Today we’d like to introduce you to Cynthia Johnson, Ph.D., NCSP.
Cynthia has always been passionate about children. Her early career focused on teaching children coping strategies to deal with the fear and anxiety regarding hospitalization. Upon completion of her Master’s degree in Psychology and Human Development from Harvard University, she helped teach over one million children to learn to read as a producer of The Reader Rabbit Series of educational software products. However, she started asking herself, what about children who learn in different ways? In 2008, she started researching the work of Dr. Bruce Pennington, Director of the Developmental Neuropsychology Clinic at The University of Denver. Cynthia was fascinated by different neurodevelopmental profiles children have and how that contributes to each child’s strengths and weaknesses. When she watched Dr. Pennington and his staff discuss assessment results and treatment options for children with learning differences, she said to herself, “I want that job. That is a way to make a true difference in the world.”
Cynthia received her Ph.D. in School Psychology from The University of Northern Colorado. She has a special interest in children with dyslexia and other learning difficulties. She completed an APA- accredited internship at The Neuropsychology Center of Attention, Behavior, and Learning and the Illinois School Psychology Internship Consortium. She completed her postdoctoral fellowship at The NeuroDevelopment Center of Colorado. She then became a dual-licensed clinician in school and clinical psychology so she could utilize her knowledge of clinical psychology while having a deep understanding of schools and the school system in which many students struggle. As a licensed psychologist and a nationally certified school psychologist, Cynthia also diagnosed gifted and twice-exceptional children and adolescents, along with individuals on the autism spectrum who are experiencing related academic, social, emotional and behavioral difficulties. These experiences offered her the opportunity to provide psychological assessments and counseling services for children and adolescents throughout Colorado and surrounding states.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
One of the challenges Cynthia experienced along her career path was the decision to get a Ph.D., as she recognized that she would be in her 50’s by the time she completed her degree. However, her friends and colleagues chimed in, saying, “You’re going to be in your 50’s anyway. You might as well do what you truly enjoy and were put on this earth to do.”
Cynthia also observed that some treatment centers for children with various difficulties lack a real understanding of psychological assessment and the time, resources and effort that is necessary for a complete understanding of an individual’s cognitive, academic, social, emotional and executive functioning. That realization was pivotal in her decision to open a private practice.
Cynthia often thinks of her client’s daily challenges. For example, if a child is experiencing difficulty learning to read, they are likely struggling at least six hours a day, five days a week, for nine months of each year. They are likely struggling on a daily basis. That struggle can take a significant emotional toll that may lead to anxious feelings or problem behaviors. Changing the environment around the needs of a student often helps the student succeed and increase their self-esteem.
Please tell us about your practice.
Cynthia recently opened StepStone Psychological Assessment and Therapeutic Services, a private practice that specializes in diagnosing and treating children and adolescents with learning disabilities, gifted/2e, complex ADHD, traumatic brain injury, intellectual disability, and related emotional, social and behavioral difficulties. StepStone, the name of her practice, was conceived from the belief that the path from academic struggle to individual growth happens incrementally, one step a time. The mission of StepStone is to empower individuals with information so they may increase their academic and personal well-being.
The assessment process is like assembling a very complex puzzle, where different areas of development represent an individual piece of a puzzle. Information is gathered from multiple areas, including cognitive/intellectual, in-depth academic, executive functioning, memory, language, social, emotional and behavioral functioning. Information regarding these areas is then combined to give an overall picture or profile of the student. Individually tailored interventions can then be recommended. Individuals with learning difficulties or ADHD may also experience related emotional or behavioral challenges. StepStone offers therapeutic services to teach coping skills and introduce avenues for behavioral change.
Similar to this magazine’s idea of finding ‘hidden gems’ in our communities, StepStone believes that all students have ‘hidden gems’, strengths where they excel and enjoy themselves. Their environment can be altered somewhat to utilize these strengths and to help mitigate areas of difficulty.
Since this article was originally written, COVID-19 has greatly impacted our communities. Schools have closed and have transitioned to an online format. Children with learning differences may be especially affected by this change as they may struggle with more independent online schooling. This upset in routine and typical learning practices can be particularly difficult. Parents and children may be experiencing significant frustration as parents attempt to teach their children during this stressful time. It may be more important than ever to have struggling students evaluated for learning difficulties. Furthermore, StepStone is available to see children, teens and adults (via HIPAA-compliant video conference) who are struggling with the emotional effects of COVID-19.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Cynthia grew up in Colorado in the 60’s/70’s, where her family enjoyed the outdoors and were avid campers. Some of her fondest memories were summers spent traversing the Rocky Mountain west with her family in their camper so aptly named, “The Tiltin’ Hilton.”
- Address: 3405 Penrose Place, Suite #203
Boulder, CO 80301
- Website: www.stepstoneassessment.com
- Phone: 720-617-9800
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennifer Drake MA, NCC