Interview with Dr Cheryl Newton, Consultant Paediatric Neuropsychologist & Clinical Psychologist

Interview with Dr Cheryl Newton, Consultant Paediatric Neuropsychologist & Clinical Psychologist

When a child suffers a brain injury it takes specialist skills to understand and untangle the various ways in which the injury will affect their life. Their ability to think, perceive, process information, function and communicate may be impaired, affecting their ability to access education, interact with others, and manage their behaviour. New or previously hidden problems will continue to arise with each stage of their growth and development.​

Boyes Turner’s medical negligence lawyers often work with paediatric neuropsychologists to help us evaluate the consequences and full extent of a child’s brain injury. This enables us to ensure that our client’s needs for rehabilitation, care, equipment, specialist education and therapies are identified and can be properly met.

We asked Consultant Paediatric Neuropsychologist, Dr Cheryl Newton, to give us some insight into what she does when she’s instructed in a brain-injured child’s medical negligence case and how paediatric neuropsychologists can be of help.

What does a Consultant Paediatric Neuropsychologist do?

Paediatric clinical neuropsychology uses our understanding of brain–behaviour relationships to understand a child’s development and condition. 

Paediatric neuropsychologists assess children with a wide range of conditions that affect the brain. In medical negligence cases these are usually children who have suffered brain injury at birth or as the result of delayed diagnosis of medical conditions such as meningitis. 

A paediatric neuropsychologist will assess cognitive abilities including:

  • intellectual ability
  • memory
  • language
  • visual perception
  • attention

and executive functions such as:

  • planning
  • self-regulation
  • problem-solving

These measures are not treated in isolation, but are interpreted alongside an assessment of the child’s:

  • general development
  • educational progress
  • social and interpersonal skills
  • behaviour
  • mood
  • family circumstances

When do you get involved in a medical negligence case and how do you assist the lawyers?

This depends very much on the individual case. I may be asked to become involved before or after liability has been established. I am most often involved in the quantification of the child’s needs. 

My role is to establish the degree to which a child’s intellectual, behavioural and cognitive functions are affected by the negligence and consider whether they had any pre-existing vulnerabilities. It is often my role to consider how the child’s difficulties will change and evolve over time. Children’s brains continue to develop into late adolescence. Difficulties that are not apparent in early childhood can emerge as they get older. Conversely, a child may develop better skills than initially expected. So, my assessment may be the first of a series of neuropsychological assessments which track the child’s trajectory until a time when it is possible to be clear about their cognitive, educational, employment and behavioural prognosis.

What happens at a neuropsychological assessment?

A full neuropsychological assessment can take up to five hours in total. I always tailor this to the child’s specific needs and the questions that are to be addressed. The neuropsychological testing of the child can be completed at home or school, and involves the child completing a variety of pencil and paper type tasks, puzzles, and problem-solving tests. If the child is old enough they may also complete some questionnaires about their mood and day to day functioning.

My assessment usually involves a semi-structured interview with a child’s parent or carer and teacher. I ask them to fill out questionnaires regarding behaviour, independent functioning and emotional well-being. I may also observe the child in school to see how they function socially and cognitively in this environment. 

What are the most common questions that you are asked by parents?

Parents are usually well informed about their child’s condition by the time I meet them as they will have had many other assessments completed, such as those by paediatricians and neurologists.

Parents usually ask me about how they can support their child to develop and maintain friendships. The social isolation of children with disabilities is frequently the most troubling and saddening aspect for parents. They want their child to be happy and have a good quality of life.

What advice would you give to a family who have concerns about their child’s behaviour and/or learning?

Cognitive, emotional and behavioural symptoms are frequently the most common and troubling consequences of a brain injury. I always advise parents to seek and take up professional help and intervention as it is likely that many aspects can be improved. Early intervention is best, and it is crucial for the family to be part of this. Establishing good communication with school is also essential. A case manager can be very helpful with this.

What is the most rewarding part of your role?

I enjoy meeting families and being part of their journey. It is most rewarding for me to see a child and family receive the input and treatment they require to rehabilitate them to their maximum potential.   

If you are caring for a child or young adult who has suffered a brain injury as a result of negligence, and would like to find out more about making a claim, contact us by email at cerebralpalsy@boyesturner.com.

Knowledgeable, organised, responsive, diligent, empathetic and human. I deal with many legal firms during the course of my work and have found the Court of Protection team at Boyes Turner to be, 'Simply the best'.

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