Tag

children

My child is nonverbal. Should I still get a neuropsychological evaluation?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

The short answer to this question is YES. As a neuropsychologist, I enjoy evaluating students who have complex profiles, including intellectual/developmental disabilities, genetic conditions, and medical complexities. In many cases, these students have been deemed “untestable” and have never had a comprehensive evaluation.

This is problematic for two major reasons.

  • First, we cannot understand a student’s potential if we have no data or assessments available. Following from this, it is very hard to develop realistic and measurable goals without using the student’s innate potential to guide those goals.
  • Second, lack of testing causes practical and logistical problems later in the student’s life. As a child approaches adulthood at 18, it is necessary to have documentation of their cognitive and adaptive skills as well as diagnoses in order to seek adult services. More specifically, the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) requires documentation of intellectual disabilities prior to age 18.

Having assessed thousands of children and adolescents over the years, I’ve learned that I can ALWAYS gather important information from a neuropsychological evaluation. I have evaluated students who are nonverbal, students with severe intellectual disabilities, students with limited to no motor abilities, students with vision and hearing impairments, students with severely challenging behaviors…. In every case, a neuropsychological evaluation has been meaningful and useful in terms of A) understanding the student’s capabilities, and B) developing educational and treatment goals.

It is important to understand that a neuropsychological evaluation with a more developmentally complex student will look different than an evaluation with a neurotypical student. There are standardized tests that I will not be able to administer based on the student’s language skills, motor abilities, and academic knowledge. Some students can only tolerate 20 or 30 minutes of testing at a time, so the evaluation is broken into 9 or 10 sessions. Some students provide their responses using a communication device. Some students need to be supported by a behavior therapist to help them maintain a safe body.

In some cases, students cannot engage in any standardized tests due to multiple disabilities. However, I still have them come into my office at least once so that I can meet them in person and gather information about their communication skills, social interest, and activity levels. I will then spend time observing the student at their educational program, interviewing school-based staff, and gathering information from the student’s caregivers about their skills at home. With all of these data points, I can then provide a thorough set of recommendations for school-, community-, and home-based goals – even though I might not have “valid” standard scores.

For all of the families who think that a neuropsychological evaluation cannot be done with their child for one reason or another, I urge you to reconsider your perception of the purpose of an evaluation. In these cases, the emphasis of the evaluation is not on test scores, but on developing a better understanding of the student’s strengths and weaknesses. More importantly, the evaluation should be used as a reference to guide treatment goals to help the student achieve the highest level of independence of which they are capable based on their potential.

 

About the Author

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

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

 

If you are interested in booking an appointment for the ASD Diagnostic Clinic or an evaluation with a NESCA neuropsychologist/clinician, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

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

Neuropsychological Evaluation Results: What, When and How to Share with Children and Teens

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

During intake and feedback meetings with families, I find the same question comes up often from parents: what do I tell my child about all of this? NESCA’s Dr. Erin Gibbons gracefully tackled how to prepare your child for their neuropsychological evaluation. After an evaluation is done, you as a parent now have more than 20 pages of historical information, test descriptions, tables, summaries, and recommendations. How do you translate that information into something a child or teen will actually understand? It does not need to be a secret code or a hidden message. Feedback about a child’s strengths and weakness can be an incredibly powerful intervention.

Let’s take a page from Carol Dweck’s work and use a growth mindset to frame the experience. A growth mindset tells us that skills can be learned and neural connections can be strengthened. I advise parents to tell children and teens that testing is a chance for a “healthy check-up” for our brain and our learning, just the same way that the pediatrician performs a yearly healthy check-up for our bodies. The same way that a doctor pays attention to how all of our systems grow and interact with each other, a neuropsychologist can see how a child or teen is growing and how parts of the brain can talk to each other. I shape the dialogue right away that this kind of evaluation can tell us how strong some of the parts of our learning are, like a super strong muscle that has been exercised and practiced with gusto. The evaluation can also tell us what muscles or parts of our learning are a little weaker and need some more “exercise.” Pulling in a growth mindset, we can set the frame that any weakness can be made stronger if we have the right types of exercise, the right amount of practice, the right coaches, and a willingness to work hard. Most children and teens are pretty savvy and can often predict what their weak muscles are (e.g., “math is so hard!”; “I can’t spell!”; or “I can’t pay attention in school and I’m always in trouble for getting out of my seat!”).

