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NESCA Notes 2022

Learning with Executive Dysfunction—How Graphic Organizers Can Help

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By Olivia Rogers, MA, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist, NESCA

When it comes to executive dysfunction, we often see students struggle with the organization of language. This presents differently in each student, but may be seen as difficulty comprehending information, and getting ideas out of their heads and organized into words or on paper. They might recognize the words when listening or reading, but they hit a wall when it comes to making sense of the message or describing it. This often results in students feeling lost, confused, and overwhelmed.

When students struggle to organize language and grasp concepts independently in the classroom, we need to break it down and teach it differently. Graphic organizers help us to do so.

What is a graphic organizer?

Graphic organizers are tools that use visual symbols to express knowledge, concepts, thoughts, or ideas, and the relationships between them. The main purpose of a graphic organizer is to provide a visual aid to facilitate learning and instruction. They help students see visually what is expected of them, what they should focus on, and break complex tasks down for them.

What does the evidence show?

There is plenty of evidence demonstrating the benefits of using graphic organizers. The results of most studies have voiced the positive effects of graphic organizers in mainly comprehension and writing, in addition to remembering course content. One such study recommended the use of graphic organizers for teaching expository text structures with students to improve reading comprehension. A popular strategy to help students understand expository texts is to teach the various types of text structures: cause-and-effect, compare/contrast, problem/solution, etc. When students know the underlying organization of the information, it helps them create a working model of it in their minds, resulting in a better understanding and ability to recall. (Pyle et al., 2017). Another study sought to investigate how pre-writing activities based on graphic organizers, such as webs, and beginning, middle and end charts, affect the overall quality of student writing. The results of the study indicate that using appropriate pre-writing strategies based on graphic organizers and giving enough time for the students lead to better quality writing (Servati, 2012).

How are Graphic Organizers Used in Speech Language Therapy?

1. Graphic Organizers Help Students Focus

Many students exhibit disorganized thinking processes, poor initiation skills, word recall difficulties, poor attention, and decreased task endurance. These weaknesses can impact a student’s ability to get started on a project, organize a writing assignment, or even complete a math task. Graphic organizers help students access prior knowledge and get them actively engaged in learning.

2. Graphic Organizers Provide a Visual Map and Help Clarify Abstract Concepts

Have you ever had so much information that you couldn’t hold onto it all? Graphic organizers bring together large pieces of information and tie the relationships together. The concepts and linguistic relationships flow better and make sense to students.

3. Graphic Organizers Help Build Vocabulary

Students benefit from graphic organizers as they expand their word knowledge and make connections. Graphic organizers are great for teaching concepts like descriptive adjectives, antonyms/synonyms, items in a category, part/whole relationships, and definitions.

4. Graphic Organizers Improve Expressive Language

Graphic organizers support oral and written language in all areas of academic learning. Some students have difficulty creating pictures in their head, retrieving words to verbalize their ideas, and putting their thoughts in order. Utilizing a graphic organizer can help students when they need to present information orally or develop a draft for writing.

 

Resources:

Architects For Learning. (2022, May 18). Helping students manage what’s hard about school and thrive as life-long learners. Retrieved June 21, 2022, from https://www.architectsforlearning.com/students-parents/about-us/

Erwin, L. (2017, May 26). 5 reasons to use graphic organizers in speech therapy. My Speech Tools. Retrieved June 21, 2022, from https://myspeechtools.blogspot.com/2017/05/5-reasons-you-should-use-graphic-organizers-speech-therapy-sessions.html

Servati, Katrina, “Prewriting Strategies and their Effect on Student Writing” (2012). Education Masters. Paper 242. https://fisherpub.sjfc.edu/education_ETD_masters/242

Sherman, H. (2017, December 23). Using Graphic Organizers is Essential in Speech Therapy. Speech Time Fun Speech and Language Activities. Retrieved June 21, 2022, from https://speechtimefun.com/using-graphic-organizers-is-essential-in-speech-therapy/

Pyle, N., Vasquez, A. C., Lignugaris, K., & B., Gillam, S.L., Reutzel, D.R., Olszewski, A., Segura, H., Hartzheim, D., Laing, W., and Pyle, D. (2017). Effects of expository text structure interventions on comprehension: A meta-analysis. Reading Research Quarterly, 52(5), 1–33. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1002/ rrq. 179

 

About the Author

Olivia Rogers received her Master of Arts in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Maine, after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Sciences and Disorders and concentrations in Childhood Development and Disability Studies. She holds a Certificate of Clinical Competence in speech-language pathology from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, as well as a professional license in speech-language pathology from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Ms. Rogers has experience working both in the pediatric clinic setting as well as in public schools, evaluating and treating children 2-18 years of age presenting with a wide range of diagnoses (e.g., language delays and disorders, speech sound disorders, childhood apraxia of speech, autism spectrum disorder, social communication disorder, and Down syndrome). Ms. Rogers enjoys making sure therapy is fun and tailored to each client’s interests.

In her free time, she enjoys listening to podcasts and spending times with friends and families.

 

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.

 

To book an appointment with Olivia Rogers, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Testing Outside the Box—Vocational Assessments for Nonverbal, Nonreading and/or Hard-to-Test Students

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

My colleague Tabitha Monahan and I have dedicated several recent blog entries to vocational assessment—a vital tool for helping students to learn about career planning and employment and to set career goals for themselves. Previous blogs have included an overview of vocational assessment as well as an in depth look at career interest inventories, career aptitude testing, assessing work motivation and values and real-life experiences, such as informational interviews and job shadows.

