Why are Some Youths More Susceptible to Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders?

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Ferne Pinard, Ph.D.
NESCA Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Anxiety disorders are one of the most commonly diagnosed disorders in childhood and adolescence. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9.4% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 5.8 million) were diagnosed with anxiety between 2016-2019. These numbers have increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some studies estimate that the prevalence of child and adolescent anxiety disorders nearly doubled during the pandemic.

Why are some individuals more susceptible to anxiety than others? The development of anxiety and anxiety disorders during youth is not simple or straightforward but involves complex interactions among the following variables:

  • Temperament: Children with the behavioral inhibition temperamental style described as timidity, shyness, and emotional restraint when with unfamiliar people and or in new places are more likely to develop anxiety disorders.
  • Parent-child Attachment: Children who did not experience a trusting and secure parental bond, but received inconsistent responses from caregivers and are preoccupied with the caregiver’s emotional availability (Ambivalent attachment) are at increased risk for developing an anxiety disorder.
  • Parental Anxiety: Children with anxious parents are at higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder. This relation is partly influenced by genetics. The risk of developing specific anxiety disorders has been associated with various genes. These can be passed to the child, thereby increasing their genetic vulnerability to anxiety disorders. However, parental behavior and practices are also important in understanding this link.
  • Parenting Behavior/Practices: When parents model anxious, overcontrolling, or demanding behavior, their children are more reluctant to explore new situations and display more avoidance behaviors.
  • Adversity: Trauma, negative/stressful life events as well as low socio-economic status are also risk factors for childhood anxiety. The more adverse life events an individual experiences in childhood, the greater the likelihood that they will develop an anxiety disorder. They also experience higher levels of anxiety.
  • COVID-19: The combination of social isolation and lack of support networks increased anxiety among youth during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Bullying: Being the victim or perpetrator of bulling is also associated with anxiety symptoms later on in life
  • Externalizing Disorders: Adolescents with early externalizing disorders are at increased risk for later anxiety disorders. Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), in particular, is a significant risk factor.
  • Sleep: Sleep disturbance often predicts the emergence of anxiety disorders.
  • Cognition: Maladaptive cognitive responses (e.g., inability to tolerate distress, negative beliefs about uncertainty, avoidance of new/unfamiliar people/things, and repetitive negative thinking) are associated with impaired emotion regulation and a greater risk of developing anxiety disorders.

Supportive relationships with family and peers as well as problem-focused coping strategies can guard against anxiety disorders. Problem-focused coping refers to strategies that directly address the problem to minimize its effect.

Parents, caregivers, and other adults involved can also help by:

  • being aware of the signs of anxiety
  • being mindful of expectations set for children and teens
  • encouraging participation in sports teams, clubs, community- or religious-based groups
  • supporting a healthy lifestyle, including a nutritious diet, exercise, and adequate sleep
  • providing access to support services

 

References:

Donovan, C. L., & Spence, S. H. (2000). Prevention of childhood anxiety disorders. Clinical psychology review20(4), 509-531.

Vallance, A., & Fernandez, V. (2016). Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents: Aetiology, diagnosis and treatment. BJPsych Advances, 22(5), 335-344. doi:10.1192/apt.bp.114.014183

Warner, E. N., & Strawn, J. R. (2023). Risk Factors for Pediatric Anxiety Disorders. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics. Published: February 26, 2023 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chc.2022.10.001

 

 

About Pediatric Neuropsychologist Ferne Pinard, Ph.D.

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

To book a neuropsychological evaluation with Dr. Pinard or another expert neuropsychologist at NESCA, complete NESCA’s online intake form

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

How Can a Neuropsychological Evaluation Help?

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Maggie Rodriguez, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Recently I met with a family seeking a neuropsychological evaluation for their daughter. After talking about their reasons for pursuing testing, the parents asked me, “So…do you think this will help? Is this type of testing what our child needs?” It’s an important question and one I’m sure many families wonder about but don’t always ask. A comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation can be of tremendous value, but the process requires time and energy as well as a financial investment, so it makes sense to consider this question carefully.

Though it may be surprising to hear this coming from a neuropsychologist, the answer to the question of whether to have a child evaluated is not always clear-cut. For instance, parents sometimes wonder if there is practical benefit to seeking testing when a child or adolescent already has a diagnosis but there are questions about its accuracy. Consider the following scenario as an example. A child with issues regulating attention and with weaknesses in social skills has a diagnosis of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Her therapist has raised the question of whether a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) might better explain the issues the child is facing. Inattention can be present in both ADHD and ASD, and both conditions can result in social difficulties. Especially if a child is already receiving appropriate services, does the diagnostic label matter, and is it worth pursuing formal assessment?

