Making Decisions in Adulthood: Some Options

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

As a transition specialist working with students from middle school through young adulthood, one of the biggest transitions that students make is “turning 18” or when they reach the Age of Majority (i.e., the legal age established by state law at which the person is no longer a minor) and gain the rights and responsibilities for making educational, medical, financial and other legal decisions. For students who have had a tremendous amount of support at home and in school, this transition can be challenging. Some students are not ready to make competent decisions for themselves, and other students may never be capable of making competent and informed decisions independently. If your child or a student you are working with needs help making decisions in adulthood, there are several options for organizing decision-making in adulthood. Because I am not a legal agent, I do always suggest that families consult with experts, such as special needs attorneys, financial planners and medical experts, as they work toward determining the best legal decision-making arrangement for their child.

Here are some basic descriptions of decision-making options you may consider for your child:

Power of Attorney (POA): A written authorization that allows a person to represent or act on another’s behalf. There are different types of POAs, and they can be written specific to whatever acts the individual wants the agent to be able to perform (e.g., private affairs, business, financial, medical or some other legal matter).

Health Care Proxy: A legal instrument with which the individual appoints a healthcare agent to make healthcare decisions on behalf of the individual when he or she is incapable of making and executing the healthcare decisions stipulated in the proxy. One way this is different from a POA is that the healthcare agent is only able to make medical decisions for the individual during the time when that individual is incapacitated. However, some healthcare professionals may view a healthcare proxy as a desire to share medical decision-making even though that is not exactly the letter of the law.

Guardianship/Conservatorship: A court-ordered arrangement whereby one or more persons are given legal authority to make decisions on behalf of another person. Guardianship and conservatorship are used when the person’s decision-making capacity is so impaired that the person is unable to care for his or her own personal safety or to provide for his or her necessities of life. Guardians and conservators may have limited decision-making power or general broad control. While POAs and health care proxies are arrangements that might be considered mainstream as they can be accessed by any adult with or without a disability, guardianship and conservatorship are more extreme options as a guardian is taking full or partial control over an individual’s affairs and taking away some of that person’s legal and civil rights.

Supported Decision-Making (SDM): SDM is an alternative to guardianship whereby the individual with a disability selects supporters who will assist the individual in making their own decisions. It allows an individual with a disability to make his or her own decisions about life choices with the support of a designated person or team of trusted supporters. This is an alternative to guardianship which is becoming more popular in Massachusetts and many other states across the country. To learn more about SDM, check out the National Resource Center for Supported Decision-Making and the Supported Decisions Site from the Center for Public Representation.

If you are looking for more information about special needs legal planning specific to Massachusetts, these are a handful of resources you may want to explore:

 

If you are interested in working with a transition specialist at NESCA for consultation, coaching, planning or evaluation, please complete our online intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

 

About the Author:

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

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

How to Talk to Your Kids about Racial Inequality and Current Events

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow and Therapist

It is old news that parents and children have been experiencing an increased sense of uncertainty and vulnerability due to COVID-19. That vulnerability may be exacerbated by the news of violent protests that were sparked by anger over police brutality against black men and women. News of widespread violence around the country spread rapidly in a country already stressed to its capacity in dealing with a global pandemic and the resulting economic hardship. In the aftermath of these recent tragedies, parents should be aware that children may be experiencing collateral consequences, such as fear, anxiety and confusion. Rhea Boyd, MD, MPH, stated, “Whether from social media accounts, conversations with peers or caregivers, overheard conversations, or the distress they witness in the faces of those they love, children know what is going on. And without the guidance and validation of their caregivers, they may be navigating their feelings alone.” So, what do we do?

First, take care of yourself. Now is a good time to practice self-compassion and selfcare. The stress of watching traumatic events on television and smartphones “lingers within our bodies and minds,” states developmental pediatrician Dr. Jenny Radesky. Recognize that vicarious trauma is real, and even if you have not been directly affected, you may be experiencing heightened anxiety, difficulty sleeping, fatigue or increased irritability. Practice accepting your own feelings, instead of controlling them. Go for a walk, talk with a friend, practice relaxation techniques or do something you enjoy.

It is important to consider how we talk with children. While children from birth to age three do not understand what is happening, they can feel it through the reactions of the adults around them. You may notice that your young child has become more irritable, or perhaps crying more than usual. In addition to calming your child, limit the amount of time you spend accessing unsettling news reports in the presence of young children.

