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Conversations with Dr. Vindia Fernandez

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Vindia Fernandez.

Hi Dr. Fernandez, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Being a good listener has always come easy to me. I was always interested in learning ways to alleviate the pain and suffering of my peers. As early as middle school, I was volunteering for peer counseling classes. I did not know it then, but my passion for helping others aligned nicely with my analytical approach to life and my affinity for numbers and order. The ability to quantify human cognition and behavior – and relate it the functions of the brain – is the essential function of a clinical neuropsychologist. My journey to become a neuropsychologist involved moving cross-country for a graduate program to study dyslexia, many years of schooling, and internships to hone my skills. That is when I realized I had a passion for working with children with neurodevelopmental differences. Neuropsychology allowed me to provide parents with a roadmap to their child’s brain and introduce them to interventions that really work. However, during my studies, it became clear there were few professionals like me in the field, people with a diverse cultural and linguistic upbringing who could appreciate the immigrant experience and its impact on education and access to mental health care. This was especially alarming considering the high number of English learners in Los Angeles schools and surrounding communities. When I completed my post-graduate fellowship from the UCLA Semel Institute, I set out to open a private practice that would help fulfill this need. I believe my success comes in part from a deep sense of empathy and my diverse perspective, which helps my clients feel that their unique needs are being taken into account regardless of their background.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
As a young woman, I was frequently second-guessed during my training. Patients occasionally told me they were expecting someone older, a male, or someone more experienced. To an extent, I suffered from imposter syndrome like many of my colleagues. These were some of the earlier struggles. More recently, the practice was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Neuropsychology is a field that relies on face-to-face interactions much more so than other fields due to the paper-pencil testing model that has been used for so long. Having to make the transition to telehealth placed a tremendous amount of stress on my practice. Not all parents were willing to attempt an assessment using a telehealth model. I was lucky in that the practice was able to withstand the initial reduction in business. Now that I am back in person, I am embracing some of the changes brought on by the pandemic, which have made my evaluations much more efficient.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
As a pediatric neuropsychologist, I conduct evaluations that test children, adolescents, and young adults for various neurodevelopmental disorders including ADHD and learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. However, one of the things that set me apart from my peers is that I also conduct autism evaluations, which is not common among neuropsychologists. I also conduct bilingual (English/Spanish) evaluations. These types of evaluations are used by parents to learn more about the way their children’s brains work and find therapies and strategies that will best help their children achieve their goals. These evaluations can also inform teachers and school administrators about the best educational setting for a child, accommodations that will provide them access to the curriculum, and other services that may be needed to help the child make meaningful progress. I pride myself in being thorough, knowledgeable about evidence-based practices, and committed to helping children reach their full potential.

How do you think about luck?
As someone who works with neurodivergent youth, I often look back on the climate around mental health when I was growing up. There was so much stigma related to being different. Things are just now starting to change with increasing awareness of neurodiversity. Children are much more accepting of others. Academic accommodations are becoming more commonplace. I am fortunate that the paradigm shift we are currently experiencing has opened the doors for clinicians like myself to do what we are passionate about, which is helping children who think and learn differently from others thrive.

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Carla Coffing

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