Tag

autism spectrum disorder

Pediatric Neuropsychologist Maggie Rodriguez, Psy.D., Joins NESCA

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach

In today’s blog, I have the pleasure of introducing you to NESCA Pediatric Neuropsychologist Maggie Rodriguez, Psy.D., who recently joined our team of expert clinicians.

How did you discover your interest in neuropsychology?

It was a long and winding road! I went into college, interested in a wide range of subject areas, including medicine. Eventually, I realized my area of interest was truly in psychology. I discovered that I really enjoyed neuropsychological evaluations, since they combined my interests in psychology, neuroscience, working with medical providers, educators, as well as writing and the creativity involved in making a child come alive in a report.

In graduate school, I was fortunate to learn from a number of extremely talented neuropsychologists in a variety of settings. While completing a placement at Children’s Hospital Boston, I remember hearing my very wise supervisor say that, “one year in the correct school placement is worth two years of therapy.” As I continued on with my coursework and clinical training, I repeatedly saw the truth in that statement. I witnessed the value of nuanced neuropsychological assessment in allowing students to receive accurate diagnoses and, in turn, the correct academic accommodations and interventions. I wanted to be part of that, not only to help children and teens succeed academically but to prevent the secondary effects that undiagnosed and untreated learning disorders, neurodevelopmental disorders, and cognitive challenges can have on emotional health, self-esteem, and social functioning.

On the personal side, my interest in neuropsychology was sparked again when I had my own child evaluated. It was surprisingly powerful to go through the process on the parent side, and after taking some time off to have a family, I knew that I wanted to get back into neuropsychology again!

Why did you choose to come to NESCA when re-entering your professional career?

There were several reasons that I looked into NESCA and ultimately opted to join its team. I learned about NESCA while researching neuropsychologists for my child’s evaluation and was impressed with what I saw. Additionally, one of my former testing supervisors told me NESCA is among the best in the business. Having that kind of endorsement from such a trusted source provided me with great confidence being part of NESCA.

I also was really drawn in by NESCA’s emphasis on the continued growth and learning for its clinicians. It was obvious that NESCA is comprised of a highly invested and collaborative team. Every one of us has a lot to learn still, and I valued the opportunity for not just a job, but the continued learning.

NESCA also offers a great work/life balance. Having a family of my own and parents who are approaching the stage where they also require care is a lot to balance. NESCA’s emphasis on supporting its staff in balancing work and life has made it very rewarding. I’ve seen several examples of how the culture of understanding is very much active.

On a very practical level, having clear protocols for handling day-to-day Covid strategies, like masking, cleaning, etc., has been comforting. Returning to clinical work in the midst of a pandemic has been a big transition, and knowing NESCA has put in place measures for keeping staff and clients safe is tremendously important to me. Seeing the creativity and agility in the way the team here tackled the larger challenges—evaluating clients safely and in-person—during Covid was inspiring and told me a lot about the team and culture. Learning that NESCA adapted its methods of testing via the two-office model demonstrated to me that they, as a practice, they are able to roll with those kinds of challenges. That was also very reassuring.

Finally, the interview process provided me with the chance to speak with a number of NESCA’s clinical staff. I was able to get a great feel for the culture and high standards the practice has, which made me confident that this was the right fit for me.

What kinds of concerns do you evaluate or enjoy the most?

I really enjoy working with kids of varying ages, but I do have a keen interest in working with families and children who are just hitting the adolescent years. I get the opportunity to help them understand how all the, sometimes confusing, pieces fit together.

I really enjoy working with kids who may be deemed as “complicated,” where things may have previously been overlooked. Maybe things were going fine for them until they hit a wall academically. Perhaps they got to middle school or high school or even college and began to wonder why things seemed to be falling apart for them. I enjoy the challenge of working with kids who are experiencing executive function deficits, social communication issues, kids whose disability or disabilities are not as straightforward. I like to tease apart whether there are executive function (EF) issues, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or sensory integration challenges…or perhaps explore whether it could be something else altogether. Is a child’s rigidity due to anxiety, an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), cognitive issues or a combination of overlapping challenges? I love teasing all of these things apart. I also work with children whose families have concerns about potential language-based learning disabilities (LBLD), communication issues and challenges with social pragmatics.

It’s incredibly rewarding when you are able to help families understand answers to these kinds of questions that they may have been grappling with for a long time.

 

About Pediatric Neuropsychologist Maggie Rodriguez, Psy.D. 

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.

To book a neuropsychological evaluation with Dr. Rodriguez 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, as well as Londonderry, New Hampshire. NESCA serves clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Meet NESCA Transition Specialist & Occupational Therapist Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach

NESCA is thrilled to have welcomed a new Occupational Therapist who is serving as a Transition Specialist on the Transition Services Team. Learn more about Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L, in my interview with her below.

How did you become interested in Occupational Therapy, specifically for transition-aged students?

Right after college, I worked in an assisted living center in an administrative role. I got to know the Occupational Therapist (OT) there, who was amazing at what she did. She helped people with the skills they needed to do on a daily basis. I asked to shadow her so I could learn more about the profession and what kind of skills she was teaching the residents to do. Energized by what I learned, I then became a Teaching Assistant (TA) in the CASE Collaborative’s high school program. This is where I started to learn about the needs of transition-aged students and how Occupational Therapy played a role in that area. Again, I was fortunate to learn so much from another talented OT, particularly around the importance of transition, with our students who are often underserved on that front. Moving into adulthood is so challenging, and it’s even harder when coupled with a disability. I found that the environments these students encountered every day just aren’t set up for them to succeed. I was able to help them move into adulthood and practice skills they would need to achieve their goals within these environments.

