By: Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach, NESCA
Although NESCA Transition Specialist and Psychoeducational Counselor Kristen Simon, M.Ed, Ed.S, has been with NESCA for several months, we are thrilled to announce that she will be joining NESCA on a full-time basis early this fall. Take a few minutes to learn more about her past experience and how she shares that experience with her students here at NESCA.
Tell us about your educational and career path.
I studied psychology and counseling in undergrad and always knew I was interested in working with children and adolescents in a school setting. I entered graduate school right out of college and got my masters in School Psychology. I wanted to be able to advocate for children with disabilities and help provide students support in the moment they needed it most. When I finished my graduate work, I started as a school psychologist in a middle school and enjoyed my 10+ years in that role very much.
During my 10+ years at the middle school level, I spent a lot of time helping students understand themselves and their disability(ies). My work was strengths-based and focused on skill-building and self-advocacy. Middle school is a difficult time for any student. It was really rewarding to be able to do individual work and skill development with this age group. This is what really drew me to counseling students on social skills, learning disabilities, etc. School psychology offers a lot of variety in the day-to-day landscape.
In your 10+ years as a school psychologist, did you see any notable patterns or changes with students?
I think all educators have noticed a significant increase in anxiety and depression among school-aged students, and we certainly saw a shift in the increased need for support at the middle school I was working at. I was lucky to work in a school that responded to this shift by hiring additional counseling staff, creating therapeutic programs, and ensuring that mental health curriculums were provided to all students.
I also shifted the way I worked with students over the course of my time as a School Psychologist and helped students see themselves as a whole person with long-term goals. Helping students learn how to set goals, make informed decisions for themselves, and communicate and self-advocate across settings became the focus for almost all students I worked with. Many students in middle school had never been to one of their IEP meetings and had limited understanding of their disability(ies) and IEP goals, or why they were working with their school service providers. In Massachusetts, students who are 14 and older are invited to be part of their Team Meetings and IEP planning, so a big part of my job was helping to prepare students to participate. Most of the students I worked with initially were only focusing on their latest math test or English project, not looking at themselves as a person with a future to look toward and plan for. I noticed that they were more interested in the transition to 9th grade than the longer-term transition to adulthood and postsecondary plans. This is how I became interested in transition work.
How did you hear about NESCA?
I did not know too much about all NESCA’s services, but I certainly had read many neuropsychological evaluation reports written by NESCA clinicians for my students. I wasn’t as familiar with NESCA’s transition services and how in-depth they are. I learned that transition covers a lot of territory, and NESCA offers a huge range of those transition services, including the gaps in the services that schools can typically offer.
How do you explain your role as a Transition Specialist and Psychoeducational Counselor?
Transition services can encompass a lot of different things. Our team does transition assessments that look at a student’s skills across the areas outlined by IDEA: education/training, independent living, employment, and community participation. I do a lot of coaching with students to help them understand themselves, develop a vision, and then support them in goal-setting, self-determination, and advocacy. Psychoeducation can also encompass a range of services including self-awareness, understanding their disability and what it means to them, learning about the brain, developing regulation or social skills, and helping students participate in their IEP process.
How do you help prepare students to be part of their own IEP process?
Often, as a school counselor and now at NESCA, I help prepare students for their first IEP meeting in middle school, or whenever they begin attending. Some students have a clear vision for themselves, and I help them with their involvement and their delivery in their IEP meeting. Other students haven’t thought about postsecondary goals at all. The approach is individualized and very different for each student.
Some of the transition specialists at NESCA were involved in the IEP Improvement Project. What are your thoughts about the new Massachusetts IEP format?
I am thrilled that some of my fellow colleagues here at NESCA were involved in the development of the new IEP format. I’m excited about the new IEP format. The new format is intended to be much more student-driven. My hope is that student voices do become a bigger part of the conversation than they are now. Currently, students may say a little here or there in their team meetings. I hope their voices and visions really become a much larger part of the IEP meeting and overall plan.
What has been the most eye-opening finding for you since joining NESCA?
The most eye-opening and truly difficult realization for me has been how many parents and caregivers struggle to support their child after High School or don’t know the resources that are available to them (or what is no longer available to them). We understand that many families are operating “in the moment” and trying to support their teen in getting through High School but transition services and the IEP process are supposed to lead toward specific goals after high school and involve linkage with community services. Graduating from High School and special education tends to be a smoother process and less overwhelming if we can work with students and families to plan for this transition as early as middle school, if not beforehand.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your role with NESCA?
It’s always rewarding to help students find their voice and develop personalized goals. It has also been really rewarding to work with families to make a complicated and often overwhelming process more manageable for them.
What advice do you have for early middle school parents and caregivers?
Middle school is a great time for parents and caregivers to have conversations with their child around their IEP so they can be part of the educational decisions being made. Self-determination is a huge part of being able to succeed after high school. Middle school is a great time to help students think about and try to explain their longer-term goals and to identify the skills, actions, and steps needed to reach those goals. It’s also a great time for families to help their early-middle schooler present and participate in IEP team meetings.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.