There are valid arguments to be made in favor of seeking an evaluation in this type of situation and valid arguments to support choosing not to invest in an assessment.  In such a scenario, I would encourage a family to consider the following questions:

  • Will diagnostic clarification address unanswered questions that previous diagnoses have not fully addressed?

Sometimes an established diagnosis partially explains a child’s issues but there are lingering questions about other aspects of a child’s presentation. If a different or additional diagnosis could fill in the gaps, it may be worth assessing.

  • Could testing help identify your child’s unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses?

Especially when an existing diagnosis has been made without testing (for instance by a therapist or physician), there may be important aspects of a child’s neuropsychological profile that have not yet been identified. For instance, individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder share certain key features, but they also differ in significant ways. A diagnosis alone cannot capture the nuances of an individual child’s strengths and weaknesses, while a full neuropsychological evaluation can more fully describe a child on an individual level.

  • Will understanding the root of the problem help guide recommendations?

NESCA’s clinic director compares a child’s observable difficulties to the “tip of an iceberg.” There are inevitably hidden underlying factors, and discerning these can be important in determining how to address the issues that are visible on the surface. For example, problems with social interactions can arise from deficits in social communication (e.g., difficulty interpreting facial expressions), as seen in Autism. Alternatively, a child with ADHD may encounter social challenges because they have trouble paying attention to relevant social cues or because impulsivity leads them to behave inappropriately. Someone with social phobia may have few relationships because their anxiety drives them to avoid social interactions. Effective intervention in each of these cases requires a nuanced approach that targets not just the surface issue but the factors underlying it.

  • Will establishing a particular diagnosis open up opportunities for additional support and resources that may be important?

In some cases, there are specific resources that are available to individuals with particular diagnoses. For instance, in Massachusetts, individuals with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder or Intellectual Disability may be eligible to receive services through the Department of Developmental Services. If qualifying for such services could be beneficial, diagnostic clarification may be important.

More broadly, the internet and social media have allowed people with shared diagnoses to connect in new ways. The opportunity to connect with others experiencing similar difficulties can be invaluable, and online communities can provide a sense of support, educational information, and practical resources for children and parents alike.

The answers to these questions and to the bigger question of whether to seek neuropsychological evaluation will be different for different families. There are many factors to weigh in making the decision to seek testing. If you are considering an assessment for your child and need additional information to make an informed decision, answers to frequently asked questions about neuropsychological evaluation can be found on NESCA’s website.

 

About the Author

Maggie Rodriguez, Psy.D., provides comprehensive evaluation services for children, adolescents, and young adults with often complex presentations. She particularly enjoys working with individuals who have concerns about attention and executive functioning, language-based learning disorders, and those with overlapping cognitive and social/emotional difficulties.

Prior to joining NESCA, Dr. Rodriguez worked in private practice, where she completed assessments with high-functioning students presenting with complex cognitive profiles whose areas of weakness may have gone previously undiagnosed. Dr. Rodriguez’s experience also includes pre- and post-doctoral training in the Learning Disability Clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Neurodevelopmental Center at MassGeneral for Children/North Shore Medical Center. Dr. Rodriguez has spent significant time working with students in academic settings, including k-12 public and charter school systems and private academic programs, such as the Threshold Program at Lesley University.

Dr. Rodriguez earned her Psy.D. from William James College in 2012, where her coursework and practicum training focused on clinical work with children and adolescents and on assessment. Her doctoral thesis centered on cultural issues related to evaluation.

Dr. Rodriguez lives north of Boston with her husband and three young children.  She enjoys spending time outdoors hiking and bike riding with her family, practicing yoga, and reading.

 

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

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, Londonderry, New Hampshire, and staff in greater Burlington, Vermont, 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 a Task is Never “Just a Simple Task” – a compassionate perspective on executive functioning difficulties

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By Jasmine Badamo, MA
Educational Counselor; Executive Function Tutor

I’ve often experienced the frustration of a student being given a task–whether it be at home or school–and struggling to complete it. Teachers and parents alike have said to me, “I just don’t understand why they can’t get it done. It’s a simple task.” I’d like to challenge the concept of a “simple task.” Once we begin to dig beneath the surface, we start to see all the hidden demands that every task requires of us and our brains.

