NESCA has unexpected availability for Neuropsychological Evaluations and ASD Diagnostic Clinic assessments in the Plainville, MA office in the next several weeks! Our expert pediatric neuropsychologists in Plainville specialize in children ages 18 months to 26 years, with attentional, communication, learning, or developmental differences, including those with a history or signs of ADHD, ASD, Intellectual Disability, and complex medical histories. To book an evaluation or inquire about our services in Plainville (approx.45 minutes from NESCA Newton), complete our Intake Form.

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What Is Projective Testing and Why Might My Child Need It?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

There can be a great deal of confusion about what kind of testing you want for your child. No wonder when we have so many options – neuropsychological testing, psychoeducational testing, speech and language testing, occupational therapy testing, personality testing, and psychological testing. The part that can be incredibly challenging is that these labels often involve overlapping test measures, meaning that the assessor may choose the same specific tasks that might fall into most or all of these categories. Take cognitive assessment using IQ tests which can be used by a psychologist conducting psychological, neuropsychological, or psychoeducational testing. Another layer of confusion is added for parents when one considers that many professionals in schools or medical practices are also confused and interchangeably use these labels. In an effort to demystify the process, I want to tackle a common question: what is projective testing and why might my child need it?

Projective testing provides psychologists with very specific and unique insight about a person’s thinking habits and processing. Unlike cognitive or academic tests, projective tests do not have a “right answer.” So, projective testing is not going to ask a child to solve a math problem or define a word. It is not going to test how quickly they can name vegetables or see how skilled they are at shifting between sets of the rules. The overall goal of projective testing is to figure out how a child, teen, or adult responds to an ambiguous situation. This means, we ask people to project their brain habits (thinking style, way of interpreting the world, way of processing emotions, way of viewing self and others) onto a situation when it is not clear that there is a “right” or “wrong” answer. A person must use their problem-solving and emotion regulation skills in action. Examples of projective tests include the Rorschach inkblot test, story-telling tasks (e.g., the Thematic Apperception Test or the Roberts Apperception Test), drawings, and incomplete sentences. Projective tests take additional time to administer and usually longer to score, so they are scheduled as separate visits at NESCA.

Why might you use a projective test? There are some situations where projective testing is incredibly useful, such as when a diagnosis of a thought disorder (e.g., psychosis) is in question. It is also very useful for questions of trauma, attachment, anxiety, or mood disorder. Projective testing is also incredibly useful when psychiatric symptoms are confusing. Take the example of someone who is a perfectionistic or very guarded about their symptoms. A person with this profile is very likely to read a question that says, “I am very anxious,” and answer no. However, projective testing can see if there are themes of anxiety by considering how a person responds to an ambiguous situation. Take another example of someone who leans in the other direction and reports many symptoms that overlap with many diagnoses. In this case, many symptoms are endorsed as “yes.” Projective testing can help to provide clarity to narrow down the list, especially without an obvious answer. In both of these cases, it is helpful to access a person’s unconscious brain habits as a key to understanding a person’s functioning.

When would you not use projective testing? I do not use projective testing when my referral question does not need it. For example, a question of a learning disability or ADHD does not require projective testing. Using projective measures would be inappropriate, time consuming, and potentially stressful for a person when it is not needed. Similarly, projective testing is not often used in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder as there is little research about how neurodivergent populations respond to the ambiguous stimuli. I also do not use projective testing if neuropsychological testing suggests that a person has an intellectual disability or struggles in their visual processing skills (e.g., NVLD) since many of the projective measures (e.g., Rorschach, story-telling, drawings) use a visual stimulus card. In those cases, it would be inappropriate to assume that a response reflects a person’s emotional processing when it would really be about their visual processing.

Projective testing is incredibly informative and, like other neuropsychological tools, should only be utilized by professionals who are trained to administer and interpret these tests. Since it is not as simple as a correct single answer on an answer key, it is critical that these procedures are administered by psychologists with the advanced training to use and interpret the information. And, like all of our measures, the results gathered using projective measures are data points that are combined with other data points. The performance on one test or demand does not dictate the entire conclusion. A strong and comprehensive assessment will use projective test data as part of a larger understanding of your child. Information gathered in projective testing can highlight important strengths for your child and contribute helpful information to drive treatment.