Now, back to those 20-plus pages of dense text. It’s rarely helpful for a child or teen to read each page. There are parts of the normal curve, standard scores, confidence intervals, on and on that children and teens have not even learned yet! Those scores are an incredibly important source of information for schools, pediatricians, psychiatrists, therapists, and other neuropsychologists. They are not nearly as helpful when sharing information with children and teens, so do not stress about trying to translate it for kids. It is also not as helpful to have this conversation with your children when you are late for a meeting or they cannot find a soccer cleat on the way to practice. Plan your conversation for a time when your stress level is low as a parent and your child or teen is also more relaxed.

Your neuropsychologist can help you in your personal feedback meeting to identify a few important strengths to share with your child or teen – from your child’s positive attitude, to their strong decoding of new words, to their memory for things they see, to their ability to make and keep friends. With a sense of confidence about their strengths, I share what the “weaker muscle” is using language like, “I can see that word problems can be harder for you,” or “Keeping your anxious thoughts quiet when you are at school so you can concentrate on schoolwork is really hard.” Most of the time, children and teens find this validating rather than shaming – finally someone sees that their struggle is not their fault, not because their brain is wrong or bad, not because they are not trying hard enough. They just need more of the right kind of practice.

Knowing their strengths and their weaknesses, it is much easier to shape the game plan for the future. I tell children and teens that the good news is that we know what strategies can help make that weaker area even stronger. So choose your metaphor: coaches have different plays or practices, music teachers have different pieces for someone to play, artists can try out a new medium or set of supplies, or gamers practice different strategies and read tips and tricks from other gamers. By choosing a relatable experience for your child or teen in that moment, we can make the information both relevant and accessible. Your neuropsychologist can speak with you about how you as a parent can share this information with your child, or they can arrange a time to share the information directly from neuropsychologist to client. It is helpful for you to listen, too, so you can hear the language used by the neuropsychologist. Be prepared that these meetings are not very long to suit a child or teen’s attention span. Children and teens need time to process the information the same way adults do. You might expect a child to return to you a few days later with questions, or for the topic to more organically arise when your teen faces a challenge. Feedback is a unique chance for your child to feel validated, encouraged, and empowered!

 

About the Author

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

 

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

 

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

Avoiding Burn-out

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

We have hit our third calendar year of COVID. It’s season 3 of this drama series during our Junior Year of COVID. As my colleagues in front line health care discuss ways to avoid burn-out in this lengthy experience, it’s inspired me to think of ways for our kids and teens to avoid burn-out. Typically, we define burn-out as a stage of chronic and overwhelming stress in the workplace. It is the full time job of our children and teens to attend school. So what do we do to support our children who may themselves be experiencing signs of burn-out?

First, let’s understand some signs of burn-out, including:

  • A sense of fatigue or low energy to engage with school or personal activities
  • A sense of “distance” from school, which can include statements such as, “I don’t care,” or withdrawal from activities
  • Negative feelings about school or academic achievement, which can sometimes look like irritability and hatred of school
  • Doubts that school is “worth it” or a sense that what is learned in school is never applicable to real life
  • Reduced efficiency so that tasks take far longer than usual

Given the constant stress of close contact notifications, masking requirements, fears of infection, and disappointment about canceled activities (to name a few), it is not surprising that kids may feel this sense of burn-out. Let’s consider 5 tips to support children and teens with a sense of burn out:

  1. Give it a name. It might feel like a relief to recognize and label the experience for children and teens. Giving the experience the name of “burn-out” can provide some distance from the problem, rather than feeling consumed by it.
  2. Practice mindfulness. It can be easy to get caught up considering the “before-COVID” good old days. It can also be hard to imagine the uncertain future and when one might get to the other side. Practice focusing on this moment of this day. Encourage children to notice any physical signs of stress in their bodies. These moments can pass as the sensation is not permanent. Using meditation and deep breathing can help children to stay rooted in the present moment.
  3. Manage the calendar. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by due dates, projects, and additional activities. As a parent, this may mean that you will have to take over as the “gate keeper” of the calendar. Help to prioritize the necessary and eliminate what is not needed. Protect personal time carefully so that school tasks do not consume all areas of the weekend.
  4. Practice self-care. Self-care can look different for everyone – from vigorous physical activity for one teen to a day of relaxation for another. Encourage discussion about what your child might need and consider ways to change up the ordinary. For example, consider assigning a “home spa day” of relaxation or a warm bath. Consider outside activities for the active child who needs to run or exercise to feel good. Sleep, exercise, and good nutrition are critical ways to care for our bodies when facing chronic stress.
  5. Leave room for the fun. When school feels boring or challenging for children, it can be hard to motivate children and remain committed. Work with your child to identify a staff member or friend who they look forward to seeing. Consider an after-school activity that sparks joy so there is something to look forward to at the end of the day.

