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Functional Cognitive Assessments - What are they, and why bother???

Lots of people have asked me “What is a functional cognitive assessment?”, “Why do Occupational Therapists conduct them?”, and “What happens after the assessment?”. It must be time for my first blog! Eeek!

What is a functional cognitive assessment?

When you see a Psychologist or Educational Psychologist for a cognitive assessment, you will receive a comprehensive report about your child or teen’s cognitive abilities eg:

A functional cognitive assessment differs in that these look at how a child’s cognitive skills (or Executive Functioning) impact on their ability to participate in the occupations (roles and tasks) that are important and/or essential to them. Some of the skills occupational therapists will test will be:

These assessments are occupation-based, in other words, they relate to tasks that a child or teen usually participates in, in their usual environment. This is important as a child’s usual environments enable occupational therapists to observe the “essence” of executive functioning, and parents and teachers have the best information to assist in accurately understanding a child’s strengths and challenges (Gioia, Isquith, Guy & Kenworthy, 1996).

Why do Occupational Therapists conduct Cognitive Assessments?

Occupational Therapy, and related research, supports the principle that cognition is essential to the performance of everyday tasks (Toglia & Kirk, 2000). For children and teens, this includes getting dressed and packing their bag for school in the morning, settling at school each morning, moving from one subject to another, staying focused on a task, or managing frustration. As children grow up and move on to high school, there is increased expectation that they will act independently as they prepare for their day, and take responsibility for their own learning. It can be challenging for teens with executive functioning issues to remember their homework, make sure they have the right folders and books for the day, or get from one class to another in time. They may also struggle to cope with the strong emotions and/or social situations that typically occur during adolescence, especially if they’re getting frustrated with themselves over everyday tasks.

When an Occupational Therapist assesses a child or teen’s executive functioning, the child or teen is provided with an understanding of their skill sets; their strengths as well as the potential challenges that they face. This allows Occupational Therapists to identify what skills a child/teen may need support with so that they can manage themselves with as little stress and anxiety as possible.

The results of this assessment can have positive outcomes, as many teens and children like to know that there is a reason why they struggle to do what others seem to find so easy, and that there is something they can do about it.

Keep an eye out for future blogs, where I will discuss what happens after an assessment, and the role each Executive Functioning skill plays in a child or teen’s life. While raising a child or teen with executive functioning issues can be challenging, I’m sure many parents and teachers will relate to some of the situations that these children sometimes find themselves in! (Hint - some are concerning, and others can be hilarious).


**Toglia, J.P., & Kirk, U. (2000). Understanding awareness deficits following brain injury. Neurorehabilitation, 15, 57-70

Gioia, G., Isquith, P, Guy, S. & Kenworthy, L. (2015). BRIEF2: Behaviour Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning, Second Edition. Florida, PAR Inc