Got Complicated? NESCA’s Newest Pediatric Neuropsychologist Wants to Test Your Child. Find Out Why!

By | NESCA Notes 2019

Pediatric Neuropsychologist Yvonne Asher, Ph.D., joins NESCA on June 3, servicing clients in the Londonderry, New Hampshire and Newton, Massachusetts offices, and is scheduling new clients now. We sat down with Yvonne to learn more about her, what her passions in neuropsychology are and why she joined NESCA.

 

By Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach

NESCA has 15 neuropsychologists who test a wide range of individuals. Tell us about your past professional experience and the types of clients you most enjoy serving.

I love working with children with complex profiles where challenges and diagnoses aren’t easily made or identified. This is the group of kids I worked with most often when I was with Mass General Hospital’s Lurie Center for Autism. It’s also incredibly rewarding to work with kids who aren’t able to communicate in a traditional manner—they may be too young, too impaired or potentially non-verbal. Many people think these individuals are too difficult to work with in testing. Using data to better understand their strengths and weaknesses is my passion, and I love to help them tell their stories through the assessment process.

It sounds like you enjoy working with complex kids. Can kids who have limited verbal skills and/or behavior challenges be tested?

Yes! Sometimes these children can be labeled in a punitive or negative way, such as being “uncooperative” or “untestable.” I don’t believe that anyone benefits from these kind of labels. It’s my job as the psychologist to be creative so that we can get the necessary data to understand them. I try to ease parents’ minds by reassuring them that I’ve seen many of these children before. And, if I haven’t frequently seen a particular complex profile, I’m lucky to have wonderful colleagues and resources to collaborate with on such cases.

For example, I worked with one very sweet, four-year-old child who had severe communication issues.  The parents and his pediatrician questioned whether he had autism. Since he had incredibly limited verbal skills, we altered all of the assessment tasks, using some non-verbal assessments and creatively modifying others to complete the testing. We noted that everything in the assessments—aside from his language—was on track developmentally. Prior to testing, everyone was pointing toward autism as the diagnosis, but he actually had a severe expressive/receptive language delay. His parents had figured out some tricks to communicate with him, but the world was a very scary place to him. He didn’t understand what was going on and primarily used gestures and facial expressions to communicate. That, unfortunately, only got him so far. As you can imagine, these challenges and frustrations led to a very stressful environment for the entire family. We recommended intensive speech therapy to help develop his communication skills, providing the family with a clear path forward.

You were a teacher before becoming a neuropsychologist. How do you feel your past experience as an educator enhances your work as a pediatric neuropsychologist?

I have a lot of experience working in public and charter schools. I was also a preschool teacher before graduate school, where I found the children to be endlessly funny, creative and just awesome! This experience is, in part, what fuels my desire to work with younger children who are experiencing challenges.

Having that educational experience is so valuable for the families at NESCA. I’ve been in special education and can help parents understand the process and landscape every step of the way—from an initial concern and assessment to getting an IEP and to thinking about high school placement and transition to adulthood.

The school experience also helps me to relate to the teachers, since I’ve been one and know how to partner with them to help students. We always help our families and push for what’s needed, but it’s helpful to also understand the constraints of the school setting. Knowing the constraints won’t change our recommendations, but it’s helpful in providing recommendations that will be implemented.

Why did you opt to move from the school setting to neuropsychology?

While I loved working in the school setting, I found that I didn’t get the chance to work as closely with families as I wanted. While families were there for school meetings, I’m looking to work with and serve the whole family system. I enjoy taking a close look at why children are having particular challenges, whether there’s a diagnosis that can be identified, and determining what school or path best fits a child and their family. I like taking the time to talk with parents and educators, giving each of them the chance to talk about the child, and to ask questions and make a plan for the child and their family. With really young kids, this is often just a first step, and I am excited to work with families long-term and help them through future hurdles.

What is so special about working with young children and their families?

Being a family’s first introduction to mental health is so meaningful. I tend to work with families who may be noticing that some milestones or behaviors are a bit off, or when they may first be considering a neuropsychological evaluation or other assessments. I like to find those parents who are asking, “What do you think it could be?” I truly enjoy giving these parents insight into their child, and providing exposure to and help along their path in mental healthcare.

Why did you opt to work in a group practice, like NESCA?

During my postdoctoral work, I really came to value the consultation with and supervision from other psychologists. I thought about going back into the school setting, but school psychologists are typically the only ones in that role at their school, or even their district. I appreciate the ability to put heads and knowledge together as colleagues. Doing so, on behalf of our clients, can help us to frame a case or intervention in a different way. Being able to bounce ideas or recommendations off of each other and using the combined experiences, knowledge and referral resources of other neuropsychologists brings so much to clients, families and individuals with challenges. NESCA, in particular, offers a very supportive environment in which to work. That can be felt by co-workers as well as the families we serve.

 

About Pediatric Neuropsychologist Dr. Yvonne Asher:

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Why are they called “Soft” Skills?

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By Kathleen Pignone, M.Ed., CRC
Transition Specialist

If they are soft, why are they so crucial in this hard, cruel world? As a transition specialist, I meet with young adults and their parents on a daily basis. All parents want to know what is that missing piece for child to really succeed after high school? What should my priorities be? Is the right college more important than the right internship or vise versa? I often hear the saying, “I remember in my day, you just dusted yourself off and kept going. Why is this new generation struggling?”

While I don’t have an answer to those profound questions, I can offer some go-to skills that will support our young adults as they transition from high school to college, the world of work and the great beyond…soft skills—those intangible, hard-to-pin-down skills that we all know we need to succeed, but are so hard to teach. As a wise practitioner once told me, “Just because it is simple, it doesn’t make it easy.” While it’s critical to teach, prepare and equip our students with the necessary skills for academic success, soft skills can be just as important in many instances. Young adults need a balance of academic, executive functioning, communication and soft skills to set themselves up for success in their multi-faceted life after high school. These soft skills can make the difference between candidates competing for college acceptance and job opportunities.

