Summer Learning

By | June 2018

By: Amity Kulis, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

As the warm days are here and summer vacation is either upon us or close by, our minds are shifting away from education: homework, studying for tests, and general stress. However, it is important to keep in mind that while summer vacation should be fun, it also provides an opportunity to build on learning.

Summer learning loss or summer slide is a real phenomenon for most children, even those without learning disabilities. Now, I am not advocating that every child needs to be in summer school to prevent this loss, but I am suggesting that we should be mindful and think about ways to promote learning over the summer. The areas of most concern include regression in reading and math skills, physical fitness, and social skills. These challenges are easy to overcome with some thoughtful planning of activities.

Reading: Studies suggest that just four to five books over the summer help to prevent summer learning loss in reading. Now not every child is going to be excited to read, even if they get to pick out their own books over the summer. However, we can find ways to make it more interesting.

  • Perhaps everyone in the family reads the same book and there are opportunities to read together or talk about the book at night. By reading out loud this would allow for even the youngest family member to be included.
  • Maybe a child is encouraged to pick a book about an upcoming family vacation. For example, a tour guide or the history of the area and they can relate that information when they are actually on vacation.
  • Graphic novels and other books that integrate words and pictures can be more exciting for some children.
  • Visit local museums. Without your children even realizing it they will be reading as they explore the exhibits at the Science Museum or the Aquarium. Boston and New England have many wonderful museums and summer is a great time to explore them with the added benefit of your children being exposed to printed text at each exhibit. It can be expensive to visit all the museums but most public libraries offer free or discounted prices to many museums.

Math: Many studies point to the most concern for regression in math skills. It seems easier to find ways to address reading skills over the summer and more difficult to find fun ways to continue to support math development. The good news is there are fun ways to incorporate math into everyday life.

  • While most of us are trying to limit technology and screen time in our children’s lives, the reality is that most children want it. Make screen time more educational by downloading games that involve math activities that are appropriate for your child’s educational skills.
  • Get cooking! Over the summer have your child help you in preparing a meal or a favorite treat. There is so much math involved in cooking. For young children it can simply be counting out the number of carrots needed for the soup and for older children you can learn about fractions or doubling or even tripling the recipe. You’ll be helping to make math more functional and applicable to real life, plus you’ll have fun and a tasty treat afterwards.
  • Another great way to involve numbers in everyday activities is including your child in planning the schedule for the day. Planning for the amount of travel time, whether it be by car or public transportation, accounting for the amount of time at the various activities and planning in meals can be a great exercise in time management and using numbers.

Physical activity and Social Skills: In addition to the academic aspects of summer slide it is also important to consider the physical and social aspects of an unstructured summer vacation. During the school year children have daily recess and regular gym class where they are presented with opportunities to interact with peers and get their bodies moving. During the summer there are endless opportunities to continue to promote these skills:

  • Sign your child up for a camp. Almost all summer camps have a social component and many also involve regular physical activity.
  • If your child is not doing summer camp there are also plenty of activities happening on a weekly basis throughout the summer. Check out your local recreation department/community center for free or discounted activities.
  • Walk or ride instead of driving the car. In the warm weather over the summer there are so many opportunities to get outside. Ride your bike or walk to the local ice cream parlor or even just around the block.
  • It can also be a great opportunity to learn a new sport like swimming or tennis.
  • Playgrounds, the beach, water parks, among others, are excellent places to meet up with old friends or meet new friends.

The important thing for the summer is to have fun and to never stop learning!

About the Author:

Dr. Amity Kulis joined NESCA in 2012 after earning her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, with a concentration in Children, Adolescents and Families (CAF). She completed post-doctoral training in pediatric neuropsychology with an emphasis on treating children with developmental, intellectual, learning and executive functioning challenges. She also has extensive training psychological (projective) testing and has conducted individual and group therapies for children of all ages. Before joining NESCA, Dr. Kulis worked in private practices, clinics, and schools, conducting comprehensive assessments on children ranging from toddlers through young adults. In addition, Dr. Kulis has had the opportunity to consult with various school systems, conducting observations of programs, and providing in-service trainings for staff. Dr. Kulis currently conducts neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments for school aged children through young adulthood. She regularly participates in transition assessments (focusing on the needs of adolescents as they emerge into adulthood) and has a special interest in working with complex learners that may also struggle with emotional challenges and psychiatric conditions. In addition to administering comprehensive and data driven evaluations, Dr. Kulis regularly conducts school-based observations and participates in school meetings to help share her findings and consultation with a student’s TEAM.