 

About the Author

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

 

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

 

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

Social Skill Concerns in a Time of Reduced Social Opportunities

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Yvonne M. Asher, Ph.D. 
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Even in pre-pandemic times, we saw many children and adolescents where social difficulties were the primary concern. Now, almost two years into the life-altering changes brought on by COVID-19, it is rare that I see a young person whose parents do not raise social concerns. Some common concerns include:

My child does not know how to play with peers.

My child is anxious/fearful around peers.

My child avoids peers and/or would rather play alone.

My child does well with 1-2 peers but cannot handle a group.

My child does not have friends and/or does not seem to know how to make friends.

These are all important, valid concerns. Social development is critical to evaluate and understand when we look at a child’s overall functioning, and early social skills lay an important foundation for later independent functioning, fulfilling interpersonal relationships, and vocational/academic success. Concerns about social presentation (i.e., how your child “looks” or behaves socially) can have many varied causes. Sometimes the cause is clear and relatively straightforward to determine with a neuropsychological evaluation. For example, an evaluation may lead to an autism diagnosis, explaining why a child is struggling socially. Other times, the exact cause is unclear, and probably related to many different factors all coming together. For example, children with ADHD very often present with social challenges, though the path from ADHD to social problems is not always “cut and dry.”

For children coming in to testing now (and over the past 18 months), some of the biggest complicating factors are the social isolation, online learning, and reduced social opportunities related to the pandemic. This is not to say that there are no longer clear cases where a child has autism at the root of their social difficulties – there certainly are. However, for each child now, we must consider the impact that COVID has had on their specific social development. This will depend on the child’s age (and age at the onset of the pandemic), school placement and educational environment, family structure (e.g., siblings and/or other children in the home), and community policies. For example, young children who are attending daycare/private preschool may actually not have missed as much socialization time, as many daycares re-opened after only a few months of closure. This is not to minimize the disruption or extreme challenge of such closures to families; for young children, however, it is likely that their social development is not radically impacted by a few months of reduced social opportunities. In contrast, an elementary-age child may have experienced well over a year of reduced socialization, with remote learning in place for many communities until the fall of 2021.

In all cases, pre-existing and/or co-occurring areas of difficulty are extremely important in our conceptualization of why a child is struggling socially. If your child will have an evaluation soon and you have social concerns, you can prepare by thinking about:

  • What was my child like socially before COVID?
    • Did they have strong friendships? Did they have conflict or “drama” with peers often? Were they invited to playdates and/or birthday parties?
  • What was my child like emotionally before COVID?
    • Happy? Easy-going? Quiet and shy? Sensitive? Irritable?
  • What were the practical, observable things that changed from March 2020 through the present?
    • How much time did they spend doing online learning? Did someone in their family become very ill? Lose a job? How isolated were they?
  • What was my child’s response to the things that happened above?
    • Did they enjoy online learning? Were they fearful about becoming sick? Did they miss spending time with friends or family?
  • What other areas seem to be challenging for them?
    • Communicating? Reading? Managing feelings? Paying attention?

All of these are helpful pieces of information that you can communicate to an evaluator. This will build context for the concerns that you see now, and help us move through the web of complex possibilities that may be contributing to your child’s social challenges. Remember that it is always good to be watchful and thoughtful when your child is struggling. At the same time, keep in mind that many individuals (children, adolescents, and adults alike) will require long periods of time to rebuild their skills, stamina, strength, and sense of safety. It is still OK not to be OK quite yet.

 

About the Author

Dr. Yvonne M. Asher enjoys working with a wide range of children and teens, including those with autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays, learning disabilities, attention difficulties and executive functioning challenges. She often works with children whose complex profiles are not easily captured by a single label or diagnosis. She particularly enjoys working with young children and helping parents through their “first touch” with mental health care or developmental concerns.