However, many of the most “popular” or common tools for vocation assessment are intended for use with students who have functional reading abilities (i.e., basic reading skills at or above 5th grade levels). While there are many accommodations a skilled evaluator might use to help a wide range of students effectively access these tests, there are also students who receive special education services and cannot access these word-based and rating-based assessment tools. So, what tools can be used effectively with these students? How do we assess interests and aptitudes for students who are nonverbal, have reduced reading skills, or may provide unreliable responses to language-based testing methodologies? Below are a few of the methods that we find particularly useful at NESCA.

  • Picture-based Interest Inventories

Instead of using text-based items and rating scales, picture-based career interest inventories help individuals to express their occupational interests by selecting preferred pictures of people at work or people performing work-related tasks. Pictures are presented in sets of two, three, or more, and the student points to or circles the picture that seems most interesting. Based on the number and types of pictures selected, the test identifies work themes that are most appealing to the student. Evaluators can also look for themes among pictures selected, such as a student who selects a high number of pictures that have multiple people, computers, vehicles, outdoor activities, etc. Three popular picture-based assessments are the Picture Interest Career Survey (PICS) published by JIST, the Reading-Free Vocational Interest Inventory-Third Edition (RFVII-3) by Katherine Synatschk and Ralph Becker, and the Career Interest Inventory – Pictorial Version by Shasta Twenty-first Century Career Connections.

  • Video-based Interest Assessment

Video-based career interest assessments are more difficult to find but can be incredibly useful nonverbal tools for vocational evaluation and career planning. A tool that we use at NESCA is Your Employment Selections (YES), which is a CD-ROM-based reading-free job preference and career exploration program that has 120 videos of different jobs which are viewed and compared strategically in pairs. Through initial video-based trial, students indicate preferences, such as a desire to work indoors or outdoors, work alone or with coworkers, interact with the public or coworkers, and do light or heavy lifting work. These preferences are used to determine which subset of job videos the student will view. Traditional testing involves the student watching two videos and pointing to, or clicking on, the one they like more. However, the evaluator can work with a student who has limited verbal abilities to determine some of the features or tasks the student likes most, or dislikes most, within the specific job videos shown. While this video program is no longer available for retail, there are plenty of great career videos that can be used to carry out similar informal assessment on web sites, such as CareerOneStop, Dr. Kit, MassHire Career Information System, and even YouTube.

  • Functional Assessments and Observations

For all students, regardless of communication or self-determination skills, functional assessments and real-world observations play a vital role in career assessment and planning. For students who struggle with reading- and writing-based assessments, it can be important to have access to more hands-on standardized assessments of employment strengths and abilities. One such assessment tool is the Skills Assessment Module (SAM) published by Piney Mountain Press, which includes an auditory directions screen to determine how well a student can follow verbal directions and 12 work-related activities that simulate actual work aptitudes required in training and jobs (e.g., mail sort, ruler reading, assembling small parts, etc.). However, evaluators who do not have access to formal assessments can purchase or create pre-vocational and vocational kits for assessing and learning work skills and can carry out functional assessment of real or simulated work-related tasks in school, community, and work settings.

Observing students performing work-related behaviors and tasks is one of the most powerful evaluation tools that we have for determining strengths and needed areas for growth. If a student is performing vocational activities at school or has a volunteer or paid job during the week, that can be critical for an evaluator to observe. There are also protocols that can be used to formally assess students’ skills during observations, such as the Vocational Skills Assessment Protocol from The Assessment of Functional Living Skills (AFLS), and the Becker Work Adjustment Profile – Second Edition (BWAP-2).

  • Interviews and Parent/Educator Participation in Interest Inventories

While some transition-aged students may have trouble clearly expressing interests using words or inventories, all students have some way of communicating information to people who know them well. Transition and vocational assessments often require creativity and effort to gain informal, subjective, and anecdotal information from educators, parents, and other stakeholders who know the student well. It is useful to interview several people, asking questions about the student’s preferred leisure and school activities, areas of strength, preferences that need to be taken into account when planning for future employment, and specifically asking if there are any jobs that the interviewee is aware of that they think might be a good fit for the student in the future. Another technique is to use career interest inventories which are intended for self-report, such as the O*Net Interest Profiler (IP) or RIASEC, and ask parents or educators to fill out the inventory with what they believe the student’s preferences would be. Having a high level of correlation between parent report, educator report, and the student’s responses on picture-based or video-based testing can be extremely helpful in knowing where to focus career planning energy for the student.

Conducting vocational assessment, or any assessment, for this population of students—when tests are often not explicitly designed for them–is difficult. There are some tremendous tools specifically designed for testing students who are nonverbal or nonreaders, and there are many other assessment tools which can be made, modified, or used in nontraditional ways to gain a more complete picture of the student. The most important aspect of assessment is to choose the tools that are going to best suit the student.

For more information about vocational 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 info@nesca-newton.com, call 617-658-9800 or complete our online Intake Form.