What made you realize that you wanted to work as a Transition Specialist?

I had already developed a passion for working with transition-aged students in the school setting both during my time as a TA and as an occupational therapist at The League School of Greater Boston. I loved working with the students on life skills, emotional regulation, and executive functioning. I found that I most enjoyed working with the students on hands-on, real-life learning. It seemed to be the most important and most effective way that, as an OT, I could help young adults and teens become more self-determined and thrive. They were able to see what they were able to do, and that was exciting!

Why did you join NESCA?

I loved working with students, but I wanted the opportunity to work with transition-aged youth out in the community. It’s often really difficult for this group to generalize what they learn in the school setting to the experiences they face in the community or even at home. I wanted to help them do just that.

I was thrilled to learn that NESCA offers Transition and Coaching services since I didn’t know anything like that existed outside of an academic setting. I initially joined NESCA as an Occupational Therapist; Executive Function and Real-life Skills Coach on a per diem basis during the summer of 2021. I got to take the skills our teens and young adults learn in school and tailor them to be put into place in the community in a hands-on way. We’re able to teach clients skills like grocery shopping, using the subway or Uber to get to where they need to go, making a deposit at the bank and any other skills they may need to succeed in real life. Having recently moved into a full-time Occupational Therapist; Transition Specialist position here, I look forward to doing much more of these kinds of activities!

What is the most rewarding part of what you do?

The most rewarding aspect of what I do is when I actually get to see the client perform the skill(s) that they have had a hard time with and that they have been working toward for so long. Watching them accomplish their goal is so gratifying. When you see that success, it’s a wonderful feeling!

I also love that I am able to do what I do – not only within the walls of a classroom or school – but in the outside world. I always wanted my students to practice the skills that we were working on in the school environment out in the real world so I knew they would be prepared for experiences they were likely to face in their daily lives. This could be anything from placing an order at Starbucks, riding the bus or refilling a prescription. I get to do that with them here at NESCA…and so much more.

What’s your specialty area? Who do you most enjoy working with?

My passion is working with those who are on their way to adulthood. I am definitely where I want to be with the transition-aged youth and young adults! When working with teens, you get to see them prosper and make monumental changes that can help them build a high quality of life, allowing them to be successful and happy for a greater portion of their lifespan.

I really enjoy working with a wide population of clients, including those with mental health challenges, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I especially find it rewarding to work with young adults with mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, to help manage those challenges and lead a fulfilling life.

Tell us a little about yourself. What do you like to do in your spare time?

I grew up in Acton, Massachusetts, and I’m a big outdoors person. I like to spend most weekends in Vermont or New Hampshire, exploring new places to hike. I also enjoy skiing, kayaking and most other outdoor activities. I also like to read, play weekly board games and dance when I get the chance!

 

About Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L

Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist who focuses on helping students and young adults with disabilities to build meaningful skills in order to reach their goals. She has spent the majority of her career working in a private school for students with ASD. She has also spent some time working in an inpatient mental health setting. Lyndsay uses occupation-based interventions and strategies to develop life skills, executive functioning, and emotional regulation. While completely her doctoral degree at MGH Institute of Health Professions, Lyndsay worked with the Boston Center for Independent Living to evaluate transition age services. She uses the results from her research to deliver services in a way that is most beneficial for clients. Specifically, she focuses on hands-on, occupation-based learning that is tailored the client’s goals and interests.

 

To book coaching and transition services 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, as well as Londonderry, New Hampshire. NESCA serves clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Meet NESCA Pediatric Neuropsychologist Miranda Milana, Psy.D.

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach

This September, NESCA welcomed a new neuropsychologist to its team. Learn more about Pediatric Neuropsychologist Miranda Milana, Psy.D., in my interview with her below.

Where did your interest in neuropsychology come from?

I knew from an early age that I wanted to work with children. I initially thought I would work with children in the medical field, but I ended up being fascinated by child psychology, which led to my focus on the clinical aspect of therapy with kids and families.

I then started to notice the importance of neuropsychological reports in schools, treatment planning, formulating diagnoses and determining the tools needed to help kids be successful. I knew I wanted to do that! I saw my fair share of unhelpful reports and wanted to take the opportunity to write truly beneficial ones.

What is your focus area in working with kids?

I really enjoy working with all kids, but have a particular intertest in early elementary-aged kids – toddlers through early elementary schoolers. I love to get to know kids whose parents, caregivers or educators are questioning whether they may have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or some kind of learning challenge. It’s exciting to start to work with a child as they are entering school and continue to watch them progress throughout their education.

Tell me about your clinical experience prior to joining NESCA.

Before coming to NESCA, I was a post-doctoral fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital, which provided me with great exposure to a wide variety of kids and the challenges they were experiencing. My case load there exposed me to a vast range of educational and developmental concerns and presentations. Working with children aged 2 through 17 who showed a wide-ranging array of presentations really helped me to become a flexible thinker.

It was a great opportunity to work with all types of clinicians, families and children. Also, having such a diverse case load afforded me the opportunity to become part of so many teams within the hospital, including the Down Syndrome, Adoption and Teenager teams, among others. It was rewarding to be able to learn from each one of them.

What drew you to NESCA?

I wanted to continue to work in a collaborative environment, where it wasn’t just me contributing to a child’s evaluation and plan. I really wanted to learn and collaborate with a team of psychologists and other providers in a group practice, outside of the hospital setting. Being part of a child’s trajectory in school is exciting, and NESCA allows me to do just that!

What are some of the more rewarding experiences you’ve had as a pediatric neuropsychologist?

