NESCA is currently booking for in-person Real-life Skills and Executive Function Coaching in the Newton, MA office! Our experienced occupational therapists work alongside individuals to achieve their personalized goals, which often address functional life skills that allow them to thrive in their homes, schools, and communities. For those not local to Newton, MA, remote services are also offered. Click here for more information. To inquire about our coaching services, complete our Intake Form.

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The ABCs of Challenging Behavior

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

When a child or adolescent is exhibiting challenging behaviors, it is helpful to understand why the behaviors are occurring. The first step is to analyze the situational factors surrounding the behaviors:

A: Antecedent. What is happening right before the behavior occurred?
B: Behavior. What is the specific behavior that the child/adolescent exhibited?
C: Consequence. What happened right after the behavior occurred?

By looking at the ABCs of a particular behavior, we can start to understand the function of the behavior. That is to say, why is the child/adolescent engaging in the behavior? How is the behavior being reinforced?

Let’s look at an example:
Tom is in 6th grade. He arrives to math class, and the teacher distributes a worksheet. Tom rips up the math sheet and throws it on the floor. The teacher sends him to principal’s office.

A: Math class, being given a worksheet
B: Ripping up the paper
C: Being sent to the principal/leaving the class

In this example, the aversive situation might be math class itself, it could be the worksheet, or it could be the specific concept being worked on (e.g., multiplication is hard for Tom). Alternatively, something might have happened right before math class that upset him.

The consequence is that Tom is allowed to avoid the problematic situation. Thus, the teacher is inadvertently reinforcing the behavior. Tom has learned that if he refuses to do the work, he gets to leave class.

The more effective intervention would be to understand why he refused the work. In this case, it would be important to have a conversation with Tom. Was the work too hard? Does he need extra explanation of the concepts being covered in the worksheet? Did something happen before math class that Tom was still upset about? If the teacher is not able to engage him in this type of conversation, perhaps it would be better to send him to the school counselor as opposed to the principal.

As you think about your own children, it might be helpful to consider the ABCs of any challenging behaviors that are occurring. What was happening right before? If you can identify antecedents, you might be able to make some concrete environmental changes in order to avoid the behavior. What happened right afterward? Did your reaction to the behavior somehow reinforce it? Could you do something different next time the behavior occurs that would be more effective?

Resources
The Explosive Child by Ross Greene
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
The Behavior Code Companion by Jessica Minahan

 

About the Author

Erin Gibbons, Ph.D., evaluates children presenting with a range of attentional, learning, and developmental disabilities. She has a particular interest in children with autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disabilities, and those with complex medical histories.

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

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; and the greater Burlington, Vermont region, serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Questionnaires, Rating Scales, and Checklists, Oh My!

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

Before I had children, I knew parenting would bring with it new demands. If you’d asked me what tasks I imagined would take a lot of my time and energy as a parent, I would have listed things like feeding hungry little mouths, washing adorable clothes, driving kids to and from school and activities, dealing with bath time, and reading stories at bedtime. What I would never have guessed is how much time and mental effort I would spend filling out paperwork. From the moment a child enters a parent’s life—regardless of what process brings them together as a family—it seems like there are unending forms to complete. As a parent of three children, I cannot begin to calculate how many hours I’ve spent filling out forms for doctors, daycares, schools, camps, babysitters, and extracurriculars. It’s a lot.

Perhaps that’s why I sometimes notice a very relatable subtle sigh when I hand parents forms to complete as part of their children’s neuropsychological evaluation. I get it, and I never want to add to a parent’s already overwhelming list of tasks to complete. Nevertheless, carefully selected questionnaires are an important part of a thorough neuropsychological assessment. Here are a few of the reasons why.

