One university's loss is Army's unquestioned gain
December 15, 2010
- Dr. John Dieter is a pediatric neuropsychologist in Vilseck, Germany
- Dieter works with highly complex cases such as severe autism and children with extreme developmental delays
Two years ago, Dr. John Dieter's wife looked him in the eye and told him it was time to get a real job.
"I was at Emory University and I was fairly content," Dieter said. "But I worked long hours and the pay wasn't very good. Once my wife and I had our baby, we decided it was time for me to consider more gainful employment."
It didn't take long for the military to woo the neuropsychologist, and before he knew it, Dieter and his family were on their way to Germany where he would work at the Vilseck Behavioral Health Clinic. He was hired to work with adult mild Traumatic Brain Injury cases, but his scope quickly broadened to meet another need in the community.
"I knew nothing about life on an Army post," Dieter said. "But when I realized there were kids here, I said let's create a pediatric service. All of my research at the university was on early brain development and children, and pediatric neuropsychology has always been my primary clinical focus."
His services have been offered for the past year and extend well beyond Germany to other European-based military communities. He's in high demand, but what exactly does a pediatric neuropsychologist do'
"Neuropsychology is the study of brain function through the examination of behavior. Often I'm referred very difficult cases because other clinicians or schools need greater clarification regarding the diagnosis and treatment," Dieter said. "I examine the whole child and assess their intellectual, cognitive and emotional functioning. Then I provide a global perspective of the child."
Dieter often finds that the child is suffering from a complex problem such as severe autism, extreme developmental delays or lack of language development. His assessment is very comprehensive and he averages 25 hours on each case, with at least six to eight hours spent directly with the child.
"I'm somewhat unique in that I do all of the testing with the child myself," Dieter said. "It's important because it allows me to spend many hours directly observing the child - how he does things and how he relates to me and his parents."
After spending time with the child, Dieter produces a full report and discusses the findings with the parents. This is followed by discussions with the schools and an intervention plan to help the child continue to develop in a positive way.
"I find child cases so rewarding because I can play such a hand in not only finding out what's going on, but also assisting in the intervention," Dieter said. "Intervention is so important because the earlier and more comprehensively you intervene, the better the prognosis is because the brain is still growing."
For many parents, putting a name to what their child is going through is a huge, albeit sometimes rocky, step forward.
"Often they're relieved to finally know what is going on. However, they may also be frightened or even angry," Dieter said. "A very important part of my job is to help them process their feelings, helping them understand the child's condition and instilling hope while still being realistic."
Occasionally, parents also want to know if they should take their child back to the United States for treatment, but Dieter said this is usually unnecessary.
"By and far the services that are here at the school and the clinics in the area are as good or better than what they would get in the States," he said.
The commander of the Vilseck Health Clinic, Col. Glenda Lock, tends to agree.
"The support we receive from the schools and our clinicians here in Europe is excellent," she said. "And there's only one Doctor Dieter. He's a huge asset to our team and continues to consult on many cases in addition to his responsibilities in mTBI."
Overall, Dieter is very happy with the progress he's made in the past two years and he plans to continue supporting military families in Europe as long as he can.
"If my wife and I have it our way, we would stay here forever."