With elementary children, it is wise to begin your discussion with, “tell me what you know.” By elementary age, children have a good idea about what is happening. Asking children what they know and following up with any questions they might have will help you to provide age appropriate information. It is important to keep channels of communication open, because as time passes it is likely more questions will arise. Children may want to know that they are safe and, if they ask, provide reassurance. With that being said, limit their exposure to media, be it on television, tablet or smartphone. If they are accessing media, be aware of what they are watching and learning. Answer questions as appropriate and, as with all ages, validate their feelings and assure them that whatever they are feeling, it is okay.

It is probable that teenage youth have seen the images and been involved in learning about the events that precipitated the violence that unfolded. They may even be getting involved in activism by posting and re-posting social media messages. Teenagers often process events by talking with their peers, and it can, at times, be difficult to engage them in conversation. Approach the topic with your teen from a position of curiosity. What do they know? How do they know it? How do they feel about it? It is also a good time for you and your teen to become more educated about the history of racism in our country and how it has been perpetuated through generations of people. A broader societal context of racism will help youth have a better understanding of the anger seen in the demonstrations. A documentary called “13th,” about the 13th amendment, takes an in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it mirrors the nation’s history of racial inequality. It is both educational and provides a starting point for having conversations about race with your teen. Additionally, as much as possible, be aware of your teen’s online activity. There is a lot of misinformation and inflammatory rhetoric on social media, and teens need guidance on how to be thoughtful and responsible consumers of all types of media.

Given that the recent unrest was sparked by anger over police brutality against black people, it is important take this opportunity to have these conversations with children about race and racism. By age four, children have begun to internalize cultural attitudes and values, thus, it is not too early to introduce your child to the concepts of race and inequality. Books that include multi-racial characters are a good way to introduce children to people of color in a positive light. Common Sense Media has a list of books appropriate for kids of all ages beginning in infancy, and the link is provided below.

Experts stress that parents also need to give their children the broader societal context of racism to try to explain the rage of protestors filling the streets of cities across the nation. Doing so helps build empathy and teach perspective-taking, shifting the focus from the child’s specific fears. Helping children to view events from different perspectives provides understanding and promotes empathy. When your child sees something on television, YouTube or social media, employ a sense of curiosity. Ask them what they saw, how they felt about what they saw, and have them think about and share how they think different people involved in the situation felt. Dr. Radesky suggests, “Instead of focusing on questions the child may have about concrete things, ask them questions like ‘How do you think those people were feeling? Do you know why they were angry? What do you do when you feel like something is unfair?’” We all have our different perspectives regarding racism and the complex history of race in our country. Providing space for children to ask questions, discuss their feelings and process the world around them will help them cope with the myriad emotions that may arise due to current events and the sense of helplessness and fear they may be experiencing.

 

Some helpful resources:

https://www.pbs.org/parents/authors/jenny-radesky-md

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/books-with-characters-of-color

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/black-history-movies-that-tackle-racism

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/movies-that-inspire-kids-to-change-the-world

https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/144/2/e20191765

https://raisingequity.org/

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently 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. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie.

 

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.

 

The Uncertainty, Stress and Anxiety About What School Will Look Like

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow and Therapist

Much of adjusting to the world in the midst of a global pandemic has been learning to live with nearly constant uncertainty. Undoubtedly, this pandemic and ensuing uncertainty has caused significant stress for youth and their families. The experience of persistent stress can result in increased vulnerability to anxiety and depression. Symptoms may become magnified in those who already faced mental health challenges. There is little doubt that there will be increases in mental and behavior health problems for children and families both in anticipating the re-opening of schools, and when schools reopen their physical buildings.

We all wonder what school will look like in the fall. The anticipation of returning to school can be especially stressful, and will likely be so for most youth. Given that students will not have been in schools with their peers for several months, it can be anticipated that they might feel a heighted sense of insecurity and uncertainty. Even in “normal times,” returning to the complex social and educational environment of school can be worrisome for many children and adolescents.

Each individual child will have had their own experiences while schools were closed. Some children and/or staff members may have been impacted by COVID-19 and some families and/or staff may be experiencing financial hardship due to parental unemployment or loss of household income. It is important to realize that regardless of their experience, each individual will have a unique response. It is helpful to recognize the signs of stress and help children learn positive ways of coping with it.