Getting kids who are closed off to share their experiences with me is very rewarding. With these kids, we have to be creative in how we approach them, get them to share and play. Having anxious, resistant children feel comfortable opening up to me in conversation or who allow themselves to be vulnerable by sharing personal information, is such a rewarding part of what I do. To know you have built that kind of trust with a child is so fulfilling.

What’s your secret sauce in building that trust with a child who is anxious or resistant?

I am kind of a kid at heart, so I use that in testing children to engage them and create a more fun environment. I take pride in getting to know a child beyond the test scores and collected data. Finding common ground and relating to them is so important. I also like to make sure they know I am part of their team that will support them as they move forward in school and in life. It’s a personal challenge to me to get the most resistant kids to engage and maybe even crack a smile during the evaluation!

 

About Miranda Milana, Psy.D.

Dr. Miranda Milana provides comprehensive evaluation services for children and adolescents with a wide range of concerns, including attention deficit disorders, communication disorders, intellectual disabilities, and learning disabilities. She particularly enjoys working with children and their families who have concerns regarding an autism spectrum disorder. Dr. Milana has received specialized training on the administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS).

Dr. Milana places great emphasis on adapting her approach to a child’s developmental level and providing a testing environment that is approachable and comfortable for them. She also values collaboration with families and outside providers to facilitate supports and services that are tailored to a child’s specific needs.

Before joining NESCA, Dr. Milana completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital in the Developmental Medicine department, where she received extensive training in the administration of psychological and neuropsychological testing. She has also received assessment training from Beacon Assessment Center and The Brenner Center. Dr. Milana graduated with her B.A. from the University of New England and went on to receive her doctorate from William James College (WJC). She was a part of the Children and Families of Adversity and Resilience (CFAR) program while at WJC. Her doctoral training also included therapeutic services across a variety of settings, including an elementary school, the Family Health Center of Worcester and at Roger Williams University.

Dr. Milana grew up in Maine and enjoys trips back home to see her family throughout the year. She currently resides in Wrentham, Massachusetts, with her husband and two golden retrievers. She also enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, and cheering on the Patriots, Bruins, Red Sox, and Celtics.​

 

To book an evaluation with Pediatric Neuropsychologist Dr. Milana or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists or therapists, 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, as well as Londonderry, New Hampshire. NESCA serves clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Does Scatter Matter? How to Understand Your Child Better

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Moira Creedon, Ph.D. 
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Families often come to testing with questions like these: My child is so smart, why is reading so hard for them? If she can remember the smallest conversation from three years ago, why can’t she remember the two things I sent her upstairs to get? If he can do all of the calculations, why can’t my son solve a word problem? The answer can show itself in the scatter.

Assessment measures are based on statistical conversions, where the number of points a child or teen earns is “translated” into a scaled or standard score. This helps us to understand how your child performs compared to other children their same age. Tests are largely based on the idea that scores should “hang together” – meaning that if your child is average for his or her age on one task (e.g., visual-spatial skills) then they should be average on another (e.g., verbal knowledge). And while this may be true for many people, it certainly it not true for all people. Many people have “scatter,” meaning that there is a statistical difference between their scores.

I will spare you the controversy about scatter in our field, about whether a certain degree of scatter or difference between scores means that you cannot calculate certain other scores. There is also specific knowledge of scatter needed to diagnose specific learning disabilities (e.g., if your child has high average verbal skills, how far apart do their reading scores need to be in order to fit the diagnostic criteria). While those topics are incredibly important to the field, my focus today is to build a little empathy for how scatter can matter.

There are times when this scatter can lead us to a diagnostic decision. For example, a relatively common pattern that I see is that of a very bright teenager whose cognitive and problem-solving are at least above average, while their basic focus and attention is below average. With other evidence that corroborates it, this can mean ADHD. A big difference between a child’s verbal knowledge/language skills and their ability to use their language for social purposes can suggest an Autism Spectrum Disorder. In these instances, the scatter absolutely matters. But, scatter can be meaningful to a child’s daily experience even if it’s not statistically “big enough” to warrant diagnosis.

Imagine being your child for a moment. Perhaps your child has a knack for building complex Lego sets and can spend hours assembling structures that are intricate, detailed, and involve more small pieces that my adult fingers could tolerate (let alone our feet as we step on them!). Perhaps your child’s visual-spatial skills are incredible, scoring in the high average range compared to their friends. Then you place a book in their hands and ask them to read a page aloud, where they struggle to sound out words, track their eyes smoothly across the page, or understand the meaning of anything they are saying. While you are left scratching your head as a parent, imagine the frustration and disappointment your child must feel wondering: why can I work with Legos better than anyone I know, but decoding words is torture?

In my mind, scatter can mean frustration. To feel exceptionally strong and confident in one skill domain and then barely hang on in another can leave your child disappointed, angry, and self-critical. Imagine having a vocabulary and encyclopedia of facts in your mind and your hand simply cannot keep up with your thoughts as you try to take notes or write down ideas for an essay. For an adult, it can be a bit like sitting in front of your computer with too many browser windows open and programs running at once, slowing down the entire operating system to the point that you growl in frustration (anyone else?).

While it can be easy to get lost in the controversy over the technical and statistical nature of scatter, it is important that we all have some empathy for what this must feel like for your child or teen. Empathy for this experience is a critical part of building the roadmap forward: where we can use those strong skills to build up the weaker ones, to grow new and stronger neural connections, and to give ourselves a little grace and patience when those weaker muscles get challenged.

