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

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NESCA Notes 2022

College Myth Buster: Four-Year College Degrees Are Most Often Not Completed in Four Years

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

One of the biggest challenges in supporting students with disabilities, and their families, as they contemplate the transition from high school to college is combatting the many “myths” that exist in our culture and brains about college. Chief among those myths is the expectation that a 17- or 18-year-old should be able to:

  • Select “the right” college—which is a “fit” for their interests and personality during a period of time when they are quickly changing and forming a new view of themselves and their identity.
  • Easily bridge the transition from high school to college—even though the expectations for time management, class and study hours, life skills, extracurricular participation, meeting graduation requirements, etc., are completely different.
  • And, successfully complete 120 or more college credit hours within just four years.

The reality is that the majority of students who enroll at a “four-year” college in the United States will not finish their bachelor’s degree in four years. Instead, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, just 49 percent of first-time, full-time college students earn a bachelor’s degree in four years. To rephrase, the majority of students who enroll at a college expecting to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in four years will be disappointed, although there are some differences in retention at public and private institutions. Given that colleges are excellent at marketing, you may notice when researching schools, that it is far more common for public and private universities to advertise their “six-year” graduation rate, rather than the four-year rate. Even so, the National Student Clearhouse Research Center data indicates that the six-year completion rate for full-time undergraduate students in 2023 in the United States was 62.2 percent overall—which is effectively unchanged since 2015. There is essentially a more than one in three chance that a student who enrolls at a particular college, will not end up with a degree from that college six years later.

While these numbers can be somewhat startling, it is important to go into the college process with eyes wide open and to pay attention to each college’s retention rates from freshman to sophomore year as well as their four-year and six-year graduation rates. There is also a great opportunity here to rethink college planning and college paths. Rather than trying to find “the right” college for seeking a bachelor’s degree, students might instead look for “the right” college to start being a college student at. Sometimes, this is the community college right down the street where the student can trial classes of interest to narrow down their choices of major and also trial classes in areas of challenge (such as math, or a lab science) if the student is worried about being able to pass such classes at a four-year college. Another possibility for students with learning disabilities can be to start at a college that is designed for students with learning disabilities or that has a great learning disabilities program. We have the opportunity to help students forge a college path that looks a lot more like a career path, starting with an “entry-level” school and working up to a school that offers the student the rigor and academic concentration that reflects the student’s highest potential. For students interested in this type of planning, familiarity with transfer rates and transfer agreements between colleges can be an important part of the college research process. Financial planning is also critical—rather than a student needing to fund six years of college at a private institution, participation in a community college as a starter school or taking classes at a community college or public college during the summer might help to curb overall college costs.

In addition to thinking creatively about college planning, I think it is important to talk earnestly about college retention and graduation rates with teenagers—to let students know that there is actually a good chance they might not like the college they choose, might decide to change colleges, or might not graduate in four years. These are the facts of college, and we need to normalize the experience of trying college and deciding it’s not the right school or right time, needing to take a semester off for mental health reasons, or simply needing more time to get through it. Because that is what’s normal!

 

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 Ferne Pinard, Ph.D., Joins NESCA

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach

I recently had the opportunity to learn more about Pediatric Neuropsychologist Ferne Pinard, Ph.D., who joined NESCA in this August. We are thrilled to have her on board and hope you learn more about her background and specialty areas in today’s blog interview.

How did you choose pediatric neuropsychology as a profession?

I’ve had an interesting journey to get to where I am today professionally. I started working with adolescents in the West Indies as a high school teacher. There I quickly learned that meant not just teaching to the curriculum, but also looking at each student as a whole person – often along with their parents – providing counseling to them and additional academic support as needed to meet their needs. That sparked my initial interest in working to support children.

That spark turned into a deep interest in psychology. In college I decided to major in psychology. I became involved in research examining various aspects of child development and learned about statistical methods.

In graduate school, I worked with my mentor on research projects that involved administration of neuropsychological tests and examining how performance on these tests were related to various outcomes (e.g., academic performance, externalizing behaviors). I enjoyed doing assessment as part of the research project and other training experiences. Although I toyed with the idea of becoming a therapist – as I was trained to provide therapy and conduct assessment – I decided to further my knowledge in the brain/behavior relationship

How have your previous work experiences prepared you to be a neuropsychologist with NESCA?

I spent the last 11 years at Boston Children’s Hospital, first as a post-doctorate fellow and later as an attending neuropsychologist.

