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The Importance of Building Grit

By | NESCA Notes 2024

By: Alissa Talamo, PhD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Michael Jordan

 “Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another.”

– Angela Duckworth, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

What is it that separates those who succeed and those who give up? Is it talent? Is it luck? In the book, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” psychologist Angela Duckworth examined why some people are more successful than others, and she concluded that the common denominator is ‘grit.’ She defines grit as “passion and perseverance for long-term goals” and notes that “bouncing back from failure turns out to be one of the best lessons a kid can learn.” While we, as parents, sometimes focus on academic success to help our children succeed, Angela Duckworth believes that grit “matters more to a child’s ability to reach his full potential than intelligence, skill, or even grades.” Research into grit also finds that, unlike IQ, which is relatively fixed, grit is something everyone can develop.

While some children seem to be naturally grittier than others, we can help our children develop the habits of persistence and perseverance that will allow them opportunities to be successful in whatever it is they feel passionate about. So, how do we help our children develop the ability to push through when things get hard, recognize that making a mistake is an opportunity to learn rather than a ‘failure,’ and stay focused on goals even during times of disappointment?

One important thing parents and teachers can do is to model and encourage goal setting. It is important to encourage children to set realistic and achievable short-term goals, so that they can experience small successes that will keep them motivated to reach their long-term goals. For example, a short-term goal could be to practice the piano for 20 minutes per day with the long-term goal of participating in the school talent show.

As parents or caregivers, we tend to want to ‘fix’ things for our children, or make the path easier for them, but to truly develop grit, a child must be provided opportunities to attempt difficult things. According to Duckworth, “It has to be something that requires discipline to practice,” and she reminds parents to remember that the actual activity doesn’t matter as much as the effort, and that it is effort that should be rewarded over achievement.

It is also important to model to children that success does not occur right away, that practice and perseverance are needed, and that learning something new is hard but that does not mean they will not be good at it. Additionally, when a child does come across a problem, rather than solve the problem for them, encourage them to figure out a way to solve it themselves. According to Paul Tough, author of “How Children Succeed,” “It’s so much more powerful for a child to be able to deal with adversity and overcome it. What the child takes from that experience is, ‘Hey, I can solve things.’”

Most importantly, children learn what they see, so demonstrate to your child that you are able to take on tasks that are sometimes scary. And while sometimes you may have difficulty with those tasks or even fail to complete them, your ability to persevere, problem solve, and bounce back from these experiences will go far in allowing children to believe that they also can try hard things, that failing is not a lack of success but a stepping stone to gaining a skill, and that perseverance and grit are traits that will serve them well as they continue to grow and develop.

Sources:

https://www.scholastic.com/parents/family-life/social-emotional-learning/social-skills-for-kids/power-defeat-how-to-raise-kid-grit.

https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2021,Grit and academic achievement: A comparative cross-cultural meta-analysis

“Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” Angela Duckworth, Scribner, 2016

“How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character,” Paul Tough, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012

 

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 college-aged daughter.

To book a consultation with Dr. Talamo 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, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; the greater Burlington, Vermont region; and Brooklyn, New York (coaching services only) serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Is My Child Neurodivergent, and What Does That Mean?

By | NESCA Notes 2024

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

One of society’s leading sources of information is social media, which can be an excellent source of information and support. Parents may turn to social media when they notice their child struggling, trying to find others with similar concerns or answers about why their child seems “different.” Additionally, many children, adolescents, and young adults who feel different or out of place seek and find people or ideas that resonate with them online. While it may put them at ease, it often leads parents and their children to question if there is a diagnosis that will help them understand their child or themselves. Increasingly, people are asking if it is autism or another neurodivergent condition.

Neurodivergence is a term used to describe individuals whose brains function differently from what is considered typical. Neurodivergence is a broad term describing neurodevelopmental disorders present at birth and lasting throughout one’s life. Identifying if your child is neurodivergent can be the first step in understanding their unique strengths and challenges. There are numerous neurodivergent conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and others, each with their own characteristics and support needs.