  1. Simply put, parents are the experts on their children. No doubt about it, a parent (or primary caregiver) knows a child better than just about anyone else could. Parents are uniquely qualified to provide invaluable information about their children and are a tremendous resource.
  2. Parents have more data points. During an evaluation, I typically spend about five hours with a child over the course of two testing sessions. It’s a limited glimpse into mere hours out of years of a child’s life. Parents are typically positioned to observe their children much more frequently and on many more occasions. I may see a child at their best or on a particularly bad day, and I don’t want to rely on my observations alone. Having information from many points in time, and from different settings, is incredibly useful and helps capture a more complete picture of a child.
  3. I want and need to know what happens outside the testing office. By design, the testing environment is deliberately developed to be a quiet space as free of distractions as possible to maximize a child’s ability to focus and participate in formal testing. It’s a highly structured situation and a one-on-one interaction. Life outside the office is…well, quite different. I want to get a sense of what happens during the hectic morning rush to get out the door, on the playground and the soccer field, and at the family dinner table.
  4. On a related note, people present differently in different settings, and having data helps us make sense of this. Many parents can relate to the concept of “restraint collapse.” Essentially, kids often work hard to keep it together in the academic setting throughout the day and “fall apart” when they come home after a long day of school. Similarly, children are often on the “best behavior” in public settings and with adults other than their parents. For this reason, I often don’t get to see this important aspect of things, so I rely on parent reports.
  5. Some things simply cannot be readily assessed using standardized testing measures in an office environment. Two skill sets that fall into this category are executive functions and social skills. Executive functions, which include skills like working memory, are not easily captured through tests in the somewhat artificial environment of an office. To assess working memory, we rely on tasks such as asking a child to recall strings of numbers. In the real world, working memory applies to more complex tasks, such as following multi-step instructions in a busy classroom or home setting. A child may do well remembering single digit numbers, but this doesn’t always translate to being able to remember and complete a series of directions in the “real world.” Similarly, interacting with one adult in a highly structured environment doesn’t allow a glimpse into a child’s social skills within the more complex, unstructured situations they face day to day.

In short, neuropsychologists rely on information from parents to gain a clear and complete picture of a child and to provide answers to the questions that bring a family to us. One of the ways we obtain this information is through questionnaires, symptom rating scales, and checklists. So, parents, thank you, for taking the time to give us your unique and invaluable perspective. We couldn’t do our jobs without it or without you.

 

About the Author

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Understanding Behavior as Communication

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

School is out for many, and it is no surprise to many that it was a challenging year for teachers, parents, and children. One word that captures the experience of the 2022-2023 school year is stress. Teachers were stressed as their students continued to contend with the academic and social deficits that resulted from the pandemic. Many students have struggled to adapt to post-pandemic learning, and incidents of acting out behavior have increased precipitously. How do we make sense of children’s behavior while helping them develop and effectively manage the academic, social, and behavioral expectations of an ever-changing world?

Ross Greene, Ph.D., states, “Children want to do well and would if they could.” Behavior is not just random or meaningless. It serves as a way for children to express their needs, feelings, and experiences, especially when they have not yet developed strong verbal or communication skills. When the demands of the environment exceed a child’s capacity to manage them, they are apt to become stressed, increasing the likelihood that they will act out. Stress is a complex concept that is a response to perceived or anticipated demands or pressures that exceed an individual’s coping abilities.

When stressed, the adrenal glands release cortisol, a stress hormone that helps mobilize energy reserves for the fight-or-flight response. Fear and anxiety also increase individuals’ vulnerability to responding with fight or flight. So, while fear is focused on a specific threat, physiologically, it feels much the same as stress. Behavior is, therefore, a way of communicating that something is amiss. For instance, a child who acts aggressively may express frustration, which is stressful. And a child who becomes withdrawn might feel overwhelmed or anxious, triggering a stress response. Behavior is a natural way for children to communicate their needs, emotions, or reactions to the environment.

Our job as adults is first to check our own emotional status, because if we are tired or stressed, it will likely influence how we respond when children behave badly. Observing and interpreting behaviors with a curious and open mindset is important. By paying attention to patterns, triggers, and context, adults can gain insights into what a child might be trying to communicate through their behavior. Our job is not to manage the behavior but to understand, per Dr. Greene, what skills are lagging or what problems need to be solved, build relationships, and work collaboratively with children to solve problems and change behavior.

Resources:

The Explosive Child, Ross Greene, Ph.D., 2021

Beyond Behaviors; Mona Delahooke, Ph.D., 2019

Podcast: Two Sides of the Spectrum; episode dated April 5, 2023; “Safety as the Foundation for Everything

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess (Cindy), a licensed psychologist, worked as an elementary counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before starting her doctorate. In this role, she developed extensive expertise and aptitude for working with individuals and groups struggling with a wide range of emotional and learning challenges.

She completed her pre-doctoral internship with Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y., where she trained at Hillside Family of Agencies in a therapeutic residential school. At Hillside, she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma.

She earned her Psy.D. in Counseling and School Psychology from Rivier University in 2018. Having a strong interest in the impact of social media on children and our culture, her doctoral dissertation studied the impact social media has on social skills development in fourth- and fifth-grade children.

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 and young adults.

Dr. Hess joined NESCA’s Londonderry, N.H. office in 2019, where she completed a second two-year fellowship in pediatric neuropsychological assessment. Dr. Hess now conducts neuropsychological evaluations as a pediatric neuropsychologist and has a particular interest in working with children and young adults with complex emotional and behavioral profiles. Her experience allows her to guide families in navigating the complicated options for school and other support services.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert neuropsychologists, 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 the greater Burlington, Vermont area, 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 are Some Youths More Susceptible to Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders?