Dr. Asher’s approach to assessment is gentle and supportive, and recognizes the importance of building rapport and trust. When working with young children, Dr. Asher incorporates play and “games” that allow children to complete standardized assessments in a fun and engaging environment.

Dr. Asher has extensive experience working in public, charter and religious schools, both as a classroom teacher and psychologist. She holds a master’s degree in education and continues to love working with educators. As a psychologist working in public schools, she gained invaluable experience with the IEP process from start to finish. She incorporates both her educational and psychological training when formulating recommendations to school teams.

Dr. Asher attended Swarthmore College and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She completed her doctoral degree at Suffolk University, where her dissertation looked at the impact of starting middle school on children’s social and emotional wellbeing. After graduating, she completed an intensive fellowship at the MGH Lurie Center for Autism, where she worked with a wide range of children, adolescents and young adults with autism and related disorders.

 

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

 

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

 

Getting Back in the Swing of Things

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Miranda Milana, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

The past 22 months have brought more transitions and changes to our daily lives than ever before. Whether children and parents have had to transition from routine school breaks, or to unprecedented remote learning environments, we have all dealt with our fair share of the unexpected since the COVID-19 pandemic began. As we prepare to enter yet another transition with winter break ending (and February break not too far away), these changes in schedule and routine can be difficult adjustments for entire families. Not to mention the seemingly never-ending worries wondering whether virtual learning will resume once again. In order to help ease these times of transition, try utilizing the following tips:

Consider sticking to similar routines when possible. Sleeping in, unusual mealtimes, and later bedtimes are all tempting (and sometimes unavoidable!) when we don’t have our regular school or work routines during breaks and vacations. Try to implement some sort of routine whenever possible if routine is what works best for you and your family. It might mean that you can still sleep in, but mornings start consistently at 7am instead of 5am. Maybe dinner is no longer eaten at 7pm but at 6pm. Whatever the changes may be, consistency is key.

Schedule time for fun! As much as routine and schedules can be important, don’t forget to leave time for enjoyable activities! The holiday season can bring numerous obligations between holiday parties, visiting with family/friends, and previously scheduled extracurricular activities. Take some time to plan preferred family activities as well! After all, a break is supposed to be just that…a break!

Don’t wait to start transitioning back to school day routines until the morning of. Going back to work or school after extended time off can be really challenging. There is often a sense of dread and “Sunday Scaries” that accompany a return back to our daily responsibilities. Don’t wait until the night before or morning of to resume a typical bedtime and wakeup call. Instead, gradually shift the nighttime and early morning routine over a few days so that the night before/morning of doesn’t feel so daunting and overwhelming! By pushing back bedtime and setting the alarm 15 minutes earlier over the course of several days, the difference won’t seem as insurmountable.

Create visual calendars and talk about the transition ahead of time. Creating visuals can be crucial in helping children to prepare for what is to come. For younger children who do not yet have an appropriate conceptualization of time, a visual can be a particularly useful resource in preparing them for what to expect and when. Make reviewing the visual calendar a part of the nighttime or morning routine.

Provide validation and have patience with yourself. No matter how hard we try to prepare, seeing an increase in problematic behaviors, temper tantrums, and emotional outbursts is to be expected throughout times of change. Helpful strategies during times of dysregulation include naming the emotion, validating it, and creating space for safe and appropriate expression. Try using statements such as:

  • Labeling the emotion: “It looks like an earlier bedtime is really frustrating for you.”
  • Validating the feeling: “It’s okay to feel this way.”
  • Normalize the feeling: “Sometimes I feel overwhelmed when I have to do things I don’t like.”
  • Modeling appropriate strategies: “Something that can be helpful for me is deep breathing. Do you want to try and see if this is helpful for you, too?

 

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 info@nesca-newton.com 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 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.

 

Anxiety Reducers for Children and Teens with ASD

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Renée Marchant, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Research indicates that children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are more sensitive to heightened physiological sympathetic arousal (the “fight or flight” response), including increased heart rate, breathing rate, feeling “on edge” and body-based tenseness. Heightened physiological arousal is neurologically connected to sensory processing and emotional responses. This is why some children with ASD have “high startle responses” or sensitivities to specific sensations, such as touch or sounds. This is also why some children and teens with ASD are vulnerable to feelings of anxiety, particularly within social situations and settings.

There is growing research focusing on possible strategies and interventions that reduce anxiety and “buffer” the “fight or flight” response that can be activated for many children and teens with ASD.