ADHD & Social Skills

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Maggie Rodriguez, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

When most of us hear the term “ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder),” we think of the little boy who can’t sit still at his desk or the girl gazing out the window lost in her own thoughts during class. While difficulties with hyperactivity and/or attention are core features of ADHD–embedded directly in the diagnostic label–there are often co-occurring features that are less obvious. Moreover, even the central aspects of ADHD can have far-reaching impacts beyond the classroom. One of the most frequently misunderstood and overlooked facets of ADHD is its potential impact on social functioning.

In clinical practice, parents of children with ADHD are often confused by the unexpected and indirect ways that attentional and executive functioning deficits can affect social functioning. They sometimes wonder if their children have an additional challenge, such as autism spectrum disorder. Most often, that’s not the case. Rather, it’s more likely that one or more of the following is at play:

  • Kids with ADHD can have difficulty selectively attending to relevant social cues
    • Imagine looking through a camera with a broken zoom lens. At first everything is in frame at once; it’s too much information. Then you try to zoom in, but when you do, sometimes the lens focuses on unimportant things (like the random details in the background), leaving out what’s most relevant (like the person you’re trying to capture in your photo). Children with ADHD have difficulty figuring out what details to focus on and struggle to effectively “zoom in” on those elements. In social settings, which are often unstructured, kids with ADHD are even more prone to “zoom in” on unimportant things and miss the more salient information. They can also become easily distracted and fail to register important information in the moment. To others, this can come across as lack of interest (for instance, the child who seems not to be listening or is distracted by sounds, sights, or other sensory information in the moment). It can also lead children with ADHD to overlook contextual cues about what’s expected in a given social setting, which can lead to inappropriate behavior.
  • Children with ADHD often struggle with nuance, making inferences, and reading between the lines
    • Social situations are much more complex than we often realize. Successfully navigating social interactions requires paying attention, not just to surface level information but to the often subtle, implied meaning embedded in things like figures of speech, tone of voice, and body language. For many with ADHD, it’s already a challenge to maintain focus at the surface level; the task of trying to simultaneously attend to and interpret subtext is too much. Individuals with ADHD may focus on what another person says (the content of their speech) but fail to notice the eye roll or sarcastic tone of voice that goes along with it.
  • Impulsivity can lead to social faux pas
    • Impulsivity is a central feature of ADHD in many cases. In social settings, difficulty inhibiting impulses can take many forms. For some, it may simply present as rapid-fire speech, leaving little room for others to respond in conversation. It can also look like interrupting, cutting others in line, or expressing ideas and opinions in a way that can be hurtful or seem rude. Especially in younger children, impulsive behavior can lead to difficulty sharing, physical aggression towards others, and trouble with turn taking. Children who have more difficulty slowing down and inhibiting impulses are more likely to inadvertently offend others or to engage in behavior that their peers may view as odd or inappropriate; in turn, this can lead to trouble developing and sustaining friendships and other positive relationships.
  • Hyperactivity makes participating appropriately in some social settings difficult
    • There are some social contexts in which an abundance of energy is a very good thing. For this reason, many ADHD kids can excel in activities like sports, into which they can channel their high energy. But other social situations demand a different set of skills. For kids with hyperactivity as part of their ADHD, sitting still and maintaining quiet can be a challenge. They may struggle with activities like going to the library, watching a movie in a theater, attending church or religious ceremonies, or sitting at the table in order to have family dinner.

The good news is that there are ways to manage these social challenges. If your child with ADHD has difficulty with any aspects of social functioning, it may help to seek out social skills training with a therapist or through a structured social skills training program. Interventions often include a combination of explicit instruction, modeling, role playing, and feedback. Parents can also help by implementing simple, consistent ground rules for behavior and providing gentle but clear reminders as needed. Additionally, parents can facilitate play dates with peers, during which the parents take an active role in helping children utilize social skills and engage with each other appropriately.

Finally, though ADHD can present challenges in the social domain, kids with ADHD often possess many strengths that can help actually them succeed socially. Children with ADHD can be highly engaging, curious, energetic, creative, and open-minded. When these strengths are reinforced, kids with ADHD can often utilize them to create fun, rewarding social interactions and to develop rich, dynamic relationships.

 

About the Author

Maggie Rodriguez, Psy.D., provides comprehensive evaluation services for children, adolescents, and young adults with often complex presentations. She particularly enjoys working with individuals who have concerns about attention and executive functioning, language-based learning disorders, and those with overlapping cognitive and social/emotional difficulties.

Prior to joining NESCA, Dr. Rodriguez worked in private practice, where she completed assessments with high-functioning students presenting with complex cognitive profiles whose areas of weakness may have gone previously undiagnosed. Dr. Rodriguez’s experience also includes pre- and post-doctoral training in the Learning Disability Clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Neurodevelopmental Center at MassGeneral for Children/North Shore Medical Center. Dr. Rodriguez has spent significant time working with students in academic settings, including k-12 public and charter school systems and private academic programs, such as the Threshold Program at Lesley University.

Dr. Rodriguez earned her Psy.D. from William James College in 2012, where her coursework and practicum training focused on clinical work with children and adolescents and on assessment. Her doctoral thesis centered on cultural issues related to evaluation.

Dr. Rodriguez lives north of Boston with her husband and three young children.  She enjoys spending time outdoors hiking and bike riding with her family, practicing yoga, and reading.

To book a consultation with Dr. Rodriguez 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.

