NEUROPSYCHOLOGICAL ASSESSMENTS TO SUPPORT EARLY INTERVENTION
TOTAL FUNDS RECEIVED IN 2021
42% HOSPITAL PROGRAMS
HOSPITAL PROGRAM OVERVIEW
More than 28% of children and youth with physical illnesses face mental health challenges. Without early assessment, intervention and education, their mental health needs may not be met. To identify potential challenges early, SickKids has a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment program for patients whose conditions – from brain tumours to congenital heart disease – put them at elevated risk of brain and mental health challenges. Each assessment, conducted by trained professionals, measures a child’s memory, learning, intelligence, socioemotional functioning, language and attention. Because of the pandemic, access to these types of assessments through school or the community has been limited, contributing to long waitlists. With support from Sobeys, SickKids is increasing our capacity in order to expand access to this service, providing more assessments and ensuring youth don’t miss critical windows of opportunity for early intervention.
The neuropsychology team completed 93 assessments for 75 patients from January 1 to December 31, 2021.
A new neuropsychologist, Dragana Ostojic-Aitkens, was hired in October 2021 to replace Michelle Keightley. Dragana, having been with us as a clinical fellow in neuropsychology for several years, smoothly transitioned into this new role, working with the team to support clinics across SickKids, including genetics, haematology/oncology, neurology, cardiology and stroke. The increased capacity of the neuropsychology team has meant that patients who might have waited more than a year for an assessment are now seen sooner – during critical windows of opportunity for early intervention. Improved access to support in this area is a relief for patients and families, many of whom are already feeling overwhelmed by their child’s physical condition and lack of access to services in the community and school as a result of the pandemic. Streamlined access to neuropsychological assessments has allowed the team to advocate with parents, school administrators and other clinical services at SickKids and in the community for improved access to supports based on the assessments’ findings. Support from Sobeys for testing materials has also enabled the team to conduct more assessments virtually using new digital tools. SickKids is now working with an external vendor to refine these tools; this work will ultimately help to shape the offerings available across Canada.
The I AM SAFE suicide prevention trial is making good progress. So far, SickKids has recruited 70 participants – more than we had anticipated recruiting by this stage. The high recruitment numbers speak to the higher volume of patients presenting to the SickKids Emergency Department with suicide ideation and attempts, as well as the willingness of this patient population to be engaged in clinical trials aimed at finding better ways to treat suicidality.