As a trained Special Education teacher and executive function coach, I was taught to search for the hidden demands in the academic tasks I give my students. For example, asking a student to write a story about a time they were sad involves a multitude of mini-tasks that present varying levels of challenge depending on the student and their learning needs:

  • Recognize what sad feels like to you
  • Activate your memories to recall a time you felt what sad feels like to you
  • Remember the order of events of a memory that may be more visceral than cerebral
  • Determine which details are important vs. less important to include in your story
  • Decide who your audience is, and remember what the purpose of this story is
  • Perspective take and infer what would make your story interesting to your audience
  • Identify words that will accurately convey your experience to your audience
  • Utilize your knowledge of grammar, spelling, and punctuation to craft intelligible writing
  • Understand and implement a proper story arc so that your story flows

All of this is not even including the related emotional demands:

  • Decide if you’re even motivated to do this, and if your relationship with your teacher is worth all this headache
  • Manage the frustration that comes up at every.single.step.along.the.way.
  • Self-soothe when your insecurities bubble up and you start to question your identity as a writer, student, and/or good person

Oh wait, you thought we were done? There is also a myriad of executive function demands such a task places on a student:

  • Understanding the steps you needs to take, and determining where to start
  • Motivating yourself to take the first step despite feeling extremely stuck
  • Deciding which parts of the writing process to prioritize and spend more time on
  • Knowing how long this will take you, and managing your time respectively
  • Maintaining focus on a task that involves doing the most laborious and LEAST interesting thing a teacher could ask you to do…write
  • Managing the impulse to turn to your friend next to you and talk about what you’re really interested in, which is obviously Minecraft

The above lists are far from comprehensive, and even so, they help demonstrate how a “simple” task is in fact a much more complex–and demanding–series of mini-tasks to complete. Depending on the student, they may easily breeze through these mini-tasks, hardly experiencing them as demands, or they may acutely feel the weight of each mini-task. Students with executive function struggles are more likely to fall into the latter category.

While the best way to support your student or child will vary, the first step is the same for everyone: awareness. The more aware teachers and parents can be about the hidden demands involved in the tasks we assign, the better prepared we can be to support students in overcoming those demands. Acknowledgement and compassion go a long way. Start by reflecting on all the mini-tasks involved in each of your own daily activities, and your ability to identify hidden demands will steadily improve. You can extend this new self-awareness to your students or child, helping them to understand that every task contains a series of smaller steps to follow, and all these steps can make a task feel complicated and draining. Soon, both you and your child will be pros at seeing what lies beneath the surface, and you’ll never label something “a simple task” again!

If today’s post resonates with you or your child, consider reaching out to NESCA; we’re here to help with life’s “simple” tasks! For more information about NESCA’s executive function coaching, visit: https://nesca-newton.com/coaching-services/detailed/#coaching-executive-function.

 

About the Author

Jasmine Badamo, MA, is an educational counselor and executive function coach who works full-time at NESCA supporting students ranging from elementary school through young adulthood. In addition to direct client work, Ms. Badamo provides consultation and support to parents and families in order to help change dynamics within the household and/or support the special education processes for students struggling with executive dysfunction. She also provides expert consultation to educators, special educators and related professionals.

Ms. Badamo is a New York State Certified ENL and Special Education teacher. She has more than 10 years of teaching experience across three countries and has worked with students and clients ranging in age from 7 to adulthood. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from Cornell University and her master’s degree in TESOL from CUNY Hunter College. She has also participated in graduate coursework focusing on academic strategies and executive function supports for students with LD, ADHD, and autism as part of the Learning Differences and Neurodiversity (LDN) certification at Landmark College’s Institute for Research and Training. In addition to being a native English speaker, Ms. Badamo is also conversationally fluent in verbal and written Spanish.

Having worked in three different New York City public schools, Ms. Badamo has seen firsthand the importance of executive function skills in facilitating student confidence and success. Her coaching and consultation work focuses on creating individualized supports based on the specific needs and strengths of each client and supporting the development of metacognition (thinking about one’s own thought processes and patterns), executive function skills, and independence. She will guide clients to generate their own goals, identify the barriers to their goals, brainstorm potential strategies, advocate for support when needed, and reflect on the effectiveness of their applied strategies.

Ms. Badamo is a highly relational coach. Building an authentic connection with each client is a top priority and allows her to provide the best support possible. Additionally, as a teacher and coach, Ms. Badamo believes in fostering strong collaborations with anyone who supports her clients including service providers, classroom teachers, parents, administrators, and community providers.

 

To book executive function coaching with Jasmine Badamo or another EF or Real-life Skills Coach at NESCA, complete NESCA’s online intake form

 

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

Individualized Education Program or 504 Plan? How do I Know which is Right for My Child?

