NESCA is open and currently scheduling contactless evaluations in all three of our locations (Newton and Plainville, MA and Londonderry, NH). For more information, please view, “Testing in the Age of COVID-19” on our Video Resources page.

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Kelley Challen

Remote Real-life Skills Coaching: How Does it Work?

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach

What is life skills coaching?

Coaching services in general aim to target functional life skills and help our children and adolescents to slowly build the ability to independent. While some of these skills, such as taking Uber, riding the T, or ordering in a restaurant, cannot be targeted using an online platform, the majority of these skills can absolutely be built with the help of a dedicated remote coach. Currently, many of our coaches are helping students through the great task of processing a huge life change in response to the COVID19 virus.

What skills can be worked on with a remote coach?

Hard skills are often thought of as specific, functional abilities that one can develop and perform. (In employment, these are often thought of as technical skills.) Options that can be worked on with a remote coach include cooking based on a specific recipe, ordering groceries on-line, calling to refill prescription, setting up a medication management system, typing, using Google classroom or Microsoft suite, electronic calendar management, etc.

Soft Skills include more abstract and broad abilities that are necessary for employment, academic success, and community independence. NESCA coaches work on executive function, social communication, and self-determination skills necessary for long-term independence at home, in school, and at work. Example skills taught include creating daily schedules, goal setting, preparing for interviews, organizing the home environment in order to be productive, reading and understanding IEPs and assessments, using technology to support memory, customer service skills, research skills, and more.

With the current pace and routine of life changing dramatically, NESCA coaches are working to help our clients establish healthy routines and habits. Coaches are available to help develop functional morning and evening routines, set up weekly to-do lists, develop a system to meet deadlines, use online resources for virtual learning, etc.

Who can benefit from this service?

Almost all adolescents and young adults could benefit from building life (and career or college readiness) skills, increasing independence, and practicing executive function; however, our neurodiverse population often has particular difficulty with changes in routine and greatly benefits from having a relational support to build structure and navigate change. All of our coaches have extensive experience working with adolescents and young adults with a wide range of learning, developmental, physical and social-emotional needs. NESCA is committed to helping young people who are struggling with this transition as well as families who are eager to use this unique situational opportunity to focus on skill building at home that is often difficult to fit in simultaneous to normal school demands.

What is a recommended coaching schedule?

Due to the individualized natural of coaching, the schedule and frequency can be incredibly personalized for each individual client. All of our coaching sessions begin with an intake process that includes input from both the adolescent and their family. Schedules are often developed in collaboration with the teen or young adult, the family, and the coach to best meet the client’s needs. Some example schedules that are used by current NESCA clients include:

  • Weekly Skill Building. Clients who are looking to target specific skills often choose to do a weekly session focus on learning and repetition.
  • Monday, Wednesday, Friday 30 Minute Check-ins. This model allows for a student to receive some guidance creating their own scheduling, while simultaneously holding them accountable.
  • Monday Motivation/Friday Follow-up! These sessions range from 1-2 hours and include weekly goal setting, check-ins regarding a weekly to-do list, and personal scheduling. For many clients a Friday follow-up session is an important opportunity to practice self-monitoring and review the previous week.

As somebody who coaches students in person and remotely, what differences do you notice?

I find that the main difference when coaching students remotely is when and how skills are targeted. In person, much of my coaching focuses on community integration, using our transit systems, and navigating the complex social interactions that are necessary when out in the community. Remote coaching can still target pieces of each of these skill areas but the process is in many ways more intrinsic. We may focus on learning to use the internet to find community opportunities, learning to create schedules for travel or complete applications for para-transit, using video learning to “try out” travel, employment, and community activities, and bolstering social media skills. We focused on building global skills in new ways that will help in the future, across environments. For instance, social communication by phone and video conferencing is a skill that will support social and employment success in the future.

In terms of the personal connection and opportunity to build rapport, I find that some teenagers are incredibly adept at communicating over a digital medium. Those who are not, tend to learn quickly. I am continually impressed by their ability to focus, discuss real-life topics, and build skills remotely.