NESCA has several clinicians who are highly trained and skilled at administering projective testing. If you have questions about projective testing and whether your child needs it, let us know by filling out our online Intake Form.

 

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.

Technology to Relieve Holiday Stress – Really?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

During this holiday season, life for most people gets a bit more hectic. Many of us feel more stressed, busy, and overwhelmed with everyday life as well as preparing for the holidays. Our children are stressed as well, as they feel our stress. Older students feel the end of semester stress of papers being due and final exams looming.

A client, who is a college student, called me the other day and said, “I am just so stressed and angry, I couldn’t wait ‘til my appointment. I am angry at nothing and everything. I am being hard on myself and others.” I reflected on these feelings, and we discussed that, at this time of year, many people feel more stress and have a “shorter fuse.” I reminded him that being angry at himself for being angry wasn’t the solution/remedy; that just intensifies the feeling. Instead, we talked about normalizing his feelings, remembering to focus on his breath, and have compassion. When we focus on our breath, we shift our attention away from the thoughts and feelings that make us spiral. This client plays video games, so introducing him to stress management apps/games was a “no brainer.” I reminded him to use the app at least once a day for a few minutes, especially during this holiday season. This practice helps him and can help all of us to establish a new habit of stress reduction to help us remember how to focus on our breath and shift our attention.

Since most adults and children are using technology daily, let’s focus on spending some of that screen time for managing our mental health and stress levels. Experiment with free versions of apps and find one that resonates with you or your children, then practice it every day. Make it a part of your daily routine for at least 5 minutes. Pick the time that works for you. It is something that can even be done as a family. We establish routines for reading at night, let’s establish a routine of stress management at night, whether it’s an app or another method. Prioritize the time; it will make all your lives better! This habit and skill development will ultimately help us develop stress management skills and be able to use them when we are stressed. The development of these skills also helps us feel less stressed in general. Instead of feeling stress during the holidays, let’s feel the joy, love, and gratitude that abounds.

Listed below are a sampling of several stress management apps related to mindfulness, emotional recognition and regulation, and anxiety/depression to help you and/or your children manage the stress of the upcoming holiday season. Hopefully one of them will resonate with you and your children so that you all may experience more resilience and peace when stress does happen.

Headspace (Children through Adult) is a mindfulness/meditation app that helps people reconnect with their breath. Headspace for Kids focuses on five areas: Calm, Focus, Kindness, Sleep, and Wake Up.

Calm (Children through Adult) is an app that focuses on mindfulness, yoga, guided meditation, breathing programs, improving focus, calming and relaxing music, and more.

Insight Timer (Children through Adult) is an app that includes lessons/classes, talks, music, and more on a variety of topics, such as mindfulness, stress reduction, achieving better sleep, anxiety, yoga, and other areas.

Super Better (Age 13 through Adult) is an app that uses games to build resilience, change mindset, emotional control, mental flexibility, achieve goals – even with challenges – and helps with anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and more.

Mindshift CBT (Teens through Adult) is an app that focuses on anxiety reduction, including worry, perfectionism, social anxiety, panic, phobias, and more.

Breathe2Relax (Teens through Adult) is an app that focuses on diaphragmatic breathing and stress reduction.

Smiling Mind  (Ages 7 through 18) is part of a broader collection of tools/curriculum that focuses on mental health for children and adults (teachers and parent). It focuses on mindfulness, deep breathing, body scan, gratitude, and more.

Positive Penguins (Ages 4 through 11) is an app that helps children understand how their feelings and thoughts are connected and to develop more positive thinking.

Resilient Family, Happy Child (Ages 4 through Adult) is an app that uses simple mindfulness- based movement to support the development of resilience and self-regulation.

Mightier (Ages 6 through 14) is a biofeedback tool that uses a heart sensor to help children understand their emotions and teaches them calming strategies.

HeartMath (Ages PreK through Adult) is a company that has many tools, games, music, curriculum, books, and more that focu on stress reduction. They have biofeedback apps and desktop computer versions for single users, classes, or multiple clients. They all use a heart sensor. Inner Balance is the app it uses within the program.

