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Neurodevelopment Assessment Unit

The Neurodevelopment Assessment Unit aims to show a way forward in addressing the needs of children who show emotional, cognitive and behavioural problems.

Watch our Neuro Development Assessment Unit (NDAU) video.

The Neurodevelopment Assessment Unit (NDAU) draws on internationally recognised expertise to conduct a feasibility study of an innovative approach to the assessment of young children who are experiencing problems.

Young children with emotional and behavioural problems often don't receive the support they need early in life. When they finally receive support it may not be appropriately targeted towards their individual needs.

The primary aim of the The Neurodevelopment Assessment Unit (NDAU) is to collect broad assessment data, informed by the RDoC approach, on a large sample of 500 children (aged 4 to 7 years old) with diverse developmental problems that will enable us to understand the overlapping cognitive and socio-emotional bases of different profiles of children with neurodevelopmental problems.

The results of the assessment are fed back to the child’s referring agent in order to inform and enhance their continued support for the child. The data that we collect will in time inform our understanding of the neuropsychological and biological mechanisms that underlie different neurodevelopmental problems.

The NDAU is a three-year study that has been funded by The Waterloo Foundation.

Who we are

The NDAU team is a multi-disciplinary team, consisting of developmental researchers, educational psychologists, clinical psychologists, child and adolescent psychiatrists, and a GP who work together to assess the problems that children have.

The NDAU provides training opportunities for students, researchers, clinicians and educational psychologists and helps to build capacity in the academic, educational and health sectors in Wales.

Contact

Email us at ndau@cardiff.ac.uk to find out more about our research and how you can work with us.

The Waterloo Foundation has given us funding to set up the Neurodevelopment Assessment Unit as a demonstration project that illustrates a way forward to address the needs of children who show emotional, cognitive or behavioural difficulties and problems.

We are conducting a three-year study of the feasibility of working in partnership with families and schools to provide evidence-based assessments of children who may have developmental problems. We intend to help families and those who work with the children at school by providing them with detailed information about the strengths and weaknesses of the child. This report can also inform any later referrals to educational or clinical services.

Specifically, children aged 4 to 7 years are assessed for a few hours in our Neurodevelopment Assessment Unit (NDAU). We i) assess general scholastic abilities such as verbal/nonverbal ability; ii) administer cognitive tests of attention, inhibition and working memory; iii) provide research-based socio-emotional tests of emotion recognition, empathy, affect processing, and theory of mind, and iv) ask the accompanying parent/guardian to complete a clinical interview to identify the main challenges for the child (i.e., the Development and Well Being Assessment; DAWBA), and questionnaires regarding the children’s strengths and difficulties, behaviour, and their development and health.

The outcomes of this detailed assessment will help those who work with these children at school or home select appropriate educational provision and prioritize interventions and inform any later referrals to educational or clinical services.

COVID-19 research

The ESRC funded NDAUto research the social, economic and mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on vulnerable children and families. We did this by contacting our NDAU families to see how they have been coping during the lockdowns.

Families are experiencing numerous changes in their daily lives, leading to mental health and economic challenges. We think the impact on mental health and wellbeing will be particularly great for families with vulnerable children at risk of significant mental health difficulties, who are also living in difficult circumstances.

We have been following a cohort of vulnerable children and families prior to COVID-19 and have continued looking at the social, economic and mental health effects of the pandemic and associated lockdowns on these children and families.

We want to understand:

  • how children and families are coping and what has been difficult.
  • what has helped them cope and any positive effects they have experienced.

Changes in child mental health

Our research has recorded significant increases in mental health problems in both children and parents, particularly in children’s emotional difficulties (anxiety) and parental depression. We identified a reduction in social anxiety, and further significant increases in generalised anxiety, panic and somatic symptoms, and school anxiety.

  • 19% of children with low pre-COVID emotional problems developed high/elevated problems during lockdown.
  • 13% of children with low pre-COVID behavioural problems developed high/elevated problems during lockdown.