I also like to refer to these skills as the job keeping and high achieving skills. Strong foundational academic, planning and team-building skills are necessary for success, but these soft skills are the subtle differences observed in the student chosen for that internship by the professor and recognized in the entry-level employee who quickly advances to the mentor employee.

In my practice, I am witness to amazing, capable, energizing and unique young adults, who are unaware of the many talents and strengths they already possess. I work to coach, teach and persuade them that these soft skills are in there, but are struggling to make an appearance. The key is identifying them and knowing when to call on them in stressful times. As a transition specialist, I offer the young people I meet with the opportunities to name and own these skills within themselves. For example, when a teenager is struggling with school, but shows up every day, I introduce them to their “grit,” their get-up- and-go and “try again” skill.  By identifying skills that may just be lying dormant or unrecognized, I offer them a chance to see that they have an innate strength that has both a name and a purpose. These skills are not only necessary, but are transferable to all aspects of their future lives. Their internal grit pushes them to go to class when their roommate is sleeping in and go to work even though they have a cold and could call out sick.

By definition, students ready to transition from high school are at an age and stage of curiosity, exploration, hope and optimism. But they may easily miss out on identifying these characteristics as strengths and skills, if we do not point it out and celebrate it with them. When they are resisting rules and boundaries, they are employing their skills of curiosity and exploration. When they want to protest against inequity in this unfair world and are perceived as naive and inexperienced, I praise their hope and optimism. We talk about how these soft skills are integral to their success as an adult and will serve them as they continue to grow and learn.

Young adults in our current society have no other option than to be flexible and adaptable. Technology is constantly updating and changing, forcing them to move forward or be left behind. Their resilience in handling all that social media exposes them to on a daily basis is admirable. I wouldn’t have stood as tall and strong as they do with such public scrutiny.

As we prepare our young adults for life after high school, let us always take the time to see, name and recognize the strengths and soft skills they show us. We have the opportunity to observe and learn from them and value these skills so that they may offer themselves as resources to their community. The balance necessary to teach young people how to manage an interdependent world as an adult is complicated. It is exciting and energizing to witness young people find these strengths within themselves, helping them to conquer that great big world.

 

About the Author:

Kathleen Pignone, M.Ed. CRC is a deeply knowledgeable and experienced transition specialist. Prior to her tenure at NESCA, Ms. Pignone was the Career Development Director at Bay Cove Academy for 15 years, providing students with classroom and real-world employment skills training, community job placement and on the job employment-training. She has also worked at Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education and privately as a vocational rehabilitation consultant. As a certified rehabilitation counselor, Ms. Pignone brings unique expertise carrying out vocational assessment and employment planning for adolescents and young adults as well as supporting local school programs. In addition to fortifying NESCA’s premier transition assessment services, Ms. Pignone engages in person-centered planning with teens and young adults, consultation and training for parents, providers and schools, and community-based coaching services.

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

To book a transition assessment or consultation with Kathleen, please complete NESCA’s online intake form

 

Understanding Chinese Medicine on a Deeper Level

By | NESCA Notes 2019

Breaking down a common pathology and get it in balance this spring

By Holly Pelletier, L.Ac.
Licensed Acupuncturist

If you are alive today, chances are you have some form of one of the most common Chinese medical diagnoses, Liver Qi stagnation. Let me break down this complex, and presumably new, terminology.

Liver (LV)—In Chinese medicine, all of the meridian systems are named after organs in the body. When we talk about Liver, Spleen or the Heart, for example, and you see it with a capital letter, the scope of the word’s meaning is much larger. When you see Liver in this post, know that it means the energetics of the organ as well as the organ itself. This includes the meridian system, the emotional connection and the actual physical lines in the body the meridian comprises—in this case, the inner leg line or your adductor muscles.

Qi—Qi = Energy (roughly). Everything is Qi, just like everything is energy—physics taught us this, and, well, there is no arguing with physics!

Stagnation—This one is simple. Stagnation simply means the stuck-ness of something/that something is not moving.

Pathology—A pathology is an imbalance in your system. Altogether, Liver Qi stagnation pathology is an imbalance caused by something not moving along your Liver meridian.

Now that you know the breakdown of the pathology, how do you know if you have Liver Qi stagnation? Let’s look at some common signs that might signal you have some (or a lot) of this imbalance.

Possible symptoms

Irritability, depression, displaced anger, tight muscles, pain anywhere in the body, restlessness, PMS, headaches, irregular and/or painful periods, constipation, inappropriate anger, frustration, abdominal pain/discomfort, mood swings, sighing, sensation of a lump in the throat, excessive sleep or hiccups. 99% of individuals have at least one of these common imbalances on a regular basis.

What causes LV Qi stagnation?

Stress and lack of movement are two BIG players, and the Liver organ system is actually most susceptible to imbalance in the Springtime. During spring, the above-mentioned symptoms can flare more easily. To take care of this organ system, now is the time to pay more attention to it, before we are fully into the spring season.

Why is it important to pay attention to this?

Understanding how your body works and how the seasons affect us is the first step in your own personal health journey. This is one of the foundational principles of Chinese medicine as a preventative means to wellness.

When the Liver is in balance, it is a strong force to be reckoned with. You’re more likely to experience a lot of forward progress, determination and healthy amounts of focus and clarity in completing a particular “job” (think of a job as dreams, hopes, desires).