Signs of stress in preschool children include, but are not limited to, anger, nervousness, eating and sleeping problems (including nightmares), fear of being alone, irritability and uncontrollable crying.

In elementary age children, stress may manifest as increased complaining of headaches and stomachaches, feeling insecure, reduced appetite and difficulty sleeping, withdrawal and worrying about the future.

Signs of stress in pre-teens and teens may include anger, disillusionment, distrust of the world, low self-esteem, stomachaches and headaches, panic attacks and rebellious behavior.

As each person works through this very challenging situation, it is more important than ever to adopt a position of acceptance, as we never truly know what another person is experiencing or has experienced. The following are offered as suggestions on how to help children and teens cope with stress.

  • Help them identify how they are feeling and acknowledge and validate those feelings.
  • Encourage them to talk about what is bothering them.
  • Share strategies you use to cope with stress.
  • Talk openly and, as appropriate, share stories about stress in your day.
  • Find a physical activity and/or hobby that they enjoy and encourage them to participate.
  • Encourage them to eat healthy foods and emphasize the importance of a healthy lifestyle, especially as it relates to stress.
  • Make sure they get plenty of sleep.
  • Set clear expectations, without being overly rigid, and allow for “down” time.
  • Spend time outdoors, encourage them to do something they love – read a book, ride their bike, bake, etc.
  • Learn and teach your children relaxation skills, such as breathing exercises, muscle relaxation exercises, meditating, yoga, drawing or writing.

Our world will have changed by the time children re-enter their classrooms. No matter what happens in the fall, when it is time for school to start, it will inevitably be stressful. Learning to cope with and manage stress is important for physical and emotional health. However, if you are concerned about your child or are struggling yourself, seek help and support for yourself, your child or anyone in your family who is struggling.

Below are some helpful resources:

https://www.apa.org/topics/children-teens-stress

https://nesca-newton.com/helping-your-anxious-child-through-covid-19/

https://childmind.org/article/how-to-ask-what-kids-are-feeling-during-stressful-times/

https://healthy.kaiserpermanente.org/health-wellness/health-encyclopedia/he.stress-in-children-and-teens.ug1832

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently 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. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie.

 

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.

 

Strong Mental Health is So Important During a Pandemic

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS

Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

In March, 2020, a poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Association found that more than a third of all Americans (36%) stated that Covid-19 is having a serious impact on their mental health; 59% said it is a having a major impact on their daily lives; 48% are anxious about contracting Covid-19; 62% are anxious about a loved one becoming ill; and 68% feel it will have a serious impact on our economy. Needless to say, we are living in an unprecedented time due to Covid-19, and it will have a serious impact on people’s mental and physical health both now and for some time. It has created stress, anxiety and depression even as we are learning to cope and adjust to this current new normal.

Given these numbers, many adults, teens and children are struggling with a myriad of challenges, stressors and losses during this pandemic (i.e. missing graduations, births, food insecurity and financial insecurities, including job losses, etc.). Deciding how to alleviate the pain and suffering can be daunting. Psychological, medical/psychopharmacological, complementary (i.e. acupuncture), behavioral and educational treatments are possible choices and can assist in alleviating some pain and suffering. What better time than now to get yourself and your loved ones some mental health support?

This blog will review a variety of treatment approaches which are now being offered through telehealth. There are many HIPAA-protected platforms that clinicians are using to meet their client’s needs as well as some “wearables” to assist in treatment. Wearables transmit your biophysiological data to your clinician so s/he may use it in conjunction with and/or inform treatment.

Mental health treatments include many different types: psychotherapy (also known as “talk therapy” or “insight-based therapy”), psychoeducational, biofeedback, social training, mindfulness/relaxation and so many more. Approaches to psychological treatment may include individual, group, family or couples work, and there is no one single approach that works for everyone. Psychological treatment is typically provided by a licensed psychologist, social worker, mental health counselor, expressive therapist, psychiatrist and/or psychiatric nurse.  Many factors go into making psychological treatment decisions, but when it comes to therapy it is most important to have “goodness of fit” between the clinician and the client. The client needs to “get along with” and feel valued, supported and understood by their practitioner. This enhances the effectiveness of whatever treatment approach or method is utilized.

