Like many clinical neuropsychologists, I have begun my career as a “generalist”—seeing a wide array of pediatric populations. This clinical diversity undoubtedly keeps me on my proverbial toes and leads to frequent resource gathering, literature searches, and collegial consultation. Along with being interesting, this “generalist” moniker comes with a moderate dose of pressure, as parents, patients, and referring sources understandably expect a level of expertise in a child's condition (even if that condition happens to be seen in only 1/50,000th of the population). Thus, when I began reading Dr. Andrew Davis' Handbook of Pediatric Neuropsychology, I quickly learned of its utility as a “one-stop-shop” for clinical and professional information as it relates to my diverse responsibilities as a pediatric neuropsychologist.
As far as I can tell that Dr. Davis' handbook is unique in its scope, as it aims to cover almost every conceivable aspect within the field and practice of pediatric neuropsychology. It ambitiously subsumes almost every topic in a pediatric neuropsychologist's library into one massive 1217-page book. Dr. Davis notes in his preface that while his handbook is a unique all-encompassing tome, it is also rooted strongly in research-based perspective. And based on face validity alone, the contributing authors in this book represent some of the most well-known researchers and clinicians in the field of pediatric neuropsychology.
One needs only to scan the table of contents to get a sense of the breadth and scope offered in this book. The “handbook” is divided into seven large thematic sections beginning intuitively with development. This initial section begins with a wonderfully detailed chapter on the critical periods of intrauterine central nerves system development. Four subsequent chapters cover the neuropsychological development from infancy through late adolescence. There is some nice consistency throughout these developmental chapters covering physical, cognitive, and social developmental stages in each respective stage. The “Development” section concludes with a nice succinct chapter on speech/language development that includes helpful tables and summarizing charts on language milestones. Consistent with the all-encompassing goal of this book, the initial section ends with a chapter on moral development.
Section 2 covers functional neuroanatomy which begins from microscopic to functional. Dr. Paul Eslinger presents a wonderful chapter on the functional neuroanatomy of the limbic system with easy-to-use tables that summarize important limbic structures and their functional significance. Another highlight in this section is a plasticity chapter written by Drs. Spencer-Smith and Anderson which nicely navigates the reader through the complexity of the individual difference model. These functional neuroanatomy chapters tend to be succinct and without colorful diagrams or visuals.
Section 3 ambitiously presents several chapters on pediatric neuropsychological assessment. Numerous chapters provide in-depth information on the assessment of specific constructs (e.g., executive functions, memory, etc.), as well as detailed chapters on commonly used neuropsychological batteries. Although some of the chapters feel a bit like reading a technical or administrative manual, there are many useful tables found within most of these chapters providing nice summarizations of test batteries, subtests, as well as specific skills assessed. A highlight of this section for me was the practical chapter on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Fourth Edition (WISC-IV), which provides wonderful tables displaying validity studies with special groups, qualitative characteristics, and suggestions for conducting error analysis on subtests. This chapter also provides pertinent table with suggested testing of limit procedures on WISC-IV subtests, along with highly applicable instructional modifications that can be drawn from subtest performance.
In Section 4, contributing authors describe the assessment process for pediatric neuropsychologists. Although it is one of the briefest sections in the entire book, it includes two stand-out chapters. The first highlight is a chapter focusing on theoretical models of test selection and interpretation by Drs. Koziol and Budding. This chapter addresses fixed versus flexible battery approaches, various methods of interpretation, as well as consistently supplies the reader with important theoretical lessons. The following chapter covers malingering and suboptimal performance (SOP) in pediatric populations. Drs. Slick, Tan, Sherman, and Strauss present a timely and essential chapter about detecting and assessing SOP in children, which, as the authors report, is becoming increasingly a standard practice in pediatric assessment.
Section 5 embodies the bulk of the handbook and covers a majority of the pediatric neuropsychological disorders one could encounter in clinical practice. Similar to many of the chapters throughout this book, the contributing authors in this section represent prominent names in the field. Drs. Sally and Bennett Shaywitz compose a succinct yet excellent chapter on dyslexia. There are numerous unexpected disorders covered in this section, including reactive attachment disorder and eating disorders, but the contributing authors aptly integrate both neuropsychological research and application to these complex conditions. Many of these clinical disorder chapters are terse and generally take a summarizing approach, which is appreciated in a busy clinical practice. However, most chapters lack consistency in structure and easy-to-read summary tables are few and far between.
Section 6 addresses professional issues in pediatric neuropsychology. This section presents the reader with the unique cultural, ethical, and legal considerations in working with pediatric populations. Chapters on child abuse, giftedness, and sport-related concussion are also included in this section. A wonderful, yet unfortunately truncated, chapter on forensic neuropsychology is also included in this section and begins with a Lurian overview of neurodevelopment and how critical thinking and decision-making abilities develop. The chapter goes on the present various case examples of moral underdevelopment and low cognitive processing in the context of legal proceedings.
Lastly, Section 7 speaks to an integral aspect of pediatric neuropsychology—that being school-related issues. These succinct chapters cover topics ranging from consultation with school staff, special education law, response to intervention, to facilitating school reintegration for children with traumatic brain injury (TBI). With regard to this latter chapter, Dr. Hale et al. present a nice well-researched chapter on many practical considerations with regard to a child's reintegration back to school after TBI.
As with any ambitious undertaking, Dr. Davis' Handbook of Pediatric Neuropsychology understandably has its strengths and weaknesses. As for weaknesses, I would say that its sheer size causes it to be an unwieldy rapid reference book. It is scant on easy-to-digest visuals, tables, or bullet-point summaries. While each chapter does come with a succinct summary, they simply are not detailed enough to feel sufficient. Nonetheless, this book was not designed as a rapid reference. But it was designed for the busy clinician in mind, as most chapters are succinct and to-the-point. I also appreciate the generally consistent layout of each chapter, which allows the reader to scan headings and find what might be most relevant. Probably, most impressive about this book is its formidable list of contributing authors and its emphasis on maintaining a research-based perspective. Overall, it would be hard to imagine a clinical situation in pediatric neuropsychology in which this book would fail as a valuable resource.