are often higher, they are excited to focus on interventions.
That why adults are such a joy to test. It is definitely NOT TOO LATE!