Currently many school districts have social-emotional learning (SEL) goals as part of their mission. They include goals, such as students will: think critically and solve problems; communicate and collaborate effectively; attend to physical, social and emotional health; contribute to and care about their community and world; and, recognize the uniqueness and dignity of individuals of differing religions, classes, ethnicities, sexual orientations, learning abilities and more. These goals are part of what is expected in our workforce and as citizens in general. If children and adults could attain these goals, our world would be a more tolerant and compassionate place.
Given the neurological, psychological, behavioral or cognitive challenges many students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), nonverbal learning disorder (NLD), intellectual disability (ID), anxiety, depression, etc. may have, they will often experience difficulty attaining these goals. Direct teaching as well as embedded instruction of Mindsets, Essential Skills & Habits (MESH) and SEL is imperative for these students to succeed in school, relationships, work and in their own quality of life. In fact, MESH and SEL can help all students with or without special needs. Students of today become the adults of tomorrow. With SEL and MESH instruction, they become mindful, compassionate and socially competent adults – and potentially leaders!
In our consultation work with schools, NESCA focuses on three primary areas that we call the 3-Ss: self-awareness, social competency and stress management. Many adults with learning or developmental challenges have not yet reached their potential because they struggle in one or more of these areas. They do not know who they are and “what makes them tick,” or understand that stress is a part of life that we all deal with. They may struggle to recognize that getting along with and being kind and respectful to others is a necessary part of life, even when we do not agree with others. Some of these adults have advanced degrees but sadly cannot get or keep a job or a relationship. By directly addressing the 3-Ss, we help individuals develop life-long skills to be the best they can be.
Self-awareness is the ability to recognize one’s strengths/challenges, interests, likes/dislikes, learning style, personality and more. It allows us to self-reflect and accurately identify emotions and thoughts and how they influence our behavior. Being optimistic when dealing with life’s setbacks is also central to self-awareness. As we mature, the ability to make responsible decisions – constructive and respectful choices about personal behaviors based on safety concerns, ethical standards and social norms – also falls under self-awareness.
The earlier we begin to help children develop self-awareness, the better off they are in the long run. Teaching them about their personalities earlier allows them to understand themselves better and themselves in relation to others. Through consultation, we normalize the neurodiversity of learners in a classroom. For example, we may have everyone (teachers and students) complete a learning style checklist and discuss the variety of learning profiles in a class. This makes self-awareness more concrete and accessible to all students.
Social competency allows self-awareness to be applied in relationships with others. Social competency is the ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with others in one’s family, school, community and work. It is what allows us to demonstrate perspective-taking and empathy with others of diverse backgrounds and cultures. It includes knowing the social and cultural norms of behavior and also understanding why demonstrating those matters and helps us to communicate clearly, listen actively, negotiate conflicts, cooperate with others, and ask for help when needed. It can also include nonverbal cues and communication when sharing space with others, which is what makes it possible to ride on public transportation, wait in line, ride in an elevator, watch a movie at a theatre, etc. – all in accordance with unwritten, hidden, yet expected social norms. It is critical to work on social competency from preschool through middle and high school and beyond as the expectations and challenges change throughout our lives – and as we change, too.
No matter how self-aware someone is, stress happens and we need to learn to cope or we will suffer both physically and psychologically. Stress is neither good nor bad – it just is. Therefore, stress management is critical to living a life that is as healthy and satisfying as possible. Stress management is the ability to identify one’s emotions, thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and to regulate them effectively – identifying internal and external triggers, controlling impulses, motivating oneself and developing a toolbox to cope with stress. By teaching stress management skills early on, we help children identify how stress feels in their bodies and how our bodies and emotions are linked. All too often, we tell children to “calm down” without teaching them how and what that actually means. If we teach children and adolescents a variety of ways to calm themselves (breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness, exercise, problem solving, etc.), and we offer regular opportunities to practice these skills in a range of settings and activities, our hope is that they will gravitate to those techniques and eventually use them independently and successfully. Teaching children about resilience and optimism is key so they can cope when adversity happens – as we know it will.
By highlighting the 3-Ss in our work, we have witnessed significant growth and a positive impact on students’ learning and ultimately their lives. By directly modeling and teaching these MESH skills, students diagnosed with disabilities improve their understanding of self, others and their ability to manage stress and cope with adversity. We are fostering the development of the adults of tomorrow.
To learn more about NESCA and its consultation services, visit: https://nesca-newton.com/.
To learn more about SEL and MESH, visit:
About the Author:
NESCA’s Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services Dot Lucci has been active in the fields of education, psychology, research and academia for over 30 years. She is a national consultant and speaker on program design and the inclusion of children and adolescents with special needs, especially those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Lucci was the Program Director and Director of Consultation at MGH/Aspire for 13 years, where she built child, teen and young adult programs and established the 3-Ss (self-awareness, social competency and stress management) as the programming backbone. She also served as director of the Autism Support Center. Ms. Lucci was previously an elementary classroom teacher, special educator, researcher, school psychologist, college professor and director of public schools, a private special education school and an education collaborative.
Ms. Lucci directs NESCA’s consultation services to public and private schools, colleges and universities, businesses and community agencies. She also provides psychoeducational counseling directly to students and parents. Ms. Lucci’s clinical interests include mind-body practices, positive psychology, and the use of technology and biofeedback devices in the instruction of social and emotional learning, especially as they apply to neurodiverse individuals.
To book a consultation with Ms. Lucci or one of our many expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician/consultant in the referral line.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.