Recognizing signs of neurodivergence in children can vary depending on the specific condition, but some common indicators include:

  • Difficulty with social interactions and communication
  • Repetitive behaviors or intense interests
  • Sensory sensitivities or aversions
  • Challenges with attention and focus
  • Delayed speech or language development
  • Difficulties with organization and planning
  • Impulsivity or hyperactivity
  • Unusual reactions to sensory stimuli
  • Emotional regulation difficulties
  • Learning and academic challenges

Observing patterns of behavior, communication, and sensory processing in your child can help indicate if they may be neurodivergent. Seeking a professional evaluation from a psychologist or developmental specialist can provide a more accurate diagnosis and guidance on supporting your child effectively. It is essential to remember that neurodivergence is not a label or limitation but a spectrum of diverse traits and abilities that contribute to the richness of human experience. By recognizing and embracing neurodiversity, society can benefit from the unique perspectives, talents, and contributions of individuals with diverse neurological profiles. Proper diagnosis, support, understanding, and accommodation are essential in helping neurodivergent individuals thrive and succeed in their lives.

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia (Cindy) Hess conducts neuropsychological evaluations as a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. Dr. Hess enjoys working with children and young adults with complex emotional and behavioral profiles. She is skilled at evaluating social and emotional challenges as well as a range of learning profiles. Her experience allows her to guide families in understanding the supports and services their child requires to be successful in school.

 

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, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; and staff in the greater Burlington, Vermont region and Brooklyn, New York, serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Redshirting: Pros and Cons of Delaying a Child’s Entry to Kindergarten

By | NESCA Notes 2024

By: Alissa Talamo, PhD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Redshirting is a phrase that has traditionally been associated with college athletics, such as when coaches “redshirt” first-year athletes, providing younger athletes an additional year to develop skills and extend their playing eligibility. Academically, redshirting your child means choosing to delay kindergarten for a year even though your child is technically old enough to attend kindergarten.

Current research suggests there are pros and cons to redshirting kindergarten depending upon your child’s development and needs. One advantage of redshirting is the opportunity for the child to develop emotional maturity. While some students are ready academically, they may not be ready emotionally. This difference becomes particularly notable in the middle school and high school years, as a year difference in age (or almost two years if some students have been redshirted and your child is young for their grade), can lead to exposure to topics and behaviors your child is not emotionally ready for.

However, if your child has an identified or suspected disability, or you feel they may need extra help in school, you may not want to redshirt, as doing so would result in delay of necessary services provided free through the public schools (e.g., occupational or speech therapy, specialized academic instruction), which research finds to have a meaningful impact on improving a student’s long-term outcome. Additionally, if redshirted, a child loses up to a year of special education eligibility at the other end of their school experience if a student has significant disabilities covered under the IDEA, as those services end based on age (e.g., special education rights end at the age of 22 in Massachusetts).

To help you make an informed decision, it is also recommended that you speak with your child’s preschool teacher in addition to any professionals (e.g., speech therapist or psychologist) working with your child. You may also want to consider meeting with an educational consultant who specializes in this area. Finally, you may consider a neuropsychological evaluation to gain a better understanding of your child’s strengths and challenges as well as to obtain educational recommendations.

Clearly, there is no right or wrong answer to redshirting in kindergarten. It is highly dependent on a child’s level of development and needs. Parents are encouraged to watch for signs of readiness, such as the ability of their child to communicate and listen well, follow instructions, and be able to sit and focus for 10-15 minutes at a time. Also, having a good understanding of your child’s developmental profile (language skills, self-regulation skills, social skills, etc.) can help a parent make an educated decision.

 

Sources

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/

https://cepa.stanfod.edu

 

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 college-aged daughter.

To book a consultation with Dr. Talamo 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, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; the greater Burlington, Vermont region; and Brooklyn, New York (coaching services only) serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Navigating Screen Time: Understanding the Impact on Child Development

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

At school, we have had increasing difficulty with children refusing to leave their car at drop-off because they are on their tablets and do not want to stop what they are doing to go to school. Screen time has long been discussed regarding how much is too much and recommendations offered for limiting screen time. Now, with mobile devices, screens can be taken anywhere. Furthermore, there is never a shortage of entertaining options to engage with, from games like Minecraft, Roblox, and Fortnite to YouTube, all of which draw children in and make it difficult to stop. This article aims to provide a nuanced exploration of the impact of screen time on child development. While screen time is not inherently negative, it requires thoughtful management and consideration, particularly in the context of the developmental needs of children.

Screens are pervasive in daily life and have become integrated into the fabric of 21st century family dynamics, mostly due to the numerous ways of engaging with screens. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), children between the ages of eight to 12 spend at least four to six hours a day watching or using screens. According to Common Sense Media, children between birth and eight spend an average of two and one-half hours per day, with children two and under spending approximately 49 minutes on average. While screens can teach and entertain, too much may lead to problems.