 

 

 

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, 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.

 

 

Why Work Works

By | June 2018

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

Summer is here. The weather is mostly sunny, we are in New England after all, and many of us are looking forward to our teenagers being out of school and hanging around in the basement playing video games on line with their friends, asking for rides to the mall and wondering why there is no food in the fridge.

Wait! Whoa! It’s summer! Don’t teenagers work anymore? Many young adults are spending summers preparing for travel sports teams, drama clubs and exploring post-secondary options. As a transition specialist I work with parents and young adults every day who are trying to plan for life after high school. There are so many areas to consider: post-secondary education/training, independent living skills, leisure and recreation, transportation skills and EMPLOYMENT!

Researchers have studied and debated the benefits and drawbacks of teens and part-time jobs for more than 2 decades. Many researchers, including those on government panels like the National Commission on Youth, praise part-time work and say it contributes to the transition from youth to adulthood.

Top 10 Reasons why Work Works!

  1. As an employee, young adults gain a new identity outside of being a student. They have a role and a purpose that cannot be replicated in any other setting. When they arrive at work, their employer is so grateful for their presence there because without them the job doesn’t get done or someone else needs to stop their productivity to get it done.
  2. Teamwork! You can’t be employed in any entry-level job without learning the basics of collaboration and negotiation.
  3. Responsibility and Accountability are the easiest skills to teach on the job. Every employee is expected to fulfill their role and add to the greater good. These two skills are crucial for success in college and in all relationships.
  4. Time management. Young adults learn how to balance free time and productive time. This is a crucial skill for success in the unstructured time shift from high school to college life. Also, employment gives teens less time to engage in risky behaviors.
  5. Learn important executive functioning skills. Young adults learn how to juggle their schedules and plan ahead so they can fit in leisure and extracurricular activities around their work schedules.
  6. Money management skills. Young adults learn how to effectively manage finances. Even if the teen is simply using their earnings to pay for their own expenses, they will learn to budget between clothes, movies, and car expenses.
  7. Career Development. Young adults gain practical experience in a field of interest helping to further college major and career choices
  8. Skills! Young adults gain useful, marketable skills such as improving their communication, instilling new confidence, learning how to handle difficult people, developing interview skills and filling out job applications.
  9. Community! Their world becomes bigger. Young adults learn to navigate transportation options, gain networking possibilities and set a young adult on a rewarding lifetime career path.
  10. Fun! Work is fun!!

 

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, 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.

 

 

Neurodevelopmental Evaluations – Where and When to Start

By | February 2018, NESCA Notes 2018

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

Parenthood is a daunting task to say the least. Not only must we worry about keeping our children healthy and safe, but we are constantly bombarded with information about potentially harmful foods, chemicals, toys, etc. Many parents also have concerns about whether their children are meeting developmental milestones on time and/or whether they should worry about certain behaviors their children are displaying.

When concerns arise about older children, parents are often advised to seek a neuropsychological evaluation to rule out possible attention, learning, or developmental challenges. However, parents of children under 5 are often urged to “wait and see” or might be told it is “too early” to seek an evaluation. The truth of the matter is that it is never too early to have your child evaluated when you are worried about his or her development.

Where do I start?

If you have concerns about your child’s development, it is always a good idea to start with your pediatrician. Describe what you are seeing at home and any difficulties you have noticed. Your pediatrician might recommend that you seek a comprehensive neurodevelopmental evaluation to assess for any developmental delays.

What is a neurodevelopmental evaluation?

This is a comprehensive set of tests designed to assess all aspects of your child’s development, including cognition, language, motor, and social skills. This type of evaluation is conducted by a pediatric neuropsychologist. First, you will be asked to provide information about your child’s developmental and medical histories. Your child will then be asked to participate in a series of activities over the course of 2 or 3 hours. For example, he/she will have to solve simple puzzles, label pictures, or play with different types of toys.

