While school may be wrapping up, Summer is an ideal time to embark on transition assessment and services to ensure that your child’s IEP process is preparing them for learning, living, and working after their public education. The ultimate goal of transition assessment is to identify the necessary skills and services to ready a student age 13-21 for transitioning from high school to the next phase of life. To book an intake and consultation appointment, visit: www.nesca-newton.com/intake. Not sure if you need an assessment? You can schedule a one-hour parent/caregiver intake and consultation.

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NESCA Notes 2020

I Can Tell You a Story…I Just Can’t Write It

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Alissa Talamo, PhD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

According to understood.org, “Written expression disorder is a learning disability that results in a person having trouble expressing their thoughts in writing… They might have the greatest ideas, but their writing is disorganized and full of grammar and punctuation mistakes.” Experts believe that between 8 and 15 percent of people have a written expression disorder and it often co-occurs with other learning challenges, with two of the most common being dyslexia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD).

Writing is difficult because it depends upon many separate components that need to be integrated into a complex whole. For example, to write well, a person needs to have acquired knowledge about the topic, retrieve needed vocabulary and express the information in a way that can be followed by the reader. At the same time, the writer needs to be able to self-monitor their progress, including switching between the main idea and writing mechanics, such as spelling, punctuation and grammar. People with written expression disorder might be able to tell an organized and interesting story, but struggle when asked to recreate that information in written form. Receiving a formal diagnosis can help a child receive extra help at school or even specialized instruction. Also, a diagnosis can possibly lead to accommodations at college.

There are also several methods of instruction that can help a student organize their writing. These programs help a student visualize or represent abstract ideas by using visually-based templates. While many of these methods are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced in this blog, some examples are programs such as Thinking maps by David Hyerle, Ed.D. or “Brain Frames.” These programs have developed specific graphic organizers to help a student with a variety of writing assignments (e.g., comparing and contrasting, ordering and sequencing) and provide specialized instruction that can help a student greatly improve their ability to express their ideas in writing.

If you believe that your child may be experiencing difficulties in the area of writing, one step is to determine the root of the difficulty. For example, does the student have an underlying learning disability or reduced self-regulation that may be negatively impacting their progress? Receiving a neuropsychological evaluation could be a useful tool in determining the appropriate supports and services to best help your child.

Sources:

https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences

http://www.ldonline.org/article/33079/

http://www.thinkingmaps.com

http://www.architectsforlearning.com

 

About the Author:

With NESCA since its inception in 2007, Dr. Talamo had previously practiced for many years as a child and adolescent clinical psychologist before completing postdoctoral re-training in pediatric neuropsychology at the Children’s Evaluation Center.

After receiving her undergraduate degree from Columbia University, Dr. Talamo earned her doctorate in clinical health psychology from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University.

She has given a number of presentations, most recently on “How to Recognize a Struggling Reader,” “Supporting Students with Working Memory Limitations,” (with Bonnie Singer, Ph.D., CCC-SLP of Architects for Learning), and “Executive Function in Elementary and Middle School Students.”

Dr. Talamo specializes in working with children and adolescents with language-based learning disabilities including dyslexia, attentional disorders, and emotional issues. She is also interested in working with highly gifted children.

Her professional memberships include MAGE (Massachusetts Association for Gifted Education), IDA (International Dyslexia Association), MABIDA (the Massachusetts division of IDA) and MNS (the Massachusetts Neuropsychological Society).

She is the mother of one teenage girl.

 

To book a consultation with Dr. Talamo or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.

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 info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Transition Assessment: What is it anyway? How is it different from neuropsychological evaluation?

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

If you have a child who receives special education services or work in education, you are likely familiar with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004). This is the law that guarantees students with disabilities the right to free appropriate public education (FAPE) and that dictates that the purpose of special education and related services is to prepare students with disabilities for further education, employment, and independent living.

IDEA 2004 mandates that students have measurable postsecondary goals written in their individualized educational programs (IEPs), that describe the outcomes that a team expects for the student to achieve after exiting public education and that these goals must be “based upon age-appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment, and where appropriate, independent living skills.”[1] But, IDEA 2004 does not specifically define transition assessment.

Instead, the best and most commonly accepted definition for transition assessment comes from the Division on Career Development and Transition (DCDT). DCDT defines transition assessment as an “…ongoing process of collecting data on the individual’s needs, preferences, and interests as they relate to the demands of current and future working, educational, living, and personal and social environments.”[2]

Transition assessment can include formal testing, such as a standardized, published tests that compare students to others by age or grade or informal activities, such as interviewing or observing a student. Most students who are transition-aged (i.e., 14 or older in Massachusetts; 16 by federal law) have already had some assessments that will inform their transition planning, such as school evaluations, private evaluations, standardized academic testing, report cards, or even activities that happen within their guidance curriculum (e.g., assessment of strengths, learning style, personality type, career interests). But often, there will still be some testing needed to help better determine a student’s strengths and aptitudes, their preferences and interests for postsecondary adult life, and the gaps between their current knowledge and abilities and the requirements of the living, learning, and working environments in which they plan to function when they exit high school.