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

References:

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

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

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

 

 

About Pediatric Neuropsychologist Ferne Pinard, Ph.D.

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

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

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

A Halloween for Those with Sensory Challenges

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Julie Robinson, OT
Director of Clinical Services; Occupational Therapist, NESCA

Halloween – a holiday full of tricks and treats. For some children, getting in the Halloween spirit by getting dressed up, carving pumpkins, and going trick-or-treating with friends is what they look forward to all year. For others, dressing up in an itchy costume, not being able to see someone’s face because they are wearing a spooky mask, being out in the dark with crowds of noisy trick-or-treaters, carving pumpkins and having to touch the oooey goooey insides of a pumpkin, and seeing decorations that make sudden noises or movements may make this holiday overwhelming for these children. Halloween can be tricky for families with children living with sensory processing difficulties, but with some creativity and planning ahead, families can build their toolboxes with their own tricks to combat the challenges that come with Halloween so their child can enjoy the treats that Halloween has to offer.

Here are some tricks for some common challenges that Halloween brings up:

Prepare for the day

Have an open discussion with your child about the traditions and activities associated with Halloween. You can read Halloween-themed books or watch Halloween movies (perhaps not the really scary ones!) to prepare your child for what to expect, because the anticipation of a new routine or anticipation of participating in unfamiliar activities can cause stress on a child. Discuss the plan for Halloween regarding decorations, attending parties, going trick-or-treating, etc., ahead of time so the child knows what to expect when celebrating the holiday. Consider the use of a visual picture schedule with activities that may be added into your typical routine. Provide ample warnings for transitions, when possible, to give your child time to move from one activity to another.

Be creative and imaginative with your child’s costume

The most important aspect of a costume for a child with sensory processing difficulties is ensuring that the costume is comfortable. Certain costume material may be itchy or scratchy, costumes with masks may occlude a child’s vision or be too tight on their head, or make-up may smell off-putting to a child. Children should have the opportunity to try on their costume when walking, sitting, and reaching for things before wearing it for real to make sure they are comfortable moving around in it. It is important to remember the idea of “less is more” and to use your imagination when coming up with costume ideas. For example, if a child wants to be a superhero, consider attaching a superhero logo to the front of a shirt they wear regularly rather than having your child wear a full superhero one-piece costume that may be itchy, tight, and hot.

Choose activities that best fit your child’s sensory needs

Meaningful participation in Halloween festivities doesn’t just include carving pumpkins and going trick-or-treating. Halloween activities can include roasting pumpkin seeds, setting out the candy bowl for trick-or-treaters, doing Halloween-themed crafts, etc. It is important for you to pick activities that best fit your child’s sensory needs. For example, if your child dislikes carving pumpkins because they have to touch the messy pumpkin insides, consider having your child paint their pumpkin or decorate it with stickers instead or make a pumpkin out of paper to decorate. If you and your child really want to go trick-or-treating but your child becomes overwhelmed with noisy crowds, consider trick-or-treating on only quiet side streets, or limit your time, allowing for breaks in between. If your child becomes overwhelmed with flashing lights, loud noises, or scary decorations, consider doing a drive-by of the neighborhood before taking your child out for trick-or-treating so you know which houses to avoid. For some children who crave a great deal of movement, it may be useful to engage in some heavy work activity before participating in a Halloween activity: wall push-ups, yoga poses, carrying weighty objects, for example. It may also be useful to engage in calming sensory activity to ease the transition from a busy setting back into the house: tactile materials like playdough or putty, water play, or a sensory table may be worth trying, or consider making a play tent or fort with quiet books or puzzles, or drawing to smooth the transition.

Monitor for overstimulation

Knowing when your child has had enough of Halloween festivities is just as important as knowing how to get your child engaged in them. A child may not be overstimulated at first, but may become overwhelmed minutes later. It is important to give your child choices of activities and next steps they can take as well as alerting your child about the sequence of events and the timeframe of events so that they know what to expect. If possible, help your child learn to advocate for themselves by saying things like, “please don’t touch me,” or “no thank you, I don’t want wear that,” in order to give them some autonomy over the activities that they participate in. However, in situations where this isn’t possible, it is important as the parent to know when to stop or disengage from festivities when sensory overload occurs and return home or to a quieter, more familiar space to give the child time to decompress.