Reviewing the differences between treatment approaches may help you in your decision- making process beyond “the goodness of fit.” Psychotherapy involves talking with a clinician to address emotional, psychological and behavioral challenges that can be both conscious and unconscious. The client’s past experiences, perceptions and history play an important role in psychotherapy. The client “tells their story,” which helps the clinician understand their life experiences through their eyes, which allows treatment to be tailored to their experiences. By working through one’s thoughts, past experiences and stressors with a caring clinician, the client is able to gain insight, perspective and strategies to alleviate pain and suffering and manage unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors. The aim is to help the client understand their past and to recognize its influence on their current situation. Often psychotherapy is long- term and involves good communication/language skills as well as higher level thinking and insight capacity. However, psychotherapy can also be short-term and specifically focused on the thoughts, feelings and behaviors associated with Covid-19 and its impact on a person’s life.

Psychoeducational treatment is somewhat different than psychotherapy. Psychoeducational treatment can be provided to individuals, groups, family member, couples, employers and others. Education is central to treatment, and it is a more directive approach. It can have very specific goals and may be short-term. The past is not actively addressed; the purpose is to educate the client to acknowledge, accept and understand their disability and/or mental health condition and provide ways to support growth, change and meet goals. Psychoeducational treatment may include informative reading material, video analysis, homework, data collection, biofeedback, journal writing and much more.

Some of the goals of both treatment approaches are to connect how thoughts, feelings and behavior are connected, improve coping and problem solving to better deal with life stressors, increase positive self-regard, and to recognize and better deal with strong emotions. Many clinicians have training in specific techniques and use a combination of approaches in their practice. Yet, sometimes a specific approach may be the best method of choice given a specific condition or specific goal of treatment. For example, Covid-19 is having a mental health impact on many people, and seeking short-term treatment may be warranted.

When seeking treatment, determining what technique is most appropriate can be accomplished by considering a variety of areas: the reason/goal of treatment, age and diagnosis of the client, the personality, cognitive and language capacity of the client as well as the cultural/family background and personal experiences. There are upwards of 100 different types of psychotherapeutic approaches, so knowing which one to try is an important decision. Many clients at NESCA present with learning differences, anxiety, OCD, depression, trauma, substance abuse and more. The following partial list includes some of the treatment approaches beneficial to and used by many NESCA clients.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Attachment-based Therapy

Animal-assisted Therapy

Biofeedback

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

Dialectic Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Exposure & Response Prevention Therapy

Expressive Therapy (Art, music, drama, etc.)

Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy

Motivational Interviewing

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy

Play Therapy

Psychoeducational Counseling

Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

At NESCA, we are currently offering short-term psychological treatment for Covid-19 mental health challenges as well as long-term psychoeducational treatment. If you are interested in learning about these options, visit: https://nesca-newton.com/integrativetherapeutic/.

More information about treatment approaches can be found at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/types-of-therapy

 

References:

https://www.nami.org/learn-more/treatment/psychotherapy

https://www.mhanational.org

https://www.mentalhealth.gov

https://www.psychiatry.org/newsroom/news-releases/new-poll-covid-19-impacting-mental-well-being-americans-feeling-anxious-especially-for-loved-ones-older-adults-are-less-anxious

 

About the Author

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Multi-sensory Learning: More than Just a Buzz Word!

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach

As teaching methods continue to become more and more creative, and learning is being facilitated through interventions that target all types of students, the term “multi-sensory learning” has started to cement its place in the educational lexicon. You may have seen a line in an evaluation, such as, “This student would benefit from a multi-sensory learning approach,” or “The use of multi-sensory teaching methods will help this student to solidify their learning.” In some ways this phrase is easy to interpret. Multi means many. Sensory refers to the body’s different senses, the tools we use to interpret and experience the environment around us. Reason would tell us that this phrase means using all of these senses to acquire knowledge, information, and skills, and….it does! But what does this look like in practice? How are professionals actually using this method to help our children learn?

If you picture a typical classroom from a few decades ago, there is a teacher standing up at the front of the room providing students with information to copy down into their notebooks. These students are receiving information through the auditory system only. They are being expected to listen, comprehend and retain the lesson using one sense, their hearing.