As a fellow at Boston Children’s, I had the opportunity to work in various specialty clinics, gaining exposure to patients with a range of medical and genetic conditions, including neurofibromatosis, cancer, etc.

Later, I went on to gain specialty experience in the Pediatric Neuro-immunology and Learning Disabilities programs. As an attending neuropsychologist, I worked with, trained, and supervised pre-doctorate psychology interns and post-doctoral fellows.

As part of the neuroimmunology program, you assisted with research on the impact of post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC) – also known as Long Haul Covid – on children and their education. Tell us about that.

Yes, I had the opportunity to provide consultation to a previous colleague examining the cognitive impact of Long Covid. I also conducted a few assessments of adolescent struggling with persistent symptoms after being diagnosed with Covid. Difficulties with attention, mood, executive functioning (e.g., working memory and slow processing speed), and fatigue are commonly reported among individuals with Long Covid. These students also experienced disruption in school due to their illness then ongoing symptoms and understandably find it difficult to keep up and meet academic expectations. So many young people were sadder and more anxious throughout Covid…layer Long Haul Covid on top of that, and it’s a huge problem.

How do you see your previous work experiences translating to the families we work with at NESCA?

I bring a lot of knowledge and evaluation experience to NESCA, but most importantly, I bring expertise and compassion in working with families – creating and maintaining relationships with them. The greatest thing I can do for a family is to listen to their concerns, let them feel heard, and allow them to express their feelings about what they and their child are going through. This helps the parents and the child’s school gain a better understanding of the child.

How do you tailor your evaluations for different children, say an anxious child?

Patience and validation are key. I think it is also important to include the child and their caregiver in the discussion. Perhaps I add additional structure to the evaluation (e.g., use of a checklist, breaks at predetermined times), integrate strategies to reduce anxiety (e.g., deep breathing, use of fidgets), or modify the evaluation to take place over three sessions instead of two. Sometimes, the child is allowed to have the parent in the room with them throughout the evaluation. There are different approaches that can be taken based on each individual, and it’s my role to work with the child and caregiver to identify what would work best for the child.

You’ve had a lot of experience evaluating medically complex children and children who are dealing with medical conditions that many think only affect adults. Tell us about that.

It’s true. I’ve worked closely with children who have gone through cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. These are always very touching experiences. These children have been through so much medically that sometimes the medical experiences lead to mental health challenges. They may have gotten through the cancer itself, but there can be residual and sometimes long-term fears of a reoccurrence. Often, there is an intensely emotional component to these assessments because of what the children and their families have endured. I’ve heard the fear in the voices of both the children and their parents’ voices. It’s my job to listen and provide them with a safe space.

Some of the children seen may not be able to maintain engagement for a typical evaluation due to fatigue related to their medical condition and treatment, for example. In these cases, the evaluation will need to be carefully tailored to address the referral question (s). And again, the approach to the evaluation would have to be modified to meet the child where they are.

I’ve also worked with children who have been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and other autoimmune conditions. With these children, I always factor in the amount of stress they are experiencing in life and school as well as the fears they have about how MS may impact them later in life. The stress they feel, whether at school or based on their diagnosis, can have a negative impact on their symptoms. There’s a cascading effect from the brain and all of its thoughts and worries, and that is what we help them deal with. I am always eager to advocate for these children who bear such a heavy load.

What is the most rewarding part of your job as a neuropsychologist?

I feel that I have added value to a child’s life, when I can provide them and their families with a meaningful and comprehensive understanding of their profile—one that includes strengths, not just a focus on weaknesses. I think this is essential as it enables the family and child to advocate for their needs.

Why did you want to be part of NESCA’s team?

Initially, I was really drawn to the integrative approach to care for the children who are with NESCA. Coordination of care, whenever possible, and consultation among professionals involved in a child’s care leads to better outcomes. I was also excited to work with the professionals who specialize in different areas than I am accustomed to working with, such as postsecondary transition. The team here is very willing to collaborate so we can all teach and learn from each other. While I know I will gain great knowledge from the group, it really best serves the families with whom we work.

 

About Pediatric Neuropsychologist Ferne Pinard, Ph.D.