Resources:

Enjoying Halloween With Sensory Challenges. (2021). Aota.org. https://www.aota.org/About-Occupational-Therapy/Patients-Clients/ChildrenAndYouth/halloween-sensory.aspx?fbclid=IwAR23ux4OKqJmXEZdnCIzb2_Uh0of55YKuCf8ek97UEAc1jZflndR_ZEBRwM

Morin, A. (2019, August 5). Halloween Challenges for Kids With Sensory Processing Issues and How to Help. Understood.org; Understood. https://www.understood.org/articles/en/halloween-challenges-for-kids-with-sensory-processing-issues-and-how-to-help

5 Ways to Help Children with Sensory Challenges Participate in Halloween Festivities. (2021). Aota.org. https://www.aota.org/Publications-News/ForTheMedia/PressReleases/2019/102419-Halloween-Tips-Sensory-Challenges.aspx

 

About the Author

Julie Robinson is an occupational therapist with over 25 years of experience as a clinician. The work Julie does is integral to human development, wellness and a solid family unit. She particularly enjoys supporting families through the process of adoption and in working with children who are victims of trauma. Julie has extensive experience working with children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or who have learning or emotional disabilities. She provides services that address Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and self-regulation challenges, as well as development of motor and executive functioning skills.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services or other clinical therapies, 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.

 

Going with the Flow

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

It’s September, and a new school year has already begun for most children. We had hoped that Covid would be behind us and the start of this school year would begin with a greater semblance of the old normal. Sigh…it has not. We are still wearing masks, keeping our distance and washing hands amongst other health considerations. Many students are eager to get back to school and in-person learning even though they have to wear masks. Many are accustomed to it, and it is no big deal. However, there are those students who preferred virtual learning and have grown more and more anxious at the thought of going back to in-person learning.

Back at the start of the pandemic, I wrote a blog about going with the flow, and it seemed appropriate to reintroduce the topic again as we start another school year still with so much uncertainty. Will there be outbreaks of the new variants at school? Will there be quarantines happening again? Will someone in my family, class, school get sick and how serious will it be?  We don’t know the answers to these questions, and worrying about them doesn’t help us be in the moment. In Bostonia’s current cover piece, “The kids are stressed, anxious, lonely, struggling, learning, grateful, adapting, alright,” Eric Moskowitz summed it up accurately. What researchers found is that children who were at a disadvantage before the pandemic suffered the most – which is not surprising – yet overall kids are resilient.

In  Angela Currie’s recent blog, “Helping Students Transition Back to School,” she covers the essentials of establishing bed time/morning routines, connecting with teachers, mask wearing routines and many more. I would like to add to her list with the psychological, social and emotional routines and ways of being that will also make the transition smoother.

Education Week offers a few social-emotional checklists that are good to review to help you set your student off on the right foot as they start this school year.

  • First check in with yourself and your own emotions/feelings. If you are feeling anxious, do something to help calm your emotions and gain some centeredness. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.
  • Establish those all so important sleep, eating and exercise routines.
  • Establish a calming routine that the family can do together for a few minutes (i.e., yoga, mindful minute, deep breathing, etc.).
  • Acknowledge the breadth of feelings your child may have and how rapidly they may change. Point this out to him/her when they are calm. Introduce the realization that thoughts are connected to feelings, and they can change their thoughts to help their feelings change. Be understanding, supportive and empathetic yet also encourage your student to use their “past data” to support their progress forward through their feelings.
  • As Angela said, establish routines and predictability at home but also model and help your child know that things don’t always go as planned. Have routines yet be flexible, adaptable and a “go with the flow” mindset will be essential as s/he enters this school year. There are always Plans B, C, and D when Plan A doesn’t work. For instance, you may insist your child wear a mask and another child in his class, or afterschool activity/sport, may not. Preview this possible scenario so your child can adept and accept. Or, a student starts the year in-person, but then hybrid (hopefully not) happens…again. You get the idea about teaching flexibility.
  • Stay positive even in the midst of uncertainty, as this helps create the right biochemical mix that allows you to think more clearly.
  • Be aware of your thoughts and help your child be aware of their thoughts. Thoughts influence our mood, feelings and behavior, and we can exert control over them.
  • Be grateful (end the night with a gratitude moment).
  • Be supportive. Acknowledge the efforts, tasks, feelings, etc. that your kids are taking on and experiencing. It helps them develop self-confidence, self-esteem, self-efficacy, pride and a sense of competence.
  • Be hopeful. Yesterday is history (don’t dwell there), tomorrow is a mystery (don’t worry about it) and today is a gift (even if you don’t feel like it is). Be present and allow whatever feelings come up (positive or negative) to flow through you so you can make way for new feelings.

Wishing everyone a smooth start to the 2021-2022 school year, and may the force be with us as we continue to combat Covid.