Now let’s picture the classroom of a teacher using multi-sensory learning techniques. Often, students are clustered in different areas with a teacher checking in at every table to provide each small group with support. Students are looking at images or pictures of the object they are studying, both reading information and hearing it clarified by their teacher, and are likely using manipulatives, or things they can feel to help understand the content. These students are learning through their visual, auditory and tactile systems.

Humans grow, evolve and learn in complex, multi-sensory environments that are constantly targeting all of our senses. Our brains are built to learn through a combination of visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic data (Shams & Seitz, 2008). Using visual methods helps children learn through the sense of sight; auditory through the sense of hearing; tactile through the sense of touch; and kinesthetic through body movement. Children display greater performance when learning activities target all of these systems, as opposed to when they are taught using one modality (Broadbent, White, Mareschal, & Kirkham, 2018).

As an example, let’s look at teaching Kindergarten students their letters. A robust multi-sensory approach to teaching the alphabet includes looking at pictures of the letters, saying the sounds out loud as a class, tracing the letters in the air with one finger, making each letter out of playdough, writing the letters in bins of rice, making the student’s bodies into the shape of individual letters, and finally picking up a pencil to attempt to form the letters on the page independently. Students gain a comprehensive understanding of the letters as their brains have been targeted across multiple sensory systems.

There is substantial research for using this multi-sensory approach for another foundational academic skill: reading (Walet, 2011). Many of the most well-known phonics and reading programs, such as Orton-Gillingham and the Wilson Reading System, use these strategies to help students who learn differently to master this skill (AOGPE, 2012 & Wilson, 2017). When using some programs students learn to tap out syllables and letters on their fingers as they read, incorporating tactile feedback. Others focus on including books on tape so that students both see and hear each word as it is read aloud.

Other excellent examples of multi-sensory learning in the classroom include:

  • Songs and rhythm to solidify content
  • Base ten cubes as math manipulatives
  • Fieldtrips!
  • Games involving movement, such as flashcard races, Around the World and clapping games
  • Paper with raised or highlighted lines for tactile or visual feedback
  • Video clips to review concepts
  • Real coins and dollars when learning about money
  • Science experiments in a high school lab

While students are currently all at home receiving their lessons and assignments through a digital medium, many are missing out on the creative ways that their fabulous teachers use these strategies in their classrooms. In my next blog, we will discuss some ways to incorporate these strategies in the home!

 

References

Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators (AOGPE). (2012). The Orton-Gillingham

Broadbent HJ, White H, Mareschal D, Kirkham NZ. Incidental learning in a multisensory environment across childhood. Dev Sci. 2018;21(2):e12554. doi:10.1111/desc.12554

Shams, L., and Seitz, A.R. Benefits of multisensory learning. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 60, November 2008, pp. 411-17.

Walet, J. (2011). Differentiating for Struggling Readers and Writers: Improving Motivation and Metacognition through Multisensory Methods & Explicit Strategy Instruction. Journal of the American Academy of Special Education Professionals,83-91.

Wilson, B. (2017). Teaching total word structure. Wilson Language Training Corporation.

 

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

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

 

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

 

Behavior Happens! But Does It Have To?

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS

Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

Recently, I’ve written a few blogs about behavior management and meltdowns and being a behavior detective. I thought I’d end the behavior series with a blog on how to prevent meltdowns from occurring, or at least try to prevent them! Obviously, preventing meltdowns is the best option if at all possible. No one likes to be around a meltdown, and the child doesn’t like it either.

There are many different experts with their own methods and strategies, but most start with common principles. Know yourself, know your child, meet him/her where they are, know what makes them tick and what works for them, as every child is different. It’s the behavior that is unacceptable, not the child. The child is still valued and loved; the behavior isn’t.

