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Coronavirus & Social Injustice: A Crisis or an Opportunity? – Part 1

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS

Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

As our leaders try to handle the crises of today, we can be angry or pleased at their attempt. I know I’ve been both, but yet recognize that they are trying to make tough decisions while taking into consideration many uncontrollable variables. In making these tough decisions (i.e. opening/shutting down schools, stay at home orders, managing protesters, etc.), it is almost impossible to please everyone. As the days turn into months, panic, anger, guilt and irrational thinking won’t work for us as individuals nor as a community. Instead it would behoove us to come together, show care, concern, empathy and gratitude toward each other. Recognizing that the divisions that exist amongst us are what keeps us fighting, in fear and not working towards common goals. We must acknowledge our differences, yet come together to be problem solvers and be optimists to handle the crises of the coronavirus and the social injustice that is plaguing our cities and impacting our children.

John F. Kennedy was quoted as saying, “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity.” The coronavirus is most certainly a daunting, unprecedented crisis that has befallen our country and our world.

In March, our lives changed dramatically as schools in Massachusetts were shut down and we were told to quarantine. Now five months later, we begin to reopen. Now, I wonder if we can look at this crisis a bit differently – maybe as an opportunity. But an opportunity for what? Seeing a crisis as an opportunity takes courage and faith and requires a peace of mind that is rooted in a sense of calm, not fear. This allows creative and flexible thinking to emerge. We become problem solvers. As days turned into months of quarantine and we tried to “settle into the new normal and go with the flow,” my hope is that some of the initial panic and fear has subsided slightly in your hearts and minds. Maybe new rhythms or routines have been created – we’re commuting less, enjoying time with family, cleaning the basement, cooking more, etc. Some opportunities have arisen whether we’ve noticed them or not and whether we’ve liked them or not. Do you think you’re ready to think differently about this crisis? Can you find moments in each day that arise because of the crisis that open up opportunities or possibilities?

As we settle into mid-summer, we also begin to think about schools reopening in the fall and what that will look like. Will it be a crisis or an opportunity? Only you can decide.

 

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.

 

There Is No Wrong Decision

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By:  Alissa Talamo, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

We are living in an unprecedented time. As such, parents are faced with decisions that they have never faced before. For example, families are facing the challenging decision about whether or not to send their children back to school for in-person classes in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents have to wrestle with the idea that, on the one hand, sending children to school could increase the risk of COVID-19 among children and family members; while on the other hand, children who don’t return to in-person school may experience disruptions in their education and may miss out on the social interaction and community feeling within the school building. In addition, some families simply don’t have a choice because they need to go to work or a family member at home is immunocompromised.

What is most important is to recognize is that whether or not to send a child to school in the fall means something different to everybody. It is imperative that, as parents, you give yourself permission to feel whatever it is that you are feeling, and that you do what feels right for you and your family. It may be difficult to accept, but we have little control over much of what is happening around us right now. While it is important to acknowledge how you are feeling, it is equally important to remember that, in fact, any reactions are normal under the current circumstances.

How you respond to stress during the COVID-19 pandemic can depend on your background, your financial situation, your health and emotional background, your social support system, the community you live in and many other factors. When it comes to parenting, every day can be a challenge, and the coronavirus has made an already scary world feel even more menacing.  Remember to “ignore the noise” and give yourself credit for taking care of yourself and your family.

 

 

About the Author:

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

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

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

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

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

She is the mother of one teenage girl.

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

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

“Can I Hug You?” – Why the pandemic has us craving closeness

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

At the end of a testing session last week, my young client and I stood looking at each other through the large glass window of our contactless, adjoined testing rooms. Our hands were newly washed; the fresh scent of antibacterial wipes emitted from the tables; and our face coverings were in place. And while looking at one another from our respective bubbles, inside this necessarily sterile setting, my client looked me in the eye and asked: “Can I hug you?”

The question hung in the air for a moment. In the 15 years that I have worked with children, I have rarely hesitated when a child asks me this. But there we were, mid-pandemic, in this brief, perhaps imperceptible, moment of uncertainty.

One thing I have become keenly aware of since starting to see family and friends for socially distanced visits is how much I, and my children, have to consciously fight the physical urge to embrace the people we love. The urge is palpable. But where does this come from?