Summer Reading Ideas

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Alissa Talamo, PhD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Research demonstrates that children lose reading skills over the summer break. A 2020 study found that students in 3rd to 5th grades lost, on average, about 20 percent of their school-year gains in reading during the summer. So, how do we encourage a reluctant reader to read during the summer? There are several fun opportunities that allow your child to read a book of their choice and earn prizes at the same time!

For example:

www.scholastic.com/site/summer-reading.html Scholastic Books offers a program that encourages children to “read books and stories; attend author events; interact with their favorite characters; play book-based games and activities; join dance parties; and more!” Children can read any book of their choice. They can also download and print a report of their reading progress. Additionally, by keeping Reading Streaks™, your child will help unlock a donation of 100,000 books from Scholastic to Save the Children, providing books to children in rural America with limited or no access to books.

Bookworm Wednesdays | Showcase Cinemas According to their website, Bookworm Wednesdays is “A fun and rewarding summer reading program developed to encourage young children to read during the summer months.” Bookworm Wednesdays allows children to earn free movie admission to a select children’s film when they present a book report at a participating Cinema de Lux, Showcase, or Multiplex Cinemas box office. There are several local participating sites, including Patriot Place and Legacy Place. (Parents, as well as children under the age of 6, receive free admission and do not need to submit a book report).

www.barnesandnobleinc.com This is an opportunity for your child to earn free books! Your child can read any 8 books and complete the reading journal available at the Barnes & Noble website. Then your child brings the completed reading journal to any participating Barnes & Noble bookstore and chooses their free book from the books listed on the Reading Journal list (see the website for the list of titles available to choose from this summer). Free reward books must be collected from a local Barnes & Noble store during July and August.

Finally, check out your local library for programs! Most local libraries have reading incentive programs that children can participate in all summer long.

Other ideas include…

  • Have your child read a book that has been made into a movie (If the book is above their reading level, read the book to them or allow them to listen to the book as an audio recording). Once the child has completed their reading, enjoy a family movie night with popcorn and more.
  • Have your child read about a specific topic or place and then plan a field trip. For example, an older student could read “Little Women” and then visit Louisa May Alcott’s house in Concord, MA, or watch the 2019 version of the movie and then visit Lyman Estate in Waltham where some of the filming took place!
  • Allow your child to pick their own books. Allow them to choose from subjects of interest to them (parent-approved, of course), as they are more likely to read something they picked! Also, allow them to choose books from different book types (e.g., paperback, graphic novel, audiobooks).
  • If you are going on a family vacation, encourage your child to read books about the area (fact or fiction) and plan to visit some of the places mentioned in the book. Day trips are also encouraged. Your child could read a book about animals and then visit a local zoo or aquarium.

If you are unsure of which books are at your child’s reading level, many libraries break down books by grade level. Ultimately, summer reading should not be so easy that it is boring, but it also should not be too difficult, as that can cause frustration. Allowing children to pick out books at their independent reading level is best. Research has found that children read more and learn best when they are allowed to select the books they read.

Happy Summer Reading!

 

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.

Executive Function: Skill Building and Maintenance over the Summer

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

With summer right around the corner, many students are thinking of warm evenings outside, days at the beach, pool or park, summer camps, and summer jobs. For parents, summer can sometimes feel like both a time of fun and a time of struggling to keep up with skills mastered and learned throughout the past school year, all while acclimating to a completely new summer routine. While some students receive summer services to keep up with important academic and executive function skills, there are absolutely ways for us to help support children and adolescents at home. Consider these three ways to incorporate executive function skill building into your child’s summer.

  1. Plan and Complete a Project – Work with your child to brainstorm a project that they would like to complete this summer. Some examples include having a lemonade stand, building a tree fort, doing a full bedroom makeover, or raising money for a cause they care about. Help your child figure out how to put together a plan to complete their goal. This will likely include a timeline complete with a comprehensive “To Do List,” a list of materials or supplies, and a list of people they may need to ask for help. The more intentional the planning of these steps is, the more a child will internalize the level of planning and prioritization that goes into accomplishing such a goal. You may need to jump in to help, but take every opportunity to defer to them and let them actively think things through before making suggestions or solving problems for them. Planning and executing a personal summer project helps to build organization, planning and prioritizing, flexible thinking, working memory, and task initiation.
  2. Organize a Family Outing – Summer can absolutely be a whirlwind, but reserve a day in the calendar for your child to plan a family outing or activity. This could be as big as a full day at the beach or as simple as a trip to lunch at their favorite restaurant. Help them think through everything that will be needed. What time will we leave? How long will it take to get there? How can you find that information? Should we check Google Maps together? How will we pay for the meal? By guiding your child through all of the steps before these activities, you help them recognize the level of planning and forethought that is necessary. For older children or adolescents, consider giving them a budget and asking them to plan a family outing independently, taking into account each family member’s preferences and schedules.
  3. Add a Weekly Task – During the school year, parents often do not have time to add chores or anything new at all to their child’s calendar. Dinners are often prepared and eaten on the fly between rehearsals, appointments, practices, and homework, and laundry gets done when someone has a free moment. Summer can be a great time of the year to add in an expectation for students who have been a bit overloaded with homework or other distractions. Consider adding a weekly task that student both need to complete and figuring out a way to remember (often a digital reminder!). One of my favorite options is to have a student cook a meal for the family one night per week. Have them set an alarm for 12pm that day, or even the day before, that prompts them to “figure out the plan for dinner.” This may look drastically different at various ages. An eight-year-old may be very proud of themselves for serving boxed macaroni and cheese (made with supervision), while a high school student may be up for trying to recreate a family recipe. The goal is not a gourmet Tuesday night meal, but practice with prior planning, sequencing, following directions, and building time management skills.