At NESCA, transition assessment is a highly individualized process that is designed to get a better sense of a student’s postsecondary living, learning, social, and vocational goals, to determine the strengths the student has that will help them reach those goals as well as the skills a student needs to develop to get there. While it is rare for two students to have the same assessment battery, transition assessment at NESCA often evaluates abilities, such as self-care, self-direction, self-advocacy, career interests, career aptitudes, communication, community use, functional academics, health and safety, domestic skills, leisure, readiness for college or other forms of postsecondary learning and training, transferrable work skills and readiness for employment. Once the student’s profile is understood, specific recommendations, aimed at readying that student for transition from high school to the next phase of life, are provided.

Often parents of transition-aged students are familiar with the term “neuropsychological evaluation“ and a student may have even had this type of private evaluation. But there can be some confusion regarding the difference between these two types of comprehensive testing. Neuropsychological evaluation focuses primarily on a student’s learning profile and the fit of that learner within their current academic setting. A good neuropsychological evaluation is a comprehensive assessment of a child’s functioning in many domains, including communication, visual-spatial ability, problem solving, memory, attention, social skills, and emotional status. The assessment of these functions is based upon information obtained from the child’s history, clinical observations, and testing results. Moreover, one of the most important aspects of a neuropsychological evaluation is the integration of all the information about a child into a meaningful profile of functioning that describes “The Whole Child.”

In contrast, a transition assessment evaluates the fit between a student and their future preferred learning, living, and employment activities and environments. While information from a neuropsychological evaluation about a student’s learning profile is greatly informative, a transition assessment gives equal weight to a student’s daily living skills, social skills, coping skills, pre-vocational skills, career interests and preferences, and self-advocacy skills. While transition assessments provide detailed recommendations related to current educational programming and transition services, a strong focus of transition assessment is an emphasis on what will be needed now, and in the near future, to assist a student in functioning, and, actually being successful and satisfied, in their postsecondary adult life.

For more information about transition assessment at NESCA, visit our transition services page and our transition FAQs.

[1] 34 CFR § 300.320(b)

[2] Division on Career Development and Transition (DCDT) of the Council for Exceptional Children, 1997, p. 70-71

 

 

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 info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

When No One Looks Like Me

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By:  Stephanie Monaghan-Blout, Psy.D.

Coordinator of Therapy Services; Trauma-informed Therapist; Pediatric Neuropsychologist

We form our sense of identity by “trying on” aspects of other people to see how their ideas, tastes and values “fit,” keeping those things that seem to resonate and discarding those that don’t. We find those models for identification in our families, schools and community. We also find those sources in the books we read, the news we catch and the movies we see – the larger community in which we live. This larger community offers many models who may offer something that resonates with us.

This process of identification is complicated in adoptive children whose connection to their families is through relation and not genes. The challenges are even more torturous when those issues are coupled with the “othering” that occurs when a child does not fit into the American standard of being white. In my neuropsychological practice assessing adoptive children, my own little bubble of white privilege has been pricked many times by a child saying, sometimes to me or sometimes through their parent, that “no one looks like me.” The loneliness of this statement is palpable, but the cost goes beyond to indicate impediments to the healthy development of identity, which includes that of racial identity.

In an article for Time Magazine written by the parent of a transracially adopted child and with the help of adoptees and their parents, the following four “comforting but dangerous” myths about race and difference were identified:

Myth 1: Color doesn’t matter. Oh, but it does; just ask the child who has been called the “N” word or the one who is assumed to be a math whiz because they are Asian. Adopted children who are raised by a Caucasian family and in a Caucasian community will tend to think of themselves as white – sort of – until they hit the wall of the way others perceive them. People have expectations about others based on race and ethnicity and insisting that people “should” be colorblind is ignoring reality. It leaves no room for the child to ask questions about what makes them the person that they are and prevents the parent from giving them what they most need – a caring listener when they are hurt or confused.

Myth 2: If I talk to my kids about race, I’m just creating an issue. As parents, we cannot protect our children from the verbal and physical assaults of others, but we can prepare them for how to handle it if it happens. One adoptee and current adoption advocate asks parents if they would not teach their children how to safely cross a street because they may become frightened of being hit by a car. This includes having “the talk” with our African American boys about how to handle themselves with police officers and other authority figures.

Myth 3: No matter what, a “good” school is best for my child. This is the source of the “No one looks like me” plaint of many of my clients but it is the toughest of all myths to unpack for most white parents to whom education has been touted as pretty much the solution for everything. A “good school” may be the one with high test scores and good real estate value, but it is unlikely to be the school with a diverse student and teacher population that could provide a non-white child with a rich source of role models and narratives to use in the development of their own identity. Other sources of identification include churches, community groups and cultural organizations, such as language schools and adoptive family groups. Lacking these sources, the child’s options for racial identity are determined by those who know nothing about their culture.

Myth 4: You are the hero of your child’s story. As someone who has heard many terrible and tragic origin stories and stood in awe of the efforts adoptive parents have made to help their children, I have often been guilty of encouraging this kind of thinking without considering the consequence to the child who has been rescued. The burden of “forced gratitude” is emotionally crippling and prevents the child from asking questions about their biological parents or fantasizing (in the way that all children do) about what it would have been like to be in a different family. Conversely, the concept of “saving” a child feeds into the parental fantasy that if we just love our child enough and do all the right things, we can protect them from being hurt by the loss of adoption and the ugly reality of racism. This is also an ultimately futile effort. As Martha Crawford, psychotherapist and mother of two transracially adopted children, stated, “An adoptive parent’s job is to be a sturdy scaffold for kids to do their own work, not to tell them how to construct their own identities.”

 

About the Author:

Dr. Stephanie Monaghan-Blout is a senior clinician who joined NESCA at its inception in 2007. She specializes in the neuropsychological and psychological assessment of children and adolescents with complex learning and emotional issues and enjoys consulting to schools on these issues. Her responsibilities at NESCA also include acting as Clinical Coordinator, overseeing therapeutic services, providing therapy and psychoeducational counseling and, in the time of the COVID-19 crisis, providing teletherapy to parents and teens.

In her early career as an adolescent and family therapist, Dr. Monaghan-Blout became very interested in the needs of those contending with traumatic experiences. She brought that interest to her work as a pediatric neuropsychologist and continues to be passionate about treating this population. She has developed an expertise in working with adoptive children and others who have experienced early trauma. She is a longtime member of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI) associated with Massachusetts Advocates for Children and the Harvard Law Clinic and presents nationally and regionally on assessment and treatment of children with complex/developmental trauma.

Dr. Monaghan-Blout graduated from Bowdoin College and received a Master’s Degree in Counselor Education from Boston University. She obtained her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Antioch New England Graduate School with a dissertation entitled, “A Different Kind of Parent; Resisting the Intergenerational Legacy of Maltreatment.” She completed an internship in pediatric neuropsychology and child psychology at North Shore University Hospital in New York, and a postdoctoral fellowship at HealthSouth/Braintree Rehabilitation Hospital.

She joined Dr. Ann Helmus at Children’s Evaluation Center in 2003, and again at NESCA in 2007. A member of the Massachusetts Neuropsychological Society Board of Directors from 2010 – 2013 and from 2014-2017, Dr. Monaghan-Blout served in many capacities, including as President. Dr. Monaghan-Blout is the mother and stepmother of four children and the grandmother of six. She is also an avid ice hockey player, cook, gardener and devotee of urban fantasy.

 

To book therapy services with Dr. Monaghan-Blout or an evaluation with one of our many expert neuropsychologists and transition specialists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.

 

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 info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Movement Breaks – Part 2

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Julie Robinson, OT

Director of Clinical Services; Occupational Therapist, NESCA

In our last blog, we delved into ideas and suggestions to help preschoolers stay on track with remote and hybrid learning through movement breaks. In this week’s OT Tuesday blog, we move up to our elementary school-aged kids. How do we keep them focused on online learning throughout their long days at home in front of a computer?

Again, here are some suggestions that require minimal equipment, generally using things you can find around your home.

 

Gross Motor for Elementary-age Children

A movement break for 5- to 10-minutes every hour and a half to 2 hours is recommended.

Hopscotch – Draw with chalk or use painter’s tape and play this old school game! Begin by throwing a beanie baby, rock or bean bag so it lands in the first square. Hop over it and jump on all the other squares. At the end, turn around and come back and try to pick up the object while trying to balance on one foot! The next time, throw the object to square 2 and repeat through all the numbers!

 

Photo Credit: sciencebuddies.org

Homemade Hockey Sticks – Use a long wrapping paper roll or tape together paper towel rolls as the handle. Cut a long strip of cardboard and tape to the handle or use an old plastic water bottle. Enjoy playing this game with a balloon or tennis ball. Mark goals with tape, chalk or use empty cardboard boxes.

 

Stack the Cardboard Boxes – Got empty boxes? Have the child stack them up high and knock them over by running into them, or rolling/kicking a soccer ball into them. To make it a little silly, place a tennis ball in the leg of a pair of stockings and the waistband over your child’s head. Use the tennis ball to knock over boxes or cans, with their head upside down.

 

Photo Credit: Hands On As We Grow®

Stair Bean Bag Toss – Try to get bean bags to land on different steps. More points for the higher they land!

 

Tic Tac Toe – Make a big board with sidewalk chalk or painter’s tape. Use bean bags, frisbees, paper plates or crumpled up paper and throw into boxes for a fun spin. Get creative with items around the house – even food!

 

Photo Credit: OT Plan

Belly Catch – Have your child lay on their belly with feet or legs resting on a couch and hands on the floor (plank style). Roll balls or balloons and have them play catch with you, a great exercise to work on core and upper extremity strength.

 

 

 Fine Motor for Elementary-age Children

Photo Credit: Hoglets.org

Monster Feet – Grab some old tissue boxes or cardboard and make your own monster feet. Decorate the toe nails with markers, pom poms or however else you’d like! For an added challenge, try wearing them by using string to tie the child’s feet to them. Or tape their shoes to them and walk around like a monster!

 

Photo Credit: kidsactivitiesblog.com

Homemade Tennis Racquets – Cut slits in a paper plate or punch holes. String yarn through the holes and attach to a paper towel roll, spatula or wooden spoon/popsicle stick. Use it to keep a ball or balloon in the air!

 

Hangman! – Or for an added twist, play Melting snowman! Draw a snowman, and each time someone guesses a letter incorrectly, erase a part of the snowman until he is fully melted!

 

Make Your Own Quicksand – Mix roughly equal parts cornstarch and play sand. Add water until it is the desired consistency.

●       If you don’t have play sand, add 1 cup of water to a bowl and slowly add 1-½ cup of cornstarch and stir.

●       Put toys into quicksand and watch them sink!

 

Paint Pinecones – As the weather gets colder, collect some pine cones or rocks and paint them! Make kindness rocks by writing messages on them with a Sharpie. Leave them out along a wooded trail for others to find.

 

 

About the Author

Julie Robinson is an occupational therapist with over 25 years of experience as a clinician. The work Julie does is integral to human development, wellness and a solid family unit. She particularly enjoys supporting families through the process of adoption and in working with children who are victims of trauma. Julie has extensive experience working with children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or who have learning or emotional disabilities. She provides services that address Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and self-regulation challenges, as well as development of motor and executive functioning skills.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com 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 info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

The Holiday Blues Coupled with Covid

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
Director of Training and New Hampshire Operations

The holidays can be a time of great joy, but they can also be a time of great stress. Celebrations and merriment can be contrasted with pressure to amaze, long to-do lists, financial constraints or reminders of those we have lost. For many, it is a time of mixed emotions or strong internal conflict about why they cannot feel happy during a season that practically dictates it.

Holiday blues have been felt my many people for a long time, but now during a global pandemic, those feelings may be amplified and more prevalent than previous years. Families are trying to provide children with a positive holiday experience during a time of high stress and significant restriction. Family gatherings and holiday traditions are being cancelled, and many families are mourning the loss of loved ones. Adults are not the only ones feeling increased stress as we enter the holiday season. Children likely feel excited about the holiday but sad about not seeing family, not having holiday parties in school, and not being able to attend their traditional holiday events. This holiday season is simply different in ways that can bring great strain.

So, what can we do as adults to emotionally support children this holiday season? Do we allow them to observe our stress or do we keep it to ourselves in an effort to provide them with the happy holiday season that they deserve?

In June 2018, I wrote a blog post titled: “The Struggle is Not only Real, It is Necessary,” which discusses the importance of embracing uncomfortable, unwanted emotions as being necessary for personal growth and resiliency. By acknowledging, accepting and using unwanted feelings in a functional manner, we teach children to be competent and confident in their ability to navigate a stressful world. Of course, when I wrote the article, I could not have imagined the extent or duration of stress or discomfort that we would be facing in 2020. But does that change anything?

To put it simply, no, not really. Entering into the holidays with the expectation that we can protect our children from life’s stress is unrealistic. Attempting to do so will only add pressure while ignoring the mixed emotions that children are likely feeling as well. During this emotionally high-stakes time, acceptance of the struggles we face is even more critical. Adults and children both need “permission” to feel sad, frustrated, lonely or scared while also still allowing themselves to feel excited, thankful, and, yes, even joyful.