There is a great body of research demonstrating the importance of physical touch, particularly hugging. Hugs are not just a simply a way of demonstrating your love or support for someone, but hugging actually causes physiological changes within the body. Stress hormones, such as cortisol, reduce, and the nervous system slows down. Oxytocin – a hormone integral to bonding – is released, increasing closeness and affection. Over time, close physical contact results in improved brain development, heart health, emotional health, relationship patterns and immune function.

In many ways, physical touch is a basic human need that must be met. Individuals who are deprived of these experiences, particularly early in life, can experience detrimental effects. Fortunately, some of these effects can be mitigated once opportunities for closeness are offered. As such, our bodies and brains never fully give up on the urge for closeness, even after long durations of it being unmet. And this urge has a name – skin hunger.

Most people have felt skin hunger at some point – a driving urge for human contact and connection. This may come after a particularly stressful day at work, an argument with a friend or just a general feeling of loneliness. In times of uncertainty, distress or instability, the human need for closeness increases. And yet, for so many who are enduring the COVID-19 pandemic, closeness is the exact thing that they are being deprived of. Even when we are lucky enough to still have access to our families, or perhaps a small group of close friends, our emotional needs are high. Physiologically, psychologically, we need more hugs.

The good news is, there are things that you can do to meet this need:

  • Consciously make an effort to hug those you can, and do it more often than typical.
  • Snuggle up with your dog, your cat or other pet of choice.
  • For those who live alone and do not have pets, a weighted blanket, warm bath or hugging a pillow can simulate the effects of human touch.
  • Maintain social connection through video chat, phone calls and socially distanced visits. Interpersonal contact without hugging is better than no contact.
  • Be careful to not accidentally over-associate hugs or touch with danger. Coronavirus will eventually be managed, but training our children to fear closeness could have enduring, negative effects. Choose words wisely, teaching pragmatic, unemotional caution, not fear.

 

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.

School’s Out For Summer

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Amity Kulis, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

With everyone home-schooling these last several months, there has been a push towards academics and getting work done. But now it is summer vacation, and the pressure is off. However, this is a summer like no summer we have ever known. Many families are continuing to spend more time at home, many activities are still closed, or at the very least, they are more limited. It can be hard to figure out what to do with all of this time.

The summer can be a great time to engage multiple aspects of our minds. I am often reminded of Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. His theory proposes there are eight aspects of human intelligence, each representing different ways of processing information. Without getting into the deep specifics of his theory, I think it is important to consider the many different ways that our brains interact with the world. When trying to plan out activities or experiences for our kids this summer, taking these multiple aspects of functioning into consideration might help to stir up some great ideas.

Visual-Spatial: This can include activities such as drawing and other art activities using maps, puzzles and patterning tasks. Young children can practice making patterns and completing puzzles while our older children can create using Legos or planning out a family outing on a map. The possibilities are endless.

Linguistic-Verbal: This can include reading, writing and speaking. Children and families can enjoy reading books together or creating stories. Even conversations at the dinner table can be a form of engaging these verbal skills.

Logical-Mathematical: Activities that tap into this skillset can involve the use of numbers and relationships using patterns. Science or experiment-based activities can fall into this category. Young children love creating volcanos with vinegar and baking soda. Allowing them to measure materials out and add food coloring is always a fun idea. Older children may enjoy cooking or other activities that involve numbers and measurement.

Bodily-Kinesthetic: These activities engage the body and can involve strength and physical control. During the summer, the options are endless: nature walks, running through the sprinkler, dancing, biking, scootering, etc. Anything that gets the body moving! These activities can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Musical: Think about rhythms and sounds. Activities can include singing and playing musical instruments. While certainly traditional tools like the piano come to mind, you can also turn pots upside down, get some spoons and create a drum circle. Or possibly work as a family to turn the lyrics of a favorite song into something silly or more meaningful to your family. This summer could also be a great time to learn a new instrument with plenty of music instructors offering virtual lessons throughout the summer.

Interpersonal: This one may be a little harder as many people continue to distance themselves. While our health remains a priority, we do have to acknowledge that practicing social skills is important for everyone. This can involve calling or virtually meeting with family members, possibly a distanced activity with others outside, or leaving notes for friends and neighbors. Anything that gets your child thinking about others, their own thoughts and feelings, and finding ways to stay connected is important. Embracing the relationships within your family during this time is also a great idea.

Naturalistic: This means being in tune with nature and exploring the environment. These types of activities involve being outside, interacting with plants and animals. Perhaps you start a family garden or go for regular walks in the woods. Focusing on bugs, sounds and smells within your environment. Outdoor activities are probably the most readily available during this time.

