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Evaluating Learning Disabilities at Hopkins Children's

March 11, 2008
Rick Ostrander EdD

Rick Ostrander, Ed.D.

Evaluation of Learning Disabilities Key Component of New “Lab”  

 For 8-year-old Billy, reading is difficult but math is a breeze. Believing the problem in reading lies in his failing to apply himself, his parents nudge him to work harder, to focus in class, but he doesn’t seem to listen--not to them and not to his teachers. Behavioral problems are cropping up and he’s often alone on the playground. What’s going on?

To help more children and their families in the region unscramble such issues, the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Hopkins Children’s has created a new regional evaluation and treatment program for children with potential learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other neurodevelopmental problems. “The Pediatric Medical Psychology Program recognizes that these problems often complicate the treatment of other medical and psychiatric disorders,” says its director, Rick Ostrander.

The program includes the Cortical Function Lab, which has long provided neuropsychological evaluations for inpatients at physicians’ requests. Now this service has been expanded to include outpatient assessment and treatment services.

“We look under the hood, so to speak, and go beyond behavior to understand how their brains function, how they think and learn,” Ostrander says. “We can make recommendations to therapists that may help them refine treatment, and work with parents and schools on appropriate interventions.”

In the hospital-based program, he and his colleagues match precise neurodevelopmental findings with therapies proven effective in their division’s own research studies. Of particular interest to Ostrander is establishing the best methods for identifying the child with multiple cognitive, emotional and behavioral disorders.

In a case like Billy’s, he says, learning difficulties in processing and storing verbal and written information can lead to frustration, making a child appear oppositional. A difficulty in recalling a lot of spoken rules limits his or her ability to follow them, and limits social development. Ostrander notes that children with language-based deficits may not respond effectively to conventional interventions, adding “Luckily, there are an increasing number of behavior-based therapies that don’t rely so much on language.”

Early intervention is key, he stresses: “The sooner we can find out what’s going on, the better the outcome and the faster we can help a child like this move on in life.”