Unfortunately, many people have the mindset of, “If I’m not sick, I’m healthy.” The problem with that is we are not trained to see symptoms of early illness or disease. For the most part, we do not know how to correct imbalances early on or properly deal with emotions—i.e. not pushing them down or not taking them out on those who do not deserve it. We don’t know how to tap into the energy of the body and world around us to create an environment and a lifestyle conducive to optimal health. We will have pain and brush it off, or a nagging headache and say that’s normal, when in reality these are symptoms our body is trying to tell us about an imbalance! We need to learn to listen and to tap in EARLY if we want to live a healthy, disease-free life.

What’s more is that a MAJOR cause of disease is stagnation. There is usually some form of stagnation in every illness or ailment, and the Liver is the organ system in charge of clearing, moving and breaking up stagnation.

3 Easy Tips to Balance your Liver Qi this Spring!

1. Move!

The best way to take care of your Liver and harness the energy of this organ system is to move your body. There is so much flexibility with this—whatever you like to do to get moving is A-OK. Try walking, biking, yoga or dancing! Anything goes…just get going TODAY!

If movement and exercise is totally out of your lifestyle at the moment, start with small tricks like taking the stairs or parking further away so you have a longer walk through the parking lot!

2. Let emotion out in a healthy way!

When I first did therapy, my therapist introduced me to a “rage room.” It took me about three years to actually use it, but when I did, I felt amazing! My rage room back then consisted of a punching bag that we hit with a bat, but there are so many ways to release pent up emotions so they don’t stagnate and lead to disease.

Some easy and accessible examples are:

  • Scream while alone—in the car, woods or at your house when no one else is around. Note: If you are thinking about this in terms of your child, which undoubtedly many of you are, it is good to encourage them to let out emotion. Help them find a safe space they can do it in.
  • Jump up and down, shaking out your limbs (really effective)
  • Run or jog
  • Practice Vinyasa Yoga
  • Write a “rage page” in your journal where you get all of your feelings out (Note: the secret to this is that you must throw the page away after and never look back at it again. We are letting things out, NOT trying to dwell on them more).
  • Take an exercise class, like kickboxing

3. Get acupuncture, or at least acupressure!

Schedule an acupuncture session with a licensed practitioner—stick to an acupuncturist and not someone who just does “dry needling,” which doesn’t offer the benefits of a well-rounded treatment that addresses your root pathology, whether that be Liver Qi stagnation or something else.

If that is not in the cards for you, start tuning in to your own body. Begin with self-massage—the feet and hands are good places to begin—between the webbing of the fingers and the toes, in particular, and assess for stagnation. How can you tell if there is stagnation? If there is pain, sensitivity, built-up heat or cold, or numbness/tingling.

As you start to become intuitive with your own body, remember: Pain = Stagnation = Energy not flowing = built-up accumulation = disease at some point in the future. Start to get friendly with your own energy and begin to understand your body more!

 

About the Author:

Holly Pelletier, licensed acupuncturist, has been working with children, adolescents and young adults, in many different capacities since 2004. Prior to treating youth with acupuncture, she worked as a teacher, coach and mentor. She especially enjoys working with young people and acupuncture because of their speedy response time and genuine excitement about this form of medicine.  For more information about acupuncture at NESCA and our new ‘Acupuncture & Mindfulness’ program for teens, please email Holly Pelletier at hpelletier@nesca-newton.comFor more blog posts by Holly check out her personal blog: www.holisticallyinspired.org.

 

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.

 

To book an appointment with Holly or other Integrative Treatment providers at NESCA, please fill out the intake form and note that you would like to see Holly.

Visual Skill and Academic Success – Looking Past 20/20 Vision

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Community-Based Skills Coach

When a school nurse pulls a child into his or her office to complete a basic eye screening, he or she may write, “20/20 vision in both eyes. No visual concerns.” This child has successfully looked at an eye chart and read the letters; demonstrated the ability to look straight ahead, from an appropriate distance without things becoming blurry or illegible; and demonstrated visual acuity, or the ability to see with acceptable clarity.

But does this necessarily mean there are no concerns?

Visual acuity measures whether a stimulus is being seen – not necessarily if the information is truly being understood. The visual system is a complex part of the central nervous systems that incorporates the eyes, ocular pathways and brain to produce and interpret sight. It requires consistent communication between all of these individual anatomical pieces, the vestibular system and the skeletomuscular system. Essentially, vision is complicated and messy and requires many many different skills.

Breaking It Down

In terms of visual skills needed for academic success, we often break things down into three main areas: ocular motor control, visual perception and visual motor integration.

  • Ocular motor control describes the ability to physically move the eyes using the 9 ocular muscles. It encompasses the ability to track an object across a screen or a line of text across a book, or the ability to look up at the board and then quickly refocus on a sheet on paper on the desk. Imagine trying to watch a basketball game without the ability to track the ball across the screen smoothly. It quickly becomes tiring and frustrating. Occupational therapists often refer to these specific eye movements with technical terms, such as visual saccades, pursuits, convergence/divergence and accommodation. But in essence they describe eye movement.
  • Visual perception or visual processing is in many ways more nuanced. It focuses on the brain’s ability to organize, interpret and fully understand the information it receives from the eyes. Two main skills needed at school are visual figure ground and visual closure.
    • Visual figure ground is the ability to discern relevant information from a busy or cluttered background. A student with visual figure ground difficulty may not be able to search a busy white board and find a homework assignment. These students may also be visually overwhelmed by a worksheet with 20 math problems, but successful with the same problems presented individually.
    • Visual closure is a skill that specifically helps with reading efficiency and fluency. It is the ability to identify or visualize a complete form or picture when given incomplete visual information or when only a small piece of the image is shown. Visual closure allows us to read a sentence quickly without stopping to decode each individual letter. It is aslo oen raeosn taht mnay pelope can raed setneces wtih julmbled up ltetres. We recognize the form, not simply the sequential letters.  :  )
    • Visual closure plays a role in sight words and reading partially-covered papers or street signs in the community. While there are many more important visual perception skills, these two examples have functional, measurable effects in the classroom setting and are commonly identified through occupational therapy testing.
  • Visual motor integration (VMI) describes the ability to use all of these foundational visual skills in conjunction with foundational motor skills. It is the ability to interpret visual information and produce a precise motor response. In the classroom, this affects a student’s ability to copy shapes, produce legible handwriting and use scissors to cut along a line. Not only can these things be difficult, they can be exhausting as a child tries to use all of these skills at once.