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Alissa Talamo, PhD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Both an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and a 504 Plan can provide supports for students in grades K-12 who are struggling in school, to ensure the student is able to receive “free and appropriate public education (FAPE).” However, not all students who are struggling will qualify for these supports.

An IEP provides a plan for students who require special education supports and direct related services to meet their unique needs, and these supports need to be provided at no cost to the family.

There are two requirements a child must meet to qualify for an IEP. The student must have one or more of the 13 disabilities noted in The Individuals With Disability Education Act (IDEA), which is the federal special education law for children with disabilities. Some of the disabilities listed include a Specific Learning Disability, autism (ASD), other health impairment (e.g., AD/HD), speech or language impairment, or an intellectual disability (for a full list of the 13 disabilities, see https://www.doe.mass.edu › sped › definitions). The second requirement is that the disability must affect the child’s educational performance and/or ability to learn and benefit from the general education curriculum, meaning the child must need specialized instruction to make progress in school. The IEP sets learning goals and describes the services the school will provide. Some components the IEP must include are: how the child is currently performing in school (e.g., academic and functional performance) along with annual education goals and services the child will receive. Additionally, the school will track progress toward those goals and the IEP team must review the IEP at least once a year.

A 504 Plan stems from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This is a federal civil rights law to stop discrimination against people with disabilities and requires the school to provide support and remove barriers for a student with a disability. A 504 Plan provides services and changes to the learning environment to enable students to learn alongside their peers. As with an IEP, a 504 plan is provided at no cost to families. There are two requirements to be eligible for a 504 Plan. A child has any disability, and the disability must interfere with the child’s ability to learn in a general education classroom. According to Section 504, the disability must substantially limit one or more basic life activities. Because the definition of disability is broader on a 504 Plan, a child who does not qualify for an IEP might still be eligible for a 504 Plan. In general, a 504 Plan is a good option for students with disabilities who do not require specialized instruction but do need specific accommodations to receive FAPE (e.g., extended time on tests, larger print text, priority seating close to the front of the classroom).

To determine if your child would qualify for an IEP or 504, it is important that they receive a thorough evaluation (cognitive, educational, functional, social/emotional, etc.) to determine their level of need. This evaluation can be completed through the public school system or an independent evaluator.

Sources:

www.understood.org

https://www.mpgfirm.com/back-to-basic-rights-iep-vs-504/

 

About the Author

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

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

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

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

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

She is the mother of one college-aged daughter.

 

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

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

Meet Jasmine Badamo, MA, NESCA Executive Function Coach

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach

This week, I had the pleasure of talking with Jasmine Badamo, MA, an Educational Counselor and Executive Function Tutor here at NESCA. While Jasmine has been with NESCA for quite a while on a per diem basis, she officially joined our team on a full-time basis within the past few months. Our clients and staff have enjoyed getting to know her, so we’d like to introduce you to her as well.

What brought you to the education field?

In college, I majored in science, but took a different turn when it came to my career path. After I graduated from college, I took a job teaching English abroad. During that time, I realized that I was far more interested in—and better at—teaching than I was in science. This experience solidified for me that education was really where I wanted to take my career. When I was back in the U.S., I earned my Master’s in TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) at CUNY Hunter College. While in the TESOL program, I also became very interested in special education.

How did you learn about the need for Executive Functioning (EF) tutoring or coaching?

During my time in the TESOL program, I noticed there was a lot of overlap among students in the TESOL program and those in special education—there was a need for individualization among both sets of students. During this time, I learned how to modify a curriculum to be appropriate for each unique learner. I went on to work in a school-based special education setting for three years. Here is where I realized that a lot of the underlying needs of students in special education stemmed from their EF challenges.

When I was studying for my special education license, Executive Functioning wasn’t really even a thing yet; there was a concept, but no real name for it. Once it was given a name and there was more of an understanding about it, everything clicked for me. When I learned that I could make EF the focus of a job, I got really excited. I dove in headfirst and immediately started expanding my coursework in that area.

Executive Function covers a lot of territory. Where did you start?

While I was working toward my professional certificate with Landmark College, I was also working as a 4th grade special education teacher. When Covid hit, we all immediately saw the need for putting those EF coaching skills to really good and frequent use in helping our students to transition to remote education. We were able to help our students find functional, realistic, manageable tools to make their life less stressful while learning from home.

What about NESCA did you find attractive?

I was looking to focus a little more on EF outside of the elementary school setting. I found NESCA through a connection I made at Landmark. With NESCA’s EF and Real-life Skills Coaching Program, I was able to offer tutoring to a more diverse population among a wider range of ages, which was exciting to me. Being a part of NESCA’s coaching program also allowed me to really focus in on teaching EF skills, which is where my true interest lies.