About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, Transition Services, or Virtual Coaching Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email or call 617-658-9800.


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 or call 617-658-9800.


Planning and Preparing for College from Home during Covid-19

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist

While college in the United States is looking quite different for student’s currently enrolled, many (but not all) high school juniors across the country participated in SAT testing yesterday morning in preparation for their college application process. For teenagers–who have natural difficulties thinking ahead and anticipating consequences–being stuck at home may feel particularly tedious and taxing.

Here are some suggestions for teens that may help to use the time productively and get ahead on next year’s college search and admissions process:

  1. Use this time to draft a college application resume that includes information about your co-curricular and extracurricular activities, employment and volunteer experiences, skills, achievements and awards, summer activities, and any hobbies or interests. Try to include all of the experiences you have had throughout the year (ask your parents if you cannot remember everything you have done). You may not end up providing this directly to a college, but it will be useful when you request recommendations, complete applications, and need to put together a resume for employment. Learn more about building a college application resume at The Balance Careers.
  2. Hop on some college search engines and go through a few search processes. Search engines can help you to think about what characteristics matter to you and which selection criteria are less important. If you happen to find a school that you want to research further, even better. Some of the search engines we like include: BigFuture, Cappex, and Collegedata. There are lots of popular engines and you should pick what works for you.
  3. Take virtual college campus tours to explore colleges of interest and to begin to familiarize yourself with college daily life and vocabulary. Look at admissions sites for tour information or join a site like YouVisit. Learn more about virtual tours in this US News Article: How to Make the Most of Virtual College Tours.
  4. Practice your interview skills! There are lots of great web sites with sample interview questions (e.g.,, BigFuture). Practice with a friend via video chat (e.g., Facetime, Google, Skype, Messenger) or record yourself.
  5. Write a practice or rough draft college essay. Common App Essay Prompts remain the same from one year to the next and has already announced that first-year essay prompts will remain the same for next application season. Check those out here:

If you are interested in working with a transition specialist at NESCA for consultation, coaching, planning or evaluation, please complete our online intake form:

About the Author:

Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

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 or call 617-658-9800.

Increased Access to Publicly Funded Independent Educational Evaluations (IEEs)

By | NESCA Notes 2018

By: Nancy Roosa, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

As an independent group practice, not allied with any one school district, medical or advocacy group, neuropsychologists at NESCA are often called upon to perform independent evaluations for parents who are seeking an unbiased expert opinion related to their child’s developmental and educational needs. In some cases, this is the first evaluation a family is seeking for their child. In others, the family is in disagreement with the progression or conclusions of a school-based evaluation process. In Massachusetts, parents may seek private evaluation of their child at their own expense at any time and their educational team must meet to consider the results and recommendations of that evaluation. State and federal laws also provide parents with a procedure for requesting that a school district fund an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) if they believe that the school’s evaluation is not adequate or comprehensive enough. It is often helpful for parents who are interested in this important resource to consult with an educational advocate to see if they have a legitimate reason to request public funding for an IEE.

Unfortunately, in the past, the ability of families to access a publicly funded IEE has been limited by the low rates that school districts were required to pay to the independent evaluator, as set by state regulations. The maximum allowable rates were, until recently, $74.94 per hour with an allowed range of 8-12 hours, for a total of $899.28. Very few practicing evaluators are able or willing to accept less than $900 to perform what, by definition, needs to be a comprehensive evaluation in the context of what is often a complex situation centering on a disagreement between a family and a school district. These rates had not been raised since 2007, more than ten years ago. Thus, even when a school district agreed to fund an IEE, the school and family often had trouble finding an expert evaluator willing and able to perform it for the state rate.