Intrapersonal: Personal enrichment and being in tune with oneself is so important during this time. Taking time to calm our own frustrations and anxieties is essential for our overall health as well as setting a good example for children. Numerous mindfulness activities aimed at improving self-regulation can be found online. Being more aware of what is going on in our bodies and minds is so important to help us get through this time.

The summer is a time to relax and enjoy being a family. This can be a jumping off point to get the creativity flowing then allow the kids to jump in and help find fun ways to spend this summer—one that is unlike any other we have experienced.

 

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.

 

 

Life Skills for College to Work on Now – Part 2

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

In Massachusetts, we are more than five weeks into home-based learning and looking toward another two months (or more) of schools and childcare facilities being closed. Unfortunately, this is taking a particularly large social and emotional toll on our teenagers and young adults. One strategy for coping with current conditions is to focus on concrete ways that we can control our daily lives and to set short-term tangible goals. With that in mind, I am writing a second blog focusing on the opportunity teenagers are being given to build daily living and executive functioning skills that will ultimately help them live away from home and self-direct their lives. Last week, I discussed four important skills that are critical for attending residential colleges: getting up on time each morning, doing laundry, having basic kitchen skills, and using basic tools for assembling and fixing things around home. This week, I am offering another four skills. For any young person, I always suggest letting the student pick the skill(s) they want to work on first. When you have a lot to work on, you may as well pick the starting point that feels most important and motivating!

  • Medications: For students who have been on medication during high school, keeping that medication regimen stable is typically a must during the transition to college. Students need to have the knowledge, preparation and organizational skills needed to maintain their own medication regimen. Often a good way to start this process is to purchase a 7-day pill organizer and have teens be responsible for dispensing their own medication for the week. Certainly, a smartphone or smartwatch with several alarms can be useful for remembering medications at needed times. For more information about medication management expectations in college, check out this article by Rae Jacobson. He makes some useful recommendations, such as using a unique alarm tone for medication reminders and putting pills in highly or frequently visible locations (e.g., next to your toothbrush that you routinely use).
  • Money: Students in early stages of high school may be too young for their own bank accounts and credit cards. However, some banks do offer accounts that are specially tailored for minors. Students can open a joint bank account as a minor with a parent or legal guardian. Teens can also practice managing plastic through use of traditional prepaid debit cards, Amazon.com or store gift cards, or a debit card made especially for minors like Greenlight. From home, teens can practice making necessary online purchases, tracking payments and shipping, checking account balances, and using a software like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets to keep a record of purchases. There are also plenty of great free web-based financial literacy resources that teens can use to learn about banking and consumer skills from home; a few resources that my colleague Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC, and I like include:
  • Building an Exercise Routine: Believe it or not, basic fundamentals like healthy eating, sleep hygiene and regular vigorous exercise are strong predictors of college success and satisfaction. As we are living in a period of time where team sports are not accessible, this may be exactly the right time for teenagers to build their own individual exercise routine that can be carried out at home and in one’s local neighborhood. A good baseline to strive for is a routine that includes exercise sessions at least three days per week. With decreased time factors in our lives, students can play around with morning, afternoon or evening exercise to see what feels best for their bodies and brains. If brisk dog-walking, jogging/running or biking activities are not appealing, there are plenty of great YouTube exercise videos (e.g., dance, yoga, strength training, cardio training, etc.) that require no equipment and are calibrated for all kinds of bodies and levels of fitness. Setting a schedule for weekly workouts will help to ensure that exercise becomes more routine and tracking progress with that schedule (e.g., journaling, marking a calendar, using an app like Strava or Aaptiv, etc.) helps to build and sustain motivation. Some teens (and adults) also find that they are more able to stick to an exercise routine if they use a smartwatch to help track, celebrate and prompt their progress.
  • Using a Calendar System for Scheduling: The alarm clock mentioned in last week’s blog is certainly an important time management tool that is vital to master prior to attending college. Another critical time management tool for college (and life beyond) is a calendar system for managing one’s schedule. When starting to build time management skills, simply asking your teen to write down their schedule can be a good place to start. What do they know they have to do each day of the week? What appointments or activities are missing? Teens may have a calendar system that they are already accustomed to using for checking the date, but may not be using that tool to manage their entire schedule. Some common calendar app tools include iCal, Google Calendar and Outlook, but some teens may do better with paper-based systems. If a teen benefits from a paper copy of their schedule, I would still recommend that they learn to use something electronic, then just print off their daily, weekly or monthly schedule based on preference and need. Practice inputting activities that are happening right now, such as assignments, remote classes, meals, therapy, etc. Teens can also play around with reminder settings to see what feels best for prompting participation in activities. Sometimes 15 minutes is too much time, but 5 or 10 is just right. Other times, more than one reminder is needed.

To read more about the Life Skills recommendations from last week’s Transition Thursday blog, click here!

 

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

 

About the Author:

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

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

Life Skills for College to Work on Now – Part 1

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

As a transition specialist working with students who have the cognitive and academic potential for college but have sometimes missed opportunities to develop life skills while keeping up with rigorous academic and extracurricular schedules, I am encouraging families to think of this time as a gift. Students, especially those in 8th-10th grade, have a novel opportunity to build life skills that can help them to live away from home and self-direct their schedules. Without school closures, this opportunity likely would not have come until after 12th grade. With that in mind, here is a list of 4 life skills that are critical for attending residential college that I am recommending some of my students work on:

  • Getting up “on time” each morning: We all know that teenage sleep schedules are rarely in alignment with traditional high school hours. Without transportation time, there is a new opportunity to practice using an alarm clock and build a sleep schedule and that is a little closer to teenage physiological needs. If teens are using a cell phone alarm, it is helpful to put the phone in airplane mode and plug it in away from the bed. With an alarm clock, some experts recommend clocks with blue numbers and facing the clock away from the bed. Good sleep hygiene depends on many factors, such as diet, caffeine intake, exercise, temperature, clothing and electronics use, so teens may want to organize their own “sleep study” to figure out what helps them personally to build a successful sleep routine. Teens can also play around with the sound an app or alarm clock makes to find something that is effective in waking them up without startling.
  • Laundry: When building new skills, I always recommend that students learn and practice the skills to the point of automaticity. Given the amount of time that we are now spending at home, this is the perfect opportunity to learn to do laundry, including reading labels, sorting clothing/linens and running the washer and dryer. If a teen is not interested in learning from a parent, YouTube is a great resource for learning steps to manage laundry and how to operate practically any model of washer or dryer. Teens will learn more quickly if they are practicing the skills multiple times per week, so consider building a schedule that takes into account repeated practice (e.g., clothing is washed midweek, and sheets and towels are washed on the weekend).
  • Basic kitchen skills: While colleges do have meal plans available, many students will still choose to cook a least one meal a day or week for themselves. Being able to cook some basic breakfast, lunch and dinner foods allows students to save money and time, be creative or enjoy a preferred taste/food that they are missing. If a student enjoys cooking and wants to learn to cook for others, that is a great social skill—food is definitely a way to build community (I still have college friends who request I make them grilled cheeses when we get together). I recently came across this parenting piece in The Washington Post highlighting 7 kitchen skills kids need before they leave for college, and now is certainly a good time to work on some of these skills. The article highlights wielding a knife, boiling water, sautéing, baking and roasting, using a slow cooker, planning meals and doing the dishes. But you may want to just start with planning and prepping preferred cold foods or microwave safety. Teens should consider their favorite basic foods and go from there.
  • Using basic tools: You don’t need to know every household maintenance skill to live in a college dorm. But being able to assemble things, fix loose screws and make other basic repairs is important for setting up your dorm or apartment space and saving time (and energy) chasing down maintenance. Some of the basic tools that are useful to be familiar with include a hammer, screwdrivers, measuring tape, pliers, a level, Allen keys and even some wrenches. There are lots of ways to start building familiarity with tools, such as inventorying current household tools, tightening screws on cabinet and drawer handles, hammering down loose nails on a porch, etc. As home repairs need to be tackled, use this as a life skills lesson and include teens in the process. One additional maintenance task that does not require tools is replacing lightbulbs—students should know how to safely remove bulbs from floor and table lamps and check the size, shape and wattage of the bulb, and shop for replacement bulbs.

Stay tuned for additional Life Skills recommendations in next week’s Transition Thursday blog!

 

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

 

About the Author:

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

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

Transition Planning: “Remote” Work-based Learning Experiences

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

In the past three weeks, I have consulted with countless parents of high school students who are worried about how school closures and social distancing are impacting their child’s ability to gain need work experience during high school. Prior to March, I had been working with their teens to plan for summer internship programs, obtain first paid work experiences or finish out volunteer hours needed for senior graduation. Now, many of those plans are moot or uncertain. Instead, we are beginning to create backup plans (and backup plans for our backup plans) for continuing to build skills that will help these students be employable and successful even if internships and competitive work experiences are not accessible.