How would you describe what you do to those who may not know much about EF?

I initially say that I am kind of like a special education tutor who helps people with study skills and life skills. I work closely with individuals who struggle with organization, time management, and focus to build skills in those areas to make things easier for them to do on their own. I often work with people who have characteristics of Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or a learning disability.

How do you do tutor students in EF?  

It all comes down to individualization. I spend a good amount of time focusing on getting to know a person in the beginning. I try to identify the biggest stress point or disconnect in their life. Together, we develop strategies to tackle those stressors in a way that works for them. We may come up with a bunch of potential strategies, but finding the ones that are realistic for them to maintain independently is the key to success. Once we identify and practice those, we remove the scaffolding bit by bit, giving them the independence they desire.

What is the favorite part of your job?

I love to figure out something that will have a positive impact on a student…that moment when we crack the code! It’s amazing to be able to use my knowledge in a way that can be directly meaningful to someone else in their life.

What do you find most challenging?

The fact that everything I do with each student is totally individualized can be challenging. There’s no script to go off of, and it takes a lot of trial and error to find what you’re looking for. You so desperately want to help the person and ease their struggles. Even if you find the right way to build an EF skill, it still takes a lot of time and patience. Teaching the student to also be patient with themselves during this time can be a challenge. But it’s so worth it!

Are there other areas of EF you’d like to focus on?

A lot of the strategies that can be used with students who struggle with EF are designed for neurotypical people. Often the tier one interventions that work for neurotypical individuals are not really tailored for them. That means we have to find creative ways to support these students while still honoring who they are. We can’t change the world for them, but they need to be able to navigate through it. And yet, we don’t want them to have to change the person who they are. It can be difficult, so I’d love to work on identifying more strategies and tools that may be good options for my specific students. I’d like to help them to find a better balance between the way the world works and the way their brain works.

Tell us what you’ve found rewarding about your work at NESCA so far.

I truly love getting positive feedback from my students’ parents. I am so validated by how appreciative they are that I “get” their kid. Sometimes my students tell me, but more often than not, I hear this feedback from their parents.

Unfortunately, a lot of kids with EF struggles are on the periphery with friends or academics. It’s great to be able to tell them there’s nothing wrong with them and guide them to having more self-compassion and self-empowerment. I strive to let my students know that we all have EF struggles. Life is one giant EF demand on us, and it’s a good thing to seek out support to help manage those demands. We put so much pressure on ourselves to manage it all, but it’s okay to get guidance, support, or a boost from someone else.

 

About Educational Counselor & Executive Function Tutor Jasmine Badamo, MA

Jasmine Badamo, MA is an educational counselor and executive function coach who works full-time at NESCA supporting students ranging from elementary school through young adulthood. In addition to direct client work, Ms. Badamo provides consultation and support to parents and families in order to help change dynamics within the household and/or support the special education processes for students struggling with executive dysfunction. She also provides expert consultation to educators, special educators and related professionals.

Ms. Badamo is a New York State Certified ENL and Special Education teacher. She has more than 10 years of teaching experience across three countries and has worked with students and clients ranging in age from 7 to adulthood. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from Cornell University and her master’s degree in TESOL from CUNY Hunter College. She has also participated in graduate coursework focusing on academic strategies and executive function supports for students with LD, ADHD, and autism as part of the Learning Differences and Neurodiversity (LDN) certification at Landmark College’s Institute for Research and Training. In addition to being a native English speaker, Ms. Badamo is also conversationally fluent in verbal and written Spanish.

Having worked in three different New York City public schools, Ms. Badamo has seen firsthand the importance of executive function skills in facilitating student confidence and success. Her coaching and consultation work focuses on creating individualized supports based on the specific needs and strengths of each client and supporting the development of metacognition (thinking about one’s own thought processes and patterns), executive function skills, and independence. She will guide clients to generate their own goals, identify the barriers to their goals, brainstorm potential strategies, advocate for support when needed, and reflect on the effectiveness of their applied strategies.

Ms. Badamo is a highly relational coach. Building an authentic connection with each client is a top priority and allows her to provide the best support possible. Additionally, as a teacher and coach, Ms. Badamo believes in fostering strong collaborations with anyone who supports her clients including service providers, classroom teachers, parents, administrators, and community providers.