Kids will be kids, and they will lose control. Hopefully, over time, they learn self-control and emotional regulation. But the brain’s frontal lobes which control executive function, which includes behavioral control, don’t fully develop until the child I in his or her late 20’s…so buckle up as it’s going to be a long ride! Remember a meltdown is a child’s best attempt in the moment. It is the fight, flight and fright/freeze response. Trying to prevent these from happening are good for the child and the whole family. Life isn’t perfect and meltdowns will occur, but let’s try to lessen their frequency by employing some of the following:

  • Pick your battles—What’s negotiable and what’s non-negotiable? Make sure your kids know the list of “have-to’s” or non-negotiables. Simplify rules and make them realistic to the age of your child. Don’t make a rule/consequence that you cannot be consistent with or follow through with.
  • Keep calm in the eye of the storm.
  • Catch ‘em being good and let them know you saw them behaving well.
  • Tell your child what you want him or her to do, not what you don’t want them to do. Kids do the best they can in the moment.
  • Whenever possible, limit the amount of times you say the word “No.” Leave “No” for safety concerns. Instead, give information, and acknowledge and accept your child’s feelings/opinions. Substitute a “yes” for a “no” and use fantasy talk. “Yes, I wish you could stay up late, too, but we have to get up early tomorrow.”
  • Don’t phrase things so kids can say ‘no’ if the answer “no” isn’t an option. Wording and phrasing matters. Sometimes indirect requests get better results than directives. Explain your reason for non-negotiables (even if they don’t agree or like them). Do some tasks together that are problematic for your child. Shared ownership is better than no ownership.
  • Allow choice and control whenever possible. Don’t get into power struggles you will lose.
  • Having agency and mastery helps all kids grow and learn.
  • Consistency, Structure and Predictability are providers of Stability and Simplicity that enable your child to Anticipate, which is a means to enhance independence.
  • Clear rules, expectations and consequences provide organization, safety, structure and limits while enhancing mastery, self-control and improved self-efficacy.
  • Children don’t have the same sense of time or urgency as adults do, so allow for extra time to complete tasks when possible and use timers to help them organize their time.
  • Use humor and distraction to achieve desired results.
  • Compromise, Flexibility and Negotiation done proactively can go a long way. Work with your child to solve problems before they occur. Be flexible when necessary and make a compromise. Provide your reasoning for the compromise. This is not bribing; rather this approach teaches valuable lessons in win-win solution making, negotiation, compromise, flexibility, fairness and trust. Use this approach next time, and your child will hopefully, over time, learn these valuable lessons/skills.
  • Know your child’s triggers and be prepared. Try to eliminate/lessen them if possible. If they can’t be lessened, teach your child  the necessary tools to cope with them during more calm moments.
  • Know your child’s limits regarding experiences (i.e. downtime, waiting, loosing at games, etc., sensory needs (i.e. hunger, tiredness, sensitivities, etc.) and take these and other areas into consideration. Be prepared and think ahead.

 

Resources to consider:

 

About the Author

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Bolstering Skills This Summer

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

With the status of ESY (Extended School Year) services still yet to be determined for the upcoming summer, many parents of transition-aged individuals (14 and up) are wondering what life skills can be worked on this summer, especially if virtual learning continues.

When we think of developing transition skills, the first words that tend to come to mind are “hands-on,” “community-based,” “real-world experiences,” etc. Unfortunately, in our current state of social distancing, many of the “normal” learning opportunities are not available at this time. While some business are beginning to open back up, and there is optimism that more businesses will be opening come June—depending on what the safety guidelines are—there still may not be opportunities for needed community-based experiences. While many schools are providing creative and individualized transition services through online platforms and remote learning, many students have greater difficulty accessing instruction that is hands-off. If you are looking to bolster transition skills over the summer, the following are examples and resources of transition-related activities that could be incorporated into an individual’s summer routine.

 

Career-Research Activities:

https://careerkids.com/pages/career-research

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Browse/Search:career%20research/Price-Range/Free

https://www.careeronestop.org/Videos/video-library.aspx

 

Online Banking:

https://www.moneyinstructor.com/onlinebanking.asp

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Browse/Price-Range/Free/Search:online%20banking

https://www.bankaroo.com/

 

Domestic Skills (i.e. cooking, cleaning, laundry):

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/DLS-Doing-the-Laundry-Workbook-423396

https://tacanow.org/family-resources/developing-lifeskills-chores/

https://accessiblechef.com/

 

Recreation and Leisure:

http://www.spedchildmass.com/special-needs-recreation-disability-autism-aspergers-massachusetts/

https://www.wtae.com/article/virtual-disney-world-rides/31788233?fbclid=IwAR1-RK5xHwsCMteU7qM8y1oRGisz2Pp1nifGDfY-MaMgYl0Ih6hf9MxKlCM#

https://www.specialolympics.org/

 

Post-secondary Education:

https://www.youvisit.com/collegesearch/

https://campustours.com/

 

About the Author

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

 

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

 

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

 

There’s an App for That!