This situation has changed, thanks in large part to the committed lobbying efforts of our friends at Mass Advocates for Children (MAC), a group of dedicated lawyers, advocates, parents and others who work tirelessly to ensure that all children in the state have equal access to educational and life opportunities. They focus particularly on those children who have disabilities, are low income and/or are racially, culturally, or linguistically diverse.  Thanks to MAC’s leadership in lobbying for this new change, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) passed new regulations, effective April 1, 2018, which allow a maximum rate of $88.43 per hour, and the range of hours has increased to 9-20, bringing the maximum total rate to $1,768.60.  In addition, the Bureau of Special Education Appeals will be able to order a higher rate in extraordinary cases. Further, in the rare instances that parents prevail at a hearing and have paid expert fees, the parents would have the right to be reimbursed for these fees by the school district. This means more families, particularly those of limited means, should be able to access IEEs if they are needed.

We thank our friends at MAC for their dedicated work on this and other efforts that benefit the most vulnerable children in the Commonwealth. MAC also gives grateful credit to the Ed Law Project and other advocates, parents, and psychologists who helped advocate for this bill, as well as Lead Sponsors of the bill: State Senator Barbara L’Italien and State Representative Jim O’Day.

Please visit the MAC website to appreciate the scope of their many efforts.

For more information about the Independent Educational Evaluation process in MA, check out these resources:

NESCA is proud to continue to provide evaluations funded both privately and publicly. While our rates are higher than the state’s standard rate, we are thankful that this increased funding is available to defray costs for families in need.

About the Author: 

Dr. Roosa has been engaged in providing neuropsychological evaluations for children since 1997. She enjoys working with a range of children, particularly those with autism spectrum disorders, as well as children with attentional issues, executive function deficits, anxiety disorders, learning disabilities, or other social, emotional or behavioral problems. Her evaluations are particularly appropriate for children with complex profiles and those whose presentations do not fit neatly into any one diagnostic box. As part of this process, Dr. Roosa is frequently engaged in school visits, IEP Team Meetings, home observations and phone consultations with collateral providers. Dr. Roosa has also consulted with several area schools, either about individual children or about programmatic concerns. She speaks to parent or school groups, upon request.



Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email or call 617-658-9800.

Community-Based Skills Coaching: What is it? Is it the right intervention for my child?

By | NESCA Notes 2017

By Kathleen Pignone, M.Ed., CRC

Transition Specialist

What is Community-Based Skills Coaching?

Community-Based Skills Coaching is an individualized service delivered by seasoned professionals to support the needs of transition-aged youth and young adults. It is an intensive 1:1 coaching model provided in the young person’s community. It can include any area of need and is tailored to the young person’s age and stage of development.

Community-Based Skills Coaching is empowering to the young person because the coach meets them where they are at emotionally, socially and developmentally. It allows the individual to learn practical living skills across multiple real-life environments. The first step in Community-Based Skills Coaching is an evaluation period where the young person works with the coach to identify strengths and areas for improvement. Through a collaborative process, the coach and young person tailor each session to allow for direct in-vivo teaching. This can include, but is not limited to, independent living skills, career planning and work readiness skills, financial literacy skills, travel skills, social pragmatic skills and self-advocacy skills.

Coaches meet with individuals in their home communities in order to determine how to best problem solve around any barriers or obstacles that the young person may encounter. It allows for the individual to develop and generalize learned and new skills across settings and in real-time. With frequent opportunities to practice skills in authentic environments, the individual begins to develop a level of confidence and automaticity that can only be learned outside of a classroom or office.

Many transition-aged young adults are at a developmental stage of individuating away from parental support. Community-Based Skills Coaching provides an experienced and trained adult to serve as a coach and mentor in order to guide the young person. This coach becomes an important “expert” and a qualified and trusted team member who can support the individual through the lengthy process of transitioning from high school to post-secondary adult life including learning, working, daily living, and community-based leisure activities.

How do I know if this is the right support for my teen, young adult, or myself?

Coaches work with young people aged 12-26 with varying skill levels. Coaches most often work with transition-aged youth who have a diagnosed learning, emotional, and/or developmental disability and transition related skill development needs. However, our coaches are also experienced in working with young people who are struggling with forward progress unrelated to a specific learning or medical diagnosis. Coaching utilizes a strength-based approach and supports youth and young adults to learn about themselves while experiencing life outside of school and home.