Why is a neurodevelopmental evaluation useful?

After completing the evaluation, the neuropsychologist will analyze all of the information and develop a comprehensive picture of your child’s developmental profile. In addition to helping you understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses, the neuropsychologist will also identify any developmental delays that require intervention.

What happens next?

An evaluation will identify developmental delays that need to be treated in order to help your child catch up with peers. Some examples include speech/language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy or applied behavior analysis (ABA).

For children under 3, this means they can start receiving Early Intervention services right away. Early Intervention is a system of services for babies and toddlers who have developmental delays or disabilities and is available in every state in the US.

For children over 3, parents can seek services privately, or can work with their local school district to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for their child. Having an independent evaluation completed prior to your child’s transition to public education is extremely useful as it provides the district with the child’s type of disability and informs the process of developing necessary services.

Where can I go?

Neurodevelopmental evaluations are available at many local area hospitals as well as private neuropsychology clinics. Parents can also contact their insurance company for a list of providers or search through the Massachusetts Neuropsychological Society: https://www.massneuropsych.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageID=3309.

At NESCA, we are proud to offer neurodevelopmental evaluations for children ages 1-5 and will provide parents with a comprehensive report, extensive recommendations for services, and ongoing consultation through the years. Our clinicians are able to do observations of children in their natural environments (e.g., day care, preschool) to gain a full picture of the child and provide environmental recommendations that would be most supportive. Moreover, we are available to attend meetings with early intervention specialists and special educators to help a child’s team fully understand their individual learning and service needs.

If you are interested in scheduling a consultation or evaluation at NESCA, please complete our on-line intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

About the Author:

GibbonsErin 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.


 

Sleep Hygiene and Sleep Debt

By | February 2018, NESCA Notes 2018

By: Rebecca Girard, LICSW, CAS
Licensed Clinical Social Worker, NESCA

For many students, teachers, and families in Massachusetts (and several other states throughout the country), this week marks a vacation and a time for rest. In that spirit, this week on NESCA News & Notes, we are highlighting the importance of good sleep hygiene for children, a vital element of wellness, mental health, and learning. Check out this short TEDx talk by Roxanne Prichard of the University of St Thomas about the importance of sleep for children. Highlights of the talk include:

  • Sleep is an essential for a healthy brain
  • United States school children are ranked 1st among nations with academic problems directly attributable to sleepiness
  • A 2014 Sleep in America poll found that fewer than 1 in 5 teens is getting the minimum amount of recommended sleep

Benefits of a good night’s sleep include:

  • Better regulated vital systems including growth and immune responses
  • Better memory and ability to retain new information
  • Boosts mood

Tips for good sleep health (according to the CDC):

  • Be consistent. Make sure your child goes to bed at the same time each night and gets up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends (as much as possible)
  • Make sure the bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature
  • Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smart phones, from the bedroom
  • Avoid screens 30 minutes before bedtime. Promote reading, drawing or another quiet, non-screen activity to wind down
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and sugar right before bedtime
  • Make sure your child is getting some exercise. Being physically active during the day can help a child fall asleep more easily at night.

So how much sleep does a child need?

For more information on Dr. Roxanne Prichard as well as sleep hygiene, visit the following web sites:

About the Author:

Rebecca Girard, LICSW, CAS is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in neurodivergent issues, sexual trauma, and international social work. She has worked primarily with children, adolescents, adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families for over a decade. Ms. Girard is highly experienced in using Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) as well as Socio-dramatic Affective Relational Intervention (SDARI), in additional to a number of other modalities. She is excited to provide enhanced psychotherapy to children with ASD at NESCA as well as to provide individual and group therapeutic support to youth with a range of mood, anxiety, social and behavioral challenges. Her professional passion is promoting tolerance and understanding of neurodiverse people of all abilities, and creating an empowering and accepting environment in therapy for clients of all ages. Her approach is client-centered, strengths-based, creative and compassionate.