 

About the Author

Dr. Creedon has expertise in evaluating children and teens with a variety of presenting issues. She is interested in uncovering an individual’s unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses to best formulate a plan for intervention and success. With experiences providing therapy and assessments, Dr. Creedon bridges the gap between testing data and therapeutic services to develop a clear roadmap for change and deeper of understanding of individual needs.

 

If you are interested in booking an evaluation with Dr. Creedon or another NESCA neuropsychologist, 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, 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.

Speech-Language Pathology at NESCA with Olivia Rogers, MA, CF-SLP

By | NESCA Notes 2021

Speech-Language Pathologist Olivia Rogers, MA, CF-SLP, joined NESCA in June, working with clients in the Newton, Massachusetts office, and is scheduling new clients now. We sat down with Olivia to learn more about her, what her passions in speech and language are and why she joined NESCA.

By Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach

How did you initially get interested in Speech-Language Pathology (SLP)?

I started my undergraduate education as a bioengineering major. A project I was assigned to required me to research devices that related to the medical side of bioengineering. After some research, I came upon cochlear implants, which led me to learn more about Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (SLP). Ultimately, I knew I desired to work with people and make an impact in the healthcare field, but I didn’t feel like bioengineering was where I belonged. After I switched my major to Communication Sciences and Disorders, I knew I had made the right decision.

Additionally, I am the oldest of five children, so was always around kids. Once I stumbled upon this major, I realized it was a great way to combine my desire to work with kids and a career that really fulfilled me.

In what settings have you worked previously?

I’ve done a few clinical rotations in different settings. I spent a semester in a K-8 public school, and a year in pediatric private practice.  Those opportunities allowed me to work with children with various speech and language challenges. I also spent some time in a hospital working with adults in the inpatient acute care unit. All of these experiences strengthened my passion for working with the pediatric population and implementing therapy that is both functional and personal to each individual.

What brought you to NESCA?

Last summer, I was a student intern with NESCA’s Speech-Language Pathologist Abbey Gray, MS, CCC-SLP, as part of my third clinical placement. When the opportunity to work with Abbey and also some of the kids we worked with together again came to my attention, I jumped at the opportunity to work with all of them again.

It’s exciting to work at NESCA in the clinic setting where the Speech-Language team is expanding, and collaboration is so important. Here, I get to be a part of a great team of therapists, clinicians and neuropsychologists. I also appreciate that NESCA is so open to and supportive of its clinicians continuing to learn. For example, I am hoping to gain feeding therapy experience alongside the other feeding therapists here at NESCA.

What part of being a SLP do you enjoy the most?

Being able to communicate is one of the most important life skills, and giving others the tools they need to do so effectively is amazing in itself. However, no two clients are the same and it is up to me to be creative in catering to each individual to make sure that therapy is motivating and beneficial. As a SLP, creativity and play are not only allowed but encouraged. I really enjoy that part of my job.

I really love all of the work I do with children, especially working with kids on receptive and expressive language therapy. With the older children I work with, I enjoy working on the social pragmatic aspects of communication. With the younger kids, I love play-based therapy and working with parents and families to ensure that the language we are targeting is practical.

How do you partner with families when you are working with a child at NESCA?

Integrating real life and therapy is one of the most important aspects of what I do as a SLP. It’s essential for parents or other family members/caregivers to be involved in a child’s therapy to make sure that there is carryover into the home setting. Building functional language skills is a full-time venture involving therapy sessions and practice at home. I strive to have family involved either in the weekly therapy sessions and/or taking notes on what we are working on to further support that child in reaching their goals.

And regarding goals, it’s so important to have parent/caregiver input on the goals we work toward. With the older kids I work with, they are often able to communicate what they’d like to or need to work on. With the younger children, it’s critical for parents and families to help communicate a child’s challenges in order for us to establish the goals we work toward together.

What is one of the most inspiring milestones you have experienced as a Speech-Language Pathologist?

While I was working in the K-8 school, most of the children I worked with were deaf or hard of hearing. There was one 10-year-old boy who was profoundly deaf and utilized cochlear implants. He was essentially nonverbal, and our goal was to help him to auditorily recognize and verbally produce a couple of functional words that could support him in the classroom and at home. In particular, we were trying to get him to interact verbally with his dog; this was a personal goal of his. After months of work, his mom let us know that at home he said, “Sit,” and his dog followed his command! He was so motivated to learn more words since he saw how language could help him to function more easily and successfully. It was such an inspiration and really solidified my strong desire to work with kids to help them in speech and language, and in life.

 

About Speech-Language Pathologist Olivia Rogers

Olivia Rogers received her Master of Arts in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Maine, after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Sciences and Disorders and concentrations in Childhood Development and Disability Studies.

Ms. Rogers has experience working both in the pediatric clinic setting as well as in public schools, evaluating and treating children 2-18 years of age presenting with a wide range of diagnoses (e.g., language delays and disorders, speech sound disorders, childhood apraxia of speech, autism spectrum disorder, social communication disorder, and Down syndrome). Ms. Rogers enjoys making sure therapy is fun and tailored to each client’s interests.

In her free time, she enjoys listening to podcasts and spending times with friends and families.

 

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

 

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

 

Autism Awareness Month

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS
Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

So what? What does it really mean to have an awareness month and a designated day? April is Autism Awareness month, and this year April 2 was World Autism Awareness Day, established by the United Nations (UN) in 2008. In general, these designations are meant to bring awareness to ”causes.” You will see a lot of blue in April as blue is the color of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) awareness. There will likely be many federal, state and local municipal buildings, private homes, as well as national and international monuments bathed in blue lights. People will wear blue, there will be blue autism products to buy, and our air waves will be flooded with autism awareness commercials. In a typical year, many commemorative and educational events would be held. It is usually a time of celebration for people with autism as well as their families and friends everywhere. For instance, in pre-pandemic years, sports teams, movie theatres, museums, Broadway and other venues would host ASD-friendly days. Autism Speaks has its “Light it Up Blue” initiative and is celebrating this year specifically with its #LightUpWithKindness campaign. The United Nations (UN) has a different theme every year, and this year’s theme is The Transition to Adulthood.

When the United Nations established April 2 as Autism Awareness Day, it had high hopes.

In 2008, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities entered into force, reaffirming the fundamental principle of universal human rights for all. Its purpose is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity. It is a vital tool to foster an inclusive and caring society for all and to ensure that all children and adults with autism can lead full and meaningful lives.”

Well said…but far from the reality of many individuals with autism and their families. If only our schools, communities and societies were as inclusive, respectful and welcoming as this statement. If it were today’s reality, many people diagnosed with ASD and their families wouldn’t have to struggle as much as they do on a day to day basis with stigmatization, discrimination and a lack of respect and inclusive opportunities.

Autism is a lifelong neurological condition that originates in childhood, and its presentation changes over time. Autism is a spectrum with social, communication, sensory and behavioral differences manifested uniquely in each individual. While we have come a long way in understanding autism, recognizing the breadth and diversity of those with it; embracing their talents, unique abilities and strengths; and addressing the day to day challenges that autistic people face. The UN’s vision is still far from a reality, and there is still much work to do.

It is my hope that during Autism Awareness Month, you become more aware. If you support the “cause” and buy a shirt, bracelet or puzzle piece and shine a blue light on your porch, that’s great – spread the word.  Take the Autism Speaks #LightUpWithKindness” campaign to heart do something to create a world that is kinder, gentler, more respectful and inclusive of autistic people with autism. Watch a movie about ASD, read a book by an autistic author, take the time to educate yourself and your children. If your child has autism, educate your child’s classmates, neighbors, family members and community members. If a child with autism is in your child’s class or school, connect with them and their parents. You are modeling for your own kids and those around you, so spread kindness, acceptance and inclusiveness. If you are an employer, connect with your local school district and offer to partner with them to provide internships for transition-aged youth with autism and maybe even hire them as employees! While this is a financially challenging time for so many, if you do have the means, donate and give to an ASD agency (whether it be locally-, nationally-, medically- or research-based, etc.) – whatever brings you joy. Donate your time at an autism support center.  There are so many ways to recognize Autism Awareness Month that go beyond the color blue – choose something that resonates with you and be the light! Be the light that goes beyond Autism Awareness to Autism Action, Autism Acceptance, Autism Access and Autism Advancement.

 

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.

 

Media’s Portrayal of our Differences

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS
Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

Media has portrayed all aspects of society’s strengths, as well as its ugliness, the diversities of its peoples and cultures, political topics, events in history and so much more for as long as television and movies have existed. Often, television and movies try to stay within norms, while, at other times, they push boundaries or raise controversial topics.

  • In 1952 on the “I Love Lucy” show, the episode, “Lucy is Enceinte,” aired in which Lucy learned she was pregnant. But the show never uttered the word, “pregnant,” and then she had the first child brought into a family on TV.
  • Prior to 1965, black actors did not have leading roles and were not portrayed favorably, until “I Spy” starred a black actor in a leading part.
  • Interracial relationships did not appear until 1968 when “Star Trek” aired the first interracial kiss.
  • In 1971, “All in the Family” had the first disclaimer for mature audiences due to its content and language.
  • In the 1950-60s, gays were portrayed in films but again not favorably. It wasn’t until after the Stonewall Riots in 1970 where “The Boys in the Band” depicted gay people in a more honest light. In 1997, Ellen DeGeneres announced on her sitcom, “Ellen,” that she was gay, making it the first prime time major TV sitcom with an openly gay lead character.

Did these shows “get it right?” Did they represent the people, cultural mores, times and issues accurately? You can be the judge. We each judge the shows we watch, and many of us have different criteria for what is right, good, funny, truthful, accurate, scary, etc. Media’s representation of society’s peoples is hard-pressed to “get it right” when it comes to portraying social groups, including most marginalized people (i.e., people with disabilities, races, genders, ethnic groups, LGBTQ, etc.). It is hard to get it right as we are not a monolith. So, even after research is done, movie producers, writers, directors, actors and actresses can still not quite get it right. When portraying a member of any of these groups, they often miss the mark by over-generalizing, simplifying, sugar-coating, missing the point or highlighting things that we wouldn’t highlight about ourselves. When weaving these characters into media, many factors play their own role in the plot – political climate, story line, social norms and monetary ratios, etc. Even with the best of intentions, movies and shows still miss the mark and offend.

Media has often portrayed these groups through stereotypical eyes, not capturing the depth and diversity within each group – even with the right due diligence in depicting these characters. So, how do they portray the breadth of us in ways that satisfy all of us with accurate representations – when each one of us is so uniquely different?

In 1990, on the series “Life Goes On,” Chris Burke, who has Down Syndrome, played the character Corky. He was the first person with Down Syndrome in a leading role. In 2018, Samantha Elisofon and Brandon Polansky – both autistic actors – were featured in a full-length feature called “Keep the Change.”

Over the years many actors/actresses have portrayed people whom they are not – it is what actors do as their job. In “Rainman,” Dustin Hoffman played an autistic savant. Did he get it right? Did he miss the mark? Did he act in ways that offended some and not others? The answer to these questions is yes and no. This has been happening for years – as long as TV and movies have existed. They portray gay people when they are straight, abused people when they have not been abused, killers when they are kind and gentle people.

Likewise, portrayals of people with disabilities have changed over the years, just like other aspects of our society. Historically, portrayals have often included characters who are one-dimensional, stereotypical and pity-provoking. Disability rights activists often use phrases like “inspirational-porn,” “super-crip,” or “cripping-up” to describe the attempts at representing them in media. Autism, like most disabilities, is challenging to portray. Over the years, representation has changed, but it may still be perceived as exaggerated, stereotyped or unrealistic (i.e., “Good Doctor,” “Big Bang Theory,” “Rainman,” etc.).

“Music,” a new movie about an autistic girl (not played by an autistic person) was recently released, sparking outrage among many people, especially within the autism community (Full disclosure – I have not seen the movie yet). The criticisms are that the character is one-dimensional, the girl is not played by an autistic person and there is the use of restraint to deal with aberrant behavior. No one movie or TV show can represent the breadth of those who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. As the saying goes, if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. Autism is a spectrum, and a movie character will not be able to hold the diversity of the population; just like a gay character portrayal cannot tell the whole gay experience. Perhaps even if an autistic person played the role, there might still be controversy. Just like when Chris Burke played Corky, there were people who praised the show and others who disliked it because it wasn’t their experience with Down Syndrome.

We have a long way to go in our society regarding equality, acceptance and inclusion of neurodiverse, racial, ethnic, sexual topics and people. So why do we expect movies and TV shows to be different? Our movie and television history demonstrates that we’ve come a long way, change can happen and media does “tackle” issues of the times. Is change slow? Yes, it is. Do we have a long way to go? You bet, especially when it comes to portrayal of people with disabilities and their inclusion in movies as actors and actresses.

I like to approach watching movies about these issues with a wide-angle lens and limited expectations. I view them as being made to inform; enlighten; open the door to others asking questions; promote thinking, awareness, inclusion, acceptance; mirrors to see ourselves in characters – fictional or otherwise; increase understanding and empathy; or share a perspective or different point of view. I also think that the intentions of most directors, actors/actresses, screen writers, etc. are coming from the right place (even if flawed). They are trying to make movies that make a point, share a perspective, increase awareness, promote inclusion, comfort, knowledge, etc. Movies that highlight sensitive topics, controversial topics and marginalized groups are good for us whether we agree with the portrayal or not. If we are outraged and we begin talking and sharing our opinions, especially our first-person opinions, we broaden awareness and knowledge. So even if you strongly dislike a movie, something good may come from it. By my writing this blog and mentioning the movie “Music,” my guess is I have piqued your curiosity if you didn’t know about it. And maybe you might check it out on Google, read the reviews and learn about the controversy. What’s wrong with that? If you do explore it, wherever you land – liking or disliking it – I’m glad you took the time to think about it, asked yourself questions, felt emotions and hopefully will continue to think about how marginalized groups are portrayed in movies.

References


https://www.insider.com/kate-hudson-responds-to-sia-music-movie-casting-criticism-2021-2
https://www.dazeddigital.com/film-tv/article/51253/1/autistic-person-responds-sia-film-music-maddie-ziegler-autism-speaks
https://www.teenvogue.com/story/trailer-for-sias-music-hurts-autistic-girls

 

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.

 

Early Detection of Autism: NESCA’s New ASD Diagnostic Clinic

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) vary widely in terms of the intensity of their symptoms as well as the age at which symptoms emerge. In some cases, signs of autism are apparent during infancy. For other children, concerns about autism might not arise until toddlerhood or even early childhood.

As neuropsychologists, we have become increasingly adept at detecting and diagnosing ASD using a combination of developmental history, clinical observation and standardized assessments. We are constantly learning more about ASD and fine-tuning the tools we have available to us to make a diagnosis.

One of the most important things we have learned through longitudinal research over the past 10 years is that early detection of ASD is a crucial part of a child’s prognosis. Young children who receive intensive services are much more likely to develop language, play and social skills. Because their brains are still in a state of rapid development, they are much quicker to acquire new skills and make progress in the areas where they are struggling. Children who receive early intervention for ASD are typically better able to participate in inclusion settings with same-age peers once they enter elementary school.

Unfortunately, many parents are told to “wait and see” when they express concerns about their child’s development – especially with children who are not yet in preschool. This is a risky and sometimes harmful approach as it leads to children with developmental disabilities not receiving the services they need.

In light of our understanding about the importance of early detection of ASD, NESCA is proud to introduce its ASD Diagnostic Clinic. The clinic offers testing that is targeted specifically at identifying ASD in children between the ages of 2 and 5. For children who do receive a diagnosis of ASD, the report will allow parents to start accessing services immediately. As with all of our families, we hope to establish a lifelong relationship and will be available for follow-up consults and additional evaluations at any time.

 

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 appointment for the ASD Diagnostic Clinic or 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, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Why the Autism CARES Act Matters

By | NESCA Notes 2019

 

By: Amity Kulis, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

The CDC estimates that 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and studies by Autism Speaks also found that children with autism have a nearly four times greater chances of having unmet health care needs compared to children without disabilities. With those sobering statistics in mind, it’s important for us to take a closer look at recent legislation to help the growing number of people with an ASD diagnosis.

On September 30, 2019, President Trump signed the Autism CARES Act of 2019, which was due to expire on the same day. Originally called the Combating Autism Act, which was established in 2006. It was reauthorized in 2011, and again in 2014 when the name was changed to the Autism (Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support) CARES Act. This Act is the primary source of federal funding for autism research, services, training and monitoring

Because of this important Act, the 2014 legislation dedicated over $3.1 billion for autism programming. President Trump renewing this Act in 2019 allowed for an extension of the current primary autism law and authorized $1.8 billion in spending on the developmental disorder over the next five years.

The Autism CARES Act of 2019 renews federal support for existing autism research and programs, but also expands these activities, placing an increased emphasis on reducing health disparities and improving services throughout the lifespan. More specifically, the funding provides:

  • Autism research grants awarded by NIH, focusing on advancing scientific understanding of autism, expanded efforts to develop treatments for medical conditions often associated with autism and address the needs of people affected by it. The NIH also works to foster collaboration among research centers to increase the effect of their efforts.
  • Ongoing support for programs across the country focused on ensuring high-quality services for people with autism. This includes funding 52 Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Other Related Disabilities (LEND) programs and 12 Developmental Behavioral Pediatric Training Programs. These programs allow for the continuation of education, early detection and intervention activities through the training of future leaders and healthcare professionals.
  • The continuation of Collaborative programs like Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health (AIR-P), which helps to translate research into improved care and tangible resources for families and clinicians.

The Act also calls for the Department of Health and Human Services to once again produce a report for Congress on the health and well-being of individuals with autism. In 2014, this important report to Congress emphasized the needs of individuals with autism as they transitioned out of school-based services and into adulthood. The 2019 Act has placed an increased emphasis on the needs of individuals with autism “across the lifespan,” highlighting a need to understand challenges faced by individuals of all ages. As noted by Autism Speaks President and CEO Angela Geiger, “this legislation ensures sustained funding to better support people with autism across the spectrum and at every stage of life.”

Indeed, as a neuropsychologist, working side-by-side with NESCA’s team of Transition Specialists, I have the privilege of following many individuals with autism spectrum disorders from early childhood throughout their transition to young adulthood.  I find that families begin to scramble as special education funding runs out and they struggle to understand how these young people will continue to get their needs met. For many years, the focus of funding and research was on children, but as these individuals aged out of school-based services, their needs did not end. Yet,  the funding was and continues to be well below what is necessary. While there have certainly been improvements, there continues to be many more needs than are able to be supported. Research remains essential in understanding the longitudinal needs throughout the lifespan, and I am encouraged that our country continues to support these efforts.

 

Reference:

Autism Speaks

About the Author:

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

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Kulis or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists and transition specialists, 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, 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.

 

 

What is a Nonverbal Learning Disability?

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By: Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
Director of Training and New Hampshire Operations

There is often lack of awareness or confusion about what a Nonverbal Learning Disability (NLD or NVLD) is. While NLD has been long-discussed in the neuropsychological and educational world, it has not been formally recognized by the medical field due to variability within individual profiles and lack of clarity on its causal factors. While this is so, there is a very clear pattern that is noted through the neuropsychological evaluation process. And most importantly, there is a breadth of interventions and supports to address NLD-related challenges, highlighting the importance of identifying and understanding this profile in children.

By definition, NLD is a relative strength in left-brain skills, which are largely verbal, and weakness in right-brain nonverbal skills. As such, to understand NLD, it is important to understand the right hemisphere of the brain.

The right side of the brain is responsible for the collection and integration of multiple sources of information, particularly sensory information, lending to an organized “big picture” understanding of events or information. The right brain is thus not only important for basic visual processing and reasoning, but it is also responsible for the organization and coordination of information and skills across a wide range of domains, including learning, motor coordination, self-regulation (e.g. sensory regulation and attention), social thinking, and task management.  As such, the word learning within the “Nonverbal Learning Disability” title is somewhat of a misnomer, as NLD can impact functioning across most any domain.

It is important to understand that NLD is a relative deficit, meaning that it is a personal weakness. Some individuals with NLD may have nonverbal skills that are all technically “average or better,” but they are still discrepant from that person’s strong verbal skills, causing variability within the profile.

Because many students with NLD have strong verbal reasoning, processing, and memory skills, they are often able to compensate and fly under the radar for some time. However, their over-reliance on verbal skills and rote learning tend to become less effective once they are tasked with the abstract demands of middle and high school. As such, while some individuals with NLD may be identified at a young age, others may not be flagged until much later.

As already stated, although NLD profiles can vary significantly, there are fairly predictable patterns that allow for its accurate identification, namely within the following areas:

Visual Reasoning. On structured intellectual assessment, individuals with NLD demonstrate a significant difference between their verbal and visually-based reasoning, with verbal being better. The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, which is currently in its fifth edition and is the most commonly used intellectual test for children, contains two domains of visually-based reasoning. One is the Visual Spatial index, which contains more concrete puzzle-like tasks, and the Fluid Reasoning index, which assesses abstract pattern recognition. At times individuals with NLD struggle with both domains, while other times they may only demonstrate impairment within one. Because there are many factors that can contribute to challenges within either one of these visual domains, a proper NLD diagnosis can only be made through collection of a thorough history, direction observation, and the assessment of other associated challenges, detailed below.

Visual Processing and Perception. In spite of having perfectly fine vision, individuals with NLD have difficulty managing visual input. This may include problems with tracking lines while reading, difficulty discerning visual details (e.g. differentiating math or letter symbols, recognizing errors when editing their writing, misreading graphs and charts, etc.), or difficulty creating mental imagery (i.e. “seeing” and holding information in one’s head).