The student or young adult drives the process by choosing an area of interest and need. The coach provides guidance and immediate feedback and support to practice and improve upon skill areas. The coach builds rapport with the individual and is able to re-frame and teach in the moment. An inquiry based approach is used to allow the young person autonomy over the mastery of the skill. The coaching can occur weekly or more often, if necessary. Feedback to parents and designated team members typically occurs on a weekly or monthly basis, often beginning with student input.

To learn more about our Community Coaching at NESCA, please feel free to contact Kathleen Pignone, M.Ed., CRC at (617) 658-9800 or email at

Who provides coaching at NESCA?

Kathleen Pigone, M.Ed., CRC, brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to her role as a Transition Specialist at NESCA. She received her undergraduate degree in Sociology from Boston College and her master of education in Rehabilitation Counseling from the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Ms. Pignone was the Career Development Director at Bay Cove Academy for 15 years, providing students with classroom and real-world employment skills training, community job placement and on the job employment-training. She supervised the Career Development Program, developed individualized transition plans for students, created innovative programming for tracking and assessing long-term employability and career success for students. She also trained staff in the areas of career development and transition services.

Ms. Pignone joined NESCA in March 2016, bringing her unique expertise supporting vocational assessment and employment planning for adolescents and young adults as well as local school programs. In addition to supporting NESCA’s premier transition assessment services, Ms. Pignone engages in person-centered planning with teens and young adults, consultation and training for parents, providers and schools, and community-based skills coaching.

Dina Karlon, M.A., is a seasoned counselor specialized in transition issues. She has worked in public schools as a guidance counselor, GED program coordinator, career center coordinator, vocational assessment specialist, and school counselor. At NESCA, She offers community-based skills coaching services in New Hampshire as well as postsecondary planning consultation to students and families throughout New England.

In addition to her work at NESCA, Ms. Karlon is a Program Specialist for the New Hampshire Department of Education, specializing in development of employability skills and job readiness skills for at risk youth. She has recent experience as a Rehabilitation Counselor for New Hampshire Voc Rehab, working with students and adults with a range of developmental, learning, and social-emotional disabilities and helping to guide and coach them through transitions toward independence in both college and the working world. Prior to that, Ms. Karlon worked for more than two decades as a school counselor in local high schools.

She has provided transition services including personal, career, and college counseling to hundreds of students and their families and has also worked as an adjunct professor at Nashua Community College teaching both traditional and online classes for nearly 20 years. Ms. Karlon brings extensive experience supporting clients with career and college planning and she is able to shift fluidly with clients along their paths in each of these domains.

Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L, is Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in pediatrics and occupational therapy in the developing world. For the past five years her work has primarily been split between children and adolescents with ASD and related profiles in the United States, and marginalized youth in Tanzania, East Africa.

Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists.

Dr. Bellenis works as a school-based occupational therapist for the city of Salem Public Schools and believes that individual sensory needs, and visual motor skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming. She is joining NESCA in order to offer community-based skills coaching services as well as social skills coaching to students and young adults.

Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is Director of Transition Services at NESCA and oversees Community-Based Skills Coaching as well as transition assessment, planning, consultation, case management, program development, college supports, trainings, and professional development offerings.

Ms. Challen received her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Initially trained as a school guidance counselor, she completed her practicum work at Boston Latin School focusing on competitive college counseling. She began facilitating social, life, and career skill development programs for transition-aged youth in 2004.

Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Challen founded an array of programs for teens and young adults at MGH Aspire, and spent time as Program Director of the Northeast Arc’s Spotlight Program, where she often collaborated with schools to develop in-district social skill and transition programming. She is also co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social-Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personal Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism.

While Ms. Challen has special expertise in working with students with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles, she provides transition assessment, consultation, planning, and programming support for individuals with a wide range of learning and developmental needs.