While all of these visual components have multiple layers and intricacies, it is important to simply acknowledge that there’s more than the eye can see when it comes to vision. A child who “can’t see the board,” but has 20/20 vision, may just be visually overwhelmed. A child who looks at a page full of small block text and immediately gives up may not have the visual skill to read across a line. And a child who is learning to read beautifully, but still has difficult forming the letters in his name may have poor visual motor integration. Fortunately, there are many interventions and accommodations that can help build on and develop these skills further to foster confidence and success in the class and community.

About the Author:

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in pediatrics and occupational therapy in the developing world. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as well as social skills coaching as part of NESCA’s transition 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. In addition to her work at NESCA, Dr. Bellenis works as a school-based occupational therapist for the city of Salem Public Schools and believes that individual sensory needs, and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

 

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.

 

Music and the Mind – Musicianship Impacting Executive Functions

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By: Zachary Cottrell, Psy.D., LMHC

Pediatric Neuropsychology Fellow, NESCA

At NESCA, we work with many children with ADHD and issues with executive functions. Fortunately, there is a wide variety of interventions that can be used to aid executive function development, such as martial arts, aerobics, yoga, mindfulness and cognitive-behavioral therapy. However, another option to keep in mind is learning a musical instrument. Most children are naturally drawn to music, and recent research suggests that musical training can positively influence the development of executive functions.

In 2014, Dr. Nadine Gaab at Boston Children’s Hospital found that adult musicians had stronger working memory, greater cognitive flexibility and verbal fluency than non-musicians. Child musicians showed better verbal fluency and faster processing speed than non-musicians. fMRI scans showed that child musicians have more activation in the frontal regions of the brain – the home of executive functions – than non-musicians. Dr. Gaab’s study concludes that children who study music have stronger executive function skills and that studying music may build those skills. For the full details and results of the study, a link is provided below.

In another 2014 study, Dr. James Hudziak at the University of Vermont found that playing a musical instrument was associated with more rapid cortical thickness maturation within the areas of motor planning and coordination, visuo-spatial ability, and emotion and impulse regulation, the latter being correlated with increased executive functions. For the full details and results of the study, a link is provided below.

So, what do these studies really show us? Basically, learning a musical instrument can improve and strengthen our executive functions, such as planning and organizing, working memory, processing speed, task management and initiation as a whole. Musical performance requires a high level of active engagement, which leads to less off-task behaviors. While engaging in music, the individual is more likely to be practicing such skills as attending, inhibiting and shifting. Additionally, musical training involves significant demands on working memory for processing auditory, visual and tactile cues simultaneously. Working memory is required for learning any complex activity, such as understanding language. There are plenty of research studies that show correlating executive skills in musicians and bilinguals.

In my experience as a therapist and when teaching music, these skills are highly translatable to other forms of learning. Music is not only rewarding and fun, but is also effective in developing and improving executive functions. Below are some links for further reading and exploration.

 

 

Book:

This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, by Daniel J. Levitin

Articles:

Investigating the impact of a musical intervention on preschool children’s executive function (Bowmer, et al., 2018)

References:

Behavioral and neural correlates of executive functioning in musicians and non-musicians (Dr. Nadine Gaad, et al., 2014)

Cortical thickness maturation and duration of music training: health-promoting activities shape brain development (Dr. James Hudziak, et al., 2014)

 

About the Author: 

Formerly a therapist, Dr. Cottrell has extensive experience working with children, adolescents and emerging adults as a therapist, behavioral health consultant and evaluator in community, college, private practice and hospital settings. At NESCA, he provides thorough and in-depth neuropsychological evaluations to support youth to not only develop, but also to maximize, their potential. Dr. Cottrell is a graduate of William James College, participating in the Doctorate of Psychology in Clinical Psychology Program. Dr. Cottrell also has 25 years of experience with the guitar, performing and teaching music. 

Dr. Cottrell recently completed a 2 year APA internship placement at North Shore Medical Center (Salem, Mass.) where he was immersed in the world of neuropsychological, personality, psychological and educational testing at the Neuropsychological Assessment Center at MassGeneral for Children. While there, Dr. Cottrell’s work predominantly involved providing evaluation and consultation to children, adolescents and adults with ADHD, ASD, learning disabilities and other neurocognitive developmental and behavioral concerns in addition to providing psychological evaluations to adult patients considering bariatric surgical procedures.

 

To book an evaluation with Zachary Cottrell one of our 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.

8 Tips You Need to Know about SAT and ACT

By | NESCA Notes 2019

 

By: Dina Karlon, M.A.
Transition Specialist, NESCA

Starting to think about the college admissions/testing process? It can be costly and confusing, so we’ve compiled some tips to help you navigate the testing landscape.