 

Acupuncture and its Role in Treating Anxiety

By | February 2018, NESCA Notes 2018
By: Holly Pelletier, L.Ac.
Licensed Acupuncturist, NESCA
Whether or not you’re familiar with acupuncture, you may be wondering what role it could possibly play in the field of mental health. Most people associate acupuncture with the treatment of pain conditions, and although it has gained recent popularity and prevalence in our little corner of the world, it is often only given a portion of the credit it deserves when it comes to the scope of treatment possibilities.
Acupuncture is a branch of Chinese medicine based upon a meridian system that runs throughout the entire body. On the meridians, there are acupuncture points that can be accessed through different means such as needling, acupressure, or by using a warming herb called mugwort. The purpose of using these points is to move blockages of energy, blood, or fluids (i.e. lymph) in the body. By using different needling techniques and various point combinations you can either add to a deficient area or move an excess one.
How does acupuncture work with anxiety and other mental health concerns? To explain fully, we can look at it from two different perspectives:
The first is a more traditional “western” approach where we look at things on a biochemical level. Acupuncture points are specific areas beneath the surface of the skin that have high concentrations of nerve endings, mast cells, lymphatic vessels and capillaries. When an acupuncture needle is inserted into a point, it stimulates the sensory receptor, which in turn stimulates the nerve and transmits impulses to the brain. In this sense, it can be viewed as a “feedback loop” that directly affects your brain, your hormones, and your glands. So, the relaxed feeling you get after an acupuncture session is real, it is not just a placebo or “in your head”. The needles directly adjust imbalances in the body and allow the person to begin the healing process with a “blank slate.” This unique aspect, specific to acupuncture, is extremely powerful because it allows the body to access its own, innate power to heal itself.
The second approach is the stance of Chinese medicine, which frames anxiety as a symptom of something out of balance. If everything was functioning as it should, there would be no symptoms, we would live pain and stress free every single day of our lives. When something is “off”, tiny sensations start surfacing that at first may seem like nothing at all – a foggy head, fatigue, or tight shoulders. But as time goes by, symptoms worsen and the imbalance becomes larger, making it harder to reverse.
Zooming in even closer to examine just the anxiety is helpful as well. Anxiety comes in all forms. If you have only seen or felt it one way in yourself or your child, it may surprise you that there is a wide array of symptoms that can show up when someone experiences anxiety. Some may have digestive upset while others get headaches or a racing heart, and others may have trouble breathing or dissociate from the world around them. Often, a person is treated for anxiety and given the same medication as someone else, regardless of their symptoms. Rather than treating someone for anxiety and having one specific point protocol or herbal approach, acupuncture treats those symptoms associated with the anxiety instead. For instance, the headaches, or the palpitations that signal stress to the body. Therefore, each person is looked at individually and each case/course of treatment is completely unique.
As mentioned above, acupuncture is only a part of a much larger system of medicine. Other branches of the system include nutrition, meditation, herbs, and Qi Gong to name a few. Incorporating these other aspects allows the patient to not only feel better temporarily, but to possibly relieve the anxiety fully.
If you have any questions about acupuncture and want to see if you or your child would be a good candidate, please contact our acupuncturist, Holly at: hpelletier@nesca-newton.com
To read Holly’s Blog with simple ways to incorporate Chinese Medicine in daily life, visit: http://holisticallyinspiredblog.blogspot.com/
About the Author:
Holly Pelletier, L.Ac. is a licensed acupuncturist who practices part-time at NESCA. Holly Pelletier has been working with children of varying ages, in many different capacities since 2004. Prior to treating kids with acupuncture, she worked as a teacher, coach, and mentor. She exceptionally enjoys working with children and acupuncture because of their speedy response time and genuine excitement about this form of medicine. Holly has a very gentle technique and has specific training in non-insertive acupuncture styles, which does not require needling directly into the skin. In additions to working with children, Holly is also very passionate about working with issues involving women’s health, nutrition/herbs, neurological disease, and psychological challenges such as anxiety and depression.
For more information on our acupuncturist, Holly visit: http://www.hpelletieracu.com/

Supporting the Twice-Exceptional Children in our Lives

By | February 2018, NESCA Notes 2018

 

Free to Be 2e!
Supporting the Twice-Exceptional Children in our Lives

By: Rebecca Girard, LICSW, CAS
Licensed Clinical Social Worker, NESCA

Richard Branson
Businessman and Investor

Whoopie Goldberg
Actress and talk show host

Tim Burton
Director

Daryl Hannah
Actress

What do the above celebrities all have in common, aside from being wildly successful and having household names? They are all considered “2e”!