 

To book executive function coaching with Jasmine Badamo or another EF or Real-life Skills Coach at NESCA, complete NESCA’s online intake form

 

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

Neuropsychological Evaluations at Different Stages of Childhood & Adolescence

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

Having been at NESCA for more than 11 years, I have been fortunate enough to follow many clients throughout their childhood. In some cases, I have conducted two or three neuropsychological evaluations on the same student at different points in their life. After their first experience with an evaluation, parents will often ask, “Will we need to do this again?” or “How often should we get evaluations?”. As is the case for most things, the answer is different for every child depending on their needs. When determining how often to seek an evaluation, it might be helpful to think about what information you are trying to gather depending on the child’s age.

Preschool (2-5)

  • Concerns about developmental delays (not meeting milestones)
  • Concerns about autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Transition from Early Intervention into preschool
  • Transition from preschool to kindergarten

Elementary School (5-10)

  • Concerns about academic skills – assess for dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, or other specific learning disability
  • Why is the student not making expected progress in school?
  • Concerns about attention and executive functioning (possible attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Concerns about ASD (if not already diagnosed)
  • For children who already have an identified disability – need to monitor progress
  • Plan for transition to middle school

Middle School (10-14)

  • If this is the first neuropsychological evaluation – it is usually because the child did okay in elementary school but is now struggling with increased demands in the areas of academics, executive functioning, and social
  • For students with a previously identified disability – need to monitor progress
  • Plan for transition to high school

Early High School (14-16)

  • Monitor progress – how is the student managing increased demands of high school?
  • Mental health – emerging concerns about anxiety and/or depression
  • Start planning for postsecondary transition
    • Is the student on track to graduate in 4 years?
    • Does the student need programming beyond 12th grade?

Late High School (16-18)

  • Heavy emphasis on postsecondary transition planning
  • Do we need to work on vocational skills?
  • If the student is college-bound – determine whether any accommodations will be needed
  • If the student is not going to college – what is next?
    • Remain at high school with ongoing special education services
    • Gap year
    • Young adult transition program for students with disabilities
  • Consult with transition specialist to help with planning

Early Adulthood (18+)

  • If the student is in college – do they need additional supports?
  • If the student is still accessing special education services – where should we be putting the emphasis?
    • Academics
    • Vocational
    • Life Skills
  • For students with developmental disabilities, need to plan for adult services
    • Should the parents seek guardianship?
    • Is the student eligible for DDS or other adult service agencies?
    • What resources are available to the family?
  • Combine with transition specialists to help navigate adult services

 

About the Author

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

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

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

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

Preparing Students for First Team Meetings and the Transition to High School

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Kristen Simon, M.Ed, Ed.S
Transition Specialist

With Spring right around the corner, eighth grade students will begin to prepare for a transition to a new building. For students on IEPs, this means shifting to a new team and planning for supports that will help your child adapt and thrive in a new setting with different adults and expectations. Eighth grade IEP transition meetings tend to begin in March or April after students have had exposure to courses that are required and available in their ninth grade year. For many eighth grade students in special education, the transition meeting is one of the first IEP meetings they are invited to participate in. How can we help middle school students to prepare for and engage in this meeting?

Participating in IEP meetings is a great way for eighth grade students to build self-determination skills. Self-determination is a combination of skills, knowledge, and beliefs that help an individual gain autonomy and allows them to set their own goals, make thoughtful decisions, and manage their own life. Research has shown that for students with disabilities, this set of skills leads to both more positive adult outcomes (employment, higher wages, better living situation) and a higher quality of life (increased satisfaction, community engagement, independence, and productivity) Wehmeyer & Schwarz, 1997. For the middle school student craving independence, this can be the perfect time to build and strengthen this set of skills. We can prepare students to engage in their IEP meeting in a multitude of ways.

  1. Familiarize your child with their IEP, including their disability, what teachers do to help in (or outside of) the classroom as well as the goals that they have been working on with special education teachers or related personnel.
  2. Ask for the agenda ahead of time and review how the meeting will run and what adults will be present. It might be helpful for special educators/related service providers to demonstrate a “mock IEP meeting” to allow a safe space for students to ask questions and plan for or rehearse how they’d like to participate.
  3. Use visual maps or outlines to summarize their current transition planning forms. Their vision will help them develop the questions they’d like to ask high school staff. Examples of these types of questions might include: What classes in robotics or coding are available, and when can I take those? Is there a debate team, and how can I be a part of that? How do I join one of the after-school clubs? How do I make sure that a digital art class fits in my schedule?

These same maps can be used to discuss what kinds of academic support will they need with the type and level of classes they are
choosing. While students will have academic supports built into their service delivery, it can also be helpful to know about any additional high school academic supports, such as a writing center, student mentoring, career exploration opportunities, etc.