5 Research-driven Anxiety Reducers:

Animals: Include companion or therapy animals in social groups or social outings (particularly new social events). In one study, children with ASD showed a 43% decrease in skin conductance responses during free play with peers in the presence of animals, as compared to toys (O’Haire, McKenzie, Beck, & Slaughter, 2015).

Exercise: Make a plan to engage in a “warm up” body-based activity right before a social event when anxiety levels are increasing (e.g., jumping jacks, burpees, squats). Research indicates that exercise calms the amygdala and decreases physiological arousal.

Relax or Distract: Practice progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). Recent research has indicated that regular and routine engagement in PMR sessions can be a useful strategy for individuals with ASD. Distract yourself from the anxiety-producing situation for the short term (e.g., count by 3s, name three things you can see and hear in the room, repeat words from your favorite song in your head).

Plan to Take a Break: Children and teens can benefit from having a healthy “escape plan” to take a break from socially-demanding and sensory-demanding settings (e.g., a large event like a play or concert, a college lecture, an interview for a job). Research indicates that “rest breaks” during mentally demanding tasks result in increased alertness, decreased fatigue and heightened relaxation.

Social Stories: Social stories provide the opportunity to practice and prepare for stressful situations, decreasing “fight or flight” responses. Read more about examples and applications of social stories in my colleague, Dr. Erin Gibbons’ previous blog post.

 

About the Author:

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

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

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

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

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

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Marchant or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Click here to learn more about NESCA’s ASD Diagnostic Clinic.

 

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.

 

When the Homeymoon Period Is Over: Signs of School Refusal

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

As we reach the end of our second month back to school, many of us may be reaching the end of that glorious honeymoon period – the phase when kids are excited to see friends, optimistic for the school year, and reviewing material they likely already know. For some, the return did not start this rosy; the bloom is falling off the rose and kids are getting tired. You and your child are not alone in this. My goal for today’s blog is to share with you some warning signs that your child may be struggling and ways to get support before they grow to become bigger problems. The biggest problem I want to avoid: school refusal.

Have you heard this yet? – “My tummy hurts. I have to stay home.” Or, “I hate school. Please don’t make me go.” Or, “I’m not going!” Or perhaps these messages are communicated more subtly with covers over their heads in the morning, difficulty getting out the door on time, tantrums or disruptive behaviors in the mornings, missed buses, or the overwhelming frustration of homework that erupts into nightly battles. According to researcher Christopher Kearney, these are signs to pay attention to as they can evolve into what he terms “school refusal behavior.” School refusal is an umbrella term used to describe behaviors that interfere with a child being in school for their expected and scheduled time. This is a problem that can impact anywhere between 28-35% of students! While there are the more extreme cases for children or teens who are out of school for months at a time, my purpose here is to address the smaller, but more likely, problems. When we address smaller problems, we can keep them small.

Risky signs that your child is struggling with school:

  • Consistent statements of hating school, their teacher, or specific peers. A casual mention of a bad day is not cause for alarm. We all have bad days. If the statements keep coming and they get louder and stronger, then parents should pay attention.
  • The outward behaviors are getting bigger in the mornings before school or over homework. Behavior is a way for children to communicate with us how they are feeling. So, explosions over homework or tantrums in the morning that lead to tardiness are warning signs. The occasional homework meltdown or rushed morning is normal; we are all human! But, the problem is in the pattern.
  • Avoidance rears its ugly head. While some kids show on the outside that they are uncomfortable through their explosions, others communicate very clearly through their withdrawal. Some kids and teens struggle to get out of bed, are constantly tired, not completing work, falling asleep in class, or sharing every somatic complaint or symptom available on Google. If medical causes are ruled out, anxiety can be a culprit.
  • Consider the role of a major transition. According to Kearney, the riskiest time for a child to develop a pattern of school refusal is during times of significant transition – like starting kindergarten or changing schools from middle to high school. In addition to the social and emotional jump that these transitions bring, there is also a massive leap in demands for academic independence. It is very common for kids to struggle with the leap initially.

Oh no. So now what?