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS

Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

In this time of “telehealth” and “remote learning” adults, teens and children are being bombarded with virtual platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts/Meets and more.  Some teachers and students are being asked to use Google Classroom, Blackboard and other classroom-based platforms for the first time. I am of the mindset that this virtual learning and health management approach will be with us even when this pandemic subsides and we “go back to normal.” I’m also afraid that the normal we knew won’t be the normal of the future.

With this in mind I began to think that with all the time some of us have on our hands, wouldn’t it be interesting to “assess” or evaluate the variety of apps that are out there now (and there are tons!)? A middle schooler could do the research with some guidance from parents, teachers, IT professionals or others from their schools. In many middle schools, students are being taught how to critically analyze social media and news reports; why not extend this critical eye to apps? For instance, have your middle schooler research apps that address a variety of topics, such as executive functioning areas (i.e. time management, distraction, organization, etc.), social-emotional well-being and so on. With some guiding questions, help from adults and a way to tally or track data, they could decide which app they think would help them best and why. A sample list of questions may include:

  • What problem am I trying to solve?
  • What need am I trying to fill?
  • When was the app created?
  • Who created it?
  • Who was it created for?
  • How many positive reviews?
  • How many negative reviews?
  • What platform does it use?
  • How much does it cost?
  • What features does it have? Do they solve my problem?
  • How easy is it to operate initially and once I get it set up?
  • Will it work with the other programs I have running?

There are many other questions that one could ask to “evaluate” an app to help solve a specific problem. Your child and you can generate your own questions to add to this list then download and try your top choice. Try it for at least a couple of weeks and create a rating scale to evaluate its helpfulness in solving the problem. If you are satisfied, then no need to try another one. If not, download another one and repeat the procedure.

Here’s a list of various apps that address EF needs. There are many more, and these are in no particular order.

 

Scheduling/Calendar/To Do/Reminders

Pocket Informant

Forgetful

Built-in Calendar App on your smartphone

MemoCal Lite

Visual Schedule Planner

Choice Works

Pocket Picture Planner

Can Plan

30/30

Toodledo

Jot Free

My Homework

 

Time

Time Timer

Giant Timer

Time Meter Time Tracker

 

Social-emotional

Calm

Breathe2Relax

Sosh

Smiling Mind

The Social Express

Stop. Breathe. Think

Hidden Curriculum

Middle School Confidential

Model Me

Take A Chill

emotionary

 

About the Author

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Visual Motor Integration Deep Dive – Part 2

By | NESCA Notes 2020

 

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach

Last week’s blog taught us the nuts and bolts of Visual Motor Integration. Let’s jump into the what VMI really means for students who struggle with VMI.

Research has shown a statistically significant correlation between performance on visual motor integration assessments and teachers’ assessments of early elementary school students’ reading, mathematics, writing and spelling ability (Optometry and Vision Science, 1999; Pereira, D., Araujo, R., & Braccialli, L., 2011). Now that we understand what visual motor integration is as a concept and that it is a foundational skill for academics, let’s look at some areas of education that may be difficult for children with visual motor dysfunction.

  • Written Output – Beginning in preschool, children start to learn how to draw vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines. They practice circles, squares, crosses and drawing an X. All of these are considered pre-handwriting practice. As a child moves along in their academic career, they start incorporating these movements into letters and eventually words. Children who struggle with VMI have particular difficulty recreating the images that they see. This often manifests itself in letter reversals, illegible written output and inability to judge whether their copy looks like the model or not. As children get into later grades, visual motor dysfunction may include difficulty copying information from a whiteboard, trouble staying on the line or within the space provided, and a simple lack of fluidity when writing. Tasks, such as filling out graphic organizers and brainstorming, feel tedious and tiring, as opposed to helpful.
  • Math – While math is not typically thought of as a motor-based task, substantial portions of current math curriculums rely on visual motor integration. For younger students, drawing shapes, writing equations and recognizing patterns may be particularly tough. As students get older, geometry requires them to write out proofs and draw shapes, while calculus requires graphing and drawing lines based on complex equations. Building on VMI helps students to access more than simple written output.
  • Using Classroom Tools – While this may not seem as academically focused as the other areas that are affected by VMI, classroom tools are frequently used throughout the school day. Scissors, a stapler, a hole puncher and a mouse/keyboard all require some level of visual motor function.

