NESCA is Now Open in Hingham, MA! Currently scheduling neuropsychological evaluations and projective testing. NESCA’s Hingham clinicians specialize in elementary-, middle school-, and high school-aged children and young adults, including those who show signs of: autism spectrum disorders, being psychologically complex, mental health or mood disorders, and emotional, behavioral, and attentional challenges. To book an appointment, please start by filling out our intake form.

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NESCA Notes 2024

Understanding the Neuropsychological Evaluation Process When an Autism Spectrum Disorder is Suspected

By | NESCA Notes 2024 | No Comments

By Miranda Milana, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

In January, Dr. Folsom published a blog post detailing the reasons why so many females on the autism spectrum are misdiagnosed in childhood. Here at NESCA, we are continuously working to improve our testing practices and administration protocols to ensure that we accurately capture one’s diagnostic picture when they come in for a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation regardless of gender identity, age, or diagnostic presentation. As clinicians, tailoring an appropriate testing protocol is only one piece of the puzzle when working with our clients. From the moment we review your intake paperwork and questions/concerns, we work diligently to make sure we are teasing apart each component of a child’s neuropsychological profile to ensure clarity and accuracy for diagnoses and tailored recommendations. Here is a look into some of what that process looks like:

Initial Paperwork: Before your first intake appointment, your clinician will thoroughly review all of the intake paperwork and supporting documents you have submitted to us. We make sure to read all of your questions and concerns, while also making our own notes of questions that we will have for you during the intake appointment. All neuropsychologists here at NESCA are trained to identify “red flags” or areas of potential concern that we want to know more about through our interviews with you, your child, teachers, and our testing protocols.

Intake Appointment: During this appointment, we will ask you more in-depth questions about your responses and questions from the intake paperwork you provided. This is an opportunity for us to explore any concerns we may have. For many diagnoses, there are overlapping diagnostic features that are important to tease apart. For example, inflexibility and rigidity (not handling transitions well, struggling with changes in routine) may be related to an anxiety diagnosis, a mood disorder, an autism spectrum diagnosis, and/or executive functioning weaknesses.

Speaking with Collaterals: Oftentimes, clinicians will ask for permission to speak to other caregivers who have knowledge of your child, such as teachers, therapists, and pediatricians. Because we only see your child for a “snapshot” in time, it is important for us to also consider the perspectives of those who have longstanding relationships with them in a variety of contexts and environments.

Developing a Testing Battery: After the intake appointment, clinicians put together a tentative list of assessment measures that we may want to utilize. Tentative is the key word because oftentimes testing batteries change throughout the course of the assessment as a diagnostic picture becomes clearer or when specific areas of deficit become more apparent.

At NESCA, we have access to multiple testing tools that allow us to tailor our testing battery to capture any nuanced constellation of symptoms or diagnostic profile. For example, when thinking about how to accurately diagnose someone who is “high functioning” or “masking” areas of vulnerability related to an autism spectrum diagnosis, clinicians have access to the following batteries:

  • Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule—2nd (ADOS-2): The ADOS-2 is one of the most well-known assessments for autism as it utilizes a semi-structured format to assess social communication skills as well as restricted interests, repetitive behaviors, sensory sensitivities, and rigidity. The ADOS-2 relies on standardized observations to capture any difficulties in the aforementioned categories.
  • Childhood Autism Rating Scale—2nd (CARS-2): The CARS-2 is another measure that involves a standardized rating scale based on direct observations of the child. While playing and interacting with your child, the clinician is able to fill out this rating scale to assess symptoms associated with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. The CARS-2 also includes a parent questionnaire to allow for qualitative parent observations.
  • Monteiro Interview Guidelines for Diagnosing the Autism Spectrum—2nd (MIGDAS-2): The MIGDAS-2 assesses qualitative observations of language and communication skills, social relationships, emotional responses, as well as sensory interests and/or sensitivities. The MIGDAS-2 can be particularly helpful for children and adolescents who are “high-functioning,” or do not fit the presentation of the “male prototype” described in Dr. Folsom’s blog.
  • Social Language Development Test (SLDT): The SLDT measures social communication skills such as the ability to make inferences, interpret social situations, and navigate peer conflicts.