Resources

https://www.bu.edu/bostonia/

https://www.edweek.org/leadership/preparing-for-in-person-learning-a-covid-19-checklist-for-parents/2021/08?utm_source=nl&utm_medium=eml&utm_campaign=eu&M=63136722&U=1970318&UUID=f2e19d19dbb5bd4e92068a32311b141c

 

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.

 

The Value of Mulligans

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By:  Stephanie Monaghan-Blout, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Let’s face it – a lot of parenting involves socializing children whose brains are in the process of being built. This means:

  1. They do not yet have the cognitive capacity to understand the moral principles behind such behaviors as “sharing, “being nice” and “using our words.”
  2. They are in the process of learning how to inhibit the impulse to grab, say whatever one thinks and using physical force to get what one wants.

Behavioral reinforcement strategies (rewarding desirable behavior) can be quite effective as a socialization technique – but only if the strategy is keyed to both an understanding of the level of the child’s cognitive/moral development and their capacity for impulse control. All too often, the parent’s efforts to shape their child’s behavior run aground because of problems in assessing either (or both) of these areas. The concept of a “mulligan” can be a very useful in compensating for either child or parent error.

The term “mulligan” comes from the game of golf where it means getting an extra stroke after a poor shot. There are several stories about the origin of the term, but most involve a player named Mulligan who had been so rattled by a variety of events that he made a very poor shot on his first effort and claimed a “correction” – basically a do-over. This fits well with the dilemma presented to parents when a child has not been able to stick to an agreement, like “if you boys can work out your differences without verbal or physical fighting this morning, we will get some ice cream this afternoon.”

The first step in taking a mulligan, or correction do-over, always involves giving everybody involved some time to calm down, thus restoring the capacity for flexible thinking and problem solving. Once this is achieved, it is time to figure out where things broke down: was it overestimating the child’s capacity for controlling their impulses over time, in certain situations, or with certain people? Or was it because the child did not know how or why to take certain actions? If the problem involves impulse control, it will be up to the parent to restructure the situation in order to make it more realistically doable for the child or children – in other words, the parent takes a mulligan. For instance, s/he might say, “Look, this is not working out. I’m going to take a mulligan. Every 15 minutes that you guys can get along and work out your differences, I will give you a point. If you can get 3 points this morning, we will go for ice cream this afternoon.” Notice that this directive leaves some room for inevitable error, but still imposes reasonable expectations.

When the problem falls in the “how” or “why” category, parents also need to consider the child’s developmental status before engaging in problem solving. It is really important to appreciate that a child’s understanding of common conventions, like “sharing” and “fair.” In the egocentric and preconventional thinking of young children, “sharing” is too abstract of a concept and “fair” means “I get my way.” To speak about “taking turns,” make more sense to them. In the more conventional thinking of elementary school children, the key element in sharing is “fairness,” or, is the exchange equal? (In high school or college, some students will begin to struggle with the concept of equity, or how to allocate resources and opportunities in order to ensure an equal outcome, but this is a foreign thought to most children when it applies to their own resources, like candy or access to video games). Once the parent is clear about how the child is viewing the problem and where their strategies broke down, they can offer a chance for a mulligan while teaching more effective strategies than brute force or crying. Concrete aids, such as wind-up timers that show minutes, can help children understand the passing of time. Whimsical strategies, such as “shooting fingers” or “Rock, Paper, Scissors” are fun ways of determining who goes first or who gets to choose the video that also teach tenets of compromise and collaboration.

 

Resources:

https://www.golfdigest.com/story/did-you-know-where-did-the-term-mulligan-originate

 

About the Author:

Formerly an adolescent and family therapist, Dr. Stephanie Monaghan-Blout is a senior clinician who joined NESCA at its inception in 2007. Dr. Monaghan-Blout specializes in the assessment of clients with complex learning and emotional issues. She is proficient in the administration of psychological (projective) tests, as well as in neuropsychological testing. Her responsibilities at NESCA also include acting as Clinical Coordinator, overseeing psycho-educational and therapeutic services. She has a particular interest in working with adopted children and their families, as well as those impacted by traumatic experiences. She is a member of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI) associated with Massachusetts Advocates for Children and the Harvard Law Clinic, and is working with that group on an interdisciplinary guide to trauma sensitive evaluations.

To book an evaluation with Dr. Monaghan-Blout 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, 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.

Is It Sensory? Or Is It Behavior?

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Julie Robinson, OT
Director of Clinical Services; Occupational Therapist, NESCA

As parents or other caregivers of children with special needs, we can often find ourselves confused between what is a sensory response and what is behavior. Although this is often a complex question, and one without a straightforward answer, there are some tools of the trade that OTs use to help us determine just what is going on with these children. What makes this so complex is that each child is an individual, with their own unique ways of responding to sensory stimuli, to social interactions, and when out in varied settings in their community or with family. Children may also present differently from minute to minute or day to day, depending on sleep, hunger, and fluctuations in mood. But we can often look closely for patterns that may help to guide us in finding the answers.