  • First and foremost, keep calm. It is far easier to keep small problems small when we have a clear-headed approach. Pull in anxiety management techniques like deep breathing, sleep, and exercise to support your own anxiety as a parent.
  • Reach out to your child’s teacher or school psychologist. Let them know your child is struggling with homework or coming to school. This is a great chance to gather information on what is going on in your child’s day and put your child on their teacher’s radar. This is critical as the only effective approach to remedy a problem with school refusal is a team approach.
  • Talk to your child honestly about what is going on. This has to include a chance for kids to talk about what might be happening to make them feel stressed or why they dislike school. Don’t shortcut this step. If your child has trouble explaining what is going on (which can be especially true for younger kids), try this approach: you and your child are both going to be detectives to learn together what is making school feel hard. We can’t solve a problem until we understand it. By joining with your child in gathering information, you are demonstrating great empathy and validating that their feelings are real.
  • Be careful of your language and conversation about school. It can be tempting to go too far in validating a child to give the message that the assignment really is stupid or their teacher really is unreasonable and mean. It’s best to stick to the feeling (“that must feel so frustrating”) without reinforcing negative messages about school.
  • Hold the line. As you gather more information, it is really important to maintain the message that it is your child’s job to go to school. It might feel conflicting to both validate the feelings of hating school and give the message to attend school. It might feel something like this: It’s either “I love and support my child OR I’m going to force them to go to school even when it’s hard.” Let’s change that OR to AND. Reframe the thought to: “I love and support my child AND they have to go to school AND they can do hard things.”

For more information, please check out:

Kearney, C.A. (2007). Getting your child to say “yes” to school: A guide for parents of youth with school refusal behavior. New York: Oxford University Press.

 

About the Author

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

 

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

 

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

The Power of a List

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Yvonne M. Asher, Ph.D. 
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

For so many children, adolescents, and young adults, I find myself recommending something that seems too simple to be of much use – a list. The power of lists has been identified and described in depth by several experts, such as Atul Gawande (The Checklist Manifesto – an excellent read). These books often discuss efficiency in the workplace, health and safety practices, and maintaining consistency in products or services. As adults, these are the things we often care about – ensuring that we are efficient, consistent, and getting things done.

In my practice, I recommend lists for different reasons. I recommend lists to teach executive functioning skills, such as planning, task initiation, organization, and task monitoring. Lists are also incredibly helpful for children who struggle to hold on to information. These children often miss information that is stated aloud, such as a parent giving directions or a teacher explaining instructions. Their brains often struggle to “keep up” with the pace of information presented in the world. Having the information written down in an organized manner, such a list, can help them access the information without time constraints.

Here is a quick example:

On a typical weekday morning, parents alternate checking on their 8-year-old as he gets ready for school. They give reminders of all the things left to do – “Brush your teeth!” “Get dressed!” “Put your homework in your backpack!” Time before the bus becomes shorter and shorter, as does everyone’s patience. Parents think, “We do the same things every single morning! Why is it so hard for him to remember?” Child thinks, “Why can’t they just leave me alone!” Voice volumes increase, tone shifts, and before anyone knows it or means to, there is a shouting match as the bus is pulling up.

Of course, a list won’t stop hurt feelings or eliminate frustration. However, if the child’s “morning routine” is posted somewhere easy to see, he may need far fewer reminders from his parents of all the tasks he has left to do. Frustration may be reduced, and the child can feel successful completing tasks with greater independence.

A list may be steps in a routine, as illustrated above. A list could also be of materials the child needs for baseball practice, the chores that should be done each week, or the limits and expectations around “screen time.” I often spend time with parents discussing the contents of a list, where the list should be placed, and the format it might take. For example, do you want checkboxes next to each item? Do you want the steps to be numbered? Maybe you love arts and crafts, and you want to laminate the list and have Velcro tabs with a “checkmark” that can be placed next to each completed task. The format and purpose vary, but lists are infinitely useful.

For many children, practice using lists is not only helping them to build skills in the moment, but is excellent practice for later life. Developing comfort with the tools and strategies that work best for you is an invaluable aspect of raising our children to become independent adults who can achieve their goals.

 

About the Author

Dr. Yvonne M. Asher enjoys working with a wide range of children and teens, including those with autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays, learning disabilities, attention difficulties and executive functioning challenges. She often works with children whose complex profiles are not easily captured by a single label or diagnosis. She particularly enjoys working with young children and helping parents through their “first touch” with mental health care or developmental concerns.

Dr. Asher’s approach to assessment is gentle and supportive, and recognizes the importance of building rapport and trust. When working with young children, Dr. Asher incorporates play and “games” that allow children to complete standardized assessments in a fun and engaging environment.