The term, “Twice Exceptional” or “2e” is gaining popularity in educational and therapeutic settings, but what does it mean? The term refers to children who possess both exceptional gifts and talents, and who also experience various learning difficulties such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Learning Disabilities, and Autism Spectrum Disorders. A recently published textbook, Twice Exceptional: Supporting and Educating Bright and Creative Students with Learning Difficulties (2017) explores this movement in detail and offers the latest evidence- and strengths-based approaches in supporting the extraordinary “2e” young people in our lives.

Scott Barry Kaufman writes frequently on this topic. He argues that education and intervention have often employed a silo approach, meaning that these systems have viewed children as either exclusively disabled or exclusively gifted, instead of appreciating the dynamic interaction of both. Kaufman describes this as an “artificial mutual exclusiveness” that is harmful to children whose unique profiles include both remarkable strengths and complex learning deficits. This often leads to difficulty “fitting in” in traditional educational settings as well as to children feeling misunderstood and unappreciated for the things they are good at doing. According to davincilearning.org, a website dedicated to “multiple exceptionality” or the intersection of giftedness, disability, and trauma, there are three ways we misunderstand the needs of twice-exceptional children:

  1. Disability masks giftedness, and the focus on correcting disability leads to giftedness being overlooked.
  2. Giftedness masks the signs of disability.
  3. Both giftedness and disability mask each other, and the person appears to be ordinary.

So what is to be done? If you have a “2e” child in your life, consider the following recommendations set forth by Dr. Kaufman:

  1. Specialized methods of identification that consider the possible interaction of the exceptionalities.
  2. Enriched/advanced educational opportunities that focus on developing the child’s interests and highest strengths while also meeting the child’s learning needs.
  3. Simultaneous supports that ensure the child’s academic success and social-emotional well-being, such as accommodations, therapeutic interventions, and specialized instruction.

As parents, educators, and therapists, we must be sensitive to the intricacies of a child’s abilities and deficits, and take care to not focus too exclusively on such a false dichotomy. Instead, let’s “see beyond lables,” as Dr. Kaufman suggests, and focus on natural strengths, internal motivation, and opportunities for growth.

Many accomplished people with learning differences attribute thinking differently as a factor in their success. May all our “2e” friends find what works best for them and create their own self-defined success.

NESCA is proud to offer evaluation services that help to uncover underlying reasons for struggles as well as unique strengths and aptitudes and to integrate findings into a recognizable portrait of of the whole child, teen, or young adult. If you would like to learn more about Neuropsychological Assessment or Transition Assessment at NESCA provides, click here.

And for more information about twice-exceptionality, see below!

*Disclosure: Rebecca Girard, LICSW contributed to Twice Exceptional: Supporting and Educating Bright and Creative Students with Learning Difficulties in the chapter, “Appreciating and Promoting Social Creativity in Youth with Asperger’s Syndrome”

About the Author:

Rebecca Girard, LICSW, CAS is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in neurodivergent issues, sexual trauma, and international social work. She has worked primarily with children, adolescents, adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families for over a decade. Ms. Girard is highly experienced in using Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) as well as Socio-dramatic Affective Relational Intervention (SDARI), in additional to a number of other modalities. She is excited to provide enhanced psychotherapy to children with ASD at NESCA as well as to provide individual and group therapeutic support to youth with a range of mood, anxiety, social and behavioral challenges. Her professional passion is promoting tolerance and understanding of neurodiverse people of all abilities, and creating an empowering and accepting environment in therapy for clients of all ages. Her approach is client-centered, strengths-based, creative and compassionate.


 

Pre-Employment Transition Services – What Are They and Who Is Eligible?

By | January 2018, NESCA Notes 2018
What are MRC Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS)?
How Could They Help Your Child on an IEP?

