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.



How Do I Know If My Child Needs Early Intervention?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By Miranda Milana, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

During the first few years of life, parents and caregivers are often tracking baby’s exciting first milestones, such as their first steps or first words. Routine well-child visits at the pediatrician’s office will often include the doctor asking what new skills you have noticed since baby’s last visit—Are they sitting unsupported yet? Crawling? Saying Mama or Dada? It can be stressful when your child is not yet meeting their milestones. It can be especially challenging when you notice they may be behind their peers at childcare or when around same-aged children at family functions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a great resource to utilize as reference for what is expected of children by age. You can access more information here: or through their developmental milestone checklist.

What are age-appropriate milestones?

At a glance, several notable milestones listed by the CDC are as follows:

6 months:

  • Recognize familiar caregivers
  • Reach for toys/objects of interest
  • Roll from their belly to their back

9 months:

  • Respond when you call their name
  • Smile/laugh in response to interactive games, such as peek-a-boo
  • Babble (mama or dada)
  • Bang objects together
  • Sit on their on

1 year:

  • Call their parent by name (e.g., mama or dada)
  • Pull themselves up to stand
  • Walk while holding on to furniture

18 months:

  • Point to show you something interesting
  • Following one-step directions
  • Imitating your actions (e.g., putting on makeup, vacuuming, hammering)
  • Walking unassisted
  • Climbing on and off couches and chairs without support

2 years:

  • Look to you for your reactions in new situations
  • Putting two words together, such as “more milk”
  • Using gestures like nodding/shaking their head
  • Running
  • Eating with a spoon

Should you have any concerns regarding your child’s development, talk to their pediatrician! Your baby may qualify for a referral to Early Intervention (EI), which can help them to gain the appropriate skills in a way that supports you, your child, and your family.

What is EI?

EI is a federal grant program that was established in order to identify children at risk for developmental delays and to help families meet their children’s needs and maximize their potential. EI serves children ages 0-3 and provides a multitude of services depending on a child’s needs. Referrals for EI can be made by caregivers and/or providers for children who are exhibiting delays in their developmental milestones OR for children who have a medical condition that places them at risk for a developmental delay. EI referrals can be made as early as birth for medical conditions, such as prematurity, low birth weight, and Down syndrome. Many children receive referrals for EI from their parents, pediatricians, and/or childcare providers when there are observable delays in meeting speech milestones, motor milestones, speech milestones, and/or social milestones.

Who qualifies for EI?

Once referred to EI, your child will likely undergo a developmental evaluation. They will qualify for services if they have a diagnosed medical condition with a risk for developmental delays OR a delay in one or more areas of development of at least 30% OR a delay in one or more areas at least 1.5 standard deviations below the norm OR there is a questionable quality of skills based on the informed clinical opinion of the multidisciplinary team. Children can also meet criteria if there is a risk for delays due to four or more child or family risk factors (e.g., NICU stay, feeding challenges, chronic illness of a caregiver, lack of social supports for the caregiver).

At the end of the day, you know your child best. If you have concerns, reach out to their pediatrician. You can also reach out to a local EI provider on your own. In MA: In NH:


About the Author

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

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

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

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


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 or call 617-658-9800.


To book an appointment with Dr. Miranda Milana, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email or call 617-658-9800.


Changes to the Developmental Milestones Guidelines Cause Confusion and Conflict

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By Olivia Rogers, MA, CF-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist, NESCA

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated guidelines for developmental milestones in the Learn the Signs. Act Early program for the first time since its initial release in 2004. This program provides free checklists of developmental milestones and outlines warning signs of developmental delays in the following areas: social/emotional, language/communication, cognition, and movement/physical.

One of the biggest CDC developmental milestone changes involves language development. Since 2004, the CDC has stated a 24-month-old should have a vocabulary of 50 words. Now, that milestone of 50 words has been pushed back to 30-months-old. This new standard clashes with the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) guidance, which states that saying fewer than 50 words at 24 months is a potential red flag for a language delay or disorder.

Confusion regarding the recent changes may impact the (already) difficult decision that many parents are faced with in the first few years of their child’s life: whether or not to seek professional support for their child.

Despite the changes to the outlined milestones, the intentions behind this checklist remain consistent—early identification and intervention is key. When it comes to your child’s speech and language development, we suggest not taking the “wait and see” approach. The first three years of your child’s life—when the brain is developing and maturing—is the most intensive period for acquiring key speech and language skills.