Incorporating children and adolescents into the planning, hard work, and many executive function tasks that go in to making a summer run smoothly allows them to build skills naturally. By handing down responsibility and increasing expectations bit by bit, we can allow our students to build their skills slowly and confidently. It’s important that students realize all of these many steps before they are expected to do everything on their own. Often, allowing children to feel this level of control and responsibility leads them to feel quite accomplished and proud of themselves! If you feel that facilitating this may be tricky, consider reaching out about executive function coaching, as all of these strategies can be practiced one-on-one with a coach!

 

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 Executive Function Coaching 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.

 

Screen Time’s Impact on Child Development and How Play Can Be One Solution

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

The pandemic has made the already complex job of parenting even more challenging. With parents having to balance working from home and remote learning, many families relied on screens for learning, socialization, and entertainment. Questions about screen time and the impact on child development were already hot topics in our digital age, but the pandemic brought about new and perhaps more compelling concerns.

It is common for children of all ages to engage with digital devices. Even prior to the pandemic, approximately 80% of parents reported that their child between the ages of five and 11 interacted with a tablet or computer, and 63% used a smartphone. For children under the age of five, 48% engaged with a tablet or computer, and 55% with a smartphone (pewresearch.org, July 2020).

While screens are an inevitable part of 21st century life, too much screen time can have a detrimental impact on child development. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children younger than two years of age. Older children should limit their screen time to no more than one or two hours a day. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, too much screen time can be linked to:

  • Obesity
  • Irregular sleep
  • Behavioral problems
  • Impaired academic performance
  • Desensitization to violence
  • Less time for play

It has been established that excessive screen time may lead to obesity due to inactivity and increased snacking that often coincides with screen use. Using screens too close to bedtime may disrupt the body’s biological preparation for sleep, making it difficult to fall asleep and disrupting sleep schedules. Research has shown that elementary school students who spend more than two hours a day watching TV, playing video games or using a computer or smartphone are more likely to have emotional, social, and attention problems. Furthermore, increased time spent on screens results in less time available for learning and practicing skills important for academic and social development. Such skills include, but are not limited to, managing emotions and behavior, paying attention, solving problems effectively and independently, dealing with conflict, and resilience. So, what is the remedy? Limited screen time and more opportunities for play.

The benefits of play are almost limitless. Play is brain building and leads to changes in even the smallest structures. Play develops skills in planning and organization, cooperation, self-control, and communication. Often play involves trying and failing, and learning from mistakes, which enhances children’s capacity for solving problems and learning to focus attention, ultimately promoting the growth of executive functioning skills. Play also provides opportunities for learning to cope with adversity, resulting in increased resilience. There are many great blog articles on NESCA’s website offering information and tips for engaging in play and its benefits. They are written from a range of perspectives, which aids in understanding the wide-ranging value of play.

References:

https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2020/07/28/parenting-children-in-the-age-of-screens/

https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/119/1/182/70699/The-Importance-of-Play-in-Promoting-Healthy-Child

 

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

 

10 Facts about the Rorschach Inkblot Test

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By Renée Marchant, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

As an evaluator, I receive a number of questions about the usefulness of the Rorschach Inkblot Test. The following “10 facts” are designed to answer some common questions and also incorporate some new and fresh scientific research findings related to the Rorschach.

The Rorschach Inkblot Test is a diagnostic tool that should always be incorporated within a comprehensive evaluation which includes projective or “performance-based” testing. If you are considering if your child or teen would benefit from projective testing, please refer to one of my earlier NESCA blog posts: More Than An Inkblot: Measuring Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking Skills with Projective Tests.”

  1. The Rorschach Inkblot Test is a test that provides data and information about how a child or teen problem-solves situations “in the moment.”
  2. Research indicates that the Rorschach is a valid assessment tool (with validity akin to other personality measures, as well as measures of IQ).
  3. Recent fMRI studies show high levels of brain activation in brain regions associated with emotion, emotion memories, perception, attention and visual processing.
  4. After the Rorschach Inkblot Test is administered, an experienced evaluator uses an evidence-based scoring system to compare a child’s responses to a normative sample to evaluate their performance. RPAS (Rorschach Performance Assessment System) is the most evidence-based scoring system to date and has strong empirical evidence.
  5. The Rorschach evaluates and detects psychotic symptoms.
  6. The Rorschach is helpful for evaluating trauma, including dissociation and intrusive symptoms.
  7. The Rorschach assesses both trait (stable characteristics or patterns) and state (a temporary way of being) variables. For example, the Rorschach tells us about how a person is coping with everyday stressors (e.g. from bullying to family loss to lack of sleep). The Rorschach also tells us if a person has a more pervasive habit of “bottling up” emotions or behaving rashly or impulsively when overwhelmed.
  8. The Rorschach quantifies a child or teen’s strengths, such as capacity for insight and adaptability, or resiliency to stress.
  9. The Rorschach Inkblot Test is not for everyone. More research is needed about the utility of the Rorschach for individuals with expressive language communication impairments or visual-spatial processing deficits.
  10. Not every evaluator is equipped to administer and interpret the Rorschach Inkblot Test. The Rorschach is a powerful diagnostic tool when interpreted in conjunction with observation and other test results by a skilled, experienced practitioner with extensive training in Rorschach administration and interpretation.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Renée Marchant provides neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments for youth who present with a variety of complex, inter-related needs, with a particular emphasis on identifying co-occurring neurodevelopmental and psychiatric challenges. She specializes in the evaluation of developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorder and social-emotional difficulties stemming from mood, anxiety, attachment and trauma-related diagnoses. She often assesses children who have “unique learning styles” that can underlie deficits in problem-solving, emotion regulation, social skills and self-esteem.

Dr. Marchant’s assessments prioritize the “whole picture,” particularly how systemic factors, such as culture, family life, school climate and broader systems impact diagnoses and treatment needs. She frequently observes children at school and participates in IEP meetings.

Dr. Marchant brings a wealth of clinical experience to her evaluations. In addition to her expertise in assessment, she has extensive experience providing evidence-based therapy to children in individual (TF-CBT, insight-oriented), group (DBT) and family (solution-focused, structural) modalities. Her school, home and treatment recommendations integrate practice-informed interventions that are tailored to the child’s unique needs.

Dr. Marchant received her B.A. from Boston College with a major in Clinical Psychology and her Psy.D. from William James College in Massachusetts. She completed her internship at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute and her postdoctoral fellowship at Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, where she deepened her expertise in providing therapy and conducting assessments for children with neurodevelopmental disorders as well as youth who present with high-risk behaviors (e.g. psychosis, self-injury, aggression, suicidal ideation).

Dr. Marchant provides workshops and consultations to parents, school personnel and treatment professionals on ways to cultivate resilience and self-efficacy in the face of adversity, trauma, interpersonal violence and bullying. She is an expert on the interpretation of the Rorschach Inkblot Test and provides teaching and supervision on the usefulness of projective/performance-based measures in assessment. Dr. Marchant is also a member of the American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA) and continues to conduct research on the effectiveness of family therapy for high-risk, hospitalized patients.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Marchant 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 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.

 

Transition Assessment: How to Prepare for the Team Meeting

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

Every child who receives special education services in the United States is entitled to transition services—a coordinated set of activities that will facilitate the student’s preparation for postsecondary education and/or training, competitive employment, independent living, and community participation.[1] In order to provide these services, an IEP team has to first conduct “age-appropriate transition assessment.”[2] I have written about transition assessment in previous blogs, including Transition Assessment: What is it anyway? How is it different from neuropsychological evaluation? and Vocational Assessment and Transition Planning.

A challenge for students and families who are participating in transition assessment for the first time, is knowing how to prepare for team meetings where transition planning and services will be discussed. When you attend a team meeting after an occupational therapy evaluation or academic evaluation, you know that you are going to be discussing what occupational therapy services or academic instruction your child may need as part of their IEP process. However, when a student has participated in transition assessment, the team will be discussing a whole variety of activities (e.g., regular and specialized instruction, related services, community experiences, linkage to adult human service agencies) that the student will need to participate in as the student is preparing for adulthood. Some transition assessment reports contain dozens of recommendations for comprehensive planning. Recommendations may include activities that you are used to discussing with your team, such as instruction and services for a current IEP period, but recommendations may also include other activities that should occur outside of school with support from a parent or community member or actions that may need to occur at a later date. To make the most of your team meeting, it is helpful to do a little bit of homework and preparation after you receive your transition assessment report.

As discussed in previous blogs, if the student is going to be part of the team meeting (which they should be), then the student should have the opportunity to discuss the assessment results with the evaluator or another trusted adult. If your school district conducted the transition assessment, ask when and how they are going to review the results with the student prior to the meeting. If you obtained an independent or private evaluation, ask if you can schedule a student feedback meeting with that evaluator prior to the student’s team meeting. Students need to be aware of the findings and the recommendations that are being made, and they need to be prepared to actively participate in discussion about the results. Whether a student supports or disagrees with recommendations from a transition assessment can have a large impact on changes that are made, or not made, to the IEP.

In addition to student preparation, all team members should be prepared to discuss the assessment recommendations in a planful and organized manner. As a parent, it is helpful to read each recommendation in the report and consider the following questions:

  • Is this a skill or activity that you can reasonably tackle at home this year or in coming years? Do you need any training or consultation to be able to support the student?
  • Is this a skill or activity that would be best supported by a community provider rather than a parent, family member, or school staff?
  • Is this a skill or piece of knowledge that the student must attain this academic year in order to make progress toward their long-term goals? Do they need specialized instruction or related services to learn the skills or gain this knowledge?
  • Is this a skill, piece of knowledge, or service that needs to be focused on at a later time, but documented somewhere so that the team does not forget the recommendation?

It can be helpful to put together an abbreviated list of the goals, objectives, or services that you know your child will need this school year based on the assessment. Alternatively, some families find it useful to create a table or grid to organize transition planning activities. Here is one possible presentation that a family might use to prepare for a team meeting.

 

  Parent Community Providers School/IEP
Education/Training ·   Tour three colleges

·   Attend summer program on college campus

·   Counseling on enrollment process for postsecondary educational programs with Pre-Employment Transition Service (Pre-ETS) provider ·   Update postsecondary goals

·   Instruction of Study Skills, including notetaking

·   Assistive technology consultation

·   Personal Finance course

·   Sexual Health Instruction

Employment ·   Create first student resume

·   Set up informational interview with family friend who works as an accountant

·   Self-advocacy counseling with Pre-ETS provider ·   Help student obtain work permit

·   Support student in applying for paid part-time work

Independent Living ·   Review family health history

·   Teach student to complete medical history paperwork

·   Prepare questions with student ahead of medical appointments

·   Assist student in opening checking account

·   Include student in home maintenance activities

·   Individual counseling

 

 

·   Instruction in tracking sleep hygiene, diet, and exercise activities

·   Assistive technology consultation for health habits

Community Engagement ·   Support student in learning to carry out personal shopping activities ·   Social skills group with insurance-based provider

·   Study for driver’s permit test with Transition to Adulthood Program (TAP) provider

·   Travel orientation with local public transit authority

·   Make referral to Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) service provider

·   Invite VR service provider to team meeting with parent & student consent

 

 

It is also helpful to consider how the information from the transition assessment can flow through the IEP document. Information learned about the student’s postsecondary goals (i.e., the student’s goals for their life after high school) must be documented in the IEP and used to guide IEP development. Portions of the assessment may also be included as key evaluation results and current performance data, may inform how the team considers various federal and state special factors such as the students need for assistive technology or more functional means of communication, may suggest linkages that are needed with state resources and adult human service agencies, and may inform other aspects of the IEP. It is important to think about each section of your child’s IEP and how the assessment results might impact the team’s discussion of that section.

Many schools and families are familiar with transition assessment services at NESCA but do not realize that our transition specialists will consult with students, parents, and teams to plan for transition assessments, review assessments that have been conducted by other clinicians, or support the team meeting process. For more information about transition planning, consultation, and assessment services at NESCA, visit our transition services page and our transition FAQs.

[1] https://sites.ed.gov/idea/regs/b/a/300.43

[2] https://sites.ed.gov/idea/regs/b/d/300.320/b

 

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 info@nesca-newton.com, call 617-658-9800 or complete our online Intake Form.

Pediatric Neuropsychologist Maggie Rodriguez, Psy.D., Joins NESCA

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach

In today’s blog, I have the pleasure of introducing you to NESCA Pediatric Neuropsychologist Maggie Rodriguez, Psy.D., who recently joined our team of expert clinicians.

How did you discover your interest in neuropsychology?

It was a long and winding road! I went into college, interested in a wide range of subject areas, including medicine. Eventually, I realized my area of interest was truly in psychology. I discovered that I really enjoyed neuropsychological evaluations, since they combined my interests in psychology, neuroscience, working with medical providers, educators, as well as writing and the creativity involved in making a child come alive in a report.

In graduate school, I was fortunate to learn from a number of extremely talented neuropsychologists in a variety of settings. While completing a placement at Children’s Hospital Boston, I remember hearing my very wise supervisor say that, “one year in the correct school placement is worth two years of therapy.” As I continued on with my coursework and clinical training, I repeatedly saw the truth in that statement. I witnessed the value of nuanced neuropsychological assessment in allowing students to receive accurate diagnoses and, in turn, the correct academic accommodations and interventions. I wanted to be part of that, not only to help children and teens succeed academically but to prevent the secondary effects that undiagnosed and untreated learning disorders, neurodevelopmental disorders, and cognitive challenges can have on emotional health, self-esteem, and social functioning.

On the personal side, my interest in neuropsychology was sparked again when I had my own child evaluated. It was surprisingly powerful to go through the process on the parent side, and after taking some time off to have a family, I knew that I wanted to get back into neuropsychology again!

Why did you choose to come to NESCA when re-entering your professional career?

There were several reasons that I looked into NESCA and ultimately opted to join its team. I learned about NESCA while researching neuropsychologists for my child’s evaluation and was impressed with what I saw. Additionally, one of my former testing supervisors told me NESCA is among the best in the business. Having that kind of endorsement from such a trusted source provided me with great confidence being part of NESCA.

I also was really drawn in by NESCA’s emphasis on the continued growth and learning for its clinicians. It was obvious that NESCA is comprised of a highly invested and collaborative team. Every one of us has a lot to learn still, and I valued the opportunity for not just a job, but the continued learning.

NESCA also offers a great work/life balance. Having a family of my own and parents who are approaching the stage where they also require care is a lot to balance. NESCA’s emphasis on supporting its staff in balancing work and life has made it very rewarding. I’ve seen several examples of how the culture of understanding is very much active.

On a very practical level, having clear protocols for handling day-to-day Covid strategies, like masking, cleaning, etc., has been comforting. Returning to clinical work in the midst of a pandemic has been a big transition, and knowing NESCA has put in place measures for keeping staff and clients safe is tremendously important to me. Seeing the creativity and agility in the way the team here tackled the larger challenges—evaluating clients safely and in-person—during Covid was inspiring and told me a lot about the team and culture. Learning that NESCA adapted its methods of testing via the two-office model demonstrated to me that they, as a practice, they are able to roll with those kinds of challenges. That was also very reassuring.

Finally, the interview process provided me with the chance to speak with a number of NESCA’s clinical staff. I was able to get a great feel for the culture and high standards the practice has, which made me confident that this was the right fit for me.

What kinds of concerns do you evaluate or enjoy the most?

I really enjoy working with kids of varying ages, but I do have a keen interest in working with families and children who are just hitting the adolescent years. I get the opportunity to help them understand how all the, sometimes confusing, pieces fit together.

I really enjoy working with kids who may be deemed as “complicated,” where things may have previously been overlooked. Maybe things were going fine for them until they hit a wall academically. Perhaps they got to middle school or high school or even college and began to wonder why things seemed to be falling apart for them. I enjoy the challenge of working with kids who are experiencing executive function deficits, social communication issues, kids whose disability or disabilities are not as straightforward. I like to tease apart whether there are executive function (EF) issues, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or sensory integration challenges…or perhaps explore whether it could be something else altogether. Is a child’s rigidity due to anxiety, an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), cognitive issues or a combination of overlapping challenges? I love teasing all of these things apart. I also work with children whose families have concerns about potential language-based learning disabilities (LBLD), communication issues and challenges with social pragmatics.

It’s incredibly rewarding when you are able to help families understand answers to these kinds of questions that they may have been grappling with for a long time.

 

About Pediatric Neuropsychologist Maggie Rodriguez, Psy.D. 

Maggie Rodriguez, Psy.D., provides comprehensive evaluation services for children, adolescents, and young adults with often complex presentations. She particularly enjoys working with individuals who have concerns about attention and executive functioning, language-based learning disorders, and those with overlapping cognitive and social/emotional difficulties.

Prior to joining NESCA, Dr. Rodriguez worked in private practice, where she completed assessments with high-functioning students presenting with complex cognitive profiles whose areas of weakness may have gone previously undiagnosed. Dr. Rodriguez’s experience also includes pre- and post-doctoral training in the Learning Disability Clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Neurodevelopmental Center at MassGeneral for Children/North Shore Medical Center. Dr. Rodriguez has spent significant time working with students in academic settings, including k-12 public and charter school systems and private academic programs, such as the Threshold Program at Lesley University.

Dr. Rodriguez earned her Psy.D. from William James College in 2012, where her coursework and practicum training focused on clinical work with children and adolescents and on assessment. Her doctoral thesis centered on cultural issues related to evaluation.

To book a neuropsychological evaluation with Dr. Rodriguez or another expert neuropsychologist at NESCA, 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 and Plainville, Massachusetts, as well as Londonderry, New Hampshire. NESCA serves clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Risk Factors & Warning Signs of Substance Use

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By Miranda Milana, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

It is estimated that approximately one third of adults in the United States have met criteria for an alcohol use disorder at some point in their lives, while approximately 10% have met criteria for another substance use disorder. While these numbers are staggering, what is even more astonishing is the fact that consuming substances before the age of 14 increases the likelihood of abusing substances later in life by 400%. In fact, The National Child Traumatic Stress Network reports that 9 out of 10 individuals who abuse substances began using these substances before the age of 18. So, what are the risk factors and early signs to watch out for? What can you do to help?

Risk Factors:

  • Family history—if you have a family history of addiction, it is important to talk about this with your children just as you would have a conversation about a family history of cancer, diabetes, or any other mental illness. Determine when and how to approach this conversation by talking with your pediatrician.
  • Comorbid diagnoses—having an existing mental health diagnosis (e.g., ADHD, depression, anxiety) increases the chances that one will use and abuse substances later in life. Many individuals start using substances as a method of self-medicating if their mental health symptoms are not well managed.
  • Exposure—having easy access to substances, being exposed to peer groups or family members who use substances, or being exposed to media messages encouraging substance use can also increase the risk of substance use and abuse.
  • Additional risk factors include poor coping skills, academic failure, chaotic home or peer environments, as well as impulsivity and risk taking behaviors.

Warning Signs to Watch for:

  • Unexplained and/or extreme mood swings
  • Dilated pupils/bloodshot eyes
  • Changes in appetite
  • Change in sleep patterns or levels of fatigue
  • Changes in friends
  • Loss of interest in previously preferred hobbies
  • Being secretive about friends and activities
  • Withdrawing from family members and loved ones
  • Not respecting curfew or breaking other house rules
  • Running away from home or sneaking out
  • Stealing or having unexplained amounts of money
  • Increased absences from school
  • Decline in grades
  • Increase in behavioral problems

How to Help:

  • Start the conversation when it is appropriate. Talking to your pre-teen or teen about the effects of substances and alcohol/drug laws is essential in keeping the lines of communication open. Ask them first about their level understanding and what they have already learned or heard about.
  • Increase coping skills—having appropriate communication skills, positive social-emotional connections, strong self-esteem, and confidence in dealing with peer pressure are all extremely beneficial in helping children and teens navigate adolescence. If your child struggles in one or more of these areas, it is important to target these vulnerabilities early on through the appropriate therapeutic supports (i.e., psychotherapy, social skills groups, school counseling, occupational therapy, executive function coaching).
  • If you are concerned your child is using substances, you may contact their pediatrician or find support through SAMHSA’s national helpline (call 1-800-662-HELP or text HELP4U to 435748 to receive information on local treatment facilities, support groups, and local community organizations).

References:

Grant BF, Goldstein RB, Saha TD, et al. Epidemiology of DSM-5 Alcohol Use Disorder: Results From the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions III. JAMA Psychiatry. 2015;72(8):757–766. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.0584

Grant BF, Saha TD, Ruan WJ, et al. Epidemiology of DSM-5 Drug Use Disorder: Results From the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions–III. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73(1):39–47. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.2132

 

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