Excessive screen time can have a variety of effects on child development. These effects can be physical, cognitive, emotional, and social, and vary depending on the content and purpose of screen time. The is largely due to what children are not doing when they are using screens. Extended periods of screen time can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, which can lead to obesity, poor posture, and disrupted sleep patterns. In terms of cognitive development, overuse of screens with fast-paced and visually stimulating content can overwhelm a child’s developing brain and potentially affect attention span, impulse control, and the ability to concentrate.  It can also impede the development of language and communication skills. When children spend too much time in front of screens, they may have fewer opportunities to engage in real-life conversations and interactions, which are crucial for language development. And, while educational content can have benefits, excessive screen time can still disrupt the learning process. It may lead to reduced engagement with traditional forms of learning and limit a child’s ability to exercise critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

It is important to note that not all screen time is detrimental. Age-appropriate and high-quality content, as well as supervised and interactive screen time, can have educational and social benefits. Additionally, technology can be a valuable tool for learning and creativity when used in moderation and with parental guidance. Parent and caregivers can help mitigate the potential negative effects of screen time by setting limits, monitoring content, and encouraging a balanced lifestyle that includes a variety of activities, such as physical play, reading, and face-to-face interactions. Sometimes the best conversations happen in the car.

References:

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia (Cindy) Hess conducts neuropsychological evaluations as a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. Dr. Hess enjoys working with children and young adults with complex emotional and behavioral profiles. She is skilled at evaluating social and emotional challenges as well as a range of learning profiles. Her experience allows her to guide families in understanding the supports and services their child requires to be successful in school.

 

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, 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.

 

Private Neuropsychological Evaluation vs. School Evaluation

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

While both a school evaluation and a private neuropsychological evaluation often provide valuable information, there are some considerable differences. The primary purpose of a school evaluation is to determine whether or not a student presents with a disability that impairs their ability to access the curriculum and fully participate in the academic and social life of the school. Once a student has been referred for special education, the special education team convenes to determine if, when, and how the student should be evaluated. They decide which instruments will be used for the assessment and who will be responsible for administering them. For example, if a student is referred for a suspected disability, a school psychologist conducts a cognitive evaluation, and a special education teacher will administer an academic assessment. A speech and language, physical therapy, functional behavior, or occupational therapy evaluation may be requested as well. After testing, each specialist writes their report and presents their results individually.

When a student participates in a private neuropsychological evaluation, the parents and student work closely with the evaluator through the entire process, from the intake to feedback and beyond. While there are certainly very comprehensive school evaluations, the information obtained by the evaluators is rarely integrated and instead presented as separate evaluations. This does not allow for a complete understanding of how deficits (or strengths) impact functioning across domains, especially when the child has complex challenges. A comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation is comprised of many elements. Most evaluations consist of a detailed developmental and family history, cognitive, academic, learning and memory (auditory and visual) assessment, visual-spatial and graphical motor skills, and attention and executive function. Depending on the referral question, the evaluation may include reviews of social skills and adaptive functioning or specific measures to assist with making a differential diagnosis. Generally, the assessment is conducted by a single evaluator. The data, including data from prior testing, is synthesized into a detailed report with specific recommendations for school, home, and community life when appropriate.

There are undeniably circumstances when a thorough school evaluation is beneficial. School evaluators have opportunities to observe students at school and consult with their teachers, which can be advantageous (although observations may be requested or necessary to complete a thorough private evaluation, too). School team members also have many opportunities to collaborate when evaluating and working with students. However, school personnel are limited in their ability to integrate data across disciplines, provide diagnoses, and directly assess medical conditions, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and complex challenges, such as dyslexia and nonverbal learning disability (NLD). Additionally, while some parents establish a good working relationship with members of the special education team, they do not have the opportunity to develop a long-term, collaborative relationship with the evaluator as they would when a private evaluation is obtained.

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. 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, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

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

 

Why Kids Need to Outdoor Free Play

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

One of the best ways to make the most of your summer is to get outside and engage in lots of outdoor play. We live in a society where we tend to over-schedule ourselves and our children. Particularly during the school year, this makes it very difficult for children to get the amount of free play that they require. With this, I’m going to tell you five great reasons why you should throw away your schedule, put down the tablet, and get outside.

The first reason is probably the most obvious. Outdoor play provides great benefits to physical development. It improves motor coordination, strength, and balance, and it puts kids in an overall healthier position.

The next reason to play outside is that there are benefits for internal regulation. Not only does it make kids sleep better at night, but there is research to show that it aids attentional control and stress reduction. Being outdoors also provides kids with different sensory experiences – such as feeling the texture of sand and mud, or feeling the wind blow on your face – which will help to build children’s sensory tolerance.

The next reason to get outside is to improve cognitive development. Being outdoors provides a lot of opportunities to make observations, draw conclusions about things, see cause and effect, and be imaginative.

Next, playing outside aids emotional development. When we are over-scheduled, children do not have the opportunity to feel confident in their ability to step outside of their comfort zone or take risks. Experimenting and taking risks during outdoor play can help children understand that they have some control over what they can do within their environment, as well as begin to recognize boundaries.

Finally, the last reason to get outside is that it really bolsters social development. When there is no structure or there are no rules to follow, kids have to learn how to initiate their interactions, engage in conversation with each other, communicate, problem solve, and find ways to along, even when others have different ideas.

With all of the above benefits, outdoor free play is one of the best things you can give to your child. So as the weather is getting nicer and summer is fast approaching, if you are looking for something to do, sometimes it is best to just put down your schedule, get outside, and get dirty.

 

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.

Screen Time’s Impact on Child Development and How Play Can Be One Solution

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

The pandemic has made the already complex job of parenting even more challenging. With parents having to balance working from home and remote learning, many families relied on screens for learning, socialization, and entertainment. Questions about screen time and the impact on child development were already hot topics in our digital age, but the pandemic brought about new and perhaps more compelling concerns.

It is common for children of all ages to engage with digital devices. Even prior to the pandemic, approximately 80% of parents reported that their child between the ages of five and 11 interacted with a tablet or computer, and 63% used a smartphone. For children under the age of five, 48% engaged with a tablet or computer, and 55% with a smartphone (pewresearch.org, July 2020).

While screens are an inevitable part of 21st century life, too much screen time can have a detrimental impact on child development. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children younger than two years of age. Older children should limit their screen time to no more than one or two hours a day. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, too much screen time can be linked to:

  • Obesity
  • Irregular sleep
  • Behavioral problems
  • Impaired academic performance
  • Desensitization to violence
  • Less time for play

It has been established that excessive screen time may lead to obesity due to inactivity and increased snacking that often coincides with screen use. Using screens too close to bedtime may disrupt the body’s biological preparation for sleep, making it difficult to fall asleep and disrupting sleep schedules. Research has shown that elementary school students who spend more than two hours a day watching TV, playing video games or using a computer or smartphone are more likely to have emotional, social, and attention problems. Furthermore, increased time spent on screens results in less time available for learning and practicing skills important for academic and social development. Such skills include, but are not limited to, managing emotions and behavior, paying attention, solving problems effectively and independently, dealing with conflict, and resilience. So, what is the remedy? Limited screen time and more opportunities for play.

The benefits of play are almost limitless. Play is brain building and leads to changes in even the smallest structures. Play develops skills in planning and organization, cooperation, self-control, and communication. Often play involves trying and failing, and learning from mistakes, which enhances children’s capacity for solving problems and learning to focus attention, ultimately promoting the growth of executive functioning skills. Play also provides opportunities for learning to cope with adversity, resulting in increased resilience. There are many great blog articles on NESCA’s website offering information and tips for engaging in play and its benefits. They are written from a range of perspectives, which aids in understanding the wide-ranging value of play.

References:

https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2020/07/28/parenting-children-in-the-age-of-screens/

https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/119/1/182/70699/The-Importance-of-Play-in-Promoting-Healthy-Child

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. 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, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

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

 

Therapeutic Toy Guide to Promote Skill-building

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Jessica Hanna MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist, NESCA

It’s that time of year when parents and loved ones are looking for the perfect gift. As pediatric occupational therapists, we are often asked about our recommendations for the best toys and activities that encourage learning and the development of specific skills. During an occupational therapy session, toys and games are used with people across the life span for many reasons. The biggest reason is to bring joy and develop confidence while simultaneously working on skill-building in areas that require getting and maintaining attention in an effort to improve and develop independence in functional tasks.

Play and exploration of games and toys are for those of all ages. The right toy and game can be used to develop new skills and strengthen and refine learned skills.

Skills addressed through play and active exploration:

  • Attention and concentration
  • Balance
  • Coordination skills
  • Core strength
  • Executive functioning
  • Emotional regulation
  • Fine motor skills
  • Gross motor skills
  • Handwriting
  • Imaginative play
  • Motor planning
  • Sensory motor needs
  • Visual perceptual skills

How many times have you endlessly scrolled online looking for the best-fit gift, wondering if it will be one more item that ends up collecting dust on a shelf? How often do you wish a toy store existed like when we were kids, instead of walking down the same small toy aisle at the local department store and leaving with nothing? Or having to weed through page after page of online stores and catalogs?

Below is a helpful guide to therapeutic games and toys that focus on a couple of specific skill areas. Most of the games included can fall into more than one skill area, depending on how it’s used.

Coordination Skills – Skills that help develop body control and awareness. Bilateral coordination is the ability to use both sides of your body together in a coordinated way, and hand-eye coordination is when the eyes guide the hands in movement.

3 + years

  • EleFun (Hasbro)
  • Feed the Woozle
  • Kids Magnetic Fishing Games (iPlay, iLearn)
  • Instrument toys
  • Marble Run
  • Target activities
  • The Yoga Garden Game
  • Wooden Balance Board
  • Zoom Ball

6 + years

  • Bob it
  • BucketBall
  • Kan Jam
  • Klask
  • Rev balance board
  • Ring Toss
  • Simon
  • Spike Ball
  • Throw the Burrito
  • Twister

Executive Functioning Skills The ability to sustain attention, organize and plan, initiate and complete, problem solve and regulate emotions.

3 + years

  • Bee Genius (MUKIKIM)
  • Bunny Hop (Educational Insights)
  • Cootie
  • Create-A-Burger (Lakeshore)
  • Dino Escape
  • Don’t Break the Ice
  • Frankie’s Food Truck Fiasco Game
  • iPlay, iLearn Kids Magnetic Fishing Games
  • Hoot Owl Hoot
  • Movement Memory

 6+ years

  • Battleship
  • Checkers
  • Chess
  • DogPile
  • Distraction
  • Gravity Maze
  • Life Junior
  • Monopoly
  • Outfoxed
  • Rush Hour (Think Fun)

Fine Motor Skills – The ability to control the small muscles of the hands and fingers. Fine motor development contains many components. Some of those areas include pincer and pre-writing grasp development, hand strength, wrist stability, motor control, and separation of the sides of the hand.

3 + years

  • Alphabet Learning Locks
  • Bee Genius
  • Duplo Sets
  • Forest Friends Playset (Lakeshore)
  • Light table pegs and pegboard (Lakeshore)
  • Magnet Alphabet Maze
  • Noodle Knockout!
  • Pegcasso Build and Drill
  • Poke-a-Dot: Old MacDonald’s Farm
  • Pop the Pig
  • Woodpecker feeding game (iPlay, iLearn)
  • Snap Dinos (Lakeshore)

6+ years

  • Frankie’s Food Truck Fiasco Game
  • LEGOs
  • Light Brite
  • LiquiPen (Yoya Toys)
  • Mancala
  • Kanoodle
  • Operation
  • Perfection
  • Pictionary
  • Scratch Art
  • Shelby’s Snack Shack Game
  • Trouble

Sensory Play – The opportunity to receive sensory input through play. It can foster listening skills and body awareness, encourage tactile exploration and risk-taking, and promote a calming and alert state of being.

3+ years

  • Bean bags
  • Kinetic Sand
  • Monkey Noodle
  • What’s in Ned’s Head?
  • Playdoh
  • Pop Fidgets
  • Squishmellos
  • Scooter boards
  • Sit and Spin
  • Trampoline

6 + years

  • Aromatherapy
  • Bubble tubes
  • Color mix sensory tubes
  • Doorway Sensory Swing Kit (DreamGym Store)
  • Thinking Putty (scented/glow in the dark)
  • Tent
  • Tunnel
  • Water Beads
  • Weighted blanket
  • LiquiPen (Yoya Toys)

Visual Perception Skills – The ability to make sense of what is being seen. Skills are used to copy information from a board, manipulate items, identify, read, recall info, visually locate things, and write.

3 + years

  • Alphabet Bingo
  • CandyLand
  • Chutes and Ladders
  • Fox in the Box
  • Honeybee Tree
  • Magnatiles
  • Spot-it
  • Pete the Cat- I Love My Buttons Game
  • Puzzles
  • Zingo (Think Fun)

6+ years

  • Connect Four
  • DogPile
  • Guess Who
  • Jenga
  • Kanoodle
  • Klask
  • Let’s Go Code
  • Mancala
  • Perfection
  • Pixy Cubes

This list is just the tip of the iceberg of the many toys and games you will come across. Many toys and games can be therapeutically and easily graded to any individual, no matter the age. The trick is to find the just-right challenge to work on the skill area desired through fun and motivating means. We recommend reaching out to your occupational therapist if you require assistance with either new or older games and toys and how to create the just-right challenge for your child.

 

About the Author

Jessica Hanna has over 10 years of pediatric OT experience in conducting assessments and providing treatment of children and adolescents with a broad range of challenges and disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders, sensory processing disorders, visual impairments, cerebral palsy, executive function deficits and developmental disorders of motor function. Prior to joining NESCA, Jessica trained and worked in a variety of settings, including inpatient and outpatient hospital settings, private practice, schools and homes. She has served on interdisciplinary treatment teams and worked closely with schools, medical staff and other service providers in coordinating care. In addition, Jessica provided occupational therapy services at Perkins School for the Blind and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital pediatric inpatient unit, where she conducted comprehensive evaluations and interventions for children with a broad range of presentations.

 

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

 

Assessing Social Skills Challenges: A Developmental Perspective

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

As parents and teachers, we want the world for our children, and one of the biggest worries is around social development and friendships. This worry is particularly acute when our child has a learning, emotional, or behavioral challenge that affects their functioning in school, the community, and at home. Knowing more about the developmental process and developmental expectations can help to identify challenges and develop appropriate interventions to support growth.

Human Development: A Dynamic Interactional Process

Human development is a dynamic and ongoing process between three factors:

  • the “hard-wired” general road map that governs the emergence and refinement of brain and body systems for all humans
  • the environment in which that development occurs, including relational components, such as availability of consistent attachment figures, threats to physical safety—including war, toxins in the water, etc., and access to resources, such as food, housing, education, and supportive family and friends
  • Unique constellation of the individual learning, temperament, and emotional style that provides resources as well as vulnerabilities

The ways in which these three factors interact can be hard to predict—just look at the difference between siblings who grow up in the same home. Some children are more vulnerable than others by virtue of a temperamental that “runs anxious,” in the words of one of my parents, which causes them to perceive unexpected events as threatening. Another’s vulnerability comes from their difficulties with understanding how social interactions actually work. How much difficulty each one encounters is likely to be calibrated by other elements, such as a consistent, predictable learning and social environment that makes developmentally appropriate demands and provides clear, reasonable (for the child) expectations. This can be a little trickier because vulnerable children are often delayed in their social-emotional development. For this reason, it is important to know more about the stages of friendship to know where your child is and how to help them grow.

The Laboratory of Childhood Social Development: Stages of Children’s Friendships (Robert Selman) This is one of many schemas for the meaning of friendship changes as a child grows and develops. Again, remember that there is a wide range of normal development, and that children with other challenges may move more slowly.

Level 0: Momentary Playmates (approximately 3-7 years old) Proximity is key; friends are people who are nearby and with whom you can have fun. The child assumes that “everyone thinks like me” and assumes that if a playmate has a different opinion, “s/he doesn’t want to be my friend anymore.”

Level 1: One Way Assistance (approximately 6-12 years) Friends are people who do nice things for you, like share a snack. Having a friend is very important, more important than someone being nice to you. Friendship can be used as leverage (“I will/won’t be your friend if…”).

Level 2: Two-Way Fair-Weather Cooperation (approximately 6-12 years) The child can take another’s perspective as well as his/her own—but not at the same time. Fairness and reciprocity become really important in a rigid way (“If I do something nice for you, you must do something nice for me”). Children are very judgmental about themselves and assume that others think the same way about them. Fitting in is also really important, and jealousy can become prominent. It is the time for cliques and secret clubs.

Level 3: Intimate, Mutually Shared Relationships (approximately 11-15 years) Friends are people who help you solve problems and will keep your secrets. They do kind things for you and don’t keep track because they care about each other. Best friends become really important and spend all of their time together. They can feel betrayed if their friend spends time with someone else.

Level 4: Mature Friendship (approximately 12 years-adulthood) Friends place a high value on emotional closeness. Trust and support maintain the relationship, not proximity. Friends accept and even appreciate their differences, and for this reason, they are not as threatened by other relationships.

You will notice as you read through these stages that there some key cognitive skills needed for social development. These include:

  • Self-regulation—the ability to inhibit impulses, control emotional reactions and manage behavioral responses . It also includes the ability to respond flexibly to changing demands.
  • Awareness of Others/Theory of Mind—the ability to recognize the difference between self and other; that other people do not share your thoughts and feelings.
  • Understanding of Norms, Rules, and Conventions—these are the agreed upon boundaries of expected behavior.
  • Perspective taking—the ability to not only recognize that other people do not think the way that you do, but to actually try to understand things from their point of view (“stand in their shoes”).
  • Mutuality-shared appreciation of each other and the reciprocal nature of the relationship.

Assessment: Before trying to intervene to help a child be more successful in making friends, it is important to distinguish between social skills and social competence. Social Skills are the discrete techniques for managing specific social interactions. These could range from maintaining eye contact to starting a conversation. Social Competence has to do with the overall ability to manage the variety of social demands in one’s environment. While we teach social skills, we are aiming for social competence. The criteria for social competence changes as children get older and the demands of their environment increase. This means that while a child may do perfectly well in one social environment, their mismatch in another could cause problems. Therefore, getting a general idea of how your child is thinking about friendship in relation to his peers is an important first step.

A second step in helping children become more socially competent is to figure out what the problem is. These problems can be divided into three general categories:

  • Skill Acquisition—Does the child know what to do? For instance, does the child know the steps to take to initiate conversations?
  • Skill Performance—Does the child have the motivation to perform the steps, and do they know when to do so (context)? For instance, does the child want to start a conversation, and do they know when to do so—like on the playground and not when the teacher is talking.
  • Skill Fluency—While they may know what to do to start a conversation and when to do it, how good are they at it? Can they do it in a timely manner without obvious awkwardness? Is there something else, like anxiety, getting in their way?

The final impediment to learning and using social skills to achieve social competency is the interference caused by anxiety. Anxiety is the experience of feeling unsafe and helpless to control a situation. It sparks a cascade of physiological changes that facilitate the process of escape by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system—when the danger is over, a complementary system takes over (parasympathetic nervous system) to calm things down and return to equilibrium. However, when a child is continuously stressed by, say, an unfriendly school environment, their system never calms down. They become stuck in “threat alert” where any unexpected stimuli is given a negative interpretation and the survival reflexes of “fight/flight/freeze” take over. How to “turn off” the threat alert? Make a child feel safe through a supportive relationship and then teach them the skills they will need to gain more mastery over the situation.

 

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.

What’s the Big Deal about a Pencil Grip?

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Jessica Hanna MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist, NESCA

With kids back in school, drawings, coloring pages, and written work will make their way from the classroom to backpacks and eventually to the fridge for everyone to admire.

From infancy to adulthood, we all hit many milestones in life. Some milestones stand out more than others, but the little ones are no less important. The ability to hold a writing tool is a milestone that moves through various stages from infancy through adulthood. If you get the chance to view and capture each stage along a child’s development, it’s genuinely fascinating!

So, what’s the big deal about the stages involved in holding a writing tool, such as a crayon, marker, or pencil? These stages are the foundation for developing the tiny muscles and arches of the human hand, creating strength and endurance during a writing/drawing activity, and developing stability to manipulate the writing tool to use it the intended way. As humans, we all move through these stages at one point. The progression through each stage is not uniform or standard. The ultimate goal is to reach the ability to hold a writing tool with a functional grasp pattern that promotes adequate speed, accuracy, and legibility without it being the cause of pain or fatigue.

For many kids, achieving fine motor precision and the skill for written output is challenging. However, as NESCA Occupational Therapist Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L, reminds us in her recent post, “Handwriting vs. Typing: Where do we draw the line?,” handwriting is still a valuable life tool.

So, what does the progression of pencil grasp development actually look like?

Primitive Stages – Observed between 12 and 36 months. The art of drawing and coloring is often the first exposure and gateway to children learning how to hold a writing tool. There is all the freedom, no pressure of writing, and no right and wrong to their drawing.

  • Radial Cross Palmer Grasp (Fig a.) – Full arm and shoulder movement is used to move the writing tool. The writing tool is positioned across the palm of the hand, held with a fisted hand, and the forearm is fully pronated with elbow winged high out to the side.
  • Palmer Supinate Grasp (Fig b.) – Full arm and shoulder movement is used to move the writing tool. The writing tool is positioned across the palm of the hand, held with a fisted hand, with slight flexion of the wrist, and the elbow slightly lowered out to the side.
  • Digital Pronate Grasp (Fig c.) – Full arm and shoulder movement used to move the writing tool. Arm and wrist are floating in the air, and only the index finger extends along the writing tool toward the tip.

Schneck, CM, and Henderson (1990)

Children will begin to shift between the various pencil grips as their shoulder and arm muscles become stronger and steadier.

Immature grasp or transitional grip phase – This grip has been observed as young as 2.7 years of age through 6.6 years of age as stated through research (Schneck, CM, and Henderson (1990)).

  • Static Tripod grasp (Fig g.) – The child will use their forearm and wrist movements only keeping fingers stationery and wrists slightly bent. Movement of the hand can be observed as not graceful. The thumb, index and middle finger will work together as the shaft of the pencil is stabilized by the 4th finger.

Ann-Sofie Selin (2003)

Mature grips – There is so much talk about what looks right and what looks wrong. Traditional pencil grips have evolved through time. There have been four pencil grips now classified as a mature grasp pattern. All mature grips use precise finger movement to manipulate a writing tool while keeping the forearm stabilized.

  • Dynamic Tripod Grip (Fig 1) – Previously known as the golden standard of all grips, where the thumb, index, and middle finger function together, while the pencil shaft rests on the middle finger.
  • Dynamic Quadrupod Grip (Fig 2) –The thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers function together while the pencil shaft rests on the ring finger.
  • Lateral Tripod Grip (Fig 3) – The pencil shaft is stabilized by the inner (lateral) side of the thumb and index finger while resting on the middle finger.
  • Lateral Quadrupod Grip (Fig 4) – The pencil shaft is stabilized by the inner (lateral) side of the thumb, index, and middle finger while resting on the ring finger.

Koziatek SM, Powell NJ (2003)

Pencil grips are generally believed to affect handwriting, and awkward pencil grips become the most commonly assumed cause as to why that is (Ann-Sofie Selin, 2003). However, the production of untidy or illegible handwriting does not always correlate to an unusual pencil grip. The most efficient pencil grip for a child is the one that will help them write with speed and legibility, without pain for an extended period of time.

When should a parent, caregiver or educator be concerned?

  • There is pain and excessive pressure on the writing tool by holding on too tight
  • Illegible handwriting
  • Writing speed is compromised
  • Complaint of hand fatigue during writing and coloring activities
  • Holding the pencil with a primitive grasp (e.g., full fist) after 4 years of age
  • White knuckles or hyperextended joints in fingers holding a writing tool
  • Visible flexed wrist and forearm lifted off the writing surface
  • Inability to choose a clear hand preference between ages 4 and 6 years of age
  • Complete avoidance of all drawing or writing activities

If you are concerned about your child’s pencil grip and/or handwriting, an Occupational Therapist can work with you to identify challenging areas and determine next steps. Let us know if we can help support your child.

References

Koziatek SM, Powell NJ. Pencil grips, legibility, and speed of fourth-graders’ writing in cursive. Am J Occup Ther. 2003 May-Jun;57(3):284-8.

Schneck, CM, and Henderson (1990) Descriptive analysis of the developmental progression of grip position for pencil and crayon control in nondysfunctional children. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 44, (10) 893 – 900

Ann-Sofie Selin (2003). Pencil Grip: A Descriptive Model and Four Empirical Studies. Åbo Akademi University Press.

 

About the Author

Jessica Hanna has over 10 years of pediatric OT experience in conducting assessments and providing treatment of children and adolescents with a broad range of challenges and disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders, sensory processing disorders, visual impairments, cerebral palsy, executive function deficits and developmental disorders of motor function. Prior to joining NESCA, Jessica trained and worked in a variety of settings, including inpatient and outpatient hospital settings, private practice, schools and homes. She has served on interdisciplinary treatment teams and worked closely with schools, medical staff and other service providers in coordinating care. In addition, Jessica provided occupational therapy services at Perkins School for the Blind and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital pediatric inpatient unit, where she conducted comprehensive evaluations and interventions for children with a broad range of presentations.

 

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