Motor Integration. Individuals with NLD demonstrate some level of motor integration or coordination difficulties. This may involve fine motor skills (e.g. poor handwriting and spacing on the page, difficulty tying shoes and using utensils, etc.), gross motor skills (e.g. clumsiness, awkwardness when running, poor hand-eye coordination, etc.), or both. Most often, individuals with NLD have appropriate motor strength, but they struggle to appropriately integrate and manage their movements within space and present demands. This may also correspond to difficulties with directionality and finding their way around, causing them to get lost easily.

Social Skills. Individuals with NLD most often meet early social milestones without any concern. In fact, some individuals with NLD may demonstrate early verbal precociousness that gives the appearance of advanced social engagement, which is aided by the fact that individuals with NLD generally possess appropriate foundational pragmatic skills, particularly when one-on-one or with adults. However, as these children grow older, they continue to over-rely on verbal language and miss out on nonverbal language (e.g. body signals) and context clues. As such, children with NLD may misperceive or misinterpret situations or interactions, or they may become overwhelmed by the complexity of typical peer interactions, causing them to withdraw. Often times, individuals with NLD know what they “should do” socially, but they struggle to actually generalize those skills to interactions.

Executive Functioning. Executive functioning refers to a complex set of skills that are responsible for an individual’s ability to engage in goal-directed behavior. This includes skills necessary for self-regulation, such as impulse control, attentional management, and emotional control, as well as skills for task management and cognitive regulation, such as organizing materials, creating a plan, starting a task and sustaining effort, prioritizing and organizing ideas, holding information in memory, etc. Individuals with NLD likely have some executive function strengths, particularly when they can rely on their verbal strengths; however, they are likely to demonstrate significant challenges with the executive function skills that rely on “big picture awareness,” such as organization, integration, planning, prioritizing, time management, and self-monitoring. Individuals with NLD are detail-focused – they often miss the forest for the trees. For some, they compensate by redoing work and over-exerting their efforts, eventually achieving a semblance of desired outcomes at the cost of time and energy; others may produce work that misses the main point of the task or demonstrates a lack of understanding; and others may just become overwhelmed and give up, appearing to lack “motivation.”

Learning. With the above profile, individuals with NLD tend to rely on rote learning, as they do well with concrete repetition of verbal information. However, they may have difficulty flexibly applying this knowledge, and they are likely to struggle with tasks that require more abstract, “big picture” thinking. Parents and teachers of individuals with NLD often report frustration because problems with information retrieval, pattern recognition, and generalization of skills can result in these individuals making the same mistakes over and over again, not seeming to learn from their errors.

Due to the above learning challenges, children with NLD often struggle with math reasoning, doing best with rote calculations than application of knowledge. Challenges with reading comprehension and written expression are also common, as they not only struggle to see the main idea and integrate information, but they also struggle to “see” the images or story in their head. For younger children with NLD, problems with mental imagery may be mistaken for a reading disability, such as dyslexia, due to difficulties holding, appreciating, and learning letters, numbers, and sight words.

Other Associated Challenges. Because the right hemisphere of the brain coordinates and manages sensory input and complexity, individuals with NLD are at higher risk for challenges with self-regulation. This may include sensory sensitivities, variable attention, or difficulties with emotion regulation. As such, those with NLD may demonstrate heightened anxiety or emotional reactivity that is only further-challenged by the complexity of their learning profile. Because of this, individuals with NLD often rely on a rigid, predictable routine. There is a high rate of comorbid, or co-occurring, diagnoses in individuals with NLD, including things such as ADHD, anxiety disorders, specific learning disabilities, and potentially autism spectrum disorder. Because of this, it is important to have a comprehensive understanding of each individual’s profile before devising their intervention plan.

What do we do to support individuals with NLD? The supports set into place can be widely variable depending on the individual child’s profile. Some of the most common recommendations include social skills interventions that target “higher level” skills, such as social perspective taking and problem solving; executive function instruction that aims to teach task management skills, develop “big picture” thinking, and generalize skills across tasks and settings; academic remediation for any specific domain of impairment, potentially including math reasoning, reading comprehension, or written expression; and occupational therapy services to develop skills, such as handwriting and/or keyboarding, visual processing, and motor coordination.

It is important to understand that individuals with NLD struggle with abstraction, so concrete, explicit instruction, with frequent repetition, is often key. This not only applies to academic instruction, but also therapy or instruction in daily living skills at home. Things need to be rehearsed “in real time,” as there needs to be a plan for how to ensure skills translate to life.

Self-advocacy most often needs to be directly taught by first increasing self-awareness, as it may be difficult for individuals with NLD to recognize the patterns within their challenges or self-monitor when support may be needed.

There are many useful resources for further understanding ways to support individuals with NLD. Some available options include Pamela Tanguay’s Nonverbal Learning Disabilities at Home: A Parent’s Guide and Nonverbal Learning Disabilities at School: Educating Students with NLD, Asperger Syndrome and Related Conditions, and Kathryn Stewart’s Helping a Child with Nonverbal Learning Disorder or Asperger’s Disorder: A Parent’s Guide.

Because NLD profiles can be variable, complex, and clouded by co-occurring challenges, a thorough neuropsychological evaluation can be a critical step toward fully understanding an individual child’s needs and thinking about how they will be best supported not just in school, but also in their day to day life. Should you require support in navigating such needs for a child, teen, or young adult in your life, more information about NESCA’s neuropsychological evaluations and team of evaluators is available at www.nesca-newton.com.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Angela Currie is a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. She conducts neuropsychological and psychological evaluations out of our Londonderry, NH office. She specializes in the evaluation of anxious children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors lending to their stress, such as underlying learning, attentional, or emotional challenges. She particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child, as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.

 

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

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Londonderry, NH, Plainville, MA, and Newton, MA serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call (603) 818-8526.