Though children vary in their development of speech and language skills, they do follow a natural progression for mastering these skills of language. If you’re worried your child isn’t meeting milestones and wondering when the right time or the best age is for speech/language therapy, take action sooner than later. Contact a local speech-language pathologist. The earlier a child is identified with a delay, the better, as treatment and learning interventions can begin.

We urge parents to follow their instincts and seek guidance when there is a concern. You will either get much needed help for your child or peace of mind, and your local speech-language pathologists are happy to help.

If your pre-school-aged child is having difficulty with any of the following, concerns can be addressed through a speech/language assessment and/or therapy:

  • Saying first words or combining words into sentences
  • Using gestures
  • Naming and describing objects, ideas, and experiences
  • Pronouncing words or being understood by family or others
  • Interacting socially or playing with others
  • Understanding words, concepts, or gestures
  • Listening, following directions, or answering questions
  • Knowing how to take turns when talking or playing with others
  • Using correct grammar, such as pronouns and verb forms


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, January 31). CDC’s Developmental Milestones. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. (2000). Speech and Language Developmental Milestones. NIH Publication No. 00-4781.


About the Author

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

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

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


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


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


Appreciating and Responding to The New York Times article, For Some Teens, It’s Been a Year of Anxiety and Trips to the E.R. by Benedict Carey

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

As an occupational therapist working almost exclusively with teenagers and young adults over the past year, the title of Benedict Carey’s article jumped out at me like a tired and worn flag, waving frantically for acknowledgement. Our teens are anxious, tired, and dealing with living through the proverbial “unprecedented times” without the developmental capabilities needed to quickly adapt in this era of remote learning, remote social interaction, and remote extracurriculars. Remote everything!

It is important for me to note that I really enjoy working with teenagers. I find myself in constant awe of their resiliency, their willingness to confront hard truths that many of us shy away from, and their ability to push forward despite having huge questions about who they truly are. All of these things are tough and require immense emotional fortitude, but this year many of these challenges feel impossible.

Carey has taken the time to gather perspectives from multiple stakeholders. He provides a platform for parents, educators, professors, therapists, pediatricians, and directors of hospital programs to explain the struggles of supporting these kids without adequate resources. Parents describe the fear of supporting their children as they struggle with mental health. Doctors discuss the frustration of having inadequate resources and support in emergency rooms around the country. Carey highlights that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the proportion of adolescent emergency admissions for mental problems, like panic and anxiety, is up 31 percent. Some of my clients add to this statistic and are navigating their own path through chaotic hospitalizations and overwhelmed support systems. Carey’s article is absolutely worth taking the time to read, if only to see the ubiquity of these issues and how they are happening all around our country. Simply put, we have a clear problem. Less clear, is the solution.

When meeting with adolescents and young adults themselves, I hear three main fears popping up week after week. Here are a few thoughts and suggestions on how to support these specific fears or feelings.

  1. “I can’t get this done, (and therefore) I am going to completely ruin my future.”

When looking at future success through a transition lens, we consider the areas of independent living, community participation, post-secondary education, and employment. In the school setting, most students’ curricula are focused solely on academic success. Sometimes, we do a poor job of teaching students about multiple intelligences or emphasizing the importance of hard work. While grades are important, they are not everything, and while standardized testing is returning to students’ schedules, they should not serve as students’ measure of self-worth. We know this, but do they? We have to teach our children that if they are hardworking, kind, and truly doing their best, the threat of “ruining their future” is much less likely than they fear. Let’s highlight the undeniably true narrative that everyone’s path can look different and still lead to success.

  1. “I’m so tired. All of the time.”

Many of my clients tell me they are not sleeping. If they are sleeping, they fall asleep late with a phone in their hand, constantly refreshing apps or trying to maintain communication with their peers. In our current remote world, the phone can feel like a lifeline. Sleep is a foundational need for mental and physical health. Students who are 15 or 16 years old often have a limited understanding of how holistic the effects of decreased sleep can be. Sleep is not their priority. Recently, I have seen parents disable the internet or have their teenagers put their phones into a lockbox from midnight until 6:00am. This new boundary is often met with anger or frustration at the beginning, but then these students start to sleep. They are better able to manage their emotions. They have more energy. They start to see the benefits despite their skepticism. If a tech break doesn’t feel quite right for your family, it is still worth opening up a conversation about the need for strong sleep hygiene and modeling a routine that promotes calming down by limiting screens before bed, which can have hugely positive effects.

  1. “This is never going to end.”

In many ways, a year feels much longer to a 17 year-old than it does to an older adult. Working at a job for four years never feels as long or as formative as the four years of high school. And objectively, a year to a 17 year-old is over five percent of their life, while it’s only two percent of 50 year old’s life. Let’s acknowledge that. Let’s verbalize the fact that teenage years are also full of milestones that have been constantly cancelled or changed to fit social distancing recommendations and safety precautions. There is a sense of loss and grief surrounding many events that these students have been looking forward to since elementary school. Encourage students to do their own research into what the next six months may look like as we start to open back up. Help them to understand the vaccine rollout and the pitfalls and successes that we have had as a nation tackling a novel disease.

Adolescent mental health is going to be an on-going challenge that we tackle as a community. As we slowly forge out of isolation, let’s center our conversations around the mental health of our teens and honestly acknowledge the unique position that they have found themselves in.


Carey, B. (2021, February 23). For some teens, it’s been a year of anxiety and trips to the e.r. The New York Times.

Leeb, R.T., Radhakrishnan, L., Martinez, P., Njaj, R., Holland, K.M. (2020, October 27). Mental health-related emergency department visits among children aged <18 during the covid-19 pandemic. MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2020:1675-1680. DOI:


About the Author

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


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


What Does Autism Look Like? Exploring the Differences among Girls and Boys

By | NESCA Notes 2019


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

In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that approximately 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Boys are still four times more likely be diagnosed with ASD; however, research indicates that the diagnosis is often missed in girls, especially those who have average intelligence and “milder” forms of ASD. To understand why ASD is more often missed in girls, let’s explore the differences between boys and girls with ASD. This discussion will focus on children with average to above average intelligence (about 50% of all children diagnosed with ASD).


Boys Girls
Poor impulse control, more acting out Likely to be quiet and withdrawn
Disruptive behaviors in the classroom setting Tend to be reserved and cooperative at school
Frequent repetitive motor behaviors that are directly observable Lower frequency of these motor behaviors
Lack of interest in imaginary play Very much engaged in imaginary play
Restricted interests may seem unusual – e.g., train schedules, maps, windmills Restricted interests may seem “age appropriate” – e.g., horses, unicorns, ballet
Trouble making friends Might have a few friends
Likely to exhibit angry outbursts when frustrated/anxious Likely to engage in self-harm or other behaviors that are not observed by others when frustrated/anxious
Lack of awareness of being different or not fitting in More motivated to fit in and “hide” social difficulties – might try to imitate the behavior of a peer that is perceived as popular


Due to these differences, the diagnosis of ASD is often missed in young girls. Adults might agree that a girl is “odd” or “quirky,” but dismiss these concerns because she has good eye contact, has some friends, and does not engage in hand flapping or other unusual behaviors. Unfortunately, other girls might be misdiagnosed, which could lead to ineffective or inappropriate treatment interventions. Most commonly, they might be misdiagnosed with ADHD or Anxiety Disorder.

In many cases, girls with ASD have increasing difficulties with social interactions as they get older and demands get higher. A young girl with ASD might be able to “get by” in social interactions but by the time she reaches adolescence, she is not able to navigate the intricacies of the social milieu. This can lead to social isolation and high risk of being bullied or rejected by peers.

Unfortunately, a missed diagnosis of ASD for a young girl can have long-reaching ramifications. She might experience depression, anxiety and/or low self-esteem, wondering why she doesn’t “fit in” and “feels different” from other girls. She might start to struggle in school or disconnect from activities that she used to enjoy. Moreover, missing the diagnosis in childhood means that she did not receive services to support her social and peer interaction skills during her formative years.

As always, when parents or other caregivers have concerns about a child’s development, it is important to seek an evaluation from a professional. And if the findings do not feel quite right, parents should never feel uncomfortable about seeking a second opinion.


About the Author: 

Erin Gibbons, Ph.D. is a pediatric neuropsychologist with expertise in neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological assessment of infants,

children, and adolescents presenting with developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorders. She has a particular interest in assessing students with complex medical histories and/or neurological impairments, including those who are cognitively delayed, nonverbal, or physically disabled. Dr. Gibbons joined NESCA in 2011 after completing a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in the Developmental Medicine Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. She particularly enjoys working with young children, especially those who are transitioning from Early Intervention into preschool. Having been trained in administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), Dr. Gibbons has experience diagnosing autism spectrum disorders in children aged 12 months and above.


If you are interested in booking an evaluation with Dr. Gibbons or another NESCA neuropsychologist, please fill out and submit our online intake form


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