We also observed an improvement in emotional problems in 10% of children with high pre-COVID emotional problems and in 12% of children with previously high behavioural problems.

Anxiety and depression in parents

56% of families reported having lost employment, struggled to pay bills, struggled to afford sufficient food, or experienced a significant loss of income during 1st lockdown.

A higher proportion of parents with significant mental health problems reported experiencing challenges with home schooling and deterioration of sibling relationships.

Family life and socioeconomic stress

Our research has found:

  • deterioration in parent-child relationships,
  • increases in reports of hostility between parents and children, and
  • significant reductions in parental warmth and comfort.
  • higher levels of isolation (social networks) in financially strained households.
  • lack of resources to support home schooling in financially strained households.

Academic staff

Professor Stephanie van Goozen

Professor Stephanie van Goozen

Professor

Email
vangoozens@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44(0)29 2087 4630
Andrea Higgins

Andrea Higgins

Lecturer

Email
higginsa2@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 9003

Postgraduate students

Associated staff

Professor Anita Thapar

Professor Anita Thapar

Professor, Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences

Email
thapar@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2068 8478
Dr Chris Hobson

Dr Chris Hobson

Senior Clinical Tutor

Email
hobsoncw@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
029 208 70582
Dr Cerith Waters

Dr Cerith Waters

Senior Lecturer

Email
waterscs@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
029 208 70426
Professor Katherine Shelton

Professor Katherine Shelton

Professor

Email
sheltonkh1@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44(0)29 2087 6093
Dr Kate Langley

Dr Kate Langley

Senior Lecturer

Email
langleyk@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 6259
Professor Dale Hay

Professor Dale Hay

Emerita Professor

Email
haydf@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 6503
Dr Catherine Jones

Dr Catherine Jones

Senior Lecturer

Email
jonescr10@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 0684
Professor Stephan Collishaw

Professor Stephan Collishaw

Personal Chair, Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences

Email
collishaws@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2068 8436

Assessments

We undertake a wide range of assessments at the NDAU. These enable us to understand the individual cognitive and socio-emotional profile of every child that visits the NDAU. Each assessment captures a psychological construct that is derived from the RDoC Framework and is believed to be important for a child’s learning and development.

Facial emotion recognition

Emotions are associated with specific emotional expressions. Facial emotion recognition refers to the ability to accurately identify these facial expressions, which develops and improves throughout childhood.

View the Facial Emotional Recognition Information Sheet

Non-verbal reasoning

Non-verbal reasoning involves the ability to understand and analyse visual information and solve problems using visual skills.

View the Non-Verbal Reasoning Information Sheet

Theory of mind

Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and to others. This function enables an individual to understand or predict other people’s behaviour in social situations.

View the Facial Theory of Mind Information Sheet

Verbal working memory

Verbal working memory refers to the capacity to store and manipulate verbal information for brief periods of time.

View the Facial Verbal Working Memory Information Sheet

Verbal reasoning

Verbal reasoning involves the ability to understand and reason using words.

View the Verbal Reasoning Information Sheet

Visuospatial working memory

Visuospatial working memory refers to the capacity to store and manipulate images and information about locations for brief periods of time.

View the Visuospatial Working Memory Information Sheet

Cognitive flexibility

Cognitive flexibility is the ability to think flexibly and to transition from thinking about once concept to another.

View the Cognitive Flexibility Information Sheet

Cognitive inhibition

Cognitive inhibition is one of the core cognitive skills that we use to control our thinking and behaviour. It is the ability to inhibit and control our cognitive responses by tuning out information that is irrelevant to the current task.

View the Cognitive Inhibition Information Sheet

Sustained attention

Sustained attention is the ability to focus on an activity or task over a longer period of time.

View the Sustained Attention Information Sheet


Partners

This research was made possible through our close partnership with and support from: