NESCA Notes 2021

When the Homeymoon Period Is Over: Signs of School Refusal

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

As we reach the end of our first month back to school, many of us may be reaching the end of that glorious honeymoon period – the phase when kids are excited to see friends, optimistic for the school year, and reviewing material they likely already know. For some, the return did not start this rosy; the bloom is falling off the rose and kids are getting tired. You and your child are not alone in this. My goal for today’s blog is to share with you some warning signs that your child may be struggling and ways to get support before they grow to become bigger problems. The biggest problem I want to avoid: school refusal.

Have you heard this yet? – “My tummy hurts. I have to stay home.” Or, “I hate school. Please don’t make me go.” Or, “I’m not going!” Or perhaps these messages are communicated more subtly with covers over their heads in the morning, difficulty getting out the door on time, tantrums or disruptive behaviors in the mornings, missed buses, or the overwhelming frustration of homework that erupts into nightly battles. According to researcher Christopher Kearney, these are signs to pay attention to as they can evolve into what he terms “school refusal behavior.” School refusal is an umbrella term used to describe behaviors that interfere with a child being in school for their expected and scheduled time. This is a problem that can impact anywhere between 28-35% of students! While there are the more extreme cases for children or teens who are out of school for months at a time, my purpose here is to address the smaller, but more likely, problems. When we address smaller problems, we can keep them small.

Risky signs that your child is struggling with school:

  • Consistent statements of hating school, their teacher, or specific peers. A casual mention of a bad day is not cause for alarm. We all have bad days. If the statements keep coming and they get louder and stronger, then parents should pay attention.
  • The outward behaviors are getting bigger in the mornings before school or over homework. Behavior is a way for children to communicate with us how they are feeling. So, explosions over homework or tantrums in the morning that lead to tardiness are warning signs. The occasional homework meltdown or rushed morning is normal; we are all human! But, the problem is in the pattern.
  • Avoidance rears its ugly head. While some kids show on the outside that they are uncomfortable through their explosions, others communicate very clearly through their withdrawal. Some kids and teens struggle to get out of bed, are constantly tired, not completing work, falling asleep in class, or sharing every somatic complaint or symptom available on Google. If medical causes are ruled out, anxiety can be a culprit.
  • Consider the role of a major transition. According to Kearney, the riskiest time for a child to develop a pattern of school refusal is during times of significant transition – like starting kindergarten or changing schools from middle to high school. In addition to the social and emotional jump that these transitions bring, there is also a massive leap in demands for academic independence. It is very common for kids to struggle with the leap initially.

Oh no. So now what?

  • First and foremost, keep calm. It is far easier to keep small problems small when we have a clear-headed approach. Pull in anxiety management techniques like deep breathing, sleep, and exercise to support your own anxiety as a parent.
  • Reach out to your child’s teacher or school psychologist. Let them know your child is struggling with homework or coming to school. This is a great chance to gather information on what is going on in your child’s day and put your child on their teacher’s radar. This is critical as the only effective approach to remedy a problem with school refusal is a team approach.
  • Talk to your child honestly about what is going on. This has to include a chance for kids to talk about what might be happening to make them feel stressed or why they dislike school. Don’t shortcut this step. If your child has trouble explaining what is going on (which can be especially true for younger kids), try this approach: you and your child are both going to be detectives to learn together what is making school feel hard. We can’t solve a problem until we understand it. By joining with your child in gathering information, you are demonstrating great empathy and validating that their feelings are real.
  • Be careful of your language and conversation about school. It can be tempting to go too far in validating a child to give the message that the assignment really is stupid or their teacher really is unreasonable and mean. It’s best to stick to the feeling (“that must feel so frustrating”) without reinforcing negative messages about school.
  • Hold the line. As you gather more information, it is really important to maintain the message that it is your child’s job to go to school. It might feel conflicting to both validate the feelings of hating school and give the message to attend school. It might feel something like this: It’s either “I love and support my child OR I’m going to force them to go to school even when it’s hard.” Let’s change that OR to AND. Reframe the thought to: “I love and support my child AND they have to go to school AND they can do hard things.”

For more information, please check out:

Kearney, C.A. (2007). Getting your child to say “yes” to school: A guide for parents of youth with school refusal behavior. New York: Oxford University Press.


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 or call 617-658-9800.

Social Skill Concerns in a Time of Reduced Social Opportunities

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Yvonne M. Asher, Ph.D. 
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Even in pre-pandemic times, we saw many children and adolescents where social difficulties were the primary concern. Now, almost two years into the life-altering changes brought on by COVID-19, it is rare that I see a young person whose parents do not raise social concerns. Some common concerns include:

My child does not know how to play with peers.

My child is anxious/fearful around peers.

My child avoids peers and/or would rather play alone.

My child does well with 1-2 peers but cannot handle a group.

My child does not have friends and/or does not seem to know how to make friends.

These are all important, valid concerns. Social development is critical to evaluate and understand when we look at a child’s overall functioning, and early social skills lay an important foundation for later independent functioning, fulfilling interpersonal relationships, and vocational/academic success. Concerns about social presentation (i.e., how your child “looks” or behaves socially) can have many varied causes. Sometimes the cause is clear and relatively straightforward to determine with a neuropsychological evaluation. For example, an evaluation may lead to an autism diagnosis, explaining why a child is struggling socially. Other times, the exact cause is unclear, and probably related to many different factors all coming together. For example, children with ADHD very often present with social challenges, though the path from ADHD to social problems is not always “cut and dry.”

For children coming in to testing now (and over the past 18 months), some of the biggest complicating factors are the social isolation, online learning, and reduced social opportunities related to the pandemic. This is not to say that there are no longer clear cases where a child has autism at the root of their social difficulties – there certainly are. However, for each child now, we must consider the impact that COVID has had on their specific social development. This will depend on the child’s age (and age at the onset of the pandemic), school placement and educational environment, family structure (e.g., siblings and/or other children in the home), and community policies. For example, young children who are attending daycare/private preschool may actually not have missed as much socialization time, as many daycares re-opened after only a few months of closure. This is not to minimize the disruption or extreme challenge of such closures to families; for young children, however, it is likely that their social development is not radically impacted by a few months of reduced social opportunities. In contrast, an elementary-age child may have experienced well over a year of reduced socialization, with remote learning in place for many communities until the fall of 2021.

In all cases, pre-existing and/or co-occurring areas of difficulty are extremely important in our conceptualization of why a child is struggling socially. If your child will have an evaluation soon and you have social concerns, you can prepare by thinking about:

  • What was my child like socially before COVID?
    • Did they have strong friendships? Did they have conflict or “drama” with peers often? Were they invited to playdates and/or birthday parties?
  • What was my child like emotionally before COVID?
    • Happy? Easy-going? Quiet and shy? Sensitive? Irritable?
  • What were the practical, observable things that changed from March 2020 through the present?
    • How much time did they spend doing online learning? Did someone in their family become very ill? Lose a job? How isolated were they?
  • What was my child’s response to the things that happened above?
    • Did they enjoy online learning? Were they fearful about becoming sick? Did they miss spending time with friends or family?
  • What other areas seem to be challenging for them?
    • Communicating? Reading? Managing feelings? Paying attention?

All of these are helpful pieces of information that you can communicate to an evaluator. This will build context for the concerns that you see now, and help us move through the web of complex possibilities that may be contributing to your child’s social challenges. Remember that it is always good to be watchful and thoughtful when your child is struggling. At the same time, keep in mind that many individuals (children, adolescents, and adults alike) will require long periods of time to rebuild their skills, stamina, strength, and sense of safety. It is still OK not to be OK quite yet.


About the Author

Dr. Yvonne M. Asher enjoys working with a wide range of children and teens, including those with autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays, learning disabilities, attention difficulties and executive functioning challenges. She often works with children whose complex profiles are not easily captured by a single label or diagnosis. She particularly enjoys working with young children and helping parents through their “first touch” with mental health care or developmental concerns.

Dr. Asher’s approach to assessment is gentle and supportive, and recognizes the importance of building rapport and trust. When working with young children, Dr. Asher incorporates play and “games” that allow children to complete standardized assessments in a fun and engaging environment.

Dr. Asher has extensive experience working in public, charter and religious schools, both as a classroom teacher and psychologist. She holds a master’s degree in education and continues to love working with educators. As a psychologist working in public schools, she gained invaluable experience with the IEP process from start to finish. She incorporates both her educational and psychological training when formulating recommendations to school teams.

Dr. Asher attended Swarthmore College and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She completed her doctoral degree at Suffolk University, where her dissertation looked at the impact of starting middle school on children’s social and emotional wellbeing. After graduating, she completed an intensive fellowship at the MGH Lurie Center for Autism, where she worked with a wide range of children, adolescents and young adults with autism and related disorders.


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.


To book an appointment with Dr. Yvonne Asher, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email or call 617-658-9800.


Getting Back in the Swing of Things

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Miranda Milana, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

The past 22 months have brought more transitions and changes to our daily lives than ever before. Whether children and parents have had to transition from routine school breaks, or to unprecedented remote learning environments, we have all dealt with our fair share of the unexpected since the COVID-19 pandemic began. As we prepare to enter yet another transition with winter break ending (and February break not too far away), these changes in schedule and routine can be difficult adjustments for entire families. Not to mention the seemingly never-ending worries wondering whether virtual learning will resume once again. In order to help ease these times of transition, try utilizing the following tips:

Consider sticking to similar routines when possible. Sleeping in, unusual mealtimes, and later bedtimes are all tempting (and sometimes unavoidable!) when we don’t have our regular school or work routines during breaks and vacations. Try to implement some sort of routine whenever possible if routine is what works best for you and your family. It might mean that you can still sleep in, but mornings start consistently at 7am instead of 5am. Maybe dinner is no longer eaten at 7pm but at 6pm. Whatever the changes may be, consistency is key.

Schedule time for fun! As much as routine and schedules can be important, don’t forget to leave time for enjoyable activities! The holiday season can bring numerous obligations between holiday parties, visiting with family/friends, and previously scheduled extracurricular activities. Take some time to plan preferred family activities as well! After all, a break is supposed to be just that…a break!

Don’t wait to start transitioning back to school day routines until the morning of. Going back to work or school after extended time off can be really challenging. There is often a sense of dread and “Sunday Scaries” that accompany a return back to our daily responsibilities. Don’t wait until the night before or morning of to resume a typical bedtime and wakeup call. Instead, gradually shift the nighttime and early morning routine over a few days so that the night before/morning of doesn’t feel so daunting and overwhelming! By pushing back bedtime and setting the alarm 15 minutes earlier over the course of several days, the difference won’t seem as insurmountable.

Create visual calendars and talk about the transition ahead of time. Creating visuals can be crucial in helping children to prepare for what is to come. For younger children who do not yet have an appropriate conceptualization of time, a visual can be a particularly useful resource in preparing them for what to expect and when. Make reviewing the visual calendar a part of the nighttime or morning routine.

Provide validation and have patience with yourself. No matter how hard we try to prepare, seeing an increase in problematic behaviors, temper tantrums, and emotional outbursts is to be expected throughout times of change. Helpful strategies during times of dysregulation include naming the emotion, validating it, and creating space for safe and appropriate expression. Try using statements such as:

  • Labeling the emotion: “It looks like an earlier bedtime is really frustrating for you.”
  • Validating the feeling: “It’s okay to feel this way.”
  • Normalize the feeling: “Sometimes I feel overwhelmed when I have to do things I don’t like.”
  • Modeling appropriate strategies: “Something that can be helpful for me is deep breathing. Do you want to try and see if this is helpful for you, too?


About the Author

Dr. Miranda Milana provides comprehensive evaluation services for children and adolescents with a wide range of concerns, including attention deficit disorders, communication disorders, intellectual disabilities, and learning disabilities. She particularly enjoys working with children and their families who have concerns regarding an autism spectrum disorder. Dr. Milana has received specialized training on the administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS).

Dr. Milana places great emphasis on adapting her approach to a child’s developmental level and providing a testing environment that is approachable and comfortable for them. She also values collaboration with families and outside providers to facilitate supports and services that are tailored to a child’s specific needs.

Before joining NESCA, Dr. Milana completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital in the Developmental Medicine department, where she received extensive training in the administration of psychological and neuropsychological testing. She has also received assessment training from Beacon Assessment Center and The Brenner Center. Dr. Milana graduated with her B.A. from the University of New England and went on to receive her doctorate from William James College (WJC). She was a part of the Children and Families of Adversity and Resilience (CFAR) program while at WJC. Her doctoral training also included therapeutic services across a variety of settings, including an elementary school, the Family Health Center of Worcester and at Roger Williams University.

Dr. Milana grew up in Maine and enjoys trips back home to see her family throughout the year. She currently resides in Wrentham, Massachusetts, with her husband and two golden retrievers. She also enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, and cheering on the Patriots, Bruins, Red Sox, and Celtics.​


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.


To book an appointment with Dr. Miranda Milana, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email or call 617-658-9800.


Bringing OT Activities Home for the Holidays

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Sarah Attanasio OT/s and Lauren Zeitler, MSOT, OTR/L
NESCA Occupational Therapist; Feeding Specialist

With the holiday season in full swing, families will soon be faced with the significant routine change that comes with school vacation. During this time, it is important to continue working on skills gained and techniques learned during school and therapy. Occupational therapy (OT) sessions often include activities to promote different skills, including visual perception, sequencing problem solving, and more! OTs also utilize movement activities to target sensory modulation, bilateral coordination, and force modulation to name a few. Here are some functional activities to do with your children at home to continue promoting skills learned in school and therapy while still getting into the holiday spirit.

Setting the table

OT skills addressed: visual perceptual skills, bilateral coordination, task sequencing, problem solving, force modulation, attention

Setting the table is an easy and functional way to promote the above  essential life skills in the home environment. First, this task requires children to problem solve and decide what items they need to set the table. Children then  scan their environment to locate and gather all necessary items. Next, children must safely carry all items to the table, which typically requires them to use both hands together. While doing this, they also scan their environment to make sure there are no obstacles in the way. Finally, children have to use an appropriate amount of force when placing items onto the table to ensure that these items do not break. They have to pay attention to the task at hand and problem solve where the correct spot on the table is for these items. To make this easier for children, try focusing on fewer skills, such as providing them with a picture of the proper place setting or laying items out on the counter already. To make this harder for children, have them carry heavy items to the table, such as a full pitcher of water or create obstacles for them to avoid on their way to the table.

Baking cookies

OT skills addressed: meal prep skills, task sequencing, direction following, tool usage, bilateral coordination, force modulation, sensory integration

Baking cookies is not only an entertaining activity for children, but it also promotes many important life skills! Making cookies requires children to follow the directions of a recipe. It also requires children to pay attention and appropriately measure the correct amounts of ingredients. They also have to explore how to appropriately and safely utilize various tools, such as a measuring cup, whisk, spatula, cookie cutters, a hot baking tray, etc. Cookie dough may be an unpleasant texture for some children since it is gooey or sticky. This activity gives children the opportunity to explore an unpleasant texture and trial strategies, such as wearing gloves, taking deep breaths, taking turns manipulating dough, etc., to better tolerate interacting with various unpleasant textures. Rolling the dough using both hands together and utilizing cookie cutters are two great ways to encourage bilateral coordination and increase hand strength. To incorporate more skills into this activity, such as visual perceptual skills, have your child decorate the cookies with icing and/or sprinkles making sure they stay within the boundaries of the cookie.

Decorating with paper snowflakes

OT skills addressed: task sequencing, visual perceptual/motor skills, bilateral coordination, scissor skills, coloring skills, hand eye coordination, hand strengthening

Paper snowflakes are a holiday decoration staple, and the process of making them promotes various  life skills. First, this task requires children to problem solve what kind of design they want their snowflake to be and fold the paper accordingly. They then are required  to use their hands together to cut out their desired design while holding the paper in one hand and the scissors properly in the other hand. Try having your child draw a pattern on the snowflake for them to follow while cutting or coloring in their snowflake within the boundaries. This can be done once it is cut out to further promote visual perceptual/motor skills and hand eye coordination.

Writing cards 

OT skills addressed: handwriting skills (grasp, letter formation/line placement/sizing/spacing/legibility, writing utensil usage, handwriting posture)

A handwritten note is a simple gesture that is always appreciated by all. Writing cards allows children to practice their handwriting skills in a functional way at home. First, it is important to maintain proper posture when doing any handwriting activity. Proper handwriting posture follows the 90-90-90 rule: feet are flat on the floor with ankles forming a 90-degree angle with the floor. Knees are bent at a 90-degree angle, and the hips and torso form a 90-degree angle. Using an elevated/slanted surface is also helpful in placing children in the optimal 15 degrees of wrist extension for handwriting activities. To promote proper grasp, have your child use broken crayons or a grip on their writing utensil. Provide your child with lined paper so they have a visual of where to place letters. The addition of a “worm line” underneath the bottom line is sometimes helpful for placing letters, such as g, j, p, q, and y. If handwriting is too high of a skill for your child, have them draw a picture including shapes, such as squares, triangles, and circles as these are necessary pre-writing skills to master.

Playing family games

OT skills addressed: rule following, turn taking, cooperative play

What better way to bond as a family than a family game night?! Games are great for children as they require rule following, tolerating an occasional change of rules, tolerating winning/losing, and turn taking. Many games also incorporate essential fine motor skills in terms of functional grasp, such as hi ho cherry-o, candy land, mancala, etc. and gross motor skills, including   balance and coordination with games like twister, yoga games, ring tosses, etc.

Play in the snow

OT skills addressed: sensory modulation, force modulation, gross motor skills, proprioceptive input for body awareness

If we are lucky enough to get snow this holiday season, playing in the snow is a great, versatile activity for children. Have children engage in a friendly snowball fight or throw snowballs at targets. This will promote hand eye coordination and force modulation ensuring that they aren’t throwing snowballs too hard to the point where they hurt someone or break something. Have children make snow angels to promote bilateral coordination and body awareness. Ask them questions like: Does the snow feel cold or hot on your body? Where do you feel the snow on your body? Is the snow wet or dry? Does the snow smell/taste/sound like anything? This line of questioning promotes body awareness and sensory modulation. Shoveling snow is also a great functional (and helpful!) heavy work activity that provides children with proprioceptive input (pressure on their joints) to help them better understand where their body is in space and promote overall body/spatial awareness. Another great heavy work activity is making a snowman, as it requires children to use both of their arms together to push large, heavy balls of snow along the snow-covered ground. The possibilities of functional activities involving snow are endless!

This list offers just  a few ideas of the many activities you can do with your children over school vacation. Many activities and games can be therapeutic and easily graded to any child. The trick is to find the just-right challenge to work on the skill area desired through fun and motivating means. We recommend reaching out to your occupational therapist for more activity ideas to motivate your child over break!


About the Author

Lauren Zeitler is a licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in pediatric occupational and feeding therapy. Ms. Zeitler joined NESCA full-time in the fall of 2020 to offer occupational therapy assessment and treatment for children of all ages, as well as to work in conjunction with Abigael Gray, MS, CCC-SLP, on the feeding team.






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.


Boredom: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow and Therapist

According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, boredom is defined as:

A state of weariness or ennui resulting from a lack of engagement with stimuli in the environment. It is generally considered to be one of the least desirable conditions of daily life and is often identified by individuals as a cause of feeling depressed. It can be seen as the opposite of interest and surprise

In an APA podcast called Speaking of Psychology, Erin Westgate, PhD, a psychologist who studies boredom, suggests that boredom is an unpleasant emotion similar to anger, sadness, fear, and pain. In her efforts to understand and define boredom, Dr. Westgate explored the ways in which attention and meaning affect emotions and explain boredom. She opines that boredom may result from one’s inability to sustain attention, which may occur either when a task is too easy or too hard. It may help to understand why students describe a less preferred subject (e.g., math) as boring. Boredom may also be due to a sense that what we are doing lacks meaning. In both instances, the mind wanders and we are faced with that sense of being alone with our thoughts. Dr. Westgate notes that some thoughts are more engaging than others, and there are certain conditions under which people enjoy or do not enjoy their own thoughts. It has become increasingly difficult for people to sit and think, and consequently they search for ways to escape or avoid the boredom that results. However, boredom is not all bad. Like many things in life, it depends on how we manage it.

Similar to other negative emotions, boredom alerts us that something is wrong in our body, and it is human nature to want to escape or avoid it. When escape and avoidance become the only method to cope with boredom, individuals may begin experiencing chronic boredom, which can be detrimental to emotional and physical wellbeing. When boredom becomes chronic, it no longer works as a useful signal. Boredom can be more impactful than loneliness and is often mistaken for loneliness. When boredom is not well managed, it can lead to depression and self-destructive behaviors, such as self-harm and addiction. As alluded to above, the ability to sit with our thoughts and feelings without trying to avoid or escape them has become increasingly difficult. Perhaps related to the ease with which they can be avoided; for example, when our body sends out the first signal of discomfort, we can distract ourselves by reaching for our phone. An article in TIME magazine stated:

We’re trying to swipe and scroll the boredom away, but in doing that, we’re actually making ourselves more prone to boredom, because every time we get our phone out we’re not allowing our mind to wander and to solve our own boredom problems, Mann says, adding that people can become addicted to the constant dopamine hit of new and novel content that phones provide. Our tolerance for boredom just changes completely, and we need more and more to stop being bored.

Relying on electronics is only one example of a way to avoid and escape the discomfort of boredom. It is highly reinforcing because, in the short-term, it works. However, when it is one’s only tool in the toolbox, it may quickly undermine their ability for learning to manage uncomfortable thoughts and feelings and use them for creating positive change. Therefore, it is necessary to find a positive, opposite behavior to replace the maladaptive behavior. This often leads to an increased sense of purpose and agency, and improved self-esteem and self-concept.

Children and adolescents often complain about being bored, and while boredom is uncomfortable, it can also help to develop skills, creativity, and boost self-esteem. Once boredom sets in, it can be difficult for children to shift their attention to find meaning when confronted with the discomfort of boredom. According to an article published by the Child Mind Institute, boredom can be a great way to teach children how to manage frustration and regulate emotions when things are boring or not going their way. It is not that boredom teaches the skills, but rather it is what they do when faced with boredom. There are many strategies outlined in the article to help parents nurture skills when their children are bored. In general, be aware that behaviors may be attention-seeking, and therefore, should not be reinforced. Otherwise, boredom offers an opportunity for children to do something meaningful that benefits them and those around them. When properly managed, it spurs creativity and innovation. Along the way, it is important to be realistic and recognize that there will be failure, and learning to manage the discomfort of failure is an added bonus.


About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations.


To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert 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 or call 617-658-9800.


Assessing Work Motivation and Values

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

Over the past few months, my colleague Tabitha Monahan and I have dedicated several of our blog entries to vocational assessment as a critical tool for helping students learn about employment and set career goals for themselves. Previous blogs have provided an overview of vocational assessment as well as an in depth look at career interest inventories, vocational aptitude testing, and real-life experiences, such as informational interviews and job shadows. However, there is another type of vocational assessment that we have not yet discussed that can be an invaluable tool for helping students to learn about their “vocational selves” and ultimately choosing occupations that are a good fit—a work motivation or work value assessment.

Work motivations or values are the qualities, principles, or standards that really matter to a person as a worker. Essentially, if you are going to get out of bed every day and go to a job, what are the characteristics that your job needs to have in order for you to feel that going to work is worthwhile? Certainly, money can be an important characteristic of a job, but is that more important to you than helping others, creativity, or recognition? Each of us has a different set of values that will drive us to make choices and take action in our lives, and having an occupation that satisfies those values is just as important as having a job that aligns with our interests and skills.

Similar to career interest inventories, work motivation and value assessments come in many shapes and sizes, some formal (e.g., lengthy and standardized) and some informal (e.g., short checklists or rating scales). Also, similar to career interest inventories, it can be helpful to administer or self-administer more than one of these assessment tools to get a sense of how clear one’s work motivations and values are (i.e., how often an individual responds to assessments with a similar pattern of expressed values). Additionally, it is recommended that students not just take assessments, but that educators and career counselors engage students in qualitative conversations about their results so that students have the opportunity to clarify their values as well as more quantitative exercises, such as comparing work values with career interests.

While there are many different work motivation and value classification systems, I’m choosing to highlight the four work motive categories and eight value constructs from one of my favorite assessment tools, the Work Motivation Scale below.

Fulfillment Motives: The need for work that provides the individual with opportunities to reach their maximum potential. Creativity, curiosity, foresight, and competence are attributes that are often observed in individuals with high fulfillment motives. Fulfillment motives are comprised of the following work value constructs:

  • Success Orientation: Individuals scoring high on this construct are motivated toward accomplishing career goals and reaching their full potential through their work. Passionate about their work, they are willing to endure periods of hardship to be successful.
  • Mission Orientation: Individuals scoring high on this construct are oriented toward seeing the big picture and tend to be less concerned with details. Goal directed, they recognize how their current work fits into and contributes to the overall direction of the organization.

Self-Esteem Motives: The need for achievement, responsibility, and challenging and meaningful work tasks. Links between leadership and achievement are usually present for individuals with high self-esteem motives. Self-esteem motives are comprised of the following work value constructs:

  • Managing Others: Individuals scoring high on this construct value opportunities to direct and supervise the work of others. They willingly take responsibility for worker  performance and the productivity of a work unit, department, or work function.
  • Task Orientation: Individuals scoring high on this construct are oriented toward completing tasks. Planning their work, making the most of resources, and maintaining their focus are important to them. They may hesitate to perform functions outside of those tied to a specific job description.

Affiliation Motives: The need for the acceptance and support of coworkers and supervisors. Cooperation and collaboration toward meeting work goals are sought by individuals with high affiliation motives. Affiliation motives are comprised of the following work value constructs:

  • Supervisor Relations: Individuals scoring high on this construct feel that cooperating with and relating to their supervisor are important. They strive to meet their supervisor’s expectations and highly appreciate their supervisor’s recognition and support.
  • Coworker Relations: Individuals scoring high on this construct feel that relating to peers is important. They prefer to be actively involved in employee related organizations at work and outside of work. They highly value collaboration and teamwork.

Survival and Safety Motives: The need for employment with an adequate livable wage and a safe and secure work environment. The need for favorable benefits packages is also valued by individuals with high survival and safety motives. Survival and safety motives are comprised of the following work value constructs:

  • Working Conditions: Individuals scoring high on this construct believe that a good work environment and creature comforts (climate control, privacy, adequate lighting) are important. They value having the materials, equipment, and resources to do their work effectively and efficiently.
  • Earnings and Benefits: Individuals scoring high on this construct value salary, raises, health insurance plans, pensions, and retirement planning. Vacation, sick leave, personal days, and family leave policy are important considerations in their employment choices as well.

Definitions provided by/taken from the Work Motivation Scale Administrator’s Guide.

Understanding which of these constructs and categories matter most to a student, and a student understanding this about themselves, can have a huge impact on helping a young person to find fulfilling work.

To read more about vocational assessment, check out the following blog entries:

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


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. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. 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, call 617-658-9800 or complete our online Intake Form.

Occupational Therapists and Transition Assessment, A Natural Fit!

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

Being an occupational therapist (OT) often means working in a profession that many people do not have extensive experience with or knowledge about. It can be hard to give one definition of this profession when OTs are at hospitals and schools, working on advocacy in DC, running mental health groups, and in some cases even responding to natural disasters. We are all around! Despite the broad range of settings, OTs are all guided by the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain and Process (AOTA, 2020), an ever-evolving framework that describes the central concepts, foundational views, and basic tenets of the profession. As an occupational therapist who has worked in schools with a huge focus on access to the curriculum, functional skill building, and increasing students’ overall participation, I frequently reference the document to ensure I am staying true to my profession and using my lens to help support clients’ goals in the most effective ways possible. As a member of the transition team here at NESCA, I have been fascinated by the natural fit between occupational therapy and transition assessment. Both of these require a holistic lens, consideration for the client as well as their environment, and an ability to focus on multiple different aspects of a person’s life simultaneously.

While occupation is sometimes considered a synonym for “job,” OTs focus on the broader definition of occupations as, “the everyday activities that people do as individuals, in families, and with communities to occupy time and bring meaning and purpose to life. Occupations include things people need to, want to, and are expected to do” (WFOT, 2012). We consider nine separate “areas of occupation,” which include: Activities of Daily Living (bathing, showering toileting, etc.), Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (driving, financial management, meal preparation, etc.), Health Management (medication management, social and emotional health promotion, physical activity, etc.), Rest and Sleep, Education, Work, Play, Leisure, and Social Participation. We want to make sure that individuals have balance, are meeting their personal goals, and feel fulfilled by the activities of life. OTs both assess and provide direct intervention around all of these areas.

Similar to occupational therapy, transition assessment is complex and broad, and it is best thought of as an ongoing process incorporating a wide range of formal and informal assessment of a student’s strengths, interests, and preferences. When developing recommendations for transition assessments, we work in accordance with the federal law (as well as the Massachusetts Student-Driven Transition Model core areas of transition planning) to relate our findings to the demands of transition planning areas: Education/Training, Employment, Independent Living, and Community Participation. Each of these areas needs to be considered as a part of the transition planning process and plays a substantial role in putting together a comprehensive vision for a student.

As I compare the areas of occupation with the core areas of transition planning, I am struck by the similarities and constant overlap. There is an emphasis on functional independence, especially in daily living skills. There is the belief that connection and community are integral parts of life. There is also a need for purposeful activity, whether that be through work, continuing education, play, or all of the above. Each of the areas that OTs so passionately feel guide our work are areas that should be assessed and considered during transition assessment and planning. The lens through which OTs are taught to assess and evaluate clients lends itself perfectly to assessing students as they plan for their futures and transition out of high school. While there are many different ways that I could have applied my OT training, I am glad to be able to apply my expertise to transition assessment at NESCA as one of the ways we help youth and young adults achieve their goals and carry out fulfilling lives.


American Occupational Therapy Association. (2020). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process (4th ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy74(Suppl. 2), Article 7412410010.

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2021). Massachusetts student-driven transition model. Retrieved from

World Federation of Occupational Therapy. (2012) Definition of occupational therapy. Retrieved from


About the Author
Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. 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. 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, 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, 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.


A Social Life – What is it Exactly?

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS
Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

Many parents want their children to have friends and a social life, yet are concerned about the quality of their child’s social life. They often describe their child’s afterschool hours as being occupied with screen time, which may actually include others. Other children may be engaged in structured activities, such as scouts, sports, school-based clubs (i.e., robotics), music lessons, gaming clubs, and more. Then there are the children that tire easily when around many people and prefer alone time or being around one or two friends. When children are asked if they have friends, they often say yes and that they are online friends. These children who are engaged in structured social activities, online gaming, and other online activities say they have satisfying social lives. So, who’s to judge? A person’s definition of a satisfying social life is for each of us to decide (so long as they are doing so safely and responsibly).

When it comes to defining friends and a social life, there is often a disconnect between a child or teen’s definition and that of their parents. Today, there are so many more ways to have friends, a social life and socialize than there were “when we were kids.” Having a social life is now defined more broadly, such as online friends, gaming friends, the number of followers on Instagram/Twitter, and so much more.

A “virtual friend” or “online friend” is someone who one connects with online. These virtual friends are often very connected to others and can even become BFVs (best friends virtually). In the “old days” before the internet, these friends would have been called “pen pals,” whereby letters were written and exchanged. These pen pals of old sometimes heard all the trials and tribulations of one’s life. Virtual friends (VF) may stay as that – you may or may not ever meet them, which doesn’t diminish the relationship or make it less important and meaningful. IRLs (in real life friends) are people who one connects with in-person or in real-time. Many times, children and teens have better and stronger VFs than IRL friends. And sometimes they do meet up at different events, such as: E3 Expo, PAX, gaming clubs, Comic-Con and many more.

Socializing is different for each of us. How do we respect our children’s personalities and choices regarding socializing while encouraging them to explore more and different friendships and experiences? There are “introverts” and “extroverts” amongst us. Many extroverts love socializing both in real life and virtually and have many friends. They get energized by being around others. They’ll text a friend(s) and invite them over with no plan on what to do other than hang out. They care little about planning, predictability, and are okay going with the flow, handling ambiguity and uncertainty. Introverts are more comfortable with alone time, structure, predictability, clear boundaries, and rules/guidelines when engaging with others. Often times these kids are more comfortable with VFs and the online world with its structured platforms, anonymity, and being able to participate/not participate on their terms. Many of these kids are often the leaders and moderators on virtual platforms – something you may not suspect given their presentation in real-time/real life.

In this new world of online social connection, it is best to not try to force your child into being an “in real life socializer,” and involved in many social activities but instead make sure they have the social skills and knowledge to be successful in the real world of school, work, and community. Be aware of what and whom your children are connecting with online and accept who they are as a person. Trying to force them to be someone they are not may lead to more mental health challenges than them only having VFs or only engaging with IRL friends occasionally or on their terms. A satisfying social life is a personal choice and one that can’t be forced. There are many adults who are happy with one or two IRL friends and have structured activities they participate in (i.e., book club, trivia night, etc.); yet have many more VFs in their online platforms.

There has been much written about introverts in an extroverted world and how trying to force them to be someone they are not can backfire. Being happy with one’s social experiences and friends – whether virtual or in real life – is what it’s all about.




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 Principal of the Partners Program/EDCO Collaborative and previously 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 or call 617-658-9800.


How to Tame Holiday Stress

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

The holidays are supposed to bring joy, but they also bring a lot of pressure, expectations, and stress. Planning and preparing can take months, and balancing this planning with school events, holiday parties, and our every day demands can be a lot to handle. That said, there are some basic things that we can to do manage holiday stress and focus on the things that matter most, including the following:

Identify and prioritize your values. Reflect and decide ahead of time what is most important to you this holiday season. Whether it is being with family, following through with traditions, giving back to others, or something else, knowing what you care most about will help you know where to put your time and energy.

Simplify where you can. Once you know your priorities, cut out things that are not in line with these. We tend to go a bit above and beyond at the holidays, and we often find ourselves doing things just because we always have done so, not because we want to. Invest your time where it matters most. This year, I cut out holiday cards. While cute, they are time consuming and the majority likely go straight to the trash. Creating cute waste is not my priority. Sorry, grandparents – maybe next year.

Take focus off of gift giving as much as possible. Overindulgent gift giving is not only financially burdensome and time consuming, but it is also likely not in line with your intrinsic holiday values. Streamline your gift giving where able. For example, adults draw names instead of buying for everyone, set a limit for the number of gifts per person, or buy group gifts and experiences. In our house, when buying for the kids, we try to stick with: one thing you want, one thing you need, one thing to wear, and one thing to read. Sometimes we stray a bit, but it helps keep our priorities focused and manage the children’s expectations.

Communicate expectations. Tell your family or friends what they can expect from you this holiday season. This should include talking with your children about how your family will celebrate the holidays, and how it may be different from what others do. If you know you’ll be invited to three holiday dinners, or if someone may expect your visit to be longer than you desire, get ahead of it and tell them your anticipated schedule and plans.

Pick your battles. The holidays are overwhelming for everyone, including children. They may try to manage their stress by exerting control, including pushing back against holiday traditions or expectations. Before asking things of them, remind yourself of your priorities and values. If you don’t really care whether your child wears slacks versus sweatpants during Christmas dinner, don’t pick that battle.

Provide familiarity. To help manage the uncertainty and stimulation of holiday festivities, do what you can to provide children with some familiarity, such as having some preferred foods in the dinner buffet or giving them a designated break away from the chaos to play alone without the pressure to socialize.

In sum, holiday stress is a given, but identifying your holiday values and priorities will allow you to make decisions and create expectations that will help mitigate some of this stress and allow you and your family to enjoy the season.


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 or call (603) 818-8526.