DreamyKid (Ages 9 through 18) is an app that uses guided visualizations, meditations, and affirmations related to mindfulness.

WellBeyond Meditation for Kids (Ages 4 through 8) is like DreamyKid but is geared towards younger kids with guided meditations, visualizations, and breathing exercises.

Breathe Think Do Sesame (Ages 2 through 5) is an app that helps children learn deep breathing, problem solving, an emotional vocabulary, positive thinking habits, and more through guided meditations, visualizations, stories, breathing exercises, and more.

Mindful Powers for Kids (Ages 5 through 10) Through play, games, stories, and more, kids learn about emotions, mindfulness, positive thinking, body scanning, and more. It uses Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) as a guiding principle of its platform.

 

About the Author

NESCA’s Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services Dot Lucci has been active in the fields of education, psychology, research and academia for over 30 years. She is a national consultant and speaker on program design and the inclusion of children and adolescents with special needs, especially those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Lucci was the Principal of the Partners Program/EDCO Collaborative and previously the Program Director and Director of Consultation at MGH/Aspire for 13 years, where she built child, teen and young adult programs and established the 3-Ss (self-awareness, social competency and stress management) as the programming backbone. She also served as director of the Autism Support Center. Ms. Lucci was previously an elementary classroom teacher, special educator, researcher, school psychologist, college professor and director of public schools, a private special education school and an education collaborative.

Ms. Lucci directs NESCA’s consultation services to public and private schools, colleges and universities, businesses and community agencies. She also provides psychoeducational counseling directly to students and parents. Ms. Lucci’s clinical interests include mind-body practices, positive psychology, and the use of technology and biofeedback devices in the instruction of social and emotional learning, especially as they apply to neurodiverse individuals.

 

To book a consultation with Ms. Lucci or one of our many expert clinicians, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician/consultant/service in the referral line.

 

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

 

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 first 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.

Meet Pediatric Neuropsychologist Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Jane  Hauser

Director of Marketing & Outreach, NESCA

I recently had the opportunity to learn more about Pediatric Neuropsychologist Lauren Halladay, Ph.D., who joins NESCA in September. Learn more about her background and specialties in today’s blog interview.

How did you choose pediatric neuropsychology as a profession?

My interest was originally piqued when I was younger, as early as my high school years. I volunteered at a therapeutic riding program for kids with disabilities. That’s what initially sparked my desire to work with kids, and those with disabilities, in particular. My mother was a third grade teacher, which also imparted the desire to work with kids and help them overcome their challenges at school.

I went on to major in psychology and had a strong interest in pediatrics for the reasons I mentioned previously. Based on some of the work I did in graduate school, I learned that I really enjoyed the assessment piece, especially with the younger kids, helping them in life by identifying the right diagnosis (when applicable) and helping to put the right interventions in place for them to build skills that will equip them for the future.

How have your previous work experiences prepared you to be a neuropsychologist?

I’ve had a wide breadth of work experiences where I was supervised by neuropsychologists, whether it be in satellite health systems, the hospital setting, etc. While in those clinics, I had the opportunity to work with a variety of populations and presentations, including those who have experienced trauma, or have developmental or learning disabilities.

Having worked in several states throughout the country, including Oregon, Ohio, New York and Massachusetts, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with a variety of families who present with unique backgrounds, experiences, and cultural values, which I always consider when making diagnostic decisions and developing recommendations.

What areas of neuropsychology have you most enjoyed to date? What would you consider your specialty area?

There are several areas that I am very passionate about. I really enjoy working with young kids, those under the ages of five or six. I also have a great interest in working with families who have concerns about their child potentially having an autism spectrum disorder or an intellectual or developmental disability. In addition, I find it incredibly rewarding to work with and help families whose children are medically complex or have moderate to severe cognitive impairments.

Regardless of how the child or student presents or what challenges they may have, I always individualize my approach so that I can meet the needs of each child. This is especially true in cases where families have had a hard time getting assessments done in the school setting or even privately in the past.

What is the most rewarding experience in neuropsychology that you’ve had to date?