Fortunately, an unexpected benefit of Covid-19 school closures is the extraordinary educational resource-sharing that is occurring across the country (and even across the globe). We are all able to continue to build resources to help one another and the families that we support remotely. From our couches, we are able to access trainings provided by researchers, providers and educators who are among the top in their fields, often free of cost, and we are able to be part of large active professional networks. One of my favorite resources for transition-related information during this time is the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) who hosted presenters Brenda Simmons, MS, and Michael Stoehr, MS, to speak about Employment Preparation and Work-Based Learning Experiences in a Virtual World on Tuesday, April 7th. Because of the work I am doing with families, I was particularly appreciative of one model shared by Brenda Simmons, MS, and Michael Stoehr, MS, during a webinar I attended: A Work-Based Learning Continuum.

Work-based learning experiences, including paid employment, are one of the most substantial predictors of postsecondary adult employment for students with disabilities. While paid employment in an integrated setting is a critical work-based learning experience, it is a part of a continuum of activities, many of which are still accessible during the current remote-learning times. Below is a graphic adapted from Simmons and Stoehr to help visualize this continuum.

Work-Based Learning Continuum adapted from Simmons and Stoehr NTACT/WINTAC Training

While Internships, Apprenticeships and Competitive Employment are difficult to participate in remotely (especially because these experiences are now isolated rather than integrated), the other activities highlighted along the continuum offer more opportunities for remote exploration:

  • Job Shadowing and Worksite Tours: Even when students cannot visit worksites in person, employers may be able to provide “virtual” tours to share information about what their company does, show teens around their workplace, explain what different employees do and demonstrate work tasks. There are also many virtual tours of workplaces already readily available online. Consider who is in your network that is still going to their workplace or able to travel to work as an “essential” employee. There is a breakdown from Business Insider about the types of businesses that are considered “essential” in current times, and the range of opportunities are impressive. With job shadowing and worksite tours, it is imperative to remember that the most important component of the experience is for teens to engage in self-reflection about the jobs and worksites. What did I see? What did I learn? Is this a place I can picture myself working? What accommodations might I need to be successful in this workplace?
  • Informational Interviews and Mentoring: Before school closures, I worked with many teens who had success in finding their first internship or job through the process of an informational interview. Rather than going through a traditional application and interview process—which can be particularly difficult for teens with social or emotional vulnerabilities—students engage in a “low-stakes” conversation with an employer simply to learn more about a job of interest. While many working adults across the US are strapped for time given that they are now full-time work-from-home employees, stay-at-home parents and teachers/instructional aides all at once, there are also many employees who have found themselves with extra time and a desire to connect with others socially while giving back to their communities. This is a great time for a teen to reach out and ask for 30 minutes of someone’s time to learn more about their field of work. Here is a nice informational interviewing resource that comes from the UC Berkeley Career Center and can be adapted for these remote times. Career-focused mentoring is a step beyond an informational interview and may be a logical next step in a relationship that starts with an informational interview or might be set up with another adult who is able to assist with career exploration and development. Given current times, you may want to consider early career professionals and retired professionals as individuals who may be more available for a career-focused mentoring relationship.
  • Pre-boarding and Onboarding Training: Looking across the continuum of work-based learning experiences, pre-boarding and onboarding trainings are likely to be most unfamiliar to teens. Pre-boarding typically refers to activities that occur between the time a candidate accepts a job and has their first day, while onboarding activities usually occur on an employee’s first day (or first few days). Many companies have created digital materials, including videos and trainings, that help new hires get a sense of workplace culture and community expectations—they provide a level of information that goes beyond what you learn in an informational interview or job shadow. These training activities make for great work-based learning experiences and can be accessed as a creative resource even if a teen is not currently job searching. This is a blog that offers examples of onboarding and pre-boarding videos. But there are many more available through web-based searching or that can potentially be made available through the human resource department at a company of interest.

In a previous blog, 7 Ways to Build Work Readiness from Your Couch, I shared some useful resources for building job search skills and learning about careers of interest remotely. I would recommend that the interested reader check out that blog for websites offering virtual job shadow and worksite tour videos as well as information about volunteer and paid work opportunities that can be completed remotely.

 

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

 

About the Author:

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

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

Why “Find something to do” Doesn’t Work – Teaching Independent Play Skills during Quarantine

By | NESCA Notes 2020

 

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

Nowadays, children’s schedules tend to be highly regimented. For many, free play has been replaced by extracurricular activities, sports and planned playdates. Recess hours have also been reduced in favor of structured learning activities. The reduction in free play throughout the day can delay or interfere with the development of independent play and time management skills. Unfortunately, with schools and childcare centers now closed, our children may not know how to use all of the extra time they now have.

I have two young children – a preschooler who is generally an expert at independent play, and a first grader who needs a lot of structure, support and attention to fill his time. Unfortunately, with much of our attention turning toward working from home and remote learning, even my formerly-skilled independent player is now overwhelmed with the amount of unstructured time he has, resulting in some new and not-so-fun attention-seeking behaviors.

Sound familiar? I am guessing this is the experience many families are facing. Both parents and children are trying to navigate life without any clear time boundaries (What day is it, anyway??), and this is stressful. When kids are stressed, they look to their caregiver to help them regulate – “attention seeking” behavior is their way of saying “I’m stressed out and don’t know what to do with myself – help!” The question is, how do we help them play independently (buying us time to get things done) while still supporting their emotional needs?

The experience of navigating the stress of unstructured time and teaching independent play is addressed in Kate Rope’s recent New York Times article titled “Now’s a Good Time to Teach Your Kids to Play on Their Own.” In the article, Rope discusses ways to embrace this new opportunity to teach independent play – a skill that encourages time management, executive function and self-regulation skills. Some of the strategies she outlines are similar to those that we have attempted at my house in the past few weeks. Here are some that have worked for us:

  • Get outside: My kids’ capacity to play on their own is markedly better when outdoors. Allow them to dig in the dirt, explore the woods (with supervision), build a fort and roll down the hill. This will not only keep them occupied, but the physical activity and fresh air will make them better-focused once inside.
  • Make an activities menu: Kids often have so many toys that they do not know what to pick. Slightly structure “free choice” by making a single-page picture “menu” of activities, reducing the amount of time they aimlessly roam around looking for something to do.
  • Start in their play: Children often do not know how to get started. After they pick an activity, say “I have 15 minutes to play,” set a timer, and give them your undivided attention. Comment on what they do and encourage their imagination, rather than making up the play for them. When the timer beeps, say you had fun playing but need to go do something. Hopefully, your child will continue their play without you.
  • Show your interest: Saying “find something to do” is way too vague and not particularly helpful (I’m very guilty of this). Instead, give a “challenge” and convey your interest in it. For example, say “Why don’t you go get the blocks and build the tallest tower you can. Come get me when you’re ready for me to see it. I can’t wait!”
  • Set up new ways to use toys: The same old toys can get boring, so mix things up a bit. Find a spare storage bin, bucket or large container. Each day create a new, multisensory “set-up” for some toys. For example, construction trucks can dig in dried beans; baby dolls can take a bath in soapy water; dinosaurs can play in water beads; or kids can build fine motor skills by just cutting up a bin of scrap paper.
  • Be patient and loosen up: Let your kids guide the play, take some risks and make mistakes. The more you guide them, the more they will need you later. Also, messy kids are happy kids. Use messy activities as a way to teach daily living and self-care skills (e.g. how to use the broom to sweep up beans; how to get mud out of your finger nails; etc.).
  • Make remote learning fun: The more fun your child has with you during instruction, the less attention they will seek from you later. Find way to use your child’s interests to aid teaching. For example, we used my son’s love of hockey to reinforce long A spelling skills – hit the puck into one net if the word was spelled with /ai/ and another for those with /ay/. Because he viewed this as special one-on-one time, he was able to continue playing hockey by himself afterward.

Finding the balance between providing support and teaching independence is not an easy one, but these are some ways to start. If you need guidance on how to create structure and manage your child’s needs at home, NESCA has providers available for remote consultations. Email info@nesca-newton.com for more information.

 

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.