Tip 1 – SAT or ACT – Which test should a student take? Most colleges will take either, but there are differences to the tests. SATs, which were revamped a few years ago, has Reading, Math and Writing, while the ACT adds a Science section. SAT questions assess problem-solving abilities, while ACT questions are more fact-based, similar to school testing. Typically, SATs use much higher-level vocabulary than the ACT. The ACT tests math concepts through trigonometry, while SATs stop at geometry. SAT divides its scores into two areas – Reading/Writing and Math, with a perfect score of 1600 (800 for each). ACT scoring is based on 4 sections that are averaged into a composite, with a perfect score of 36. While SAT is more well-known by many New Englanders, the ACT is taken slightly more often, having gained popularity in the past 5 to 10 years. A student may prefer one test over the other if the individual:

Still not sure which one to take? Visit the tests’ websites to take/score a practice test. See which one may be better through this conversion chart: https://www.studypoint.com/ed/sat-act-concordance/.

Tip 2 – SAT Subject Tests – In addition to the general SAT, students can register for tests in specific subject areas. There are 20 specialized tests, and an individual would usually only take 2, if any. Most colleges do not require them, although a student may take them to demonstrate a strong interest or aptitude in a subject or area of passion. For example, a bilingual student could demonstrate proficiency in a language. Subject tests could be a way for students to strengthen their application among similar candidates. If a student wants to major in a science, a strong score on a science subject test could set that person apart from others.

Tip 3 – Apply Early – Standardized testing is pricey, and hidden costs can creep up. Register early to avoid late or waiting list fees. Doing so also allows students to reserve a slot at their own school (if offered there). Whether students are neuro-typical or not, there is comfort in taking tests in one’s own school. For students with anxiety, it is very important, as familiarity with their environment can reduce anxiety.

Tip 4 – Vouchers – Visit SAT and/or ACT sites to determine eligibility for test fees being waived through a voucher. Work with high school counselors to obtain a waiver.

Tip 5 – Costs – There are registration fees for standardized tests. The current fees for the exams are:

There’s good news for New Hampshire residents. A few years ago, the SAT replaced the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) as the state test for high school juniors. Therefore, all juniors have the opportunity to take one free SAT. Factor this in for next year, as the deadline to take the test is in March.

Tip 6 – Free Test Scores Sent to Colleges – To lower costs, take advantage of having 4 free test scores sent to colleges. When you register to take both the SAT and ACT, students have the option to send up to 4 tests to 4 colleges at no charge, saving $52 ($13 per test) for the ACT and $48 ($12 per test) for the SAT. Individuals have up to nine days after taking the SAT test to register for score reports. It’s best to sign up for them when you register as it’s easy to forget to do so after. Some students may not opt to do this because they want to see their scores before they are sent to colleges. The benefit of sending them with the SAT is – regardless of your scores – if taken again, a person’s entire history will be sent to colleges where they take the highest score from each section. For example, if a student scores a 400 on English and a 500 on Math in April, then chooses to retake the test in October and scores a 500 on English and a 400 on Math, the school will take the two 500 scores for a total of 1000. If a student is very unhappy with a score on a particular day and they don’t want a college to see that score, students can research whether the schools they are applying to will accept score choice. While this may be an option, it will incur an additional fee. In general, I recommend sending all of the scores and letting the admissions team select the highest. With ACT, score histories are not sent to colleges. Instead students pick a specific test date’s scores to send. Unlike the SAT, if a student gets a higher score in separate sections on various test dates and wants the colleges to see the scores from each test date, they will have to pay for each test date’s score to be sent.

Tip 7 – Accommodations – The process for requesting accommodations and when to apply for them is different for each test. Check the SAT and ACT websites for exact processes for each. Here are some tips:

– Apply early as it can take up to 7 weeks to hear which accommodations are approved. Accommodation request applications may be due at the time one registers for the test – or even before.

– Students should talk with their SAT/ACT school representative about accommodations. While ACT only accepts requests through students’ schools, SAT allows students to apply for accommodations independently. I recommend working with the Accommodations Coordinator at the high school (school counselors will know who this is).

– It is up to SAT and/or ACT if they will allow students accommodations, not the high school.

– Once accommodations are determined for a school year, students can take the test several times (though it’s not recommended to take it several times each year) and not have to reapply for accommodations. SAT accommodations last for one year after high school graduation.

– Lists of accommodations and procedures for requesting them are at: https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/partnering-with-childs-school/tests-standards/how-to-apply-for-sat-and-act-accommodations.

Tip 8 – Test-optional Schools – Some of us just don’t test well and are terrified of taking such tests. If a student doesn’t feel standardized tests reflect their academic ability and don’t want them considered in their admissions application, consider applying to test-optional schools. These schools review admission materials (transcript, recommendations, etc.) to determine if a student is a good fit for their institution. Here is a list of test-optional schools: https://www.fairtest.org/university/optional.

References

SAT website: Collegeboard.org

ACT website: ACT.org

https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/partnering-with-childs-school/tests-standards/how-to-apply-for-sat-and-act-accommodations

https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/choosing-starting-school/leaving-high-school/sat-or-act-how-to-know-which-is-best-for-your-child

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/differences-between-the-s_b_3451049

 

About the Author: 

Dina DiGregorio Karlon, M.A., is a seasoned counselor who has worked as both a school counselor and vocational rehabilitation counselor, guiding and coaching students and adults through transitions toward independence in both college and the working world. With NESCA, she offers transition assessment services in Londonderry, New Hampshire as well as transition planning consultation and coaching to students and families throughout New England.

 

To book an evaluation with one of our expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. To book Transition Services in N.H., ask for Dina Karlon. 

 

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.