When working with a child who seems to be in a meltdown, one of the best things you can do is take a quick scan of the environment. Is there a loud or distracting sound in the background? Did someone touch the child unexpectedly? Is the overall environment too busy and overstimulating, such as at party or a restaurant? Sometimes just naming or removing the stimuli, if possible, is enough to help get things back under control. If you know a triggering situation might arise that provokes a meltdown, see if you can give the child a warning and a plan of where to go for comfort. “We will be having a fire drill in 10 minutes, so when it happens you can hold _____’s hand, or we can get you some headphones to cover your ears to make you more comfortable” is one example. Find something soothing from a sensory perspective to help the child settle: a quiet corner with books, some tactile play or fidgets, calming music, a tight squeeze ( but only if tolerated and given permission to do so ). If you know you are entering a highly stimulating environment, it may be best to go in for short periods, with frequent breaks built in for your child every 10 minutes or so to take a walk, use the bathroom, or get a drink.

If you do not see something sensory in your environment creating the discomfort or the meltdown, then behavior and emotions are more likely at play. You child may feel confused about a social interaction, about expectations, or what may be coming next in a transition. Your child may feel a lack of confidence or anxiety in a situation, that although may be seemingly simple and straight forward to you, may not to him or to her. An academic task may feel misunderstood, and not knowing how to start can result in a meltdown for many of our children.

When you see that the child you are caring for is beginning to ramp up, that is the best time to intervene. Once a meltdown has begun, language processing will be limited, and the child may not be reachable for a period of time in order to settle down. The best thing you can do in those moments, is to help the child to stop. I often use a stop sign to hold up in my therapy sessions, that cues the child to take a quick break from interacting with me when I see things starting to spin out of control. I limit my language, provide a calming sensory activity, then we can talk about the upset once I have the child back in my court.

Here are some things to think about and questions you might ask yourself to help guide your interactions and expectations when you, as the adult, are confused about whether this is sensory or behavior:

  1. What are the undesirable behaviors that my child observes when he or she is upset or uncomfortable? Are they different when there is sensory discomfort, in comparison to when he or she is upset with a person or a demand? Notice quality of voice, bodily tension, inability to stay still or focused, aggression, flight or an attempt to get away, shutdown or inability to interact. You may start to see patterns in behavior when you look at them in relation to a sensory event or something that is more emotionally-laden.
  2. What occurred just before this behavior appeared? Was there a sensory distraction or discomfort or was he or she upset with a person or a demand?
  3. How did the child behave during this episode?
  4. How did adults or peers interact with my child during the episode? Did it calm the child, or make him or her more agitated?
  5. List sensations that may have triggered a meltdown: tactile, auditory, visual, smell, taste, movement. Were they loud, distracting, uncomfortable? Was the child in a space that may have been too small or too large? Was the child able to get away from the uncomfortable stimuli, or did he or she feel stuck in the moment?

It will be beneficial for team members to share information and write these things down, perhaps in a format of a journal, so that the team can work together to uncover the patterns, find strategies that are successful, and provide consistency across the board. We all know consistency for these children is one of the most effective tools for learning, and although it may take some extra work up front for caregivers, the pay off on the other side is often so rewarding that it is worth the effort.

If you would like to explore this topic further with NESCA OT Julie Robinson, join us for a free webinar on this topic on September 13, 2021 at 10:30 am ET. Register in advance for this webinar at:

https://nesca-newton.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_-edHNIwkRBKnjk0gq6-bUw

 

About the Author

Julie Robinson is an occupational therapist with over 25 years of experience as a clinician. The work Julie does is integral to human development, wellness and a solid family unit. She particularly enjoys supporting families through the process of adoption and in working with children who are victims of trauma. Julie has extensive experience working with children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or who have learning or emotional disabilities. She provides services that address Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and self-regulation challenges, as well as development of motor and executive functioning skills.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services or other clinical therapies, 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.

 

When the Worry Bug Makes You Mad: Understanding the Importance of Positive Behavior Plans for Anxious Kids

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Renée Marchant, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

“Don’t Feed the Worry Bug,” by Andi Green is a wonderful book for children who are anxious or experience a lot of worrisome thoughts. The story is about a monster who constantly feeds his WorryBug, only to find that as he worries more and more, the WorryBug continues to grow until the monster is totally overwhelmed by the emotion. Eventually, he learns to control it. In my practice, I evaluate a number of children with lots of worries…but they don’t actually look worried. Instead, children may appear defiant, hyperactive and aggressive. Why do children overwhelmed with anxiety sometimes become frustrated and angry or have poor behavioral control at home and in the classroom?