Dr. Pinard provides comprehensive evaluation services for children, adolescents, and young adults with learning disabilities, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), and psychiatric disorders as well as complex medical histories and neurological conditions. She has expertise in assessing children and adolescents with childhood cancer as well as neuro-immunological disorders, including opsoclonus-myoclonus-ataxia syndrome (“dancing eyes syndrome”), central nervous system vasculitis, Hashimoto’s encephalopathy, lupus, auto-immune encephalitis, multiple sclerosis (MS), acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), and acute transverse myelitis (ATM), and optic neuritis.

To book a neuropsychological evaluation with Dr. Pinard 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.

The Importance of SMEDMERTS

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Ann Helmus, Ph.D.
NESCA Founder/Director; Clinical Neuropsychologist

While supporting a friend who was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I have come to appreciate how challenging it is for people with this disorder to maintain a stable mood state. One of the most helpful resources I discovered in my search for information to help me support my friend was a TEDx talk by Ellen Forney, an author who has successfully managed her bipolar disorder for two decades by following SMEDMERTS, an acronym for: Sleep, Medication, Eat Well, Doctor/therapy, Mindfulness/Meditation, Exercise, Routine, Tools (coping), and Support System. I was struck that only 25% of the solution for managing her mental illness involves the mental health system: medication and doctor. The bulk of her treatment system relates to lifestyle choices.

While attention to SMEDMERTS is important for all of us, especially in these stressful times, consistent focus on these lifestyle choices is particularly critical for the many children and adolescents who we see at NESCA presenting with anxiety, mood disorders, ADHD, and behavioral issues. Most of us struggle to achieve our daily goals for sleep, diet, meditation, exercise, sticking to a routine, practicing adaptive coping strategies, and nurturing our support system, even though we know how much better we feel and how much better our children function when we are focused on SMEDMERTS in our daily life. While the impact of medications and doctors on functioning is largely outside of our control, we can control our lifestyle choices, which are critical to the success of managing any mental health issue.

How can we help the children in our lives to embrace SMEDMERTS?

  • Modeling it for them. As Robert Fulgham said, “Don’t worry that your children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”
  • Praising their efforts. Offer positive feedback, such as, “Great idea to get up early to go for a run,” or, “I like how you called a friend when you were upset to get some advice.”
  • Enlisting the help of a coach. NESCA offers real-life skills coaching, executive functioning coaching, and health coaching to help children, adolescents, and young adults build and maintain habits to support positive lifestyle choices.

Health coaching is available to parents of NESCA clients who are seeking support in developing positive health habits, such as exercise, diet, stress management, and meditation.

If you are interested in coaching services at NESCA to support your quest for SMEDMERTS, please contact Crystal Jean: cjean@nesca-newton.com or fill out our intake form at www.nesca-newton.com.

 

About the Author
NESCA Founder/Director Ann Helmus, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical neuropsychologist who has been practicing for almost 20 years. In 1996, she jointly founded the  Children’s Evaluation Center (CEC) in Newton, Massachusetts, serving as co-director there for almost ten years. During that time, CEC emerged as a leading regional center for the diagnosis and remediation of both learning disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

In September of 2007, Dr. Helmus established NESCA (Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents), a client and family-centered group of seasoned neuropsychologists and allied staff, many of whom she trained, striving to create and refine innovative clinical protocols and dedicated to setting new standards of care in the field.

Dr. Helmus specializes in the evaluation of children with learning disabilities, attention and executive function deficits and primary neurological disorders. In addition to assessing children, she also provides consultation and training to both public and private school systems. She frequently makes presentations to groups of parents, particularly on the topics of non-verbal learning disability and executive functioning.

To book an evaluation with one of NESCA’s many 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, 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.

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Alissa Talamo, PhD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

According to the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), “Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. Dyslexia refers to a cluster of symptoms, which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading. Students with dyslexia usually experience difficulties with other language skills such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words. Dyslexia affects individuals throughout their lives; however, its impact can change at different stages in a person’s life. It is referred to as a learning disability because dyslexia can make it very difficult for a student to succeed academically in the typical instructional environment, and in its more severe forms, will qualify a student for special education, special accommodations, or extra support services.” Also, it is important to recognize that dyslexia is not due to either a lack of intelligence or a lack of desire to learn, and with appropriate and sufficient teaching methods, students with dyslexia can learn successfully.

Fortunately, there are effective strategies to help students with dyslexia. However, some common approaches to teaching reading (e.g., guided reading, balanced literacy) have not been found to be effective enough for the struggling reader. What research has found to be most effective is Structured Literacy. Structured Literacy instruction includes specific elements that are necessary for a dyslexic reader to make reading progress. Such elements include phonemic awareness (the ability to notice, think about, and work with individual sounds in words, such as separating the spoken word “cat” into three distinct phonemes), phonological awareness (the ability to recognize and manipulate the spoken parts of sentences and words), sound-symbol association (e.g., identify printed letters and what sounds they make), syllable instruction, morphology (smallest unit of meaning in the language), syntax (e.g., grammar), and semantics (meaning). In order to be most effective, students with dyslexia need to be taught using an explicit instruction method, with a teacher trained in a program that meets that student’s specific needs, the instruction needs to be taught in a logical order (basic concepts before more difficult ones), and each step needs to be based on previously learned concepts (cumulative).

According to the IDA, a comprehensive evaluation to assess for dyslexia, as well as to assess for any other potential language challenges or learning disabilities, should include intellectual and academic achievement testing, as well as assessment of critical underlying language skills that are closely linked to dyslexia, such as receptive and expressive language skills, phonology (phonological awareness, phonemic awareness), and rapid naming (e.g., quickly reading single letters or numbers). Additionally, a full evaluation should assess a student’s ability to read a list of unrelated real words as well as a list of pseudowords (made up pretend words to assess a child’s ability to apply reading rules), in addition to a student’s ability to read in context (e.g., stories). If a student is found to demonstrate that they meet criteria for a diagnosis of dyslexia, a specialized program should be developed by the school in order to provide appropriate services and accommodations.

Sources:

https://dyslexiaida.org/dyslexia-basics-2

https://dyslexiaida.org/effective-reading-instruction-for-students-with-dyslexia

www.readingrockets.org

 

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.

College Freshman and Executive Function: The Often Unexpected Demands

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

It is no surprise that the experience of a high school student is vastly different than that of a college student. This transition is seen as a pivotal step towards independence as we send students off to learn, grow, and explore in an often substantially less supported and less controlled environment. The hope is that after 13 years of K-12 education, our students have developed the academic, communication, and organization skills needed for success in school. They know the tricks of the trade. They have systems to employ and even more systems to fall back on if needed. They have become experts at learning, and they know the drill. But what happens when students get to college and everything, from the style of instruction, to the flow of coursework, all the way to the demands outside of learning are just…a little bit different? For some students, this is a welcome opportunity to rise to the challenge, but for others, this is a daunting, overwhelming, and seemingly impossible ask. As an occupational therapist specializing in executive function, I have spent the last few years directly supporting those college freshman – the ones who look at the new demands and think, “I was never prepared for this, I don’t know if I can do this.” And I don’t blame them for feeling that way! The demands and expectations truly change. Here are a few that stand out:

  • Time management – High school schedules are rigid. Students are expected to arrive at a specific time, follow a block schedule, and make it to each of their classes (generally all in one building). If they forget what period it is, they can ask a friend, teacher, or almost anyone in the hallway. Conversely, every student in college has their own schedule that they are expected to track and manage. On Monday, they may be in class from 10am-2pm, while on Tuesday they are in class from 3pm-5pm on the other side of campus. There is no one to quickly ask or check in with regarding when and where they are supposed to be and consistency is rare. This trouble is further compounded by the fact that college coursework requires a substantial amount of work to be done outside of the classroom that must be planned for and built into the weekly schedule.
  • Reading a syllabus – While “reading a syllabus” may sound simple, these documents are often over 20 pages long, providing information about course content, course expectations, professor’s preferred method of communication, grading systems, and a full schedule of what is due and when. Additionally, each of these documents uses a different format and is frequently amended during the semester. High school students are used to an online portal that is consistently used by their teachers and provides built-in reminders and updates. Syllabi are tricky, and many students skim them without absorbing.
  • Assignment tracking – As mentioned above, college portals are nowhere near as comprehensive, up-to-date, or accurate as most ex-high school students expect. Professors may change a due date in class without updating a syllabus or expect students to keep track of a paper that is due more than a month away. Many college students need support putting a system in place to quickly consolidate due dates, set internal deadlines, and track what they need to hand in. This is especially important when breaking down large assignments into manageable chunks or learning to prepare in advance to for busy times in the semester, such as midterms or finals week.
  • Communicating with instructors – Many college students need support in pushing themselves to attend office hours, reach out early and often via email if they have questions about classwork or assignments, and even introduce themselves to their professors.
  • Developing healthy habits and routines – On top of academic executive function demands, college students are dealing with an increase in life-based executive function demands. They are managing their own eating habits, morning routines, evening routines, and organizing all of their personal belongings in their own space. Completing all of this while maintaining life balance can be tricky, and may require some support.
  • Accessing accommodations – The accommodation process at a college level is vastly different from the IEP or 504 process in high school. While this topic could be a blog on its own, the biggest takeaway for me is the level of responsibility that falls on the students. They are in charge of letting each professor, at the beginning of every semester, know about their accommodations for sitting in classes, taking exams, or turning in assignments. This requires a level of self-advocacy and functional communication that they may not have had to demonstrate in high school. This demand does not disappear throughout the semester, as they often need to remind professors a week before an exam about their needs or independently book a room to take their test.

While this may seem like a lot, the good news is that our students have learned how to learn. Their systems may need updating, and their strategies may need fine tuning, but with guidance I have found college success to be a truly achievable goal. I often find that once provided with a foundation and tips for how to be successful, my college freshmen do rise to the challenge and eventually build the ability to do all of this independently. If you feel that your student could benefit from some executive function support as they embark on their college journey, please reach out about NESCA’s EF Coaching Program!

 

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.

 

Election Season: Everyone has a Voice

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

Election season is upon us once again, and it’s time to let EVERYONE have a voice! In fact, September 12 – 16 is Disability Voting Rights Week.

There’s good news on the voting front. According to Disability Research at Rutgers University and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), 62% of individuals with disabilities voted in the 2020 election, an uptick from previous elections that is thought to be due to the increased availability of voting options, such as mail-in and early voting. There was also a significant decrease in the number of people with disabilities who had difficulties voting in 2020 down from 26% to 11%. If you want to learn more about voter turnout by individuals with disabilities, read more in the fact sheet found here.

While numbers are heading in the right direction, we’d still like to help our young people with disabilities exercise their right to vote. In Massachusetts, even individuals with guardianship maintain their right to vote unless the court documents specifically state otherwise. There are many ways to support individuals, but it starts with helping them register. Massachusetts residents can register to vote online, when obtaining or renewing a driver’s license or state ID, or at the local registrar of voters’ office. Notices from MassHealth and the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) also include voter registration forms.

Absentee/mail-in ballots have been in the news more than ever due to the pandemic. Every registered voter should have received a postcard/mailing to request an absentee or mail-in ballot.

All citizens are also allowed to bring a person to help them while they are at the polls. Encourage your young person by letting them know that many people require assistance at the polls, and it is completely normal to have someone help them if they need it. Each polling location should also have at least one AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal, which helps individuals with visual impairments vote independently.

No one wants their vote not to be counted due to errors filling out their ballot. People can request a sample ballot in advance from their local registrar of voters (the Secretary of State’s website can give you the address and phone number of your local registrar). Practicing filling out ballots in advance (even ballots from previous elections) can help a new voter become comfortable with the form and is great fine motor skill practice for those who may need it!

The Massachusetts Secretary of State also creates a voter information booklet for each election regarding the ballot initiatives. Starting in early October, these red booklets can be found at many community locations, such as local libraries, post offices and city/town halls. These booklets offer information on what a yay or nay vote would mean and have information from each initiative’s proponents and opponents. Use that sample ballot as a starting point for the different types of ballot questions and elected positions.

Keep in mind the key dates and deadlines for voting in this fall’s elections in Massachusetts are as follows:

  • Voter Registration Deadline: October 29, 2022
  • Vote by Mail Application Deadline: November 1, 2022
  • Early Voting: October 22 – November 4, 2022
  • Election Day Polling Hours:7:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Help your young adult find out what the different roles of government boards do and why there is an election for things such as Auditor, Attorney General, and Governor’s council. Help them find the websites for candidates running for office and review the candidates’ stances on issues. Ask what issues they want to learn more about and are important to them. This fall, Massachusetts voters will be casting their votes for a large lineup of roles to fill, with the following positions on the ballot. You can learn more about who is running for state offices at https://revupma.org/wp/2022-ma-races/.

  • Representatives in Congress (Federal)
  • Governor
  • Lieutenant Governor
  • Attorney General
  • Secretary of State
  • State Treasurer
  • State Auditor
  • Governor’s Council
  • State Senators
  • State Representative
  • District Attorney (District Level may or may not be the same as your county)
  • Sheriff (County Level)
  • County Commissioner (County Level only in certain counties)
  • Ballot Questions

Most importantly, remind them that their voice counts. As many disability rights activists have said, “nothing about us without us.” Individuals with disabilities are greatly affected by the policy decisions that occur in government at all levels. Since many individuals with disabilities have frequently experienced disenfranchisement, there are numerous groups working tirelessly to lessen and remove these barriers. How have you helped your young adult exercise their right to vote?

Important Links:

 

About the Author

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

 

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

 

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

 

Meet Pediatric Neuropsychologist Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Jane  Hauser

Director of Marketing & Outreach, NESCA

I recently had the opportunity to learn more about Pediatric Neuropsychologist Lauren Halladay, Ph.D., who joins NESCA in September. Learn more about her background and specialties in today’s blog interview.

How did you choose pediatric neuropsychology as a profession?

My interest was originally piqued when I was younger, as early as my high school years. I volunteered at a therapeutic riding program for kids with disabilities. That’s what initially sparked my desire to work with kids, and those with disabilities, in particular. My mother was a third grade teacher, which also imparted the desire to work with kids and help them overcome their challenges at school.

I went on to major in psychology and had a strong interest in pediatrics for the reasons I mentioned previously. Based on some of the work I did in graduate school, I learned that I really enjoyed the assessment piece, especially with the younger kids, helping them in life by identifying the right diagnosis (when applicable) and helping to put the right interventions in place for them to build skills that will equip them for the future.

How have your previous work experiences prepared you to be a neuropsychologist?

I’ve had a wide breadth of work experiences where I was supervised by neuropsychologists, whether it be in satellite health systems, the hospital setting, etc. While in those clinics, I had the opportunity to work with a variety of populations and presentations, including those who have experienced trauma, or have developmental or learning disabilities.

Having worked in several states throughout the country, including Oregon, Ohio, New York and Massachusetts, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with a variety of families who present with unique backgrounds, experiences, and cultural values, which I always consider when making diagnostic decisions and developing recommendations.

What areas of neuropsychology have you most enjoyed to date? What would you consider your specialty area?

There are several areas that I am very passionate about. I really enjoy working with young kids, those under the ages of five or six. I also have a great interest in working with families who have concerns about their child potentially having an autism spectrum disorder or an intellectual or developmental disability. In addition, I find it incredibly rewarding to work with and help families whose children are medically complex or have moderate to severe cognitive impairments.

Regardless of how the child or student presents or what challenges they may have, I always individualize my approach so that I can meet the needs of each child. This is especially true in cases where families have had a hard time getting assessments done in the school setting or even privately in the past.

What is the most rewarding experience in neuropsychology that you’ve had to date?

I find it rewarding to hear from families when the strategies I’ve recommended are or are not working for them. For example, hearing that parents achieve success in implementing behavior management strategies, accessing support in the community, and/or learning about their child’s diagnosis and how to create an environment that suits their needs is a wonderful feeling. On the other hand, when the initial recommendations are not as helpful as intended, I enjoy approaching the problem-solving process together and discussing alternate approaches.

I also find it incredibly rewarding to offer parents and caregivers a deeper perspective on a child who has a moderate to severe cognitive impairment or is medically complex. Being able to give them a sense of where their child is developmentally in relation to their peers can be enlightening. Additionally, having more information about a child’s developmental level can help families and school staff establish appropriate, and individualized, expectations that set the child up for success. I strive to make a difference in these cases by developing strong partnerships with families, as well as serving as a trusted resource and advocate as they navigate how to best access supports in the community and in school.

What benefits, having been trained in a school psychology department, do you bring to families at NESCA?

My school psychology background allows me to bring a deep awareness and perspective on how the IEP process works. My experience and knowledge of special education rights allows me to be a true partner to families who are trying to navigate and understand the IEP process. I am able to share that knowledge and better advocate for my clients in Team meetings.

Why did you decide to join the team at NESCA?

I knew that in my next career move, I wanted to be part of a collaborative community that puts an emphasis on work/life balance—I feel that both allow clinicians to produce the highest quality work. At NESCA, I will also have the opportunity to use my school psychology skills and be an active participant in the IEP process on behalf of our clients.

NESCA is known for creating and building long-lasting relationships with the families they work with. I look forward to working with families and their schools/districts for the long-term, helping students to build skills along the way that will help them throughout their lives.

Finally, not being a native Bostonian, I am excited to learn more about and partner with the different school systems on behalf of the families and students we work with at NESCA.

 

About Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.

Dr. Halladay conducts comprehensive evaluations of toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children with a wide range of developmental, behavioral, and emotional concerns. She particularly enjoys working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and complex medical conditions. She has experience working in schools, as well as outpatient and inpatient hospital settings. She is passionate about optimizing outcomes for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities by providing evidence-based, family-oriented care.

 

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

 

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

What Do We Mean by Individualized Neuropsychological Evaluations?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

Previous blogs in our recent series addressing frequently asked questions during the intake process, have covered the important differences between school-based testing and an independent neuropsychological evaluation. A neuropsychological evaluation should always be comprehensive, meaning that it covers various aspects of the student’s learning profile: cognition, language, memory, attention, and social-emotional functioning. However, the evaluation should also be individualized. Essentially, a good evaluation should aim to answer the questions that are specific to that student, not just a cookie-cutter list of tests.

Prior to starting testing, the clinician reviews any previous records and holds an intake appointment with the student’s parents or caregivers. Through this process, the clinician gathers information about the student’s early developmental history, medical background, and current challenges. If the student is already receiving services – either privately or through the school district – that is also important information. All of this helps to shape the “Referral Questions” for the evaluation. In some cases, the questions are very specific; for example, “Does my child have dyslexia?” or “Does my child have ADHD?” In other cases, the question is less defined, such as when we are asked “What is going on with my child and how do I help them?”

We often get asked by parents or caregivers if their child can have all of the tests available performed during their child’s neuropsychological evaluation. As clinicians, we understand that temptation. An evaluation is both an investment of time and money for the parents or caregivers. But neuropsychological evaluations are a lot of work for children, so we want to be sure to tailor the tests to what is actually going to yield beneficial findings for them or will help answer the referral question.

Some families request the list of tests that will be included in the evaluation. Unfortunately, this is not always possible until after testing is underway. Following the intake process, the clinician starts to develop the “battery” – the specific tests that will be administered to the student. Most clinicians have a skeleton battery of tests that they include for every client – an intelligence test, some academic tests (reading, writing, and math), and tasks that assess skills, such as language, memory, and attention – as described above. The clinician then fills in the testing battery based on the specific questions for that student. For example:

  • An evaluation designed to test for dyslexia should include several tests of reading as well as tests that look at very specific skills related to reading (e.g., phonological processing). When there are no concerns about reading, this aspect of the evaluation would be briefer.
  • An evaluation designed to assess for autism spectrum disorder should include a variety of tasks that examine social communication and reciprocal social skills. These types of tasks would likely not be included for a student who has never had any challenges in the social domain.

If a school district or another provider is asking for the list of tests that will comprise the neuropsychological evaluation, please talk to your clinician about this during the intake process. The final list might not be available until testing is complete, but this is definitely something that your clinician can provide as soon as possible.

 

About the Author

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

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

 

If you are interested in booking an evaluation with a NESCA neuropsychologist/clinician, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

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

IEP or 504: What Do They Mean and How Can They Apply to My Child?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By Miranda Milana, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

If your child has ever undergone an evaluation through their school system or received an outside neuropsychological evaluation, chances are you have heard the terms “504 plan” or “IEP” thrown around. Given that it can be difficult to understand the differences between the two, we will break down what both of these terms mean and how they might apply to your child.

What is an IEP?

IEP stands for Individualized Education Program and provides specialized instruction, program modification, and accommodations through the public school system based on a student’s disability and how it impacts access to the curriculum. IEPs must include:

  • Annual goals that are measurable via benchmarks
  • Progress reports of the student’s current performance
  • Descriptions of how services will be provided
  • Outlined transition services as the child ages

In addition, IEPs must detail what academic environment would be the least restrictive, and therefore, most suitable for the student to appropriately access the educational curriculum.

Who is eligible for an IEP?

In order to qualify for an IEP, students must receive an evaluation either through the school system or through an outside provider that outlines the student’s disability status and how it negatively impacts accessing the educational curriculum. Importantly, a diagnosed disability is not enough to quality for an IEP on its own. Instead, the disability must be impacting the student’s ability to make effective progress in the general education program, which includes both academic and non-academic offerings of the district. Some examples of qualifying diagnoses include (but are not limited to):

  • Autism
  • Emotional Disturbance
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Specific Learning Disability

A parent or caregiver may ask what happens if  their child has a diagnosed disability but does not require special education services? Instead, the team may determine, through the eligibility process, that the student only requires accommodations, such as extended time on tests.

This is a perfect example of when a student might not qualify for an IEP and would instead be considered for a 504 plan. Simply put, IEPs and 504 plans both provide accommodations; however, 504 plans do NOT provide for specialized instruction or program modifications.

 What is a 504 plan?

A 504 plan is referred to as such because it is covered under Section 504 of a federal civil rights law called the Rehabilitation Act. This law works to ensure that students receive appropriate supports and accommodations within the academic setting. 504 plans outline accommodations for students which can include some of the following (but again, accommodations are not limited to the following):

  • Preferential seating
  • Extended time on tests and quizzes
  • Reduced distraction testing environments
  • Access to class notes
  • The use of a calculator during exams

As you can see, none of these accommodations is modifying the curriculum or providing a student with educational services as would be the case with an IEP.

Who is eligible for a 504 plan?

Any student with a disability impairing functioning in one or more areas is eligible for a 504 plan. One common example would be a student with diagnosed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) who requires distraction-reduced testing environments and/or other associated accommodations but does NOT require specialized academic instruction.

Another example is a parent of a child with an autism spectrum diagnosis may find that their child was found to be ineligible for an IEP through the special education eligibility determination process. Shouldn’t the student qualify for an IEP based on the autism disability?

The answer is not necessarily. If a student has a diagnosis of autism but is showing no signs of impairment within the academic setting (i.e., making appropriate academic progress, showing no signs of emotional distress, doing well with their peers, etc.), an IEP would not be warranted. Instead, a 504 plan would likely be considered (but again, is not guaranteed if academic functioning is not impaired).

If you feel your child requires a 504 plan or IEP and you are not sure where to start, contact your child’s special education program at their school. You may also wish to consult with an educational advocate or attorney who has a thorough understanding of special education laws.

References:

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2018, June 29). Education Laws and Regulations. 603 CMR 28.00: Special Education – Education Laws and Regulations. Retrieved August, 2022, from https://www.doe.mass.edu/lawsregs/603cmr28.html?section=05

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2014, July 14). Section 504 and the Americans with disabilities act. Section 504 – Special Education. Retrieved August, 2022, from https://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/links/sec504.html

 

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.

 

Private Neuropsychological Evaluation vs. School Evaluation

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

While both a school evaluation and a private neuropsychological evaluation often provide valuable information, there are some considerable differences. The primary purpose of a school evaluation is to determine whether or not a student presents with a disability that impairs their ability to access the curriculum and fully participate in the academic and social life of the school. Once a student has been referred for special education, the special education team convenes to determine if, when, and how the student should be evaluated. They decide which instruments will be used for the assessment and who will be responsible for administering them. For example, if a student is referred for a suspected disability, a school psychologist conducts a cognitive evaluation, and a special education teacher will administer an academic assessment. A speech and language, physical therapy, functional behavior, or occupational therapy evaluation may be requested as well. After testing, each specialist writes their report and presents their results individually.

When a student participates in a private neuropsychological evaluation, the parents and student work closely with the evaluator through the entire process, from the intake to feedback and beyond. While there are certainly very comprehensive school evaluations, the information obtained by the evaluators is rarely integrated and instead presented as separate evaluations. This does not allow for a complete understanding of how deficits (or strengths) impact functioning across domains, especially when the child has complex challenges. A comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation is comprised of many elements. Most evaluations consist of a detailed developmental and family history, cognitive, academic, learning and memory (auditory and visual) assessment, visual-spatial and graphical motor skills, and attention and executive function. Depending on the referral question, the evaluation may include reviews of social skills and adaptive functioning or specific measures to assist with making a differential diagnosis. Generally, the assessment is conducted by a single evaluator. The data, including data from prior testing, is synthesized into a detailed report with specific recommendations for school, home, and community life when appropriate.

There are undeniably circumstances when a thorough school evaluation is beneficial. School evaluators have opportunities to observe students at school and consult with their teachers, which can be advantageous (although observations may be requested or necessary to complete a thorough private evaluation, too). School team members also have many opportunities to collaborate when evaluating and working with students. However, school personnel are limited in their ability to integrate data across disciplines, provide diagnoses, and directly assess medical conditions, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and complex challenges, such as dyslexia and nonverbal learning disability (NLD). Additionally, while some parents establish a good working relationship with members of the special education team, they do not have the opportunity to develop a long-term, collaborative relationship with the evaluator as they would when a private evaluation is obtained.

 

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.