I find it rewarding to hear from families when the strategies I’ve recommended are or are not working for them. For example, hearing that parents achieve success in implementing behavior management strategies, accessing support in the community, and/or learning about their child’s diagnosis and how to create an environment that suits their needs is a wonderful feeling. On the other hand, when the initial recommendations are not as helpful as intended, I enjoy approaching the problem-solving process together and discussing alternate approaches.

I also find it incredibly rewarding to offer parents and caregivers a deeper perspective on a child who has a moderate to severe cognitive impairment or is medically complex. Being able to give them a sense of where their child is developmentally in relation to their peers can be enlightening. Additionally, having more information about a child’s developmental level can help families and school staff establish appropriate, and individualized, expectations that set the child up for success. I strive to make a difference in these cases by developing strong partnerships with families, as well as serving as a trusted resource and advocate as they navigate how to best access supports in the community and in school.

What benefits, having been trained in a school psychology department, do you bring to families at NESCA?

My school psychology background allows me to bring a deep awareness and perspective on how the IEP process works. My experience and knowledge of special education rights allows me to be a true partner to families who are trying to navigate and understand the IEP process. I am able to share that knowledge and better advocate for my clients in Team meetings.

Why did you decide to join the team at NESCA?

I knew that in my next career move, I wanted to be part of a collaborative community that puts an emphasis on work/life balance—I feel that both allow clinicians to produce the highest quality work. At NESCA, I will also have the opportunity to use my school psychology skills and be an active participant in the IEP process on behalf of our clients.

NESCA is known for creating and building long-lasting relationships with the families they work with. I look forward to working with families and their schools/districts for the long-term, helping students to build skills along the way that will help them throughout their lives.

Finally, not being a native Bostonian, I am excited to learn more about and partner with the different school systems on behalf of the families and students we work with at NESCA.

 

About Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.

Dr. Halladay conducts comprehensive evaluations of toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children with a wide range of developmental, behavioral, and emotional concerns. She particularly enjoys working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and complex medical conditions. She has experience working in schools, as well as outpatient and inpatient hospital settings. She is passionate about optimizing outcomes for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities by providing evidence-based, family-oriented care.

 

If you are interested in booking an appointment for 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.

What Do We Mean by Individualized Neuropsychological Evaluations?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

Previous blogs in our recent series addressing frequently asked questions during the intake process, have covered the important differences between school-based testing and an independent neuropsychological evaluation. A neuropsychological evaluation should always be comprehensive, meaning that it covers various aspects of the student’s learning profile: cognition, language, memory, attention, and social-emotional functioning. However, the evaluation should also be individualized. Essentially, a good evaluation should aim to answer the questions that are specific to that student, not just a cookie-cutter list of tests.

Prior to starting testing, the clinician reviews any previous records and holds an intake appointment with the student’s parents or caregivers. Through this process, the clinician gathers information about the student’s early developmental history, medical background, and current challenges. If the student is already receiving services – either privately or through the school district – that is also important information. All of this helps to shape the “Referral Questions” for the evaluation. In some cases, the questions are very specific; for example, “Does my child have dyslexia?” or “Does my child have ADHD?” In other cases, the question is less defined, such as when we are asked “What is going on with my child and how do I help them?”

We often get asked by parents or caregivers if their child can have all of the tests available performed during their child’s neuropsychological evaluation. As clinicians, we understand that temptation. An evaluation is both an investment of time and money for the parents or caregivers. But neuropsychological evaluations are a lot of work for children, so we want to be sure to tailor the tests to what is actually going to yield beneficial findings for them or will help answer the referral question.

Some families request the list of tests that will be included in the evaluation. Unfortunately, this is not always possible until after testing is underway. Following the intake process, the clinician starts to develop the “battery” – the specific tests that will be administered to the student. Most clinicians have a skeleton battery of tests that they include for every client – an intelligence test, some academic tests (reading, writing, and math), and tasks that assess skills, such as language, memory, and attention – as described above. The clinician then fills in the testing battery based on the specific questions for that student. For example:

  • An evaluation designed to test for dyslexia should include several tests of reading as well as tests that look at very specific skills related to reading (e.g., phonological processing). When there are no concerns about reading, this aspect of the evaluation would be briefer.
  • An evaluation designed to assess for autism spectrum disorder should include a variety of tasks that examine social communication and reciprocal social skills. These types of tasks would likely not be included for a student who has never had any challenges in the social domain.