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

On July 22, 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) was signed into national law. The goal of the act is to help job seekers, including vulnerable populations such as individuals with disabilities, to access education, training, and support services enabling them to be successful in finding and sustaining employment.

In response to this act, Massachusetts developed a comprehensive workforce development plan involving a number of programs and partners including The Vocational Rehabilitation Program which spans across Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) and Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB). One important aspect of this plan is that MRC must spend at least 15% of its Title I budget on pre-employment transition services (Pre-ETS) for students ages 16 to 22 with disabilities.
Whereas students historically did not begin involvement with MRC Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services until the age of 18 or until exiting high school, many students on IEPs are now eligible for support at the age of 16 while enrolled in high school. Given that paid employment in high school is a predictor of both college success and adult employment, the opportunity to engage with MRC VR services in high school is an exciting opportunity!
Each Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Office has contracted with local providers in order to offer services benefiting students in the following areas: Job Exploration Counseling; Workplace Readiness Training, Work-Based Learning Experiences; Counseling on Enrollment in Transition or Postsecondary Educational Programs; and Self-Advocacy/Mentoring Instruction. Often these services include activities like interest assessment, worksite tours, “soft skills” training, travel training, and paid internships.
Also, every public high school has an MRC liaison who often has office hours within the school. These liaisons are able to offer many direct services within the school setting including providing group education and attending IEP meetings when appropriate.
Transition services as part of an IEP process are designed to support students developing skills and making progress towards their postsecondary employment goals. However, educators may not be as familiar with employment trends and entry-level work skills as vocational rehabilitation specialists. The opportunity for a student to work with MRC VR counselor in conjunction with their IEP team creates a wonderful opportunity to make progress toward high school completion requirements while simultaneously preparing to become an employable adult.
To learn more about MRC and Pre-Employment Transition Services, please visit the following links:
Students with visual impairments may additionally be interested in Pre-ETS services through Mass Commission for the Blind (MCB) VR services:
About the Author:
Kelley Challen, EdM, CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. She 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 also 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. While Ms. Challen has special expertise 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. She is also co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism.

Mindful or Mind Full? Can You and Your Child Be More Present?

By | January 2018, NESCA Notes 2018
Mindfulness Activities For Caretakers and Youth
By: Amity Kulis, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist
NESCA
Mindfulness is an area of psychology that continues to gain popularity in our culture and in therapeutic practice. By definition, mindfulness is the practice of being conscious or aware of our current state without judgement. That is, focusing our awareness on what is happening in this very moment related to our feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. We ignore what was happening in the past and what could happen in the future by being present in this moment. While this seems like a simple concept, in our distracted world of technology and instant gratification this can be difficult to put into practice. Too often we lose sight of the present and our current experiences, as our mind races and analyzes what just happened or what could happen, giving rise to anxiety.
Research suggests that the benefits of mindfulness include improved emotional regulation by decreasing rumination and improving attentional capabilities. There is also emerging evidence that mindfulness can decrease emotional reactivity which can have a positive impact on interpersonal relationships. Other positive benefits include improvements in sensory processing as well as sensitivity to internal stimuli.
Below is a list of mindfulness-based activities that can get you and your child started on the journey of being more present in the moment and begin reaping the benefits of a mindfulness practice. For more information or to explore therapeutic options at NESCA that utilize mindfulness strategies please read about our therapeutic services.
  • Breathing: Have the child breathe in for three seconds, hold their breath for three seconds, and then breathe out for three seconds. For younger children, the very act of focusing on this activity will ground them to the moment. For older children and teens, there might be more instruction like having the child focus on how the breath feels coming in, holding it in their lungs, and finally blowing out through their nose or mouth.
  • Seeing the world: Ask the child to spend a minute looking around the room while being silent with the goal of finding things in the room that have never been noticed before. After one minute, the child should be asked to share the most interesting thing that they see now but have not noticed before.
  • Feeling objects: Provide the child with an object or series of objects and ask them to spend a minute just noticing what the object feels like in their hand. Guiding them to attend to the texture, temperature, size, shape, etc. Afterwards, ask the child to share what they noticed.
  • Listening: Ring a bell or other chime-like noise that provides a long trailing sound. Ask the child to indicate when they can no longer hear the sound. After the ringing ends, ask the child to listen to any other sound they hear for the next minute.
  • Emotional acceptance: Young children tend to be more “in the moment” than most when it comes to emotional experience. When a child is expressing an emotion, rather than tell them “You’re okay,” validate their emotional experience and let them know it is okay to be angry, sad, etc. Then follow with asking your child how their body feels when they are in this emotional state. This process can help children to be more in touch with their bodies and begin to recognize how their emotions feel in their body to create greater emotional awareness.
To learn more about mindfulness and practice techniques, check out:
About the Author:
 
Dr. Amity Kulis joined NESCA in 2012 after earning her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, with a concentration in Children, Adolescents and Families (CAF). She completed post-doctoral training in pediatric neuropsychology with an emphasis on treating children with developmental, intellectual, learning and executive functioning challenges. She also has extensive training psychological (projective) testing and has conducted individual and group therapies for children of all ages. Before joining NESCA, Dr. Kulis worked in private practices, clinics, and schools, conducting comprehensive assessments on children ranging from toddlers through young adults. In addition, Dr. Kulis has had the opportunity to consult with various school systems, conducting observations of programs, and providing in-service trainings for staff. Dr. Kulis currently conducts neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments for school aged children through young adulthood. She regularly participates in transition assessments (focusing on the needs of adolescents as they emerge into adulthood) and has a special interest in working with complex learners that may also struggle with emotional challenges and psychiatric conditions. In addition to administering comprehensive and data driven evaluations, Dr. Kulis regularly conducts school-based observations and participates in school meetings to help share her findings and consultation with a student’s TEAM.

 


Transition Planning: The Missing Link Between Special Education and Successful Adulthood

By | January 2018, NESCA Notes 2018
What is Transition Planning and Why Does it Matter?

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

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) is the law that guarantees students with disabilities an equal opportunity for a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). For professionals and parents supporting youth with special needs, and for the children we love, this is a powerful law. IDEA 2004 guarantees that no matter what a young person’s struggles, they have the right to learn and grow and be provided with the specialized instruction necessary for their individual progress.

While many people are aware that IDEA 2004 guarantees the right to special education for academic learning, the concept of “transition services” is still catching on. In addition to requiring that public schools educate our students, IDEA 2004 mandates that special education services are designed to meet a student’s unique needs and to prepare them for further education, employment and independent living. According to this influential federal law, it is not enough that students be included in learning core academics (reading, writing, math, science, history). Rather, we are mandated to ensure that students with disabilities make progress toward being able to manage learning, working, and daily living activities in their postsecondary adult lives.

In December, I was excited to see the Huffington Post (see link below) publish an article emphasizing the importance of transition services and the challenges for students both during and after public education if this part of special education is ‘forgotten.’ The article was written by Sarah Butrymowicz and Jackie Mader and published in partnership with The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focusing on inequality and innovation in education. The authors profiled two young people who participated in public special education: Kate and Peter.

Kate’s educational program did not include meaningful transition services (e.g., career planning, homework activities) and was primarily driven by parent goals rather than person-centered activities. The initial outcome for Kate after special education was unemployment; after two years, her parents secured work for her using their own personal networks but not in an area of true interest or strength. Kate’s father summarized, “It was my absolute goal to have her not fall off the map. It’s unfortunate, she kind of has.”

Peter, however, was an active participant in his Individualized Education Program (IEP) process. While career testing indicated possible aptitude in food services, Peter wanted to be a Supreme Court justice and his team supported his enrollment in community college courses utilizing his school’s dual-enrollment program. With this experiential learning activity, Peter realized he was not interested in college and changed his goal, enrolling instead in vocational technical classes related to office administration. When Peter finished high school, he immediately went to work in an office and continued to full time employment as an administrative assistant at a nonprofit organization.

