Neuropsychology Research from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Aids Diagnosis of Intellectual Disabilities

ATLANTA (August, 2014) - The Neuropsychology Department at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is heavily involved in research seeking to develop new techniques for earlier and more effective diagnosis of learning and intellectual disabilities. This summer, two teams of neuropsychologists have reached groundbreaking results that will aid in the proper diagnosis of these conditions.

“Our focus for research is always to find techniques for earlier diagnosis and treatment,” said Thomas Burns, Psy.D, ABPP/CN, Director of Neuropsychology at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “Earlier intervention allows us to more effectively treat each condition, ultimately improving the quality of life for our patients.”

In an article published in Neuropsychologia, a Children’s postdoctoral fellow, in collaboration with the University of California, San Francisco, used fMRI technology to better understand risk factors for dyslexia. The collaborative fMRI study found that children who have difficulty with both Phonological Awareness and Rapid Naming have less brain activation and connections between brain regions, which go beyond those seen in children with problems in only one skill.

This may explain why children with problems in both skills are at higher risk of developing a more severe form of dyslexia.  These two skills can be assessed earlier than common dyslexia tests like letter/word identification skills, which would enable these at-risk children to enroll earlier in reading intervention programs and have a better chance of preventing their dyslexia from becoming more severe. 

Published in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, a Children’s neuropsychologist, in collaboration with Kennedy Krieger Institute, led a study examining how a recent change by the American Psychiatric Association in how we diagnose an intellectual disability may affect diagnosis rates, which could limit access to needed care. The study results suggest that fewer children may be diagnosed with an intellectual disability based on the new criteria.

Without this diagnosis, these children, who still have significant needs, may have difficulty accessing services, including academic supports as well as vocational/residential supports in adulthood. The study highlights the need for providers to use clinical judgment in addition to test scores when making this diagnosis.

For more information about the Children’s neuropsychology team and services, please visit

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Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has been 100 percent dedicated to kids for more than 100 years. A not-for-profit organization, Children’s is dedicated to making kids better today and healthier tomorrow. Our specialized care helps children get better faster and live healthier lives. Managing more than 870,000 patient visits annually at three hospitals and 27 neighborhood locations, Children’s is the largest healthcare provider for children in Georgia and one of the largest pediatric clinical care providers in the country. Children’s offers access to more than 60 pediatric specialties and programs and is ranked among the top children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report. With generous philanthropic and volunteer support since 1915, Children’s has impacted the lives of children in Georgia, the United States and throughout the world. Visit for more information.


Tags: General News, Neurosciences, Neuropsychology, Research
Published: Monday, August 18, 2014