7 Ways to Build Work-readiness from Your Couch

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

With schools across the country closed, special education and transition services are on hold for millions of young people. Fortunately, there are options for teenagers and young adults of all abilities to build important career planning, work readiness and even paid employment experience from home. Here are some suggestions for teens and young adults to build employment skills from the comfort of home:

  1. Use this time to draft your first resume (or edit an existing one). Even students with no work experience have plenty of information to put on a resume. Minimally, your resume should include your contact information, education to date and any volunteer, informal work activities or paid work experiences you have had. It is also appropriate to include skills and personal qualities, school accomplishments, and extracurricular activities that are nonwork related. Learn more about writing a resume for a part-time job at: https://www.thebalancecareers.com/part-time-job-resume-example-for-a-teen-2063248 and https://www.thebalancecareers.com/high-school-resume-examples-and-writing-tips-2063554.
  2. Take an online career interest test (or 10). There are a number of great free career interest tests available online for students with a variety of reading abilities. Some of the most common free tests include O*Net Interest Profiler, The Holland Code Interest Test and CareerOneStop’s Interest Assessment. Residents in Massachusetts can access many assessments online at the MassHire Career Information System. When inventory results are provided, each web site typically includes information about exploring ideas and careers further.
  3. Remotely learn about jobs of interest. Many students learn best experientially and, while current times prevent activities like job shadowing and internships, you can still virtually explore jobs of interest by watching career videos. Some web sites that offer a wide range of employment videos include Career One Stop Career Cluster Video Series, DrKit.org or MassCIS locally.
  4. Practice phone and video skills, including interview skills. While text messaging and social media communications may be better for connecting with friends, phone and video conferencing skills are increasingly important for seeking and maintaining employment. Take this opportunity to pick up the phone and call family members and friends. Build and practice video conference skills with platforms like Facetime, Skype, Google Duo and zoom.us. You can also download apps like Job Interview Question-Answer to work on video interview skills.
  5. Use the time to improve typing and digital literacy skills. Even if you have been taking notes on an iPad, Chromebook or computer for years, you can further improve your typing skills. One free web site that we like is com. To build Google or Microsoft Suite skills, check out other free resources like GFCGlobal and https://usefyi.com/g-suite-training/. You may even want to enroll in certification courses to build your credentials.
  6. Become a virtual volunteer. Whether you are trying to keep moving on your school’s volunteer hours requirement, looking for a meaningful way to spend time or want to beef up your resume, virtual volunteerism offers a great opportunity to use time at home meaningfully. To learn more about virtual volunteerism, check out this blog by GoodWill Industries or this lengthy resource assembled by Jayne Cravens at Finding Online Volunteering.
  7. Apply for a remote job. While employment trends are not clear, there are still companies hiring across the globe. Research and apply for remote and work-from-home positions, such as the examples listed here on The Penny Hoarder.

 

 

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

About the Author:

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

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

Planning and Preparing for College from Home during Covid-19

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

While college in the United States is looking quite different for student’s currently enrolled, many (but not all) high school juniors across the country participated in SAT testing yesterday morning in preparation for their college application process. For teenagers–who have natural difficulties thinking ahead and anticipating consequences–being stuck at home may feel particularly tedious and taxing.

Here are some suggestions for teens that may help to use the time productively and get ahead on next year’s college search and admissions process:

  1. Use this time to draft a college application resume that includes information about your co-curricular and extracurricular activities, employment and volunteer experiences, skills, achievements and awards, summer activities, and any hobbies or interests. Try to include all of the experiences you have had throughout the year (ask your parents if you cannot remember everything you have done). You may not end up providing this directly to a college, but it will be useful when you request recommendations, complete applications, and need to put together a resume for employment. Learn more about building a college application resume at The Balance Careers.
  2. Hop on some college search engines and go through a few search processes. Search engines can help you to think about what characteristics matter to you and which selection criteria are less important. If you happen to find a school that you want to research further, even better. Some of the search engines we like include: BigFuture, Cappex, and Collegedata. There are lots of popular engines and you should pick what works for you.
  3. Take virtual college campus tours to explore colleges of interest and to begin to familiarize yourself with college daily life and vocabulary. Look at admissions sites for tour information or join a site like YouVisit. Learn more about virtual tours in this US News Article: How to Make the Most of Virtual College Tours.
  4. Practice your interview skills! There are lots of great web sites with sample interview questions (e.g., ThoughtCo.com, BigFuture). Practice with a friend via video chat (e.g., Facetime, Google, Skype, Messenger) or record yourself.
  5. Write a practice or rough draft college essay. Common App Essay Prompts remain the same from one year to the next and has already announced that first-year essay prompts will remain the same for next application season. Check those out here: https://www.commonapp.org/apply/essay-prompts

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

About the Author:

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

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