  1. If your child tends to have difficulty adapting to or has anxiety around change, students should work with team members to brainstorm supports that might be helpful in making the transition to high school more successful. Cueing students to think back to previous changes or first days of school can help them initiate this task. Students might request to meet with their point person before the end of their eighth grade year, participate in a small group or personalized tour of the new building/campus, identify someone who can help the student navigate the cafeteria on the first few days or maybe identify an alternative lunch space. Additionally, students might want to ask if there are programs happening over the summer in the high school building that will help the student acclimate to their new school before the start date.

After the transition meeting is over, it can be helpful for students and family members to create a chart that outlines the student’s questions and who their point person would be. For example, if I have a question about my schedule, I should find Mr./Mrs. ______. This chart should also include their email and list where their office can be found in the building. Empowering students to use this reference guide with guiding questions even before the year ends will further strengthen both their self-advocacy and self-determination skills.

 

About the Author

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

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

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

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

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

 

What Could It Be: ADHD or Anxiety?

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Many of my clients find NESCA after experiencing years of difficulty, whether at school, at home, or in the community. They have often been evaluated previously but still do not clearly understand what underlies their challenges. When clients struggle for years, they have often received a variety of diagnoses. The DSM-V provides diagnostic criteria that label a person’s experience due to developmental concerns, learning differences, or psychiatric problems. In essence, diagnoses are a simplified way to describe complex, ever-changing, multi-layered differences and are difficult to pin down with a single term. One of the most challenging diagnoses for a neuropsychologist to make, and a person to live with, is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

ADHD is diagnosed when an individual displays difficulty directing and sustaining their attention to the extent that it negatively affects functioning across multiple domains. They may be distracted by internal processes resulting in daydreaming or struggle to filter incoming sensory information in the environment. For example, sounds, lights, and feeling too hot or cold. Because the regulatory part of their brain is not fully developed, they are more likely to become distracted. ADHD can be tricky, though, because there are many other explanations for why someone struggles with attention that may seem like ADHD but are not. This article focuses on similarities and differences between ADHD and anxiety in children.

When a child is anxious or stressed, whether about getting a good grade, disappointing a teacher or parent, or how he/she is getting home after school, this takes her mind off instruction, work, and social interactions. The result is inattention, but not due to ADHD. Individuals with anxiety may hyperfocus on worry, limiting attention to other information. Furthermore, it is common for children with ADHD to experience anxiety; however, it is most often a consequence of poor attention regulation rather than a cause of inattention. Both conditions can be associated with procrastination, but the basis for delaying work differs. The child with ADHD may struggle with initiating a task, while the child with anxiety may be preoccupied with anticipation about how well she will perform. At times, anxiety and ADHD present so similarly that it can be difficult to distinguish one from the other.

As you can see from the graphic below, there is a tremendous overlap in symptoms between ADHD and anxiety, making a comprehensive evaluation necessary to make an informed diagnosis.

Humans are complex, and a single diagnosis rarely captures their emotional and behavioral challenges.

 

References:

Essentials of ADHD Assessment for Children and Adolescents, First Edition, by Elizabeth P. Sparrow and Drew Erhardt, Wiley, 2014

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations.

 

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

 

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

 

Age of Majority: Preparing Students to Make Special Education Decisions as Adults

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

One of the exciting aspects of being a transition specialist who evaluates and provides consultation to students and schools across the country is that transition services are dictated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004), a federal law. Students have similar rights across all 50 states regarding how their IEPs must prepare them for postsecondary learning, living, and employment experiences. However, there are additional rights and responsibilities related to special education that are dictated by state laws and regulations. Age of Majority and the Transfer of Rights to students is one of these issues that varies from state to state.

At the Age of Majority, or the age of legal adulthood, in each state, young adults are granted certain legal rights (e.g., voting, marrying, opening a credit card, signing contracts). Each state determines which rights will transfer to young adults within their state. IDEA 2004 gives states the right to transfer educational decision-making rights to students who have reached the Age of Majority—this means that all of the educational rights previously accorded to parents/guardians may transfer directly to the student. The Age of Majority is 18 in most, but not all, states.

In states that transfer educational rights at the Age of Majority, school districts are required to provide notice to parents and students ahead of time so that families are not surprised that the parents’ rights will transfer to the student. Additionally, at least one year before the student reaches the Age of Majority, the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) needs to include a statement indicating that the student was informed of their rights under IDEA.

There are exceptions to the Transfer of Rights when a student has been determined to be “incompetent” under state law—this often involves a parent/guardian taking partial or complete guardianship of the student. Students may alternatively have a Power of Attorney drawn up so that a parent can continue to represent their educational interests. States may also have their own processes for electing decision-making when the student reaches the Age of Majority. For example, in Massachusetts, students who have turned 18 are presented with a choice to take over decision-making, share decision-making with a parent or other willing adult, or delegate decision making to their parent or another willing third party; They sign a document indicating their elected choice on or after their 18th birthday.