If a school district or another provider is asking for the list of tests that will comprise the neuropsychological evaluation, please talk to your clinician about this during the intake process. The final list might not be available until testing is complete, but this is definitely something that your clinician can provide as soon as possible.

 

About the Author

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

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

 

If you are interested in booking an evaluation with 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.

Are We Working With a Full Deck of Cards? Why Neuropsychologists Want Results from Previous Evaluations

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

Neuropsychological testing is a tremendous undertaking in time and effort for a family. It involves intake documents, questionnaires, financial paperwork, insurance information, teacher forms, and the list goes on. I promise this paperwork is meaningful and helpful, a way to get the most out of the time and investment in a neuropsychological evaluation. Over the next few weeks, several of NESCA’s neuropsychologists will tackle a few common questions that we face that will help you prepare for neuropsychological testing.

The first topic to tackle relates to the need for previous records. It can feel time consuming to track down documents from years ago, particularly if your child has grown and changed over time. There are many reasons why it is critical to provide these records so your provider has the full deck of cards as they build an individualized evaluation for your child. I’ll tackle the three most important reasons to me:

First, pediatric neuropsychologists want to understand the development of your child over time. For example, if we are evaluating learning problems, I want to know what it was like in kindergarten and early elementary school when your child learned to read. I want to know when the attention problems started or problems interacting with peers were first noticeable to those around them. As we build a developmental timeline, it can help to conceptualize where it all began to help us get at the magical “root cause” that parents often seek. Understanding development over time also helps us to build a better treatment plan. For example, if I can see that a child struggled to develop early reading skills and then years later is extremely anxious about attending school, it helps guide recommendations in both domains.

Secondly, records are critical so we do not risk “practice effects.” “Practice effects” refer to the improvement in scores that happens simply from being exposed to the task before. While guidelines are not as set in stone as some may think, it is generally advised not to repeat many neuropsychological measures within a year of testing. There may be reasons to speed up this timeline that are client-specific, but we cannot make that determination unless we see the documents. Research says practice effects diminish over a few months to a year. We want to eliminate any interfering factors that would make it harder to draw conclusions about the data in the current evaluation. With the time and investment you make in testing as a parent, I can only imagine how frustrating it would feel to hear that something we can manage interfered with the process. Access to records helps us to choose the right measures for the right moment.

Thirdly, providing previous records also allows us to track skill development over time. This is particularly important if we want to see if an intervention (e.g., reading instruction, therapy, attending social skill groups) is working to build the skills. Put simply, it tells us if a problem is getting better or getting worse. Even if you do not agree with the final conclusions drawn by the previous professional, the scores still provide critical data points in development. For more information on seeking a second opinion when you disagree with results, sit tight – that blog post is coming!

I often use the metaphor with kids and families that neuropsychological testing can help us to develop a type of “instructional manual” for how their brain works. With younger kids, I tell them that I am writing the LEGO instructional manual for which steps to take in what order and with what pieces. Without the prior records, I’m missing a bag of pieces. That is almost as frustrating as stepping on the actual LEGOs!

Please come back over the next several weeks to hear more from my colleagues about how to make the most of your child’s neuropsychological evaluation!

 

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.

Parenting is a Hard Job – Remember You are Good Enough!

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

Much has been published about parenting and parenting styles, whether in YouTube clips, books, podcasts, scholarly articles, newspaper articles, and so much more. But basically, if you are a parent, you are just doing your job – you are parenting, trying to guide your children, teens, and young adults on their own paths so they grow up to be “good humans and lead happy, successful lives.”

My guess is you probably haven’t given your parenting style too much thought. You just go about whatever the day brings you with whatever you’ve got in your tank that day. You’ve probably heard the terms Helicopter Parents, Tiger Moms, Free-range Parenting, etc., to describe different parenting styles. Usually, our parenting styles emerge from our own histories, role models, experiences, and personalities. You may be parenting how you were parented because it worked for you or because you disliked the way you were parented so you moved to the complete opposite way of parenting.