Dr. Asher has extensive experience working in public, charter and religious schools, both as a classroom teacher and psychologist. She holds a master’s degree in education and continues to love working with educators. As a psychologist working in public schools, she gained invaluable experience with the IEP process from start to finish. She incorporates both her educational and psychological training when formulating recommendations to school teams.

Dr. Asher attended Swarthmore College and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She completed her doctoral degree at Suffolk University, where her dissertation looked at the impact of starting middle school on children’s social and emotional wellbeing. After graduating, she completed an intensive fellowship at the MGH Lurie Center for Autism, where she worked with a wide range of children, adolescents and young adults with autism and related disorders.

 

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

 

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

 

The Safe and Sound Protocol: Increase Self-regulation and Decrease Sound Sensitivity

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

NESCA is excited to announce that we now offer our clients the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP)—a therapeutic listening program, designed to increase self-regulation and decrease sensitivity to sound. This new service is provided through our occupational therapy (OT) department and is facilitated by either Julie Robinson or Maddie Girardi, both of whom have been trained and certified in its administration. The process begins with an initial phone intake with Julie, who will help you determine if the program is a good fit for you as an adult, or your child. For new patients, we always initiate the program in the office for two to three visits. After this point, (if it seems feasible), you can transition to a home program. If not, we can continue through direct office visits until the program has been completed. In addition, we can offer the program as part of an existing OT treatment protocol.

Who is SSP appropriate for?

SSP is appropriate for anyone over two years of age through adulthood, who has the capacity to listen to music with over-the-ear headphones. It is ideal for patients on the autism spectrum, or individuals with sound sensitivity, sensory processing disorders, or difficulty with self-regulation. It can be used to facilitate more frequent calm and settled states of arousal for those under stress, or who have experienced trauma. It has been also observed to improve sleep and even feeding patterns in some of our clients who have difficulty in those areas. We have seen this carry over into improved behavioral control, independence, and focus in completing daily routines and academic work, as well as more availability for social interactions.

What if my child cannot tolerate wearing headphones?

Your OT will work with you to find an appropriate pair. In our experience, most children can learn to wear headphones with a bit of gentle coaxing and positive reinforcement. Sometimes we need to start with music, outside of the listening program, that a child is already interested in. Other times, we can start right in with the program and, bit by bit, build up increased tolerance.

What type of music is played in the program?

All programs are offered with both children’s music (common tunes from TV or movies, such as Disney programming) as well as adult-oriented songs (pop music or classical music).

NESCA offers two programs, each described below:

  • SSP CORE—This is the basic listening program, appropriate for most patients who are program, and what most individuals are ready to start with. This program has been used since 2017 as a mechanism to reduce stress and auditory sensitivity. It consists of a five-hour long listening protocol, that can be done ideally across five one-hour or 10 half-hour sessions, depending on tolerance levels. For some of our clients who cannot tolerate it as easily, listening sessions can be even shorter in duration. For clients who tolerate it well, and would be compliant, it can also be delivered as a home program after initial set-up through a clinician. It presents music that has been acoustically modified based on a specific algorithm that triggers physiological states of safety and trust. Calming the physiological state helps to promote social engagement and self-regulation, and further therapy can be enhanced or even accelerated. It has music with high frequency sounds gradually filtered in, allowing for slow and steady desensitization to auditory stimuli. It is suited for those who are accustomed to listening to music with headphones, those with subtle sound sensitivities, or those with general difficulties with self-regulation.
  • SSP CONNECT—SSP CONNECT is intended to be used as a less demanding introduction and foundation to the SSP CORE program, specifically for those who are not yet used to headphones, or who do not tolerate filtered sounds well. There is a classical music playlist—one for adults and another for children. It can be used for individuals who are highly sound sensitive, or very young listeners without high frequency filtering to get them ready for the CORE program. It also has five hours of listening time and is intended for use before the SSP CORE program, therefore resulting in a total of 10 hours of active listening time. The SSP CONNECT program should yield a sense of safety with the listening process and expectancy of what is to come next. It is important for the therapist and client to establish a strong rapport, with since there is a good deal of support from the clinician.

If you are interested in talking with a clinician who can determine if this would be a good fit for you or your child, please contact Julie Robinson, OT, Director of Clinical Services, at: jrobinson@nesca-newton.com.

 

About the Author

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

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services or other clinical therapies, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

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