There are many educational rights that a student may assume when they reach the Age of Majority. Some of these include receiving notice of IEP meetings, consenting to evaluation, placement, and/or an IEP, deciding to drop out of school, or deciding to accept a diploma and end eligibility for transition services. Parents and professionals can help students prepare for the Age of Majority and Transfer of Rights ahead of time. Pacer’s National Parent Center on Transition and Employment has put together a handout with tips for doing this important work. Some of the tips are included within my longer list of preparatory activities below:

  1. Start building choice-making and decision-making skills as young as possible.
  2. Teach students about the IEP process in elementary or middle school.
  3. Encourage students to observe and participate in IEP meetings.
  4. Allow students to invite preferred educators, family members, and community members to IEP meetings for support.
  5. Role-play IEP meetings prior to participation.
  6. Begin talking about Transfer of Rights when students first begin attending IEP meetings.
  7. Prior to reaching the Age of Majority, talk about how the student thinks they will want to make decisions across areas of life—What decisions do you want to make totally alone? What decisions do you want to make in collaboration with others? What decisions do you want other people to make for you?
  8. Help students to develop good working relationships with school personnel and team members.
  9. Stay involved in the IEP process even after a child reaches the Age of Majority—but allow the student to be the primary participant in the development of their IEP.

If you suspect that your child will not be competent to handle educational decision-making, it will be important to consult with clinical and legal experts well in advance of your child reaching the Age of Majority. It is also important to keep your IEP team informed regarding any legal proceedings or arrangements that may impact educational decision-making. However, many students who are not competent to manage complex medical or financial decisions can still be strong participants in their educational processes and transition services. For tools that you can use to help educate students regarding the IEP process, please check out the video and document resources from imdetermined.org. For tools that you can use to explore decision-making and supported decision-making as students approach adulthood, please review these resources from Charting The Lifecourse.

 

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

 

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

Why Does My Child Have to Read 20 Minutes Per Night After Being in School All Day?

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Alissa Talamo, PhD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Reading 20 minutes per day has been shown to have many positive benefits. Did you know…?

  • Children who read 20 minutes a day/5 days a week are exposed to 1.8 million words in one school year. Compare this to students who read 5 minutes per day – they will be exposed to 282,000 words per school year.
  • Reading helps foster empathy – a child experiences “walking in someone else’s shoes.”
  • Children are exposed to different ideas and cultures.
  • Reading also improves critical thinking.
  • Reading increases knowledge of correct syntax and grammar, along with robust vocabulary knowledge, resulting in improved writing skills.
  • Students who read 20 minutes per day score significantly higher on standardized tests of reading.
  • Reading with your child, or having them read independently before bed, can help them to relax and wind down from their day.

It is important to recognize that despite all our good intentions, sometimes students are reluctant to read on their own. This reluctance can come from different reasons, such as difficulty reading, not yet knowing the types of books they would enjoy, or even that they would simply rather be playing video games or be on social media. To help make reading more attractive to your child, there are several things you can try:

  • Let the child choose what they are reading – help them find books that are about an area of high interest to them (anything from sports to fashion to history – all is fair game!).
  • If the book they are interested in is above their reading level, you can read to them (model the page) and then have them read it back to you.
  • Allow them access to audio books, and they can follow along with the text.
  • Encourage different types of reading material (comics, graphic novels, magazines, traditional books, etc.).
  • Look for book series – once they enjoy one, they will often want to read the rest!

Getting your child to read is not always easy. However, allowing them to read high interest material, asking them questions to help them interact with the text, and modeling that reading can be fun is a great start!

If your child demonstrates difficulties improving their reading skills, reach out to their teacher and discuss if there are any underlying concerns (visual issues, such as difficulty tracking; reading challenges, such as reduced phonemic awareness, etc.). If you continue to have concerns, consider having your child evaluated by a reading specialist or pediatric neuropsychologist to ensure that such an important skill is supported and developed as your child continues through school and beyond.

Sources

https://www.honorsgradu.com/importance-of-reading-20-minutes-a-day/

The Surprising Benefits of Reading 20 Minutes a Day

https://www.k12reader.com/why-read-20-minutes-a-day/

https://www.understood.org/articles/en/14-ways-to-encourage-your-grade-schooler-to-read

 

About the Author

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

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

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

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

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

She is the mother of one teenage girl.

 

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

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