Here are some suggestions for how to help your family navigate the holiday blues this unique holiday season:

  • Talk about your feelings – wanted and unwanted ones – throughout the day, modeling and encouraging regular emotional discourse (e.g. “I love giving gifts, but getting all the shopping done is kind of stressful.”).
  • Help children label and interpret the emotions they may be having, as they may not have the right words or language for expressing them (e.g. “It sounds like you’re really disappointed we can’t go to Grandma’s house.”).
  • Be careful to not accidentally dismiss children’s feelings (e.g. “No need to be sad; we will find another fun way to celebrate.”), instead reflecting their emotion (e.g. “I know you’re sad that we can’t have a holiday party; I am, too.”).
  • Normalize the experience of mixed emotions (e.g. It’s okay to be excited for children while also feeling sad that we won’t see our family.).
  • Find new, safe holiday activities or events (e.g. holiday light drive, virtual gift exchange, etc.) and adapt previous traditions when able (e.g. virtual family gatherings).
  • Don’t romanticize the traditions that were lost this year (e.g. avoid such things as, “Our parties were always the most magical part of the holiday.”).
  • Help children understand new holiday plans as an opportunity to “celebrate” or “experience” the holiday, but be careful to not impose emotional expectations (e.g. “Enjoy the holidays!”) that can add pressure.
  • Reassure children that these changes are temporary, and traditions and visits will continue when it is safe to do so.

 

About the Author

Dr. Angela Currie is a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. She conducts neuropsychological and psychological evaluations out of our Londonderry, NH office. She specializes in the evaluation of anxious children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors lending to their stress, such as underlying learning, attentional, or emotional challenges. She particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child, as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Currie or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician in the referral line.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Londonderry, NH, Plainville, MA, and Newton, MA serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call (603) 818-8526.

Early Detection of Autism: NESCA’s New ASD Diagnostic Clinic

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Erin Gibbons, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) vary widely in terms of the intensity of their symptoms as well as the age at which symptoms emerge. In some cases, signs of autism are apparent during infancy. For other children, concerns about autism might not arise until toddlerhood or even early childhood.

As neuropsychologists, we have become increasingly adept at detecting and diagnosing ASD using a combination of developmental history, clinical observation and standardized assessments. We are constantly learning more about ASD and fine-tuning the tools we have available to us to make a diagnosis.

One of the most important things we have learned through longitudinal research over the past 10 years is that early detection of ASD is a crucial part of a child’s prognosis. Young children who receive intensive services are much more likely to develop language, play and social skills. Because their brains are still in a state of rapid development, they are much quicker to acquire new skills and make progress in the areas where they are struggling. Children who receive early intervention for ASD are typically better able to participate in inclusion settings with same-age peers once they enter elementary school.

Unfortunately, many parents are told to “wait and see” when they express concerns about their child’s development – especially with children who are not yet in preschool. This is a risky and sometimes harmful approach as it leads to children with developmental disabilities not receiving the services they need.

In light of our understanding about the importance of early detection of ASD, NESCA is proud to introduce its ASD Diagnostic Clinic. The clinic offers testing that is targeted specifically at identifying ASD in children between the ages of 2 and 5. For children who do receive a diagnosis of ASD, the report will allow parents to start accessing services immediately. As with all of our families, we hope to establish a lifelong relationship and will be available for follow-up consults and additional evaluations at any time.

 

About the Author: 

Erin Gibbons, Ph.D. is a pediatric neuropsychologist with expertise in neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological assessment of infants,

children, and adolescents presenting with developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorders. She has a particular interest in assessing students with complex medical histories and/or neurological impairments, including those who are cognitively delayed, nonverbal, or physically disabled. Dr. Gibbons joined NESCA in 2011 after completing a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in the Developmental Medicine Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. She particularly enjoys working with young children, especially those who are transitioning from Early Intervention into preschool. Having been trained in administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), Dr. Gibbons has experience diagnosing autism spectrum disorders in children aged 12 months and above.

 

If you are interested in booking an appointment for the ASD Diagnostic Clinic or an evaluation with a NESCA neuropsychologist/clinician, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

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

Movement Breaks – Part 1

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Julie Robinson, OT

Director of Clinical Services; Occupational Therapist, NESCA

Many parents are overwhelmed, juggling homeschooling, childcare and work from home. And now that the cold weather has arrived, many parents are looking for activities they can do indoors with their children as movement breaks to support online learning or just to pass some time and get the wiggles out. Here are some suggestions that require minimal equipment, generally using things you can find around your home.

In this week’s OT Tuesday blog, we provide suggestions on both gross and fine motor activities for preschoolers. In our second part of the blog series, we will offer ideas to target fine and gross motor activities for elementary school-age students during movement breaks.

 

Gross Motor Activities for Preschoolers

A 5- to 10-minute movement break is suggested every hour to hour and a half for children in this age group.

Balloon Games – Blow up and see how many times your child can hit the balloon in the air! Use a fly swatter or tennis/badminton racquet to mix it up a little.
Mazes – Use painter’s tape indoors or sidewalk chalk outdoors in the driveway to make mazes for your child to follow. You can even use the lines as a balance beam for added balance practice, draw feet to jump in, make curly lines to indicate twirling around, etc.! If you are looking for ideas, research sensory paths online. You can also draw crazy roads for toy cars or ride-on toys.
Bowling – Fill up old plastic water or soda bottles and have kids knock them over by rolling a ball towards them! You can add stuffed animals on top to make it more enticing.
The Floor Is Lava – Pretend the floor is lava and have the child walk around without touching the ground by walking on pillows and other objects!
Shape Games – Draw shapes, letters or numbers with sidewalk chalk or painter’s tape and try throwing stuffed animals into the shapes an adult calls out. Make it more challenging by increasing the number of shapes, throwing from further away or trying to balance on one foot while throwing.

 

Fine Motor Activities for Preschoolers

Hide Beads In Playdough! – Grab some putty or playdough and hide beads in it. Once all the beads are hidden, encourage your child to try to get them out! This is a great exercise to work on hand strength. It can also be fun to put raw spaghetti into the dough and “string” the beads onto them for working on fine motor precision.
Make Your Own Stamps! – Use household items, such as wine corks, water bottle caps, toilet paper rolls or anything else you can find. Dip them in paint and press onto paper. Enjoy the different shapes you create! For picky eaters, it can be fun to use foods, such as applesauce, yogurt or dips for paint.
Clothespin Activities – Use clothespins to pick up pom poms and put them in containers, such as an ice cube tray. This is a great activity for practicing a tripod grasp.
Shaving Cream Play – Use a tray or large plate and put shaving cream or other messy play materials on it. Allow your child to practice writing their letters with their fingers and have fun with it! To simplify, you can encourage your child to imitate shapes, letters or numbers after you have written them.
Noodle Necklaces – String noodles onto string to make a noodle necklace. Use noodles and put on a string or a pipe cleaner to make a necklace. Color or paint noodles, or soak cooked noodles in food coloring and allow them to dry for more interesting patterns.

 

About the Author

Julie Robinson is an occupational therapist with over 25 years of experience as a clinician. The work Julie does is integral to human development, wellness and a solid family unit. She particularly enjoys supporting families through the process of adoption and in working with children who are victims of trauma. Julie has extensive experience working with children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or who have learning or emotional disabilities. She provides services that address Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and self-regulation challenges, as well as development of motor and executive functioning skills.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com 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 info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Good Night, Sleep Tight: What if I Can’t Sleep Right?

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Moira Creedon, Ph.D. 
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

The American Psychological Association recently issued a press release about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our dreaming. Not surprisingly, the information in four published articles indicates that people are having more anxious dreams now. This seems obvious given the emotional toll and high levels of stress as everyone juggles work, virtual school, health and safety, and family needs in a pandemic. We have an overflowing plate of stress on our hands with distant notions of when this stress will end. While these articles describe the anxious dreaming and sleep of adults, it’s not a stretch to consider that children and teens may have disrupted sleep right now. Their plates are overflowing, too, as they manage virtual and hybrid learning, confusing social demands, less movement and exercise than usual, and less contact with both adults and kids.

We cannot underestimate the importance of sleep to our system. Sleep is when our body restores itself, builds important immune functions and consolidates memories and learning. When children do not get enough sleep, we can see a whole host of problems, including issues with attention, concentration, learning, irritability, poor emotion regulation and risky behaviors in addition to the physical health outcomes.

What do we do to help our kids and teens get more and better sleep? It’s time to get sleep hygiene back on track. It’s possible to do even if the pandemic has caused the norm to drastically shift. Here are some tips for promoting sleep for children and teens:

Establish a consistent schedule. I cannot emphasize this one enough. Establish consistent times for settling down for bed and waking up that are the same every day of the week. Try to stick to this schedule whether your child is having an in-person learning day or remote, whether it is a weekend or weekday. This can be tricky with teenagers who tend to sleep in on weekend days. Try to stick within an hour, if possible, to get your body on a more consistent schedule. Avoid naps during the day if you can, even if there has been a rough night of sleep (or limit naps to less than 30 minutes). Daytime napping can interrupt night sleep patterns.

Develop a routine to settle for bed. Children and teens need to settle down for bed gradually. We can’t go from wide awake to peaceful slumber in a few moments. Limit screen time 30 minutes before bed as the light that is given off by televisions, phones or other devices confuses our systems and causes delays in releasing melatonin (the magic sleep hormone). Choose the same relaxing activity each night. Children and teens can read (or listen to a story read aloud by a parent), listen to an audiobook, color in special coloring book, listen to music or a podcast, or take a warm bath or shower. Include your child or teen in conversations about what relaxing activity to try before bed. Keep the same activity for several weeks before trying other ones. The brain does not want variety when you are trying to settle for bed, or it can become more alert in the face of a novel activity. The routine promotes relaxation.

Schedule talk time. Children and teens tend to think about their day as they are laying down. This can lead to “just one more thing” that kids have to tell us or one more question. They can also anticipate what is happening next, which can lead to an increase in anxiety. Schedule a “talk time” with your child or teen to discuss the day and think ahead to tomorrow. Do this at least 30 minutes before bedtime (ideally closer to dinnertime) to avoid a lengthy conversation that can activate anxiety. Use this time to validate feelings and model problem-solving about any issues coming up.

Provide comfort after dreams. We can expect that everyone may wake up at some point after an anxiety dream. If we can predict it, it can make it feel less overwhelming. Teach children and teens what to do when they wake up feeling anxious, including seeking the support of their parent for the very upsetting ones. Offer comfort and a tuck back into bed. Encourage your child to talk about how to resolve the frightening dream in a way that is silly, funny or triumphant to shift the focus away from what felt upsetting. Have a scary dream about a monster? Imagine him having to perform a ballet while balancing hot sauce on his head. Have an anxiety dream about a teacher yelling at you for forgetting your homework? Imagine turning it in and your teacher leading the rest of class in a celebratory song. You can also encourage children or teens to think of their favorite movie or book, and ask them to close their eyes and replay the movie or book to refocus the mind.

Practice breathing. To soothe our overactive anxiety systems, practice taking deep breaths. Imagine your breath filling up the back of your lungs and visualize the air going through your body. Practice circle breathing where air comes in one nostril and out the other (of course it comes in and goes out both!).  With younger kids, a little modeling helps. You can also encourage kids and teens to tense different parts of their body, hold for a count of 10, and then release to feel more relaxed.

Reach out for help. If your child or teen has persistent trouble with sleep, contact your pediatrician. It may be time for a more thorough evaluation to rule out sleep disorders, medical causes or behavioral patterns that signal a bigger sleep problem.

 

For more information, please check out these resources:

American Psychological Association (APA) press release related to dreaming:  https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2020/09/upsetting-dreams-covid-19

Fantastic APA resource on sleep: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/07/ce-corner-sleep

What To Do When You Dread Your Bed: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Problems with Sleep (2008) by Dawn Huebner, Ph.D.

 

About the Author: 

Dr. Creedon has expertise in evaluating children and teens with a variety of presenting issues. She is interested in uncovering an individual’s unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses to best formulate a plan for intervention and success. With experiences providing therapy and assessments, Dr. Creedon bridges the gap between testing data and therapeutic services to develop a clear roadmap for change and deeper of understanding of individual needs.

 

If you are interested in booking an evaluation with Dr. Creedon or another NESCA neuropsychologist, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

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

Building Gratitude in our Kids

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC
NESCA Transition Specialist/Counselor

Would it be November without a blog post about gratitude? Gratitude feels both more important and harder to come by this year with the slew of events bombarding people’s personal lives and something different appearing what feels like every news cycle. But there must be something to all this gratitude if everyone from Forbes Magazine to Psychology Today is writing about it?

So what does the science say?

Basically, gratitude makes us happier and healthier. Being grateful and expressing gratitude can increase our social circle and have others be more willing to seek you out. Gratitude also seems to improve not only mental health but physical health as well. Studies show that grateful people take care of themselves better. They are more likely to exercise and more likely to follow up with medical personal. Studies show that writing in a gratitude journal before bed can even help you sleep better! (Morin, n.d.)

How can I help my child build gratitude?

Young people with disabilities, especially speech and language challenges, may have a hard time sharing their experiences at the end of the school day. Before my students left for the day, I would always ask them to go around the room and share one thing they enjoyed during their day. This way, no matter how challenging the day was, they ended it on a good note. Over time, the students began to look forward to sharing a positive experience from their day. Whether it was getting a compliment at their worksite or overcoming a challenge, they began to go looking for the positives.

Another wonderful way to build gratitude is to turn it into a scavenger hunt. Give each day a topic and share your gratitude topic at dinner. 

While we often think of a gratitude journal as something written, it doesn’t have to be. Have fun with it! Instead of writing down what you are thankful for today, take a picture with your phone or have your child make a drawing relating to the topic. Pinterest is full of great ideas, like the image below. Doing this for a month may turn you and your child a little more gleeful and find a brighter outlook on tomorrow.

Image Credit: Woman of Purpose (thepurposedwomanmag.com)

What are you grateful for today?

 

About the Author

Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC, is an experienced transition evaluator and vocational counselor. While she is well-versed in supporting a wide range of transition-aged youth, she is especially passionate and knowledgeable in helping clients and their families navigate the complex systems of adult services and benefits as well as medical and mental health systems. She is further adept in working individually with students of all abilities to empower self-advocacy and goal achievement.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert transition specialists or neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

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

 

Getting Through Thanksgiving Day

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi, OTD, OTR/L

Occupational Therapist, NESCA

Setting Expectations

Thanksgiving may be different this year, but it can still be a long day full of sensory stimulation, new social interactions and possibly unfamiliar faces and experiences. By providing clear expectations, this can help prepare the child for upcoming events, minimize surprises and set the child up for success. Talk openly about events, review pictures of anticipated people/events, and/or watch a video describing an experience beforehand. Use a calendar or visual schedule at home to display the sequence of upcoming holiday events. A social story is a great tool to prep the child for the day (Lewis, 2016).

Open CommunicationBeing transparent with family members/friends can allow for greater understanding and a more positive experience for those involved. Help those present understand if there are certain obstacles/triggers that can be avoided, or if there are particular tools/language that can be incorporated throughout the day (Lewis, 2016).

Devotion of TimeFor parents, we know that much of Thanksgiving is devoted to cooking and meal preparation. Make sure to communicate with family members beforehand about the plan for the day. Will there be other children or adults around to play with the child, or should my child be expected to play independently if I am occupied? If so, have a few preferred toys/activities accessible. Or involve the child in the meal preparation process as appropriate.

Consider the Environment

How will your family be celebrating Thanksgiving or other holidays this year – in-person or virtually?

In-personFestivities this year may take place with modifications. Will it be less crowded this year? Will events be taking place in a different set-up this year (outside, in the garage, socially distanced)? If so, prepare your child by communicating expected changes beforehand.

  • Is my child expected to wear a mask or keep a distance from others? If so, use a social story or designate a “code word” to act as a reminder for proper mask/social distancing etiquette. Allow the child to practice wearing a mask beforehand. Model expected behavior (Lewis, 2016). Provide mask breaks as appropriate.

VirtuallyWith current social distancing guidelines, Thanksgiving interactions may instead take place virtually. If possible, it can be helpful to make children aware of this change beforehand. Many children may experience difficulty attending to a Zoom call. Here are some tips to help:

  • Provide a tool to help with heightened arousal: fidget toy, squeeze ball, putty, fidget band (at feet), chewing gum/oral tool, etc.
  • Consider the environment: Eliminate distractions as much as possible (visual plus auditory), ensure adequate lighting and proper seating, etc.
  • Rehearse events beforehand, identifying potential “rough spots” and positive coping strategies (Lewis, 2016). Proactively establish talking points if helpful.
  • Establish guidelines for both the beginning and end of a videocall. Use a timer if necessary.

Sensory EnvironmentThanksgiving Day will likely be full of stimulation for the senses: sight, smell, touch, sound and taste.

  • Food sensitivity: Many children may experience sensitivities to food textures, tastes or smells. Ensure access to “safe,” or preferred foods beyond traditional Thanksgiving dishes. If attending a celebration outside of the home, make sure to pack a few options for meals/snacks. For children who experience sensitivity to smell, consider bringing a comfortable nose plug.
  • Sensory overload: Ensure access to calming tools in the case that overstimulation, or sensory overload, occurs. Some options include a weighted or compression vest/blanket, chewy, squeeze ball, pushing/pulling activities, noise canceling headphones or a mini trampoline for a movement break. Create a calming jar with the child beforehand. Ensure that the child has a safe space they can go to, such as a dark, quiet room, when feeling overwhelmed. For children who may experience challenges self-regulating, help to guide the child in identifying states of arousal before a meltdown occurs. Use visuals as needed.

 

References

Lewis, K. S. (2016). Full Inclusion Holidays: An SLP offers tips to prepare clients for a season full of social and sensory stimuli—and people who may not understand their communication and behavioral challenges. The ASHA Leader21(12), 52-56.

 

About the Author

Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts with experience in both school-based and outpatient pediatric settings. Maddie received her undergraduate degree in Exercise Science/Kinesiology at The College of Charleston in South Carolina and  earned her Doctorate degree in Occupational Therapy from The MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston.

Maddie is a passionate therapist with professional interest in working with young children with neurodevelopmental disorders, fine and gross motor delays and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com 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 info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.