In addition to the above measures, clinicians may also choose to administer subtests related to social thinking, perspective taking, and/or emotion identification. Examples of these subtests include:

  • Affect Recognition and Theory of Mind from the NEPSY-II
  • Inferences, Meaning from Context, Idiomatic Language and Pragmatic Language on the CASL-2

For older children and adolescents, clinicians may ask them to fill out/answer questions about their own perceptions of their lived experiences. This can be done through an unstructured interview or by one of the following:

  • Camouflaging Autistic Traits Questionnaire (CAT-Q)
  • Ritvo Autism Asperger Diagnostic Scale—Revised (RAADS-R)
  • Autism Spectrum Quotient (ASQ)

Parent Questionnaires: Whenever there are any questions or concerns related to social communication and interpersonal relatedness, your clinician may ask you to fill out rating scales assessing your perception of your child’s ability to interact with others, engage in age-appropriate play, be flexible in their responses to change or new environments, and have a variety of interests. These questionnaires include:

  • Social Responsiveness Scale—2nd (SRS-2)
  • Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ)
  • Autism Diagnostic Interview—Revised (ADI-R)
  • Gilliam Autism Rating Scale—3rd (GARS-3)
  • Gilliam Asperger’s Disorder Scale (GADS)
  • Autism Spectrum Rating Scales (ASRS)

As you can see, we have a wide variety of measures available at NESCA to look at symptoms of an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Based on the discretion of your clinician, one or more of these may be used to further assess social communication concerns. While you may have heard of some of these being referred to as “the gold standard,” your clinician will use their knowledge, experience, and training to tailor a testing battery for the individual needs of your child. There is never a one size fits all approach to neuropsychological testing!

 

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.​

To book an appointment with Dr. Miranda Milana or another expert NESCA neuropsychologist, please complete our Intake Form today. 

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; the greater Burlington, Vermont region; and Brooklyn, New York (coaching services only) serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Technology Tools to Boost Your Productivity Part 2

By | NESCA Notes 2024

By: Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L
NESCA Executive Function and Real-life Skills Program Manager

As winter envelops us in its chilly embrace, it’s easy to feel the drag on our productivity. The cold, dark days can sap our motivation, making it challenging to tackle our to-do lists. But fear not! In this second part of our series on technology tools to enhance productivity, we’ll explore five more applications designed to support you through the winter slump.

Before diving into these tools, remember to be kind to yourself. It’s normal to experience dips in productivity, especially during the winter months. These apps are here to provide an extra boost for those who may need it.

  1. Finch: Finch is a self-care app used to build healthy habits and routines. Within this app you will be given a virtual pet bird. As you set, meet, and reach your goals, you will boost your pet’s energy so that it is able to go out on adventures. You will earn coins to buy your pet new outfits, home décor, and flights to new destinations. This app helps gamify the process of building healthy habits by creating fun incentives to get your tasks done.
  2. Forest App: Spending too much time on your phone or computer can contribute to feelings of lethargy and distraction, especially during the winter months. Forest is a clever app that encourages you to put down your device and focus on what’s important. Simply set a timer, plant a virtual tree, and watch it grow while you work. If you succumb to the temptation of checking your phone or browsing the web, your tree will wither and die. With Forest, you can cultivate healthier digital habits and reclaim your productivity.
  3. Cozi: Cozi is a family organizer app designed to streamline your household routines. From managing schedules and appointments to coordinating grocery lists and meal plans, Cozi helps keep your family on track during the hectic winter months. With shared calendars and reminders, everyone stays in sync, reducing stress and ensuring that nothing falls through the cracks.
  4. Streaks: Forming good habits is essential for maintaining productivity, especially when the days are short and the nights are long. Streaks is a habit-tracking app that helps you establish and maintain positive routines. Whether you want to exercise more, drink more water, or practice mindfulness, Streaks makes it easy to track your progress and stay motivated. Streaks empowers you to build habits that stick, even when the winter weather tempts you to hibernate.
  5. Headspace: Taking care of your mental well-being is crucial, especially during the darker days of winter. Headspace is a meditation app that offers guided mindfulness exercises to help you reduce stress, improve focus, and cultivate a sense of calm. Whether you’re struggling with seasonal affective disorder or simply feeling overwhelmed by winter blues, Headspace can provide the support you need to prioritize your mental health and boost your productivity.

The winter months can be challenging, but with the right technology tools at your disposal, you can stay focused, organized, and productive. Whether you’re building healthy habits and routines, reducing screen time, coordinating family schedules, or prioritizing mental health, these apps are here to support you every step of the way. So don’t let the winter blues hold you back—embrace the power of technology and conquer your to-do list!

 

About Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L

Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L, Vermont-based Executive Function and Real-life Skills Program Manager, is an occupational therapist who focuses on helping students and young adults with disabilities to build meaningful skills in order to reach their goals. She has spent the majority of her career working in a private school for students with ASD. She has also spent some time working in an inpatient mental health setting. Lyndsay uses occupation-based interventions and strategies to develop life skills, executive functioning, and emotional regulation. While completely her doctoral degree at MGH Institute of Health Professions, Lyndsay worked with the Boston Center for Independent Living to evaluate transition age services. She uses the results from her research to deliver services in a way that is most beneficial for clients. Specifically, she focuses on hands-on, occupation-based learning that is tailored the client’s goals and interests.

Dr. Wood accepts Vermont- and Massachusetts-based transition and occupational therapy assessments. Her in-home and community-based coaching services are available in the greater Burlington, Vermont area. Dr. Wood can accept virtual coaching clients from both Massachusetts and Vermont.

 

To book coaching and transition services at NESCA, complete NESCA’s online intake form

 

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; the greater Burlington, Vermont region; and Brooklyn, New York (coaching services only) serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Why is it so hard to develop Executive Function skills for college as a high school student?

By | NESCA Notes 2024

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

Students with disabilities often have challenges with executive function skills. These may include difficulties with organization, planning and prioritization, time management, task initiation, attention and effort, working memory, self-regulation, self-monitoring, and mental flexibility. Being successful as a college student often depends on using and integrating these skills. Therefore, it’s no surprise that most of the IEPs I read when working with teenage and young adult students have goals or objectives aimed at remediating executive function (EF) skills. However, many students on IEPs have these “EF” goals for years and still don’t effectively develop the skills they need to successfully manage executive functioning tasks as college students.

One of the reasons for the remaining skill gap when students matriculate to college is because high school student responsibilities are pretty radically different from college student responsibilities. While research indicates that individuals can continue developing executive function skills throughout the lifespan, this requires a very particular set of activities. Executive function skills develop through a combination of direct instruction and opportunities to practice using the learned skills with and without support. But there often are not opportunities for practicing the skills needed for college as a high school student.

Below is a list of executive function supports that exist in high school, but often disappear in college:

  • Classes are small and always taught by teachers
  • Class material is centralized in books or on the board in the classroom
  • Time is structured by the school
  • Students are told what they need to learn from homework
  • Students are reminded of assignments and due dates
  • Completed homework is checked by teachers
  • Reading is discussed in classes
  • Studying is limited to a few hours per week
  • Testing is frequent and covers small amounts of material
  • Teachers approach students who need help
  • Schools are required to find students with disabilities who need specialized instruction and accommodations
  • Parents and teachers will remind students of their responsibilities
  • Parents and teachers will help to set priorities (or simply set them for the student)
  • Parents and teachers will correct students when behavior is unexpected

In college, students may have large classes taught by other students or experts in their fields who aren’t experts on teaching. They have to use syllabi, manage their own schedules (with large swaths of unscheduled time), integrate academic materials from a wide range of sources, and self-direct long hours of reading and studying. They also have to be responsible for advocating for themselves, knowing when they need help, and knowing what they are responsible for (academically, socially, and in their dorms) and getting those things done without parent and teacher reminders. For students who have strengths with executive functioning, often the transition to college still presents a steep learning curve. But for those who have vulnerabilities in these areas, it can be critical to recognize that the gaps are large between these two learning environments, and sometimes additional support and instruction is necessary while students are taking college classes. Some students will still need to build effective academic and executive function skills, and practice and master those executive function skills, while they are in college and managing this new set of demands.

NESCA offers many services designed to help students bridge the transition from high school to college, including executive function coaching, pre-college coaching, transition planning, and neuropsychological evaluation. To learn more specifically about our coaching services, visit: https://nesca-newton.com/coaching-services/ . To schedule an appointment with one of our expert clinicians or coaches, please complete our intake at: https://nesca-newton.com/intake/ .

Reference:

Many of the bulleted items of executive function supports that exist in high school are adapted from this high school versus college comparison by King’s College: https://www.kings.edu/admissions/high_school_vs_college

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is an expert transition specialist and national speaker who has been engaged in evaluation, development, and direction of transition-focused programming for teenagers and young adults with a wide array of developmental and learning abilities since 2004. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in working with youth with autism, she enjoys working with students with a range of cognitive, learning, communication, social, emotional and/or behavioral needs.

Ms. Challen joined NESCA as Director of Transition Services in 2013. She believes that the transition to postsecondary adulthood activities such as learning, living, and working is an ongoing process–and that there is no age too early or too late to begin planning. Moreover, any transition plan should be person-centered, individualized and include steps beyond the completion of secondary school.

Through her role at NESCA, Ms. Challen provides a wide array of services including individualized transition assessment, planning, consultation, training, and program development services, as well as pre-college coaching. She is particularly skilled in providing transition assessment and consultation aimed at determining optimal timing for a student’s transition to college, technical training, adult learning, and/or employment as well as identifying and developing appropriate programs and services necessary for minimizing critical skill gaps.

Ms. Challen is one of the only professionals in New England who specializes in assisting families in selecting or developing programming as a steppingstone between special education and college participation and has a unique understanding of local postgraduate, pre-college, college support, college transition, postsecondary transition, and 18-22 programs. She is additionally familiar with a great number of approved high school and postsecondary special education placements for students from Massachusetts including public, collaborative, and private programs.

Ms. Challen enjoys the creative and collaborative problem-solving process necessary for successfully transitioning students with complex profiles toward independent adulthood. As such, she is regularly engaged in IEP Team Meetings, program consultations, and case management or student coaching as part of individualized post-12th grade programming. Moreover, she continually works to enhance and expand NESCA’s service offerings in order to meet the growing needs of the families, schools and communities we serve.

When appropriate, Ms. Challen has additionally provided expert witness testimony for families and school districts engaged in due process hearings or engaged in legal proceedings centering on transition assessment, services and/or programming—locally and nationally.

Nearly two decades ago, Ms. Challen began her work with youth with special needs working as a counselor for children and adolescents at Camp Good Times, a former program of Milestones Day School. She then spent several years at the Aspire Program (a Mass General for Children program; formerly YouthCare) 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. Also, she 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 skill and transition programs.

Ms. Challen received her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. While training and obtaining certification as a school guidance counselor, she completed her practicum work at Boston Latin School focusing on competitive college counseling.

Ms. Challen has worked on multiple committees involved in the Massachusetts DESE IEP Improvement Project, served as a Mentor for the Transition Leadership Program at UMass Boston, participated as a member of B-SET Boston Workforce Development Task Force, been an ongoing member of the Program Committee for the Association for Autism and Neurodiversity (AANE), and is a member of the New Hampshire Transition State Community of Practice (COP).

She is also 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: Innovations that Enhance Independence and Learning.

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

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; the greater Burlington, Vermont region; and Brooklyn, NY (coaching services only) serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Sibling Stress: How to Support the Siblings of a Child with Emotional Needs

By | NESCA Notes 2024

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

A child with significant mental health or developmental needs impacts the whole family system. The impact is multifaceted – from the way that a child interacts in the home environment to the challenging logistics of coordinating outpatient care and appointments. Families have to make sacrifices with their time, attention, and financial resources to address the mental health needs of one (and sometimes more than one) child. Families may also arrange schedules, including planning vacations or social events, for the family in order to accommodate treatment. It can add more stress when parents stop to consider: how is this impacting the other kids in the family?

To buffer siblings against negative impacts from being in the home with someone struggling with mental health:

  • Create an environment of safety and predictability. Talk in a family meeting about basic safety needs for the household – things like being safe with your body, being safe with property, and maintaining basic travel safety (e.g., staying buckled in the car). It is important that all siblings hear the rules and the consequences for violating the rules. If there is an episode of dysregulation, it can be very helpful to return to this conversation again.
  • Create a plan for when there is dysregulation. Remind your child/children without mental health concerns that the job of the parent is to re-establish safety, and where your other child/children should go while you address a problem. This can be their bedroom, basement playroom, or other identified place in the home. Take a moment to identify Plan B for where the safe place is if the dysregulation is happening in a common space. Talk to your child about what activities may distract and distance them from the commotion.
  • Remind your child what adults are available for them. If you are in a two-parent household, one parent can address dysregulation, and the other can stay with the sibling(s). If you are in a one-parent household (or a partner is not home), remind your child that they can call the other parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or identified friend or neighbor if they need some reassurance.
  • Put on your “oxygen mask” first. After an incident of dysregulation, check in with yourself as a parent to regulate emotionally before approaching your other child/children. Take a few moments for deep breaths or progressive muscle relaxation to calm your own nervous system. Once you are re-regulated, your message that safety has been re-established will be more soothing and believable.
  • Set aside time in each day to connect with each child. The focus can often be on positive connection with the child struggling. But, all children need the positive connection, praise, and child-driven interactions. This can help ensure that all children receive the attention they need to thrive.
  • Hold the frame. It can be easy to relax the rules with a sibling whose struggles and behavior may seem mild by comparison. It’s important to establish standards that work for each child’s unique skills and needs. It’s worth a candid conversation with each child about what the expectations are and why.
  • Use the village. Establishing a support system is critical to buffer the entire family from the overwhelming stress that can accompany emotional health issues. Enlist the support of other family members, neighbors, teammates’ families, or school personnel. If you feel that your support system is small, start with your child’s pediatrician or school to connect to community resources.
  • Reach out for help. It’s important to closely monitor siblings for signs of increased anxiety, stress response, low mood, or atypical behaviors. If you see classic signs of anxiety (fight/flight/freeze), reach out to your child’s school or pediatrician to evaluate symptoms and initiate treatment.

Additional resources to support siblings:

 

About the Author

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

 

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

 

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; the greater Burlington, Vermont region; and Brooklyn, NY (coaching services only) serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Why Do So Many Girls Get Diagnosed with ASD Later in Life?

By | NESCA Notes 2024

By: Renee Cutiongco Folsom, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

In the 15 years that I have been doing neuropsychological evaluations, I have made countless diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in females who are already in high school or even in college. Many times, the diagnosis comes as a surprise to the girls and the families alike, because no one has ever suggested it previously and/or their perceptions are colored by the stereotypes created in the media about autistic individuals. However, a discussion about what ASD is and how it manifests in females as opposed to males usually helps my clients and their families understand the nuanced and comprehensive nature of the ASD diagnosis. They often pivot to feelings of relief and gratitude for having a label for what they have been struggling with for a long time. Many of my clients learn to embrace this new diagnosis and use it as a framework for celebrating their strengths and looking for supports to address their vulnerabilities. They often say, “It totally makes sense!”

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disorder that manifests in challenges with social communication and interaction, and in the presence of repetitive, restricted behaviors that significantly impact functioning. When autism was first introduced by Dr. Leo Kanner in 1943, he described children (boys) who showed little interest in other people, insisted on routines, and displayed unusual body movements, like rocking back-and-forth and flapping their hands. Many of the children could talk but they rarely used their speech to communicate with others, and they had a variety of pervasive learning difficulties. For the most part, this continues to be the image that is conjured when people mention autism. However, with advances in research, especially within the last few decades, we have come to recognize the various manifestations of autism in children and adolescents who are higher functioning, have better communication skills, and have fewer learning issues. Thus, the newer conceptualization of autism as a spectrum with a wide range of capabilities and communication skills. More recently, researchers have also discovered that the presentation of autism varies in boys versus girls. This has made the diagnosis of ASD in girls difficult.

In their book Girls Growing Up on the Autism Spectrum, ASD researchers Shana Nichols, Ph.D., Gina Moravcik, MA, CCC-SLP, and Samara Pulver Tetenbaum, MA, outlined some preliminary findings of differences between males and females on the spectrum. They reported that:

  • The play of boys with ASDs is more restricted in range and more repetitive when compared to girls with ASDs who have stronger pretend-play skills.
  • Girls have stronger communication skills.
  • Sex-related social difficulties emerge over time – boys have more impairments early on (thus leading to earlier diagnoses), whereas for girls, the difficulties appear more in early adolescence.
  • Boys are more easily distracted when compared to girls.
  • Girls with mild difficulties may not be included in research samples.

They added that these differences could impact the assessment and diagnosis of ASD. They wondered if girls with ASD are being missed or overlooked during an evaluation because their presentation does not fit how professionals currently characterize ASD based on a male prototype. Other researchers have suggested that girls with ASD may be better able to compensate for symptoms despite having persistent core deficits associated with ASD, which might contribute to greater social “camouflage” or what is called “masking” (an individual hides or suppresses symptoms, behaviors, or difficulties). Indeed, as I have been learning more and working with girls diagnosed with ASD, I have been keeping in mind these potential sex differences. For example, I often compare my client’s social and communicative abilities to what is considered normative for girls their age and cognitive ability. I have been avoiding comparing my female clients with what has been the prototypical profile of autism in males. I also think about other manifestations of repetitive behaviors and interests in girls with ASD that are more socially acceptable, for example, an obsession on reading or running as opposed to preferred topics of males on the spectrum (e.g., trains, schedules, calendars, etc.).

Researchers have speculated that these differences in the manifestation of ASD in girls versus boys stem from how girls are socialized at an early age to pay attention to social cues/actions as opposed to boys. There is also research that suggests that girls are more able to follow social actions by delayed imitation. They observe and copy other children more effectively than do boys. This could lead to the phenomenon of masking and to milder presentations when compared to boys.

Sources:

Evans, S., et. al. (2019). Sex/gender differences in screening for autism spectrum disorder: Implications for evidence-based assessment. Journal of Clinical Child Adolescent Psychology, 48 (6), 840-854.

Nichols, S., Moravcik, G. & Tetenbaum, S. P. (2009). Girls growing up on the autism spectrum. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Ozonoff, S., Dawson, G. & McPartland, J. (2002). A parent’s guide to asperger syndrome and high functioning autism. New York: Guilford Press.

 

About the Author

Dr. Renee Cutiongco Folsom, Ph.D. has been working with families in the greater Boston area since 2015. Prior to this, she was on staff at Johns Hopkins University and trained at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She provides comprehensive neuropsychological evaluations of children, adolescents, and young adults who have learning, behavioral, and socio-emotional challenges. Her areas of expertise include Autism Spectrum Disorder and other conditions that usually co-occur with this diagnosis; Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder; Dyslexia and other Specific Learning Disabilities; and Anxiety/Depression. She thinks that the best part of being a pediatric neuropsychologist is helping change the trajectory of children’s lives.

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s pediatric neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; and the greater Burlington, Vermont region, serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

College Myth Buster – Your Child’s 504 from High School Does Not Apply in College

By | NESCA Notes 2024

By: Kristen Simon, M.Ed, Ed.S
Transition Specialist; Psychoeducational Counselor

There can be a lot of confusion for students who have received special education services or accommodations in high school about what stays the same and what changes in college. Some high school families and staff know that if a student has received IEP services throughout school, the IEP does not travel with them to college. This is because an IEP is a document that is developed in accordance with IDEA, a special education law that affords protections to students with disabilities up until they graduate or age out of their local high school. When a student transitions to work or a college or university, this law is no longer relevant and the IEP essentially “expires.”

There is often greater confusion for families around whether colleges are required to follow 504 plans (i.e., accommodation plans) developed in high school. While it’s true that students with disabilities are protected by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, it’s important to understand that high school 504 plans also effectively “expire” once a child graduates. Students can still receive accommodations under Section 504, but they are unlikely to hear the term “504” or to have any written “plan” related to their disability or those accommodations. There are some important differences between Section 504 mandates under subpart E (which covers postsecondary institutions) and those that fall under subpart D (which covers secondary schools). The key differences are described below:

  • Eligibility: Colleges and universities will have their own process for eligibility, and students have to be determined eligible by their university – even if they had been deemed eligible for accommodations in high school. Students will usually need documentation from a doctor or a psychologist that demonstrates the presence of a disability as well as how that disability substantially limits learning.
  • Available Accommodations: Colleges don’t have any obligation to provide the same services and accommodations that students may have received in high school, and not all of the accommodations provided by high schools are available at the college level. Moreover, different accommodations may be available at different colleges because the law mandates that the college provides accommodations which are “reasonable” and effective, not the best or most expensive.
  • Shift in Delivery: Professors will not automatically provide an accommodation as was the case in high school. Students have to seek out accommodations and can register for them after they are officially enrolled. At the college or university level, the expectation is that the young adult knows what support is available to them and that they self-advocate for the accommodations they need. Also, even if a student qualifies for an accommodation, they have to make the choice to actively use that accommodation – if they don’t advocate, they won’t get it.

Students should also know that while accommodations help, they can only go so far (e.g., if you don’t understand the content, having extra time on the exam won’t help). Students should be sure to connect with disability services to hear about tutoring options, academic coaching, writing centers, counseling supports, and anything else that is offered.

Resources:

U.S. Department of Education: Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education

Elizabeth Cohen Hamblet Learning Disabilities Consultant website: College Disability Accommodations Information – Elizabeth C. Hamblet (ldadvisory.com)

 

About the Author

Kristen Simon, M.Ed, Ed.S, has worked with transition-aged youth as a licensed School Psychologist for more than a decade. She has extensive experience working with children and adolescents with a range of learning and social/emotional abilities. Kristen’s strengths lie in her communication and advocacy skills as well as her strengths-based approach. She is passionate about developing students’ self-awareness, goal-setting abilities, and vision through student-centered counseling, psychoeducation, social skills instruction, and executive functioning coaching. Mrs. Simon has particular interests working with children and adolescents on the Autism spectrum as well as individuals working to manage stress or anxiety-related challenges.

Mrs. Simon is an expert evaluator and observer who has extensive working knowledge of the special education process and school-based special education services, particularly in Massachusetts. She has been an integral part of hundreds of IEP teams and has helped to coordinate care, develop goals, and guide students and their families through the transition planning process. Mrs. Simon further has special expertise helping students to learn about their diagnoses and testing and the IEP process in general. She enjoys assisting students, families, and educators in understanding a student’s disability-related needs as well as the strategies that can help the student to be successful in both academic and nonacademic settings. Mrs. Simon has often been a part of teams in the years when students are initially participating in transition services, and she has helped countless students to build the skills necessary to be part of their first team meetings. She is committed to teaching students—as well as parents and educators—how to participate in student-centered team meetings and the IEP processes.

At NESCA, Mrs. Simon works as a transition specialist and psychoeducational counselor. She works with adolescents, their families, and their school communities to identify and build the skills necessary to achieve their postsecondary goals. Mrs. Simon provides transition assessment (including testing, functional evaluations, and observations), program observations and evaluations, case management and consultation, and individualized counseling and skills coaching.

 

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

 

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; and the greater Burlington, Vermont region, serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

What Every SMART Goal Needs…An Action Plan

By | NESCA Notes 2024

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

It’s become tradition for me to make my first blog of the year about goal setting. My previous blog on this topic focused on the creation of an attainable SMART goal and breaking up a larger goal or vision into smaller chunks. However, creating a SMART goal is just the first step. Once you have a goal, you need to create your action plan. Before sharing some of my favorite strategies for creating (and following through) on action plans, let’s refresh ourselves as to what SMART goals are:

Specific – The goal should be specific. I’ll increase the distance I run is vague. Will you increase the distance by 20 feet, 2 miles? Are you planning for a marathon? How will you increase your distance? Will you increase it randomly? Will you increase the number of days you run each week, the length you run each time, or a combination of both?

Measurable – There’s a good chance that if your goal is not specific enough, it will be hard to measure if you have succeeded in that goal. So, let’s make our exercise goal both specific and measurable. I’ll increase the distance I run from 1 mile to 3.2 miles (5k).

Attainable – Attainable is the hard one for many students who are still building awareness of their strengths and challenges. Let’s say a person who has never run wants to run in the Boston Marathon. This is likely not an attainable goal, even if it is specific and measurable.

Relevant – If I am trying to increase my social circle and group leisure skills, running is unlikely to get me there. However, if, like many people, we’re trying to improve our health at the beginning of the new year, increasing the distance we run certainly will help get us there. Many young adults may need to bounce ideas off someone to ensure the goal is relevant to the area at hand.

Time-bound – Attainable and time-based work tightly together. If you do not give yourself a deadline, the goal may still be there at the end of the year. Humans work best with deadlines. We need the motivation to complete a plan, and often motivation needs a sense of urgency. When determining a deadline, it is also important to circle back and ensure that the goal is still attainable given the end date. Increasing a person’s distance from 1 mile to 3.2 miles may not be reasonable in 2 weeks but may be attainable in 3 months.

So now that we have our SMART goal:

I will increase the distance I run from 1 mile to 3.2 miles in one setting by increasing the distance I run by ¼ mile each week by April 15, 2024.

Once my students have created their SMART goal, the next step I have them do is determine the “action steps” they need to achieve to make progress towards their goal. Before the students create their action steps, I ask them to list the strengths and challenges impacting their goal progress. Using their strengths and considering their challenges allows the student to build awareness of how to select action steps and determine their frequency. For some goals, the first action step may be gathering materials (i.e., if they want to get their driver’s permit) or benchmarks they should make along the way (i.e., trying to run a 5k). Each action step should have its own deadline and be similarly measurable as the original SMART goal.

The creation of action steps allows for one of the most important and challenging aspects of achieving one’s goal: the follow-up. Periodic follow-up is essential to ensure that one is progressing as needed to achieve the goal in time. The follow-up also provides the best opportunity for skill building for current and future success. When a person is checking the status of their goal, they are asking themselves:

  • What is going well?
  • What unexpected challenges have occurred?
  • Is there anything I should do differently?
  • Do I need to add or change any action steps?
  • Am I still on target to meet my goal deadline?

Being able to ask and answer these questions can make all the difference in goal achievement.

 

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

 

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; and the greater Burlington, Vermont region, serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Creating a Kinder, Gentler New Year

By | NESCA Notes 2024

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

We use the start of every new year as motivation to set goals for ourselves, and we often ask children to do the same thing. A New Year’s Resolution is a tradition, in which we set our mind, heart, and spirit to change an undesired trait or behavior, accomplish a personal goal, or otherwise improve ourselves in some tangible way. We may set a goal to lose weigh, exercise more, eat less sugar, meditate daily for five minutes, do homework without a fuss, help out with chores around the house, or walk the dog when my parents ask, etc. Often, we make New Year’s Resolutions, but we don’t usually accomplish them. Within a month or so, we start slipping back into our old ways. Habits are hard to change, and we are resistant to change – it is partly due to our wiring. So, if you are one of these people who has good intentions and sets New Year’s Resolutions then fails, know you are not alone. Hopefully, this fact can help you feel less shame and guilt when you “fail” at keeping them.

I’d like to suggest that if you decide to set a New Year’s Resolution, you do it with yourself and other people in mind. There is so much angst and strife in the world right now that if we resolve to be kinder, gentler, and more patient with ourselves and each other, the world would be a better place.

One idea is to make group resolutions that impact the functioning of the collective. For instance, we could consider Family New Year’s Resolutions or Classroom New Year’s Resolutions. With this in mind, here are some sample suggestions for New Year’s Resolutions for families, classrooms, parents, teachers, and children. Keep your resolution(s) manageable – i.e., only pick one that you are truly committed to working on and putting the energy into changing, as your brain is partly “against you” changing! As they say, “May the Force Be With You!”

General New Year’s Resolutions

  • Sleep – It’s important for everyone, so try to set bedtimes for everyone and stick to them (parents included). Bedtimes should be different depending upon the ages of each child. Getting more sleep may afford us the ability to be more patient with others.
  • Unplug – Take time to unplug from your devices for an hour or more every day. Go for a walk, talk to each other, get the kids involved in preparing the dinner, play a board game. (i.e., take part in old fashioned “family time”). Unplugging affords us the opportunity to be more connected with each other, and being with others (Social Engagement) has been proven to improve one’s quality of life.

For All of Us:

  • Develop patience and compassion when you mess up, as you will mess up.
  • Develop patience and compassion with others because they, too, will mess up.
  • Develop a calming practice if you do not currently have one. Stress happens and is a “silent killer” (i.e., higher blood pressure, poor eating habits, etc.). We have smart watches that can remind us to take a breath…set it to remind yourself. Come back to your breath in moments of stress. Just a few minutes a day mindfully breathing can lower your heart rate and, over time, lower your blood pressure and reduce cortisol (a stress hormone) in your body.
  • Listen more/Talk less.

For Classrooms:

  • Encourage each student to identify one area related to Personal Growth (i.e., ask more questions in class, volunteer to help another classmate, remain calm when challenged academically, etc.). I will ___Settle Down___ when asked by the teacher by the end of the count; show ___Kindness___ to others in my class by___; Ask more questions; volunteer to ___.

For Teachers:

  • Start the New Year off with renewed energy and reimagine equity in your classroom.
  • Talk about fairness – Fair doesn’t mean equal; it means everyone gets what they need to succeed.
  • Talk about school-based stressors/triggers for students (i.e., a certain subject/activity type, tests/quizzes, speaking in front of the class, etc.). Teach them that stress is a normal part of life, then teach them simple stress-reduction techniques (i.e., mindfulness, deep breathing, yoga poses, etc.) they can weave into their day.
  • Teach students about perseverance, grit, and effort and how they are all entwined. Involve students in identifying when they are using them.

For Parents:

  • Self-care – Priority #1 for parents. Just like the airlines say, “Put your own oxygen mask on first.” Define what this means for you and make a plan to stick with it. One small step at a time.
  • “Be Present” with your kids. Often, we are “with” our kids a lot, but are we truly present in mind and body? Usually not; we are doing something else when they are talking to us (i.e., cooking, paying attention to our phones, packing lunches, etc.), so our attention is split. Try taking 10 minutes every day with each of your kids to be truly present in mind and body with your attention solely on them in the moment.
  • Talk with your children about home/life stressors/triggers (i.e., not getting to do what they want, having to do something they don’t want to do, moving from a preferred to non-preferred activity, etc.). Teach them that stress is a normal part of life, then teach them simple stress-reduction techniques (see above) and work together to weave them into the day. Model practicing them yourself!
  • Show gratitude for their words and actions.

Here’s to hoping we are blessed in 2024 with more peace in our hearts and a kinder, gentler, and more compassionate family, classroom, and world!

Resources on these topics:

Keeping Resolutions

Family Resolutions

Stress & the Body

Awesome Year by Kid President

 

About the Author

NESCA’s Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services Dot Lucci has been active in the fields of education, psychology, research and academia for over 30 years. She is a national consultant and speaker on program design and the inclusion of children and adolescents with special needs, especially those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Lucci was the Principal of the Partners Program/EDCO Collaborative and previously the Program Director and Director of Consultation at MGH/Aspire for 13 years, where she built child, teen and young adult programs and established the 3-Ss (self-awareness, social competency and stress management) as the programming backbone. She also served as director of the Autism Support Center. Ms. Lucci was previously an elementary classroom teacher, special educator, researcher, school psychologist, college professor and director of public schools, a private special education school and an education collaborative.

Ms. Lucci directs NESCA’s consultation services to public and private schools, colleges and universities, businesses and community agencies. She also provides psychoeducational counseling directly to students and parents. Ms. Lucci’s clinical interests include mind-body practices, positive psychology, and the use of technology and biofeedback devices in the instruction of social and emotional learning, especially as they apply to neurodiverse individuals.

 

To book a consultation with Ms. Lucci or one of our many expert clinicians, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician/consultant/service in the referral line.

 

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; and the greater Burlington, Vermont region, serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.