Staying Values-driven During Growth: A Director’s Update

By | NESCA Notes 2019

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

It’s finally Spring here in New England – and we are seeing signs of growth and emergence from the winter. At NESCA, we’ve had our own exciting growth over the past few months:

  • In Londonderry, N.H., we brought Dina Karlon on full-time as a Transition Specialist, guiding students and young adults to their next life transition – moving from high school to college, taking a gap year, finding the right residential living environment or entering the workforce.
  • We opened a new office in Plainville, Mass. to serve clients in South Eastern Mass. and Rhode Island communities, with Pediatric Neuropsychologists Reva Tankle and Erin Gibbons available to take on evaluations in the region.
  • Dot Lucci joined our practice to direct our Consultation Services to families, schools, school districts, colleges and universities, businesses and community groups and agencies in Mass., R.I., and N. H.

While growth within an organization is exciting, it’s not without its risks. In previous work experiences, I’ve seen once thrilling and uplifting growth changes turn to a loss of values and culture, and confusion about an organization’s vision. With the recent growth NESCA has experienced, it’s led me to pause and reflect on who we are as a team.

At our core, we are a neuropsychological and educational services organization whose clinicians and practitioners are passionately driven both individually and as the NESCA team to do their best to help children, adolescents, young adults and their families get the information and support they need to be their best. We hire truly committed and dedicated neuropsychologists who want to live, eat and sleep neuropsychology. We take the time to work with families and individuals to unravel stories, dig into their concerns or struggles and identify the correct diagnosis/es (if warranted). Each clinician takes the time to develop relationships with individuals, often through multiple evaluation meetings, school or community observations and talking to stakeholders in the individual’s life to get a complete picture of each and every individual we evaluate. We aren’t about churning out reports or handing off evaluations to less experienced clinicians. Yes, we get reports out in a timely and expected manner, but not at the expense of doing what’s right and being thorough.

We value continued education and strive to stay up on the latest evidence-based treatments. We frequently invite professionals in to meet with our team and present on new resources, treatments, etc. We are always learning through formal continued education courses, the speakers we host, and most importantly, our own NESCA team.

The NESCA team is comprised of dedicated professionals who have grown their networks over the course of many years, both in discipline and geography, and use these connections to benefit our clients. If one of our clinicians is challenged with identifying the right camp, therapist, or other resource for a client, chances are very good that one of our clinicians has built – not just a knowledge base of referrals to recommend – but relationships there as well. If there is a particularly challenging case, our clients benefit from our entire team of experienced clinicians’ insights, ideas, recommendations, perspectives, experiences and resources to help. In fact, we meet on a weekly basis as a team to discuss these cases and come to the best conclusions and recommendations as a cohesive team. That’s why we can take on the difficult, complex cases and come out with the right diagnosis/es and recommended next steps and strategies.

We’ve carefully built and nurtured a work environment where we all feel supported by each other and by the company. NESCA’s staff knows that they aren’t being pushed to rush through neuropsychological evaluations to get the next client in the door. That would only be penny-wise and pound-foolish and would completely fly in the face of our values-based principles that guide our work daily.

Our staff – both new to NESCA and those who have been with us for years, if not from our inception – know they have my full support to conduct the best, most thorough and comprehensive evaluations. This is how we get to know, develop and foster relationships with our clients for years, all the while helping them succeed academically and in life. I’m proud to say that many of our staff clinicians and clients have been with NESCA for many years. As we grow, we will continue to evaluate the efforts we are putting forth to not just maintain but enhance who we are and what we do here at NESCA.

 

About the Author: 

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

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

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

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Helmus, NESCA Founder and Director, or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. To book an evaluation in Plainville, ask for Reva Tankle on the intake form. To book Consultation Services, ask for Dot Lucci. To book Transition Services in N.H., ask for Dina Karlon. 

 

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

 

 

What is Working Memory and How Can We Address It?

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By: Nancy Roosa, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Melanie is a sweet, hard-working 11-year-old girl whose parents brought her to NESCA for an evaluation to try to understand why she was struggling in school. Melanie was a cheerful, vivacious girl who seemed intelligent, curious and articulate. But she was barely getting by in fifth grade, putting in hours on homework every night on assignments her teachers thought should take 30 minutes. Her parents were concerned about how she was going to manage middle school next year.

During the evaluation, Melanie did quite well on most tests. Her intelligence measured in the “Above Average” range, and her academic skills were solid. She worked hard and even did well on a test of sustained attention. So, it was clear she did not have a classic case of attentional dysregulation.

Upon further analysis, a few striking results emerged. Melanie had a good ability to remember information or work on structured tasks, but got confused on multistep tasks. One important result: she was able to remember and repeat back long strings of digits when repeating them verbatim, but she really struggled when she had to repeat them in reverse. The mental manipulations involved flummoxed her.

This is working memory: the ability to hold multiple bits of information in memory banks while there is another, distracting bit of information processing going on. Working memory is the “working” part of memory, as it holds information long enough for us to use it or store it away in longer-term memory banks. Analogies can be made to computer storage, where current information is held while processing occurs; or a mental chalkboard, where we jot down our ideas while working out a problem. For some children, like Melanie, that computer storage or chalkboard space is quite limited, causing difficulty with many aspects of learning. As a first grader, Melanie easily learned the sounds of letters, but it was harder for her to remember and apply that knowledge while reading words. Similarly, she easily learned math facts, but got stymied on multistep math problems. Finally, she had trouble with multistep directions. When her parents or teachers told her three things to do, her response was typically, “Wait, what?”.

Melanie’s parents were right to be concerned about middle school, since this is when students are presented with more complex assignments, such as lengthy reading and writing assignments, PowerPoint presentations and many other multistep projects, which were going to be hard for her.