Remember the book, “Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother,” by Amy Chua from 2011? She wrote this book as a memoir – not as a parenting guide – but what a controversy it stirred regarding parenting styles! Alan Paul, a journalist for The Wall Street Journal then wrote, “Tiger Mom…Meet Panda Dad,” as a commentary against the Tiger Mom mentality and to bring dads into the parenting discussion. During this time period, there was much written about parenting styles, often characterized into four styles: Authoritative, Authoritarian/Disciplinarian, Permissive/Indulgent, and Uninvolved/Neglectful. As you can imagine, each style has its driving principles. In case you are interested in what the research says about the four parenting styles, the Authoritative parenting style wins out over the others in helping children develop into well-functioning adults.

No matter what style you are, you are giving it your best shot. Each of the styles has much written about them and their impact on child development – some good some not so good. Parents may change their style(s) depending upon a variety of factors and adopt new ways. Try to be aware of your style and its impact on your kids – this realization may happen as you go. That’s okay. You are learning this job as you go, and we all know there is no manual. You are just doing it, living each and every day with what it brings to you. Most parents do not think about what parenting style they are going to use in the moment. Sometimes you may “catch yourself,“ see your child’s reaction, and adjust your style. Perhaps you are the “softie” most of the time, but then turn on the “tough love” style when needed.

As a parent consultant, I often hear, “I must be the worst parent you’ve ever seen. You must think I’m a fool. Do all kids do this? Am I the only one who struggles getting their kids to follow directions?”…and so much more. Sure, I give them specific suggestions for parenting their child who has ADHD or is autistic; however, I match my recommendations to their parenting styles and personalities.

As a consultant, I often find myself saying these mantras in parent sessions:

You are good enough.
Show and tell your kids you love them.
You are giving it your best shot in this moment.
Be kind and gentle with yourself and your kids.
Have compassion and empathy for yourself and your kids.
Stay calm in the eye of the storm. ___ Happens!
You are human, and humans make mistakes – own them.
Don’t expect perfection. It is overrated. Cut yourself some slack.
Point out the positives. Catch ‘em being good!
Tell them what to do not what not to do.
Develop honest, authentic relationships with your kids.
Lead with your heart.

And as the saying goes….

If you are interested in learning more about NESCA’s Consultation Services, please complete our online Intake Form.

References

Alan Paul http://alanpaul.net/panda-dad/

4 Research-Backed Parenting Styles and How they affect your kids by Caroline Bologna https://www.huffpost.com/entry/four-parenting-styles-affect-kids_l_6270493fe4b0bc48f57e705f

4 Types of Parenting Styles and their effects on the child https://www.parentingforbrain.com/4-baumrind-parenting-styles/

Here’s what makes ‘authoritative parents’ different from the rest—and why psychologists say it’s the best parenting style by Francyne Zelster
https://www.cnbc.com/2021/10/05/child-psychologist-explains-why-authoritative-parenting-is-the-best-style-for-raising-smart-confident-kids.html

 

About the Author

NESCA’s Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services Dot Lucci has been active in the fields of education, psychology, research and academia for over 30 years. She is a national consultant and speaker on program design and the inclusion of children and adolescents with special needs, especially those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Lucci was the Principal of the Partners Program/EDCO Collaborative and previously the Program Director and Director of Consultation at MGH/Aspire for 13 years, where she built child, teen and young adult programs and established the 3-Ss (self-awareness, social competency and stress management) as the programming backbone. She also served as director of the Autism Support Center. Ms. Lucci was previously an elementary classroom teacher, special educator, researcher, school psychologist, college professor and director of public schools, a private special education school and an education collaborative.

Ms. Lucci directs NESCA’s consultation services to public and private schools, colleges and universities, businesses and community agencies. She also provides psychoeducational counseling directly to students and parents. Ms. Lucci’s clinical interests include mind-body practices, positive psychology, and the use of technology and biofeedback devices in the instruction of social and emotional learning, especially as they apply to neurodiverse individuals.

 

To book a consultation with Ms. Lucci or one of our many expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician/consultant in the referral line.

 

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

 

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.

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.