It’s difficult to briefly sum up all of the ways that students are incorporating their visual motor integration skills into a typical school day, or realistically a day in general. They use these skills without even realizing it, which means they unintentionally practice them all day. VMI is something that can continue to develop all through the lifespan. Artists pick up new tools and build mastery, adult calligraphy classes have become a new fad as people learn to modify and improve their handwriting, and even Tom Brady continues to work on perfecting that spiral. Targeted intervention can help children build on their foundation and find confidence in their abilities. If you feel that VMI might be affecting your child’s education, reach out to an occupational therapist and see if they can help you better understand your child’s individual profile.

 

References

Optometry and Vision Science: March 1999 – p 159-163. Retrieved from https://journals.lww.com/optvissci/Abstract/1999/03000/Relationship_between_Visual_Motor_Integration.15.aspx

Pereira, D., Araujo, R., & Braccialli, L. (2011) Relationship between visual-motor integration ability and academic performance. Journal of Human Growth and Development, 21(3), 808-817. Retrieved_from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317462934_Relationship_analysis_between_visual-motor_integration_ability_and_academic_performance

 

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

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

 

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

 

Becoming a Behavior Detective

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS

Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

Behavior = Communication

Behavior is everywhere you look. All behavior is adaptive and purposeful whether “appropriate or inappropriate,” “expected or unexpected,” or “regulated or not.” Have you ever heard of the phrase, “Behavior = Communication?” It is often used to help us think about behavior as a meaningful and purposeful means of communication, even when it is maladaptive.

Behavior is multifaceted and can be internally- and externally-driven. Every behavior that any one of us does can be interpreted as communicative and as having meaning. When a mom says to load the dishwasher and a child doesn’t respond, the child may not have heard her or may have actually heard the direction and chosen to ignore her. Ignoring her and not responding is actually responding – the is escaping a demand or that direction. If a child asks for a toy at the store and the parent says, “No,” and the child cries and stomps their feet in displeasure, the child is definitely expressing feelings. If the parent gives in to the tantrum and agrees to buy the toy to quiet the child down, the parent is reinforcing the inappropriate behavior/tantrum. This pattern often repeats itself, leaving parents and kids in a vicious cycle. The child learns that crying and stomping gets what he/she wants.

Becoming a Behavior Detective

In the current COVID-19/stay at home landscape, being a behavior detective could serve parents and caregivers well! Parents and children are feeling stressed and anxious, even if they don’t appear so. This is a communal feeling given the current situation, and parents may need to pick and choose their battles wisely. Otherwise, they may spend hours of each day dealing with many unpleasant moments. Being “cooped up” with each other may present an opportunity for parents to become behavior detectives to figure out what their kids are trying to communicate. If the children are older, parents may want share this with them so both parent and child become detectives together; maybe even of each other!

Conjunction, Junction, What’s the Function?

Maladaptive behavior is communicating something, and if we want to change that we need to know what the communicative function of the behavior is. By knowing the function behind the behavior (what they are trying to accomplish by the behavior), we can then think about prevention, intervention and post-intervention—thus being able to intervene at three different times before a behavior actually occurs, during the behavior or after the behavior occurs.

Communicative functions of behavior include:

  • Escape/Avoidance of a task
  • Access to something/someone desirable
  • To make a request or a comment
  • Negations/refusal
  • Self-non-interactive—communicating with ourselves or self-talk/actions
  • Attention-seeking
  • Expression of feelings
  • Expression of sensory needs

Given our current environment, it may be important to think about the communicative function of a child’s “maladaptive behaviors.” This provides a way to intervene with a hypothesis of function and consistency of prevention, intervention or response. Given parents’ own mental, emotional or psychological state, they have the option to escalate or deescalate any situation. Be honest with your kids if you are tired, stressed or overloaded; let them know that you may have less patience when appropriate. Remind them that they have a role in helping to make the house and family a kind, happy and compassionate place. Honest communication, kindness and gentleness with one another (even when we lose control) goes a long way to help during these trying times.

If you need help in being a behavior detective, NESCA is providing virtual parent coaching and consultation. Complete our online Intake Form for more information.

 

About the Author

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

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

 

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

 

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