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.
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.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.
Professor, Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences
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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.
Non-verbal reasoning involves the ability to understand and analyse visual information and solve problems using visual skills.
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.
Verbal working memory
Verbal working memory refers to the capacity to store and manipulate verbal information for brief periods of time.
Verbal reasoning involves the ability to understand and reason using words.
Visuospatial working memory
Visuospatial working memory refers to the capacity to store and manipulate images and information about locations for brief periods of time.
Cognitive flexibility is the ability to think flexibly and to transition from thinking about once concept to another.
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.
Sustained attention is the ability to focus on an activity or task over a longer period of time.
This research was made possible through our close partnership with and support from: