NESCA is open and currently scheduling contactless evaluations in all three of our locations (Newton and Plainville, MA and Londonderry, NH). For more information, please view, “Testing in the Age of COVID-19” on our Video Resources page.

Encouraging Your Child to Read

By | NESCA Notes 2020 | No Comments

By: Alissa Talamo, PhD
Clinical Neuropsychologist, NESCA

According to Sally Shaywitz M.D., (Audrey G. Ratner Professor of Pediatrics-Neurology; Co-Director, Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity), dyslexia is highly prevalent, affecting one in five people, and it represents over 80% of all learning disabilities.

Even when a child does not meet the criteria for dyslexia, they may be a reluctant reader. Children who do not practice reading perform poorly on reading tests relative to children who do read on a regular basis. In addition, reduced reading time results in exposure to fewer words. In general, people use limited vocabulary during conversation compared to the language one is exposed to while reading. As such, a reluctant reader is at risk to have poorly developed vocabulary knowledge compared to same-age peers. They are also less likely to improve their reading skills over time. In her book, Overcoming Dyslexia (2003), Dr. Shaywitz shared the following information:

Through reading, a child is introduced to new concepts and information. In addition, the more a child is exposed to literature, the more likely reading will become an integral part of their daily life. However, how does a parent encourage a reluctant reader? Here are some ideas:

1.  Read a story to your child. Then ask them to talk about their favorite parts of the story.

2. Be ready to read or listen to books over and over again – this is how children learn. FYI – Did you know you can listen to the audio version of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (a series of children’s books by Betty MacDonald originally published in 1947) four times in a row on a drive from Boston to Maryland and four times in a row on the way back? I did this with my daughter when she was 4-years-old (she is now 16) and I do believe that, to this day, I can still quote parts of the book!

3.  Surround your children with reading material – this can be comprised of books, graphic novels, or magazines, anything that is of interest to your child.

4.  Let your child take out their own library card and go with you to the library to pick out their own reading material. Allowing a child to read for pleasure is the best way to create a more engaged reader. However, it is also important to make sure the child is choosing an age-appropriate book. A librarian can be very helpful in providing recommendations based on a child’s age and areas of interest.

 5.  Have your children practice reading whenever possible. Baking a cake? Ask them to help you read the instructions (perhaps your hands are too messy to turn the page!). Ordering food? Let them read the menu aloud to a younger sibling.

6. Use technology to your advantage. For example, I worked with a 14-year old boy with dyslexia who was intimidated by the size of the first Harry Potter book. However, I mentioned to him that, on the iPad, the book is no bigger than the iPad itself. He was more willing to carry an I-pad around and read at his own pace. Another advantage is that with an e-reader the child can place as much or as little text on a page as they wish, another way to reduce reading stress.

 7. Take advantage of audiobooks. This technology is a huge benefit for students who struggle to access books that are written for children their age but beyond their current independent reading level. The child can simply listen along, or they can hold the book and follow along with the text while listening. There are several ways to access audiobooks, including downloading them from your library for free!

8. Finally, model good reading habits. If your child never sees you reading, but you insist that they read, they will see reading as a chore rather than a pleasure. If you are not a strong reader, that is ok, you, too, can listen to audiobooks!

While these recommendations will hopefully help your child experience increased reading pleasure and exposure to literature, it is still important to find out the reason why your child is struggling to read. If your child has not had a thorough reading evaluation, you can ask your child’s school to complete such an assessment. In addition, you may wish to have your child evaluated by an independent evaluator.

 

This blog was previously published in NESCA Notes. 

 

About the Author:

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

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

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

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

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

She is the mother of one teenage girl.

 

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

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

Transition Goals: What are they and why do they matter in the IEP process?

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

As an evaluator and consultant, I spend a lot of time in team meetings. Usually, I expect to be invited to more of these at the beginning of the school year when teams meet to review assessments or important changes that have occurred during summer months. This year, there will be an unprecedented high number of team meetings early in the school year as families and schools strive to make up for time lost during COVID-19 related school closures. Therefore, it seems timely to write my blog on transition goals and their role in the IEP process.

For all students with individualized educational programs (IEPs), teams are accustomed to writing and implementing annual goals. But, for students 16 and older across the country (or students in Massachusetts who will be turning 14 and older during this IEP period), their IEP process also needs to include transition goals. What is confusing about transition goals is that we commonly used this verbiage to describe a few different components of the IEP for transition-aged students.

In my opinion, the most important transition goals, are the measurable postsecondary goals, that are included in the IEP and which describe the outcomes that a team expects for the student to achieve after exiting public education and which are based on the student’s own strengths, preferences, interests and vision. Every IEP across the country must include measurable postsecondary goals. In Massachusetts, postsecondary goals are documented in the student’s vision statement. Before the student became transition aged, the vision statement typically described the family’s and team’s expectations and dreams for the student over the next 1 to 5 years. For IEPs of students turning 14 and older, the vision statement needs to include explicit statements about the outcomes that are expected for the student in transition planning areas. Postsecondary goals for education or training as well as employment are required for all students on IEPs, and many students will also have independent living and community participation goals.

Below is a formula for writing a postsecondary goal that is adapted from the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT):


Within 2 months of graduation, Joseph will participate in supported employment training and community-based training with assistance from MA Department of Developmental Services.A few examples of measurable postsecondary goals are included below:

  • After earning her diploma, Sarah will attend a four-year college in Massachusetts or New Hampshire (and major in education or child development).
  • After graduation, Tom will work part-time at TJ Maxx with support from his coworkers and supervisor.
  • After high school, Joseph will use public transportation (e.g., subway, bus) to get to and from his apprenticeship.

Unlike annual goals, measurable postsecondary goals are not goals that will be achieved in the calendar year or even while the student is on an IEP. However, there is another type of “transition goal” that is closely related. Once an IEP team has clearly defined a student’s postsecondary goals, they are required to identify transition services that the student will need to make progress toward these goals. When the IEP is developed, the IEP must include annual IEP goals that clearly and directly relate to the student’s postsecondary goals and transition service needs. For example, a student who wants to attend college may need annual goals related to building executive functioning, self-advocacy and college-level academic skills; while a student who wants to use human service supports for community-based employment may need to build communication, self-regulation and work readiness skills. Annual IEP goals should be based on the student’s disability-related needs and also their postsecondary goals—Given the student’s disabilities, what skills does the student need to build this year to be able to attain their postsecondary goals in the future?

 

Special education is about preparing students for future education, employment, independent living and community engagement. Measurable postsecondary goals are how we make sure that special education is individualized for each student, and transition-related annual IEP goals are how we make sure we are progressing toward the postsecondary goals. When we know what the student wants for their adult postsecondary life, we can use the IEP process to help the student build academic and functional skills that can support the student in achieving that vision.

The next time you look at an IEP, take a look at the vision statement (or the section where your state records measurable postsecondary goals). Can you clearly tell what the student wants to do after high school? Are there both employment and education or training goals included? What about independent living and community engagement? These measurable postsecondary goals are the guide posts that provide direction for the IEP process and ensure that the team is working together in support of results and outcomes that will support the student throughout their lifespan.

For more information about postsecondary goals and annual IEP goals in Massachusetts, check out Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2013-1: Postsecondary Goals and Annual IEP Goals in the Transition Planning Process from MA DESE: http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/advisories/13_1ta.html

This link to a presenter’s guide for a presentation on Improving Secondary Transition Services from NTACT is also a great resource for understanding the role of postsecondary goals and annual goals in the IEP process as outlined in IDEA: https://www.transitionta.org/system/files/resourcetrees/I13_One_Hour_Presenter_Guide_FINAL2019.pptx

 

About the Author:

Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

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

Adapting Academic Accommodations for Return to Learning

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

As students with disabilities return to learning, the accommodations provided through their 504 Plan or Individualized Education Program (IEP) may no longer meet their needs within the structure and limitations of remote learning and/or return to school protocols. For example, when remote learning, teachers are not as readily available to provide “in the moment” redirection, check-ins for understanding or modifications to the presentation or length of assignments. When at school, many students are at the same desk all day, for academics, “specials,” snack and lunch, meaning teachers have to identify new ways to provide movement and sensory breaks while maintaining social distancing. For hybrid learners, teachers have to consider how to provide structure and predictability in the face of frequent transition and increased demands on independent work.

Within all return to learning plans, parents and school teams are having to be more creative than ever before, working to quickly and flexibly identify and implement new accommodations to address a range of new challenges. While this is new territory for all, there is fortunately an increasing number of online resources to aid this process, some of which are listed below. Foundational to the success of any COVID-era accommodations plan will be the team’s ability to regularly assess its feasibility and effectiveness, engage in open communication between home and school, and steadfastly and flexibly adapt the accommodation plan as individual needs and/or school instructional plans change.

See the following websites for information about how to implement accommodations during COVID-19:

In IEP Accommodations During Distance Learning, Amanda Morin of www.understood.org presents a list of many standard accommodations for presentation of information, assignment completion and daily management/organization, with ways to adapt each for remote instruction, giving specific consideration of available tools within Microsoft and Google suites.

Socially Distant Sensory and Movement Break Ideas by Katie McKenna, M.S., ORT/L, of The Autism Helper provides a range of creative solutions for meeting regulation needs for a wide range of students.

The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) eLearning Coalition website provides webinars and a host of information regarding the development and implementation of accessible educational materials during remote learning.

 

About the Author:

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

 

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

 

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

NESCA’s New OT, Speech & Language and Feeding Services

By | NESCA Notes 2020

An interview between Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L, NESCA Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach, and Julie Robinson, OT, NESCA

NESCA just announced that it has expanded its Occupational Therapy (OT) services to include Direct Sensory-/Motor-based OT for its existing and new clients.

As you may know, NESCA already offers educational OT assessments and consultation along with Executive Functioning (EF) and Real-life Skills Coaching, mainly for those students in grades 6 and up. Now, NESCA broadens the range of students it can provide with OT, feeding, speech, language and social skills.

To introduce NESCA families and community members to the new team and its services, NESCA’s Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L, sat down for an interview with Julie Robinson, OT, to learn more.

What is the main focus of the new OT services that we are adding here at NESCA?

We are so excited to be on board and collaborating with the existing clinical team at NESCA to bring these new services to our community. The main focus of the new OT services is to provide instruction and practice, through teletherapy, and when appropriate at the home or in the community, in order to promote the best functionality kids can achieve on a daily basis. Where academic-based occupational therapy is focused on accessing the curriculum and receiving services while at school, Direct Sensory-/Motor-based OT services really look at giving our clients those wrap-around services outside of school to help with sensory processing, self-regulation, attention/following directions, fine and gross motor skill development, social pragmatics, managing routines, feeding and independence in carrying out daily activities, such as dressing, hygiene and sleep.

Who is a candidate for these new OT services?

We work with children of all ages, but our team typically works with children who are in the fifth grade or below. Many of the skills we are working on are skills that should be targeted and developed early on. Ideally, we are working with children from a young age or as soon as the challenges noted above come to light. Children with motor delays or sensory processing disorders, delays with play skills, and/or feeding difficulties are appropriate for these services.

How does the process of getting OT services start?

We usually start with an OT assessment that is focused on function. Insurance typically covers a 45-minute in-office screening. We would typically conduct a phone intake with the family, then look at the child’s skills using standardized tests for motor/sensory performance. With COVID-19, we are gathering sensory information from The Sensory Processing Measure and assessing other skill levels through interviews and checklists from parents, as well as 1:1 observation either virtually or in-person, as determined through the phone intake.

After an initial assessment is conducted, we work with families on a once or twice weekly basis. Each OT session is 45 minutes long and generally either begins or ends with a conversation with parents.

How do the services work?

We would typically provide services in-person inside the OT clinic at NESCA. Due to COVID-19, we are primarily providing services through telehealth, on a HIPAA-compliant virtual platform on a weekly basis. Sessions are 45 minutes each, with parents involved in part of each session to facilitate engagement of the child, to be coached by the clinician and for education about activities to incorporate in the days before the next session for follow through.

A small number of patients are being seen outdoors at their home or in the community, mainly when online engagement is too challenging, and when it can fit accordingly into clinician schedules. All patients are being seen individually for their services.

How do you set goals for the children you work with?

We get some of our background information for goal-setting from the assessment, but much of the real information on goals, strengths and weaknesses is revealed through observation during our sessions.

From the initial evaluation, we develop a brief report identifying the areas that we need to work on and collaborate with the parents to help achieve those goals and potentially target other areas that arise through ongoing observation and informal assessment during sessions and in parent consults.

When can families expect to see progress with goals being achieved?

We like to see our established goals being achieved in a three to six month time period. While every child is different, many kids go on to work with us for approximately 12 to 18 months, focusing on various goals throughout that period.

What are the related services that have just been introduced at NESCA?

Along with our new occupational therapy services, we are also now providing assessment and treatment of a variety of Speech & Language disorders, including dysphagia, childhood apraxia of speech, phonology/articulation disorder, receptive and expressive language disorder, social pragmatic communication disorder, autism spectrum disorder and language-based learning disabilities.

In addition, our therapists work with children with feeding and swallowing disorders, including transitioning infants to solid foods, weaning from tube feeding, improving sensory tolerance, developing chewing skills, increasing variety and volume of nutritional intake, and reducing avoidance behaviors during mealtimes. Our feeding therapists work with families to make mealtimes easier and more enjoyable for everyone using a systematic desensitization approach to increase sensory comfort with foods. We also employ the TR-eat®—Transdisciplinary Effective Assessment and Treatment—method for highly challenging feeding and eating issues.

Does NESCA accept insurance for its new services?

Direct Sensory-/Motor-based OT at NESCA (not academically-focused), is covered by BCBS and AllWays. Speech therapy at NESCA is covered by BCBS, AllWays and Harvard Pilgrim.

NESCA can provide receipts for Direct Sensory-/Motor-based OT sessions for clients to attempt to submit to their insurance carrier, should they not have insurance through the above carriers. NESCA does not submit claims to any carrier other than those outlined above and cannot guarantee any reimbursement when claims are submitted to them by the client.

It is also worth noting that Educational OT assessment, consultation and treatment is less often, or less completely, covered by insurance because insurance carriers typically only cover treatments that are deemed “medically necessary.” However, this can be a vital service because students spend such a significant amount of their day and week in school programming.

To learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy and Related Services, please click here.

 

About the Interviewer

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Simple Executive Functioning Strategies When The World Is Anything But Simple

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

Whether your children have returned to school full-time, on a hybrid model or fully virtual learning, we are all juggling. Juggling work demands, family demands, household demands and educational demands in a time of remarkable uncertainty. The start of the school year typically brings the smell of fresh school supplies and our best organizational efforts, but many of us may feel hesitant to use organizing strategies to manage our lives. Why? Because our lives are unpredictable and anything but typical these days. If you’re hesitating to use pen on a calendar, I hear you!

The ability to plan and employ organizational strategies is a key task of our executive functioning system. It’s what allows us to coordinate multiple schedules, dance and sports practices, projects at work, PTO bake sale reminders, and get out the door each day on time. I have been hesitant to adopt routines because I recall vividly how all those plans imploded in March when the world stood still. I hear the buzz about how school will end up fully remote so “put it all down in pencil before it all changes.”  Maybe that will prove true, but in the meantime, let’s consider the ways that we can rally our executive systems to do what they do best: plan, organize and regulate. Some suggestions for how to do this now while the world is unpredictable:

  1. Adopt the Sunday Game Plan. Put information in a family or personal calendar once a week. Spend a few moments on Sunday night catching up on plans for the coming week. Even if we end up transitioning from “hybrid” to “remote” (or all remote), this planning routine can still be adopted. Conclude your Sunday Game Plan by previewing what may be coming the week after in the event of long-term projects. While the content of your game plan may change, the structure can remain consistent.
  2. Keep a consistent schedule for sleep for the family. When we were all in school and work, we had set times to wake up in the morning. We should adopt more consistent bed times at least from Sunday through Thursday nights. Engage kids and teens in a conversation about the plan for sleep. If there are days when children are not waking up to physically attend school, try to keep wake up times no more than an hour off to allow for more consistency in our overall sleep regulation.
  3. As part of your weekly plan, set aside time for exercise. This is particularly important for children who will have reduced physical education activities. Research about the positive impact of exercise on mood, anxiety and attention underscores how important movement is in the day.
  4. Work together with your child to identify a consistent work space. Needing a work space at home is not suddenly and dramatically forced on all of us like it was in the spring. Take the time to arrange a space that is as distraction-free as you can make it. It’s not necessary to run out and buy things as minimal distractions can allow your child to focus on their school work. Keep the supplies nearby in their own bin, basket or box top.
  5. Help your child to create visual schedules or checklists for the day. Include times for virtual school, times for completing assignments and steps to submit the work either electronically or packed for the next day in school. Keep checklists consistent throughout the week when possible.
  6. Plan and schedule breaks. For young kids, try to plan breaks from tasks for every 15-20 minutes. Incorporate movement or stretching when possible to improve focus. For older students, try to plan breaks every 30 minutes of sustained effort. Try to take a full break from screens rather than replacing a tablet/computer screen with a phone or video game.

Children and teens develop their executive functioning skills over time. Keep this in mind as you set up routines and expectations for your whole family as what is expected for a second grader should and will differ from a seventh grader. Again, the content can differ but the structure of using a checklist, planning a break, or working at a desk or table is the same.

Please remember: the pandemic has depleted our executive functioning systems, so it’s important that we are gentle and kind to ourselves. Think about simple and reasonable systems to organize yourself and your family.  And be flexible when we have to go back to the drawing board.

 

Resources:

Positive impact of exercise:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022347612009948

Executive Functioning tips and sample schedules:

https://www.smartbutscatteredkids.com/

 

About the Author: 

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

 

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

 

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

Voting Support for Individuals with Disabilities

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

General Election season is upon us. The major-party national conventions are over, and the Massachusetts primary results are in.

About 20% of eligible voters have a disabilitybut only 49.3% of individuals with disabilities voted in 2018. And that was an 8.5% increase from previous years among this increasingly important voting bloc. Campaigns, such as the REV UP Campaign by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), have launched voter registration drives, championed for disability rights and policies to be part of the political conversation, and to increase awareness and action to remove barriers that make it challenging for individuals with disabilities to vote.

So how can we 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 DTA also include voter registration forms.

Absentee/mail-in ballots have been in the news more than ever due to the pandemic. Still, they have long been an excellent strategy for individuals with disabilities who would have difficulty voting in person. Absentee ballots are a great option for individuals who may have difficulty navigating the multiple steps in person or have a lower processing speed.

All citizens are also allowed to bring a person to help them while they are at the polls. Encourage your young person that many people require assistance at the polls, and it is completely normal to have the help available 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. These red booklets can be found at many community locations and frequently include the local library, post office and city/town hall. 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 elected positions.

Help your young adult find out what the different boards do and why there is an election for things such as town selectman or zoning board. Help your young adult 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.

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?

 

About the Author

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

 

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

 

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

 

How Do I Prepare My Child for a Neuropsychological Evaluation?

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

Parents often ask us what they should tell their child about their upcoming neuropsychological evaluation, especially when it is their first experience with testing. I advise parents to refer to the neuropsychologist using his or her first name, as the term “doctor” can be scary and raise fears about medical exams. I might also add that the visit will not involve any shots! In order to describe the evaluation itself; here is some helpful language:

  • They are going to ask you questions, and you just need to do your best to answer.
  • They might ask you to do some drawing or writing.
  • Some activities might feel like you’re in school; for example, reading stories or doing math problems.

It may also be helpful to create a simple social story prior to the evaluation to help preview what to expect for your child.

To explain the reasons for doing the evaluation, some key phrases to use with your child include:

  • We want to understand how you learn, because everybody learns differently.
  • We are going to be “brain detectives” and figure out how your brain works!
  • This will help us identify your strengths and areas that we need to work on. That way, we can help you with things that are harder for you.
  • This will help your teachers understand your learning style so they can help you better at school.
  • Just try your best!

Testing in the age of Covid-19 is different. It can be harder to help children feel at ease when everyone is wearing masks, and we can’t offer a high five for good work. But as we are all learning, children are often more resilient than adults. Prior to coming in for an evaluation, you might want to remind your child to wear their mask, wash their hands and not approach people too closely.

It is also important to understand that a neuropsychological evaluation is a lot of work for your child! Finding a way to reward them for their effort will go a long way in helping them stay motivated and positive. This could be as simple as swinging by the drive-thru for a donut or something more extravagant, like a new video game. Whatever you choose to do, create a plan with your child and let the neuropsychologist know. When I have a child in my office who is starting to fatigue, it’s always a great motivator to remind them of the special prize they’ll get at the end of the visit!

 

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 Dr. Gibbons or another NESCA neuropsychologist, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

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

Sitting Down to Work – Tips for Proper Set-up and Posture

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L

Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach

When working from home, it’s easy to ignore the important things that most people know about maintaining proper posture. The draw of a bed covered in pillows or a cozy nook on the couch can outweigh the rational knowledge that sitting with good posture will help us to stay focused, decrease back or joint pain, and help build a strong core. When it comes to children, they are often unaware of the ways that posture can affect their bodies and their work. They need cues, reminders and examples of the best way to sit to stay focused and be productive. In our last OT Tuesday blog, we discussed the importance of a child’s physical foundation, the core. When it comes to learning, a strong core helps with postural stability. As the start of a new school year draws near, let’s review some important things to consider about the environment and physical set-up for learning and the best positions for our students’ bodies.

Creating a space for learning helps to differentiate between school and home activities that, for many students, are currently happening in the same building. Here are some tips for setting up this space:

  • Find appropriately sized furniture. Children should have their feet on the ground when sitting at their desk! Tables should be at an appropriate height. Tables that are too tall tend to prompt children to hunch their shoulders or sit on their feet, while tables that are too small cause children to slouch and lean their heads on their hands.
  • Help them organize. Classrooms are built to help students grow their executive function skills, as teachers constantly help set up organizational systems and use tricks to keep students on track. Your child may benefit from color coded folders for each subject, a hard copy of their daily schedule (with pictures for younger kids!) or a visual timer.

There are also a few important things to remember to help with proper seated posture.

  • Use visual reminders. Your child may benefit from a picture of someone using proper seated position posted near their workspace. While they may still need a reminder every so often, having an image gives children a model to mimic.
  • The Rule of 90 Degrees. When sitting at a table, children’s hips, knees and ankles should all be positioned at 90 degrees. This helps to create a solid foundation. When children have a strong foundation and postural stability, they are set up to freely and accurately use their fine motor skills. Being grounded allows for easier writing, typing, cutting and manipulation of all the tools necessary for learning. Ideally, children’s elbows will also create a 90 degree angle.
  • Consider a slant board. Placing a computer or a paper on a slanted board can help students realize that they need to sit up straight, promote proper wrist placement and angle, and draw their eye gaze up from the desk. Writing on a vertical or slanted surface in general can help with the development of handwriting skills.
  • Stabilize that paper. Reminding students to use their non-dominant hand to hold their paper helps with precision and accuracy.
  • Allow them to switch it up! Some tasks really require a child to be sitting up straight, grounded and engaged. For example, a student who is hand-writing a final copy of their paragraph or using scissors for an art class will want to be cognizant of their bodies and how they are seated. In contrast, some activities provide opportunities to move around and change positions. If a student is reading a book for English Language Arts, they may want to lie on their belly or sit in a beanbag chair.
  • Take breaks. No matter how perfect a child’s seated posture is, they will benefit from movement and stretching breaks. Little bodies are built to move, bounce and wiggle!

Prioritizing posture as a child helps to build good habits, evenly distribute stress on the body’s muscle ligaments and joints, and create a strong, grounded foundation.

 

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. 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. Dr. 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, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email 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.

 

10 Facts about the Rorschach Inkblot Test

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Renée Marchant, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

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

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

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

 

About the Author:

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

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

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

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

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

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Marchant or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.

 

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

 

Compensatory Services for Transition-aged Individuals

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC
Transition Specialist and Consultant

Since the start of COVID, a top concern for many parents and guardians of students who receive IEP services, such as Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Speech and Language, etc., has been how to make up for those services that were missed during school closures and remote learning. One group of parents and guardians who have been especially worried are those who support students who turned 22 and aged out of special education services or will be aging out in the near future.

As we near the end of summer, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) recently released important guidance for schools and families on this topic. Below you will find the links to specific resources, including the presentation from DESE that was given on August 20th during the Special Education Leaders’ Meeting, the official guidance on compensatory services that was shared on August 17th, as well as a very informative article from the Boston Globe that highlights all reopening models.

There is a lot of important information in these documents. To assist with everyone’s busy lives, I have opted to point out some of the key pieces of information.

Helpful Links:

Zoom Meeting Presentation for Special Education Directors on August 20, 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Special Education Technical Assistance Advisory 2021-1: COVID-19 Compensatory Services and Recovery Support for Students with IEPs

List of Reopening Models by District for Fall 2020 (as of noon, August 18, 2020

Boston Globe Reopening Plan Tracker

Important Information:

  • When a student with services and/or related services on their IEP has not been afforded those services due to a failure on the school’s part, compensatory services (i.e., services to make up for something missed) are a consideration by the IEP team through an IEP team process.
  • “COVID-19 Compensatory Services” (CCS) refers to services that a student’s IEP Team determines are needed to remedy a student’s skill or knowledge loss, or lack of effective progress, that resulted from delayed, interrupted, suspended, or inaccessible IEP services because of the emergency suspension of in-person education related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
  • COVID-19 Compensatory services are NOT the same as typical compensatory services. These services are for students who are on IEPs that have had a lack of effective progress related to changes in service delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • “Students with disabilities who did not receive or were unable to access any special education services during the suspension of in-person education are likely to require CCS and should be prioritized. Other students with IEPs, including students with significant and complex needs,1 are also likely to require CCS and should be prioritized for consideration.”
  • The Department recommends prioritizing the scheduling of IEP meetings to discuss CCS for several student populations, including “students who turned 22 during the suspension of in-person education or who will turn 22 during the first three months of the 2020-21 school year, and whose transition programs were interrupted or suspended before they aged out.”1
  • For priority populations, the Department recommends that CCS determinations be made as soon as possible but not later than December 15, 2020.
  • Schools and districts are urged to use ongoing parental engagement along with their own judgment when determining which IEP meetings to prioritize this fall.
  • Appendix B Questions and Answers on the Transition to Adult Life for Students Turning 22 between March 17 and December 23, 2020 (pages 14-17 of the Special Education Technical Assistance Advisory)1 has detailed information regarding students turning 22 during COVID.

Transition COVID-19 Compensatory Examples:

There are several examples in the DESE document regarding types of compensatory services that an IEP team might consider providing for transition-aged individuals. I have listed many of the DESE examples below. I have also added some ideas and suggestions in smaller bullets that further break down the examples, which may be helpful for families and teams.

  • Accessing agency/community resources and services
    • Looking at adult resources, such as DDS, DMH, MRC, Centers for Independent Living
  • Instruction in activities for daily living, including personal finance and accessing healthcare
    • Cooking and domestic skills
    • Opening a bank account
    • Learning online banking
    • Make a monthly budget
    • Practice making change
  • Continue specialized instruction for the completion of an MCAS portfolio appeal for students who are seeking to earn a high school diploma
  • Community-based instruction
    • This can still occur!
  • Community participation
    • Accessing local outdoor parks, hiking trails, etc.
    • Grocery shopping
    • Identifying virtual offerings within your community
  • Health and safety
    • COVID safety
    • Learning how to order medication and organize it for the week
  • Pre-vocational/employment support services
    • As the job market has changed for the time being, this may be an opportunity for informational interviews
  • Job search and retention skills
    • Individuals who lost their job due to COVID may need assistance in returning to that place of employment if they are hiring again
  • Job coaching/training opportunities
  • Preparation for college and/or postsecondary training
    • Virtual college tours
    • Making a list of pros and cons for schools
  • Related services, e.g., counseling, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech-language services
  • Self-advocacy skills
  • Social skills
  • Travel Training
    • Obtaining your Charlie Card
    • Filling out the application for The Ride
    • Studying the driver’s ed manual and taking free online tests
    • Using Google maps to identify distances to and from common places

Our transition team at NESCA is always here to offer consultation and creative options for families and school teams if you find that you and your student are having a difficult time finding ways to make up for lost transition services or implement current transition services.

 

References

1.      Massachusetts Department of Education. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Special Education Technical Assistance Advisory 2021-1: COVID-19 Compensatory Services and Recovery Support for Students with IEPs; Accessed on August 26, 2020.

 

About the Author

Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC, works with teens, young adults and their families out of the Newton, MA and Plainville, MA offices. Lauzon has unparalleled experience as a Transition Specialist, Transition Consultant and Vocational Program Coordinator. Lauzon will be providing transition assessment (including testing, functional evaluations and observations) consultation, case management, training and professional development for schools; and transition planning, consultation and coaching for transition-aged students and their parents.

 

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.