Children with anxiety “on the surface” may appear angry, oppositional and defiant to adults. However, these behaviors oftentimes reflect secondary responses to an underlying cause: anxiety. Responses to anxiety can be categorized as “fight, flight or freeze.” As a classic example, if you run into a grizzly bear on a hike, your body’s natural physiological response is to fight, flee or freeze. Your anxiety about the demands of a situation send your body and brain into a state of “threat alert.” Similarly, when a child is worrying about something, is socially anxious, or is feeling nervous about their ability to handle a task, this “threat alert” system is activated and the child’s ability to make well-thought out decisions is impaired. The child may be labeled a “behavior problem” because of the impulsivity, defiance, disruptiveness or aggression (fight mode). Or the child may appear distractible, silly and immature, or avoidant of challenging tasks (flight mode). An anxious child may also show difficulties shifting gears/transitioning, problems letting go of events, or seem unmotivated or apathetic (freeze mode). It is also not uncommon for children with anxiety to have challenges demonstrating appropriate social skills, such as problems with insight into how their behaviors may affect others. They may also experience challenges reading the nonverbal and verbal cues in their environment because their brain is “soaked” with high arousal, immobilizing their capacity to apply logic to everyday situations. How do we help children manage their anxiety and the resulting behavioral challenges from that anxiety?

A neuropsychological evaluation can provide insights into your child’s behavioral challenges to determine if there may be an “underlying cause,” such as anxiety, (or other causes such as learning disabilities, depression or poor information processing) which are driving weak emotional and behavior control. Once identified, a neuropsychologist can provide guidance on the most effective interventions for a child at school and at home.

In my experience, one of the most important interventions for a child who experiences anxiety and secondary behavioral challenges is the development of a Positive Behavior Plan at school, which can then be included in a child’s IEP. However, many children with anxiety do not respond well to traditional behavioral reward systems that solely focus on increasing or decreasing behaviors (e.g. follow directions, sit calmly, keep your body safe, etc.), as these systems do not teach the child the self-regulation skills necessary for controlling emotional and behavioral responses. Instead, an effective Positive Behavior Plan for a child with anxiety includes behavioral targets or “goals” that focus on the attempt at coping strategy application. Importantly, a child with anxiety should be rewarded for trying to use a coping strategy, as it will take time, practice and reinforcement before a child develops the capacity to apply coping strategies consistently and successfully.

Sample coping strategies that a child should be taught by a special educator, counselor or other specialist include “taking deep breaths, jumping jacks, taking a break, using words to say how I feel,” or other self-regulation tools. When the goals of a Positive Behavior Plan focus on using a coping strategy before or during moments of distress rather than a plan that is tied to increasing or decreasing specific behaviors after they occur, a child builds independent capacity to appraise and react appropriately to physical and emotional responses in the classroom and the community. Children learn the signs (e.g. in their body, mind and in their environment) that the WorryBug is approaching, and feel better equipped, confident and more in control of their emotions and behaviors. For more information on how to appropriately develop Positive Behavior Plans for children with anxiety, “The Behavior Code” by Jessica Minahan and Nancy Rappaport is an excellent resource for parents and educators.

When the “WorryBug” or anxiety makes kids mad, mean and aggressive, a comprehensive and thorough neuropsychological evaluation can determine how to best tackle the anxiety “beneath the surface” through therapeutic and educational interventions. A neuropsychological evaluation can also direct the development of strategic Positive Behavior Plans that are individualized and appropriate for the child’s home and school environment.

About the Author:

Dr. Renée Marchant provides neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments for youth who present with a variety of complex, inter-related needs, with a particular emphasis on identifying co-occurring neurodevelopmental and psychiatric challenges. She specializes in the evaluation of developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorder and social-emotional difficulties stemming from mood, anxiety, attachment and trauma-related diagnoses. She often assesses children who have “unique learning styles” that can underlie deficits in problem-solving, emotion regulation, social skills and self-esteem.

Dr. Marchant’s assessments prioritize the “whole picture,” particularly how systemic factors, such as culture, family life, school climate and broader systems impact diagnoses and treatment needs. She frequently observes children at school and participates in IEP meetings.

Dr. Marchant brings a wealth of clinical experience to her evaluations. In addition to her expertise in assessment, she has extensive experience providing evidence-based therapy to children in individual (TF-CBT, insight-oriented), group (DBT) and family (solution-focused, structural) modalities. Her school, home and treatment recommendations integrate practice-informed interventions that are tailored to the child’s unique needs.