Working memory deficits are related to other cognitive processes. Children with attentional regulation deficits or learning disabilities often – but not always – have working memory deficits. However, every child is unique, with an individual set of strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, a comprehensive and well-done evaluation is essential to clarify a child’s specific profile – a vital first step in crafting an appropriate plan for support and treatment.

Now that we identified Melanie’s difficulties as primarily due to working memory deficits, how do we help her?

My recommendations centered first on the types of accommodations Melanie would need in school to manage an uptick in demands.

  • Any complex or multistep assignment needed to be presented in writing so Melanie can refer back to the directions. She should be shown completed models and provided with scoring rubrics.
  • Melanie might need support from a learning specialist to manage complex tasks, by dividing them into component parts, then completing each part and integrating the whole.
  • Melanie should not be expected to take notes while simultaneously listening to a teacher’s instruction. She should be provided with notes or given an outline of the teacher’s talk that she could fill in.
  • Melanie’s pace of work was slow, given the need to frequently check back and remind herself what she was doing. Therefore, teachers should consider giving her shorter homework assignments that focus on quality not quantity, and extra time to complete tests and assignments.

We also discussed the strategies that Melanie would need to learn to compensate for working memory deficits. She was already using some important strategies, likely based on coaching from some talented teachers in her past. She knew she needed to write things down to remember them, so she had become good at creating outlines before she started writing and drawing pictures of math problems. However, as assignments got longer, Melanie was going to need additional strategies. For example, for lengthy reading assignments, Melanie might need to jot down sticky notes on pages or develop an ongoing “story board” to keep track of main character descriptions or plot points.

Once the family brought this information to Melanie’s educational team, they were able to meet and establish important accommodations, including time to work with a learning specialist several times weekly. The team also agreed to continue to monitor her ability to manage future challenges.

Beyond accommodating working memory deficits, there is ongoing research into programs that could actually improve an individual’s working memory. The hope is that by targeted practice, one could strengthen one’s working memory the way we strengthen muscles by working out at the gym. Despite a great deal of research, the preponderance of evidence does not indicate that these kinds of training programs are effective in improving working memory, except on the specific tasks used in the training program itself. At NESCA, we remain optimistic that further research and refinements will eventually yield more promising treatments.

Finally, one of the most important outcomes of the evaluation was a feedback session with Melanie herself, where I explained her learning profile to her in age-appropriate terms. My goal was to help her appreciate her many strengths and understand that her learning challenge was relatively small and specific. She might have to work harder in certain ways, but would be able to be successful in school and life.

At NESCA, we find that when a child is old enough to process this information about their profile, it is vital to provide it. We find that many children, even teenagers and young adults, tend to be black-and-white thinkers. When they struggle in school in any way, they conclude they are “stupid.” It is obviously vital to prevent this kind of global, negative self-concept from developing. Rather, we hope to give the child the self-awareness and confidence to develop and use compensatory strategies, no matter the area of weakness. We need Melanie and children like her to be confident enough to ask a teacher, college professor or even a job supervisor to provide written instructions to a task or go over directions more than once. Our goal is to arm her with enough self-awareness and confidence that she can go into any new situation, as a student or adult, and be successful while not letting her challenges define or limit her.

 

About the Author: 
Roosa

Dr. Roosa has been engaged in providing neuropsychological evaluations for children since 1997. She enjoys working with a range of children, particularly those with autism spectrum disorders, as well as children with attentional issues, executive function deficits, anxiety disorders, learning disabilities, or other social, emotional or behavioral problems. Her evaluations are particularly appropriate for children with complex profiles and those whose presentations do not fit neatly into any one diagnostic box. As part of this process, Dr. Roosa is frequently engaged in school visits, IEP Team Meetings, home observations and phone consultations with collateral providers. Dr. Roosa has also consulted with several area schools, either about individual children or about programmatic concerns. She speaks to parent or school groups, upon request.

 

 

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.

Improving Life Outcomes through Self-awareness, Stress Management and Social Competency

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS

Currently many school districts have social-emotional learning (SEL) goals as part of their mission. They include goals, such as students will: think critically and solve problems; communicate and collaborate effectively; attend to physical, social and emotional health; contribute to and care about their community and world; and, recognize the uniqueness and dignity of individuals of differing religions, classes, ethnicities, sexual orientations, learning abilities and more. These goals are part of what is expected in our workforce and as citizens in general. If children and adults could attain these goals, our world would be a more tolerant and compassionate place.

Given the neurological, psychological, behavioral or cognitive challenges many students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), nonverbal learning disorder (NLD), intellectual disability (ID), anxiety, depression, etc. may have, they will often experience difficulty attaining these goals. Direct teaching as well as embedded instruction of Mindsets, Essential Skills & Habits (MESH) and SEL is imperative for these students to succeed in school, relationships, work and in their own quality of life. In fact, MESH and SEL can help all students with or without special needs. Students of today become the adults of tomorrow. With SEL and MESH instruction, they become mindful, compassionate and socially competent adults – and potentially leaders!

In our consultation work with schools, NESCA focuses on three primary areas that we call the 3-Ss: self-awareness, social competency and stress management. Many adults with learning or developmental challenges have not yet reached their potential because they struggle in one or more of these areas. They do not know who they are and “what makes them tick,” or understand that stress is a part of life that we all deal with. They may struggle to recognize that getting along with and being kind and respectful to others is a necessary part of life, even when we do not agree with others. Some of these adults have advanced degrees but sadly cannot get or keep a job or a relationship. By directly addressing the 3-Ss, we help individuals develop life-long skills to be the best they can be.

Self-awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to recognize one’s strengths/challenges, interests, likes/dislikes, learning style, personality and more. It allows us to self-reflect and accurately identify emotions and thoughts and how they influence our behavior. Being optimistic when dealing with life’s setbacks is also central to self-awareness. As we mature, the ability to make responsible decisions – constructive and respectful choices about personal behaviors based on safety concerns, ethical standards and social norms – also falls under self-awareness.