For so many students with disabilities, experiential learning is a critical component of their development of career, classroom, community living, and home living skills. This is best achieved when students have a collaborative IEP team and good transition services. Butrymowicz and Mader interviewed 100 parents, students, advocates and experts across the country and found that the best transition planning requires several things:

  1. An accurate and thoughtful assessment of a student’s abilities and interests
  2. Clear, measurable goals related to his or her postsecondary aspirations
  3. Appropriate support and services to help them achieve their goals

NESCA has provided person-centered transition services since 2009 and this article beautifully captured what we see every day in our work. What I love about being a transition specialist is helping young people to find their voices, to figure out what they love most, and to create small successes that can ultimately build into a meaningful postsecondary adult life. While many parents and educators I work with can find team meetings challenging or stressful, this is often my favorite part of the job — working collaboratively with the student, parents, educators, and community members to think creatively and build a unique strength-based transition plan.


Article:

Butrymowicz, S., and Mader, J. (2017). This ‘Forgotten’ Part of Special Education Could Lead To Better Outcomes For Students: Many former special education students struggle to find good-paying jobs, and high schools are partly to blame. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/special-education-transition_us_5a341a65e4b0ff955ad2b810 

About the Author:
 
Kelley Challen, EdM, CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. She 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 also 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. While Ms. Challen has special expertise 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. She is also co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism.

 


Thinking About Autism and Neurodiversity

By | January 2018, NESCA Notes 2018

By: Nancy Roosa, Psy.D. 
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

On December 2, 2017, several of NESCA’s clinical staff had the honor of speaking at The Daniel W. Rosenn Annual AANE Connections Conference with Temple Grandin. Talks included:

We were pleased to be able to share our expertise with more than 500 parents, professionals, and adults with autism. Furthermore, we enjoyed the opportunity to hear Dr. Temple Grandin speak about neurodiversity and the many contributions of neurodiverse individuals to our daily lives. As such, I wanted to share a bit about this topic with you.

Thinking About Autism and Neurodiversity

Without the particular contributions made by people on the spectrum, Temple Grandin says, “we’d still be living in caves and using our social skills to tell each other jokes by firelight.” Dr. Grandin gave an inspiring talk as the keynote speaker at the Autism/Asperger Network’s (AANE) annual conference. One of the main points of her presentation was that anyone capable of making grand and significant contributions to society has to see the world a bit differently. From Albert Einstein to Steve Jobs, revolutionary advances have been made by these unique, creative — but not always well socialized — individuals. In her case, she had remarkable visualization skills and a unique ability to see how cattle interact with their environment, allowing her to design more humane systems for transporting them in slaughterhouses without creating additional, unnecessary stress. Dr. Grandin’s drawings and sketches in the book Thinking in Pictures are truly remarkable.

John Elder Robison made a similar point in his book Switched On (2016) when he talks about his particular gifts in building electronic circuits for musicians. He describes how he could simply intuit how to build circuits to create a particular sound and how he knew immediately if some part of a complex stereo system was not working well. He came to realize that other engineers worked in a more methodical manner, which led him to wonder if his brain is wired differently. Where the neural connections that process social skills might be under-developed in his brain, he suspects he had  stronger connections between his math, sound and visual processing areas, which led to his successful career as an audio engineer for some of the country’s best rock bands – including designing flaming guitars for the band KISS.

In his book, Mr. Robison wondered if he would have traded his gifts to be more “neurotypical” — if he had had that choice. He recounts being very lonely in middle school and high school, but ponders the relative costs and benefits, both to himself personally as well as society. As he writes: “The world is full of friendly people with no technical skills. The few of us who see into machines like others see into humans are singularly uncommon and we’re valued for that.” These are the type of people who make revolutionary advances. He asks ‘if we could make autistic children more neurotypical, should we?’ “Should we trade friends in 7th grade for designing a working spaceship at age 25?”

This is an important point for those of us who work with, live with and/or love people on the spectrum. In our desire to help them lead more “normal” lives, and avoid the pain of being different, we have to also appreciate their differences, since that difference may be the very thing that leads them to a uniquely satisfying life, and perhaps to invent the next new thing that makes all of our lives better.

To learn more about Temple Grandin, John Elder Robison and Neurodiversity, visit the following links:

About the Author:

Nancy Roosa, Psy.D. 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.