Dr. Marchant received her B.A. from Boston College with a major in Clinical Psychology and her Psy.D. from William James College in Massachusetts. She completed her internship at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute and her postdoctoral fellowship at Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, where she deepened her expertise in providing therapy and conducting assessments for children with neurodevelopmental disorders as well as youth who present with high-risk behaviors (e.g. psychosis, self-injury, aggression, suicidal ideation).

Dr. Marchant provides workshops and consultations to parents, school personnel and treatment professionals on ways to cultivate resilience and self-efficacy in the face of adversity, trauma, interpersonal violence and bullying. She is an expert on the interpretation of the Rorschach Inkblot Test and provides teaching and supervision on the usefulness of projective/performance-based measures in assessment. Dr. Marchant is also a member of the American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA) and continues to conduct research on the effectiveness of family therapy for high-risk, hospitalized patients.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Marchant or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.

 

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

 

Mind the Gap: Why You Should Consider Summer OT and Speech Services at NESCA

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Julie Robinson, OT
Director of Clinical Services; Occupational Therapist, NESCA

It has been a challenging school year, with ever-changing schedules, routines, and unfortunately with a good deal of inconsistency in the provision of therapeutic services through the schools, due to the many impacts of COVID. Parents, caregivers and students have all experienced differing levels of anxiety about what progress has been and is being made, with many children experiencing some level of regression with regard to behavior, self-regulation, motor skills or language development. In anticipation of many of our children returning to school in-person in April, parents have expressed concerns that their children may be lagging behind or that they have not had ample support throughout the earlier parts of their school year to ensure they can keep up with the other children in their class. Over the months of April, May and June, we will all get to see firsthand where the gaps might arise. And then when school is over, many of us might be concerned that the gains of just a few short months will be lost again over summer. This is why those of us at NESCA perceive that the benefits of summer services will be an important part of ensuring progress and the ability to jump right back into learning – as we hope all school will be in-person again in the fall.

NESCA is available to provide summer services, as we do consistently for our weekly patients. In addition, we are offering short-term services to those children who may not qualify for them through their school systems, or for those families who would simply like to supplement what their children are receiving in-district to give them a boost before school begins again in the fall.

Our occupational therapists (OTs) can work on the following areas of focus with your child:

  • self-regulation and coping skills
  • how best to transition from the quiet of home to the multiple stimuli of a classroom full of children
  • how to cope with longer hours of wearing a mask
  • how to follow social distancing requirements, when they long for a closer physical connection with their peers

We can also help to ease the anxiety some children may have about becoming sick or how NOT to feel fearful of getting back into the classroom when sensory processing issues push them to feel uneasy. Our OTs can continue work on handwriting and motor development work started throughout the school year to ensure there is no regression or to improve the speed and automaticity of written expression and legibility. We can teach organizational and executive functioning skills to encourage kids to be independent, prioritize assignments and manage their time. OTs can address self-care skills of dressing, shoe tying, feeding and hygiene, which are likely to require more independence with social distancing requirements. While it’s summer, we help build outdoor skills, such as bike riding and greater self-confidence on the playground to elicit more social connections with peers. Our OTs are providing services in-person in our Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts clinics, by teletherapy or outdoors in the community as appropriate.

Our speech therapists at NESCA can also help to continue and supplement the hard work children have been putting in throughout the school year. They can work on social pragmatics and help with the skills needed to transition from so much time alone, to being in groups with their peers once again. NESCA’s speech therapists can support children on how to:

  • initiate play
  • find shared interests
  • be flexible thinkers
  • communicate with kindness and an appropriate level of voice
  • read gestures and non-verbal communication (especially while wearing masks, which can impede the ability to properly read another person’s mood, reactions or emotions)

We can continue to work on the established goals from school, regarding both expressive and receptive communication, language articulation and language as it pertains to written communication. Our speech therapists are currently providing all services via teletherapy while we work on a transition back to in-person therapy.

If you are interested in seeking out summer services at NESCA, or any of our assessments and services, please contact NESCA’s Director of Clinical Services Julie A. Robinson. She can be reached at jrobinson@nesca-newton.org and will conduct a phone intake with you to help you best determine your needs.

 

About the Author

Julie Robinson is an occupational therapist with over 25 years of experience as a clinician. The work Julie does is integral to human development, wellness and a solid family unit. She particularly enjoys supporting families through the process of adoption and in working with children who are victims of trauma. Julie has extensive experience working with children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or who have learning or emotional disabilities. She provides services that address Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and self-regulation challenges, as well as development of motor and executive functioning skills.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services or other clinical therapies, 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.