The earlier we begin to help children develop self-awareness, the better off they are in the long run. Teaching them about their personalities earlier allows them to understand themselves better and themselves in relation to others. Through consultation, we normalize the neurodiversity of learners in a classroom. For example, we may have everyone (teachers and students) complete a learning style checklist and discuss the variety of learning profiles in a class. This makes self-awareness more concrete and accessible to all students.

Social Competency

Social competency allows self-awareness to be applied in relationships with others. Social competency is the ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with others in one’s family, school, community and work. It is what allows us to demonstrate perspective-taking and empathy with others of diverse backgrounds and cultures. It includes knowing the social and cultural norms of behavior and also understanding why demonstrating those matters and helps us to communicate clearly, listen actively, negotiate conflicts, cooperate with others, and ask for help when needed. It can also include nonverbal cues and communication when sharing space with others, which is what makes it possible to ride on public transportation, wait in line, ride in an elevator, watch a movie at a theatre, etc. – all in accordance with unwritten, hidden, yet expected social norms. It is critical to work on social competency from preschool through middle and high school and beyond as the expectations and challenges change throughout our lives – and as we change, too.

Stress Management

No matter how self-aware someone is, stress happens and we need to learn to cope or we will suffer both physically and psychologically. Stress is neither good nor bad – it just is. Therefore, stress management is critical to living a life that is as healthy and satisfying as possible. Stress management is the ability to identify one’s emotions, thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and to regulate them effectively – identifying internal and external triggers, controlling impulses, motivating oneself and developing a toolbox to cope with stress. By teaching stress management skills early on, we help children identify how stress feels in their bodies and how our bodies and emotions are linked. All too often, we tell children to “calm down” without teaching them how and what that actually means. If we teach children and adolescents a variety of ways to calm themselves (breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness, exercise, problem solving, etc.), and we offer regular opportunities to practice these skills in a range of settings and activities, our hope is that they will gravitate to those techniques and eventually use them independently and successfully. Teaching children about resilience and optimism is key so they can cope when adversity happens – as we know it will.

By highlighting the 3-Ss in our work, we have witnessed significant growth and a positive impact on students’ learning and ultimately their lives. By directly modeling and teaching these MESH skills, students diagnosed with disabilities improve their understanding of self, others and their ability to manage stress and cope with adversity. We are fostering the development of the adults of tomorrow.

To learn more about NESCA and its consultation services, visit: https://nesca-newton.com/.

To learn more about SEL and MESH, visit:

 

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 Program Director and Director of Consultation at MGH/Aspire for 13 years, where she built child, teen and young adult programs and established the 3-Ss (self-awareness, social competency and stress management) as the programming backbone. She also served as director of the Autism Support Center. Ms. Lucci was previously an elementary classroom teacher, special educator, researcher, school psychologist, college professor and director of public schools, a private special education school and an education collaborative.

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Use of Adaptive Behavior Rating Scales in Neuropsychological Assessment

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By Jason McCormick, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

In my work as a neuropsychologist, much of my practice involves assessment geared toward transition planning – the move from high school to college or from high school to the working world. For these cases, I find the use of measures of adaptive behavior skills – day-to-day skills associated with self-care, communication, community navigation, home living, socialization, use of leisure time, and functional academics – to be a critical part of the neuropsychological testing battery.

Historically, adaptive behavior rating scales were developed and primarily used for assessment of intellectual disability. While adaptive behavior has taken rightful prominence in the assessment and diagnosis of intellectual disability – overtaking the importance of intelligence testing – the use of adaptive rating measures also proves quite important to help with transition planning for individuals with a wide range of psychiatric and neurodevelopmental presentations, including those with exceptionally strong cognitive skills.

These measures (e.g., Adaptive Behavior Assessment System – Third Edition; Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales – Third Edition), which take the form of parent/caregiver or teacher questionnaires/structured interviews, yield detailed information about an adolescent’s readiness for their upcoming transition out of their family’s home. Particularly for bright adolescents with strong academic skills who might, say, present with attention and executive function challenges but have largely been successful in school, an assessment of adaptive behavior skills is often overlooked. However, over the course of my career, I have heard multiple stories of students who have seemed “college-ready” in the traditional sense of the word (i.e., strong academic and cognitive skills) but have suffered “failure to launch” experiences, as they had not learned to take their prescribed medications consistently, never learned to self-regulate their sleep schedule, or were well behind in their capacity to strike a balance between work and leisure activities.

Although the scores obtained on these measures can be a helpful guide, I find that a closer look at the specific components that may point to a need for additional skill development can help generate a sort of “to-do” list for transition planning work. Thus, while at times simply confirming an adolescent’s suspected transition readiness, the administration of an adaptive measure often proves to be a valuable tool to help determine what skill areas need to be targeted prior to the transition and/or supported during the transition.

 

About the Author:

McCormick

Dr. Jason McCormick is a senior clinician at NESCA, sees children, adolescents and young adults with a variety of presenting issues, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), dyslexia and non-verbal learning disability. He has expertise in Asperger’s Disorder and has volunteered at the Asperger’s Association of New England (AANE). Dr. McCormick mainly sees individuals ranging from age 10 through the college years, and he has a particular interest in the often difficult transition between high school and college. As part of his work with older students, Dr. McCormick is very familiar with the documentation requirements of standardized testing boards. He also holds an advisory and consultative role with a prestigious local university, assisting in the provision of appropriate academic accommodations to their students with learning disabilities and other issues complicating their education.

To book a consultation with Dr. McCormick 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.