NESCA is Now Open in Hingham, MA! Currently scheduling neuropsychological evaluations and projective testing. NESCA’s Hingham clinicians specialize in elementary-, middle school-, and high school-aged children and young adults, including those who show signs of: autism spectrum disorders, being psychologically complex, mental health or mood disorders, and emotional, behavioral, and attentional challenges. To book an appointment, please start by filling out our intake form.

Tag

cognition

Neurodevelopmental Evaluations for Children under Age 5

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Many families are curious about neurodevelopmental testing. Neuropsychologists who specialize in working with young children are often asked about when it is appropriate to pursue an evaluation, what the evaluation process entails, and where to go.

Why Would a Young Child Need an Evaluation?

There are developmental milestones across several domains that children are expected to achieve within certain timeframes. When children are showing delays in achieving those milestones within expected age ranges, seeking an evaluation may be warranted. From birth to 5 years of age, the areas of development that are especially important to monitor include:

  • Speech and Language (e.g., use of single words/phrases, following directions)
  • Social Skills (e.g., eye contact, social smile, interest in others, imaginative play skills)
  • Motor Skills (e.g., crawling, walking, using a pincer grasp)
  • Cognition/Early Problem Solving Skills (e.g., matching shapes and objects, completing simple puzzles)

If delays in any of the areas listed above are observed, pursing an evaluation sooner rather than later is recommended, as research has shown that early diagnosis and intensive treatment are the most important factors in determining rapid progress and long-term prognosis.

What Does a Neurodevelopmental Evaluation Entail?

Within a comprehensive neurodevelopmental evaluation, the child is administered tests that look at the developmental areas listed above. Information should also be collected from parents, teachers, and other caregivers who know the child well. These evaluations help to provide a better understanding of the child’s developmental profile, including areas of relative strength and weakness. In other words, the evaluation can provide more information about where the child’s skills currently fall when compared to their same age peers. Such information can provide diagnostic clarification, as well as help to inform recommendations for services if needed.

Where to Go

There are several options for where families can pursue evaluations, each with their benefits and drawbacks:

  • Early Intervention (EI): EI is meant to support families of children birth to three years of age who have developmental delays or are at risk of developmental delays. The goal of the Massachusetts EI program is to collaboratively promote skill acquisition based on the family’s priorities and child’s individual needs. Evaluations are typically conducted within the home setting to determine the child’s eligibility for EI services. While these evaluations can provide valuable information about the child’s strengths and weaknesses, a diagnosis will not be provided.
  • Hospital-based Setting: These evaluations are structured differently depending on the hospital system. In most cases, these evaluations are interdisciplinary, meaning that they involve a team of providers from different disciplines (i.e., psychologist, medical provider (pediatrician, nurse practitioner) speech and language pathologist, occupational therapist, etc.). While outcomes of these evaluations can include diagnosis and recommendations for services when appropriate, waitlists are often long, and reports tend to be brief.
  • Independent Setting/Private Practice: Independent evaluations usually involve several visits with a pediatric psychologist or neuropsychologist, rather than with a team of providers. Similar to the hospital-based evaluations, independent evaluations can result in diagnosis when appropriate. Specific recommendations based on the child’s individual profile are offered. These evaluations tend to be more detailed and comprehensive than those conducted by EI and within hospital-based settings. Clinicians also have the option to observe the child in other settings (e.g., daycare, preschool, elementary school), as well as attend school-based meetings.

Relatedly, NESCA is currently providing evaluations for children 12 months to 3 years of age who are showing early signs of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The wait time is 1 month or less – by design –  so children who meet criteria for an ASD diagnosis can access the appropriate interventions for them. If you are interested in learning more about ASD Diagnostic Testing through NESCA’s ASD Diagnostic Clinic, please visit our website at https://nesca-newton.com/asd-diagnostic-clinic-2/ and/or complete our online Intake Form.

Related resources and links to help track developmental milestones:

 

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 Dr. Halladay or another NESCA neuropsychologist/clinician, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; and the greater Burlington, Vermont region, serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Pediatric-onset Multiple Sclerosis

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Ferne Pinard, Ph.D.
NESCA Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Although typically thought of as an “adult illness,” children and adolescents can get diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). Pediatric-onset multiple sclerosis (POMS) occurs when MS is diagnosed before age 18.

Approximately 30% of POMS patients show evidence of cognitive impairment. Problems with attention, working memory, processing speed, and language (including word retrieval) are commonly reported. Poorer verbal expression/vocabulary acquisition have also been reported among patients who were diagnosed at younger ages. Overall IQ, memory, complex attention (i.e., shifting attention between competing stimuli) and visual-motor integration skills may also be impacted. These cognitive deficits as well as absences due to illness and fatigue can undermine the student’s academic performance (i.e., grades), leading to feelings of inadequacy and a sense of not being able to “keep up with” their peers academically.

However, POMS can also affect the child’s/adolescent’s social and emotional functioning. Fatigue, depression, bowel/bladder problems and physical limitations can decrease a child’s/adolescent’s interest in socializing. Heat sensitivity can limit participation in physical activities while in a warm environment, which can make them feel even more isolated. They may also feel embarrassed and have lowered self-esteem because they feel different from peers. Children/adolescents with chronic illnesses are also at an increased risk for teasing and bullying from peers. It is no surprise then that children/adolescents with MS are vulnerable to psychiatric disorders. Depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder occur more often in the MS population than the general population.

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable disease. Symptoms can come and go without apparent reason or warning, and no two people experience MS symptoms in exactly the same way. Some symptoms are clearly visible (like weakness, causing walking problems) or less visible (like fatigue or cognitive concerns). It is not possible to predict when symptoms will occur or what parts of the body will be affected. MS symptoms can change from week to week.

It is important that school officials understand that because symptoms come and go without warning, accommodations need to be in place, even when symptoms seem to diminish for a time. Accommodations can include:

    • Home tutoring when students are not able to attend school
    • Excused absences and a reasonable plan to make up missed work
    • Extended time for tests/exams/projects
    • Second set of books at home
    • Preferential seating for visual, attention, or bladder/bowel issues
    • Bathroom pass/extended bathroom time
    • Portable air conditioner/fan
    • Elevator access
    • Psychotherapeutic support
    • Plan to manage fatigue:
      • Frequent/scheduled breaks
      • Modification of class schedule
      • Workload modifications

A detailed neuropsychological evaluation is essential for objectively measuring any neurocognitive deficits, tracking them over time, and informing treatment recommendations. Speech/language, audiology, occupational therapy, and physical therapy evaluations may also be warranted depending on the severity of symptoms to determine whether these services are needed. Psychologists, psychiatrists, school guidance counselors, teachers, and school administrators as well as support groups with other patients and families facing this disease should also be part of the child’s/adolescent’s care team.

 

About Pediatric Neuropsychologist Ferne Pinard, Ph.D.

Dr. Pinard provides comprehensive evaluation services for children, adolescents, and young adults with learning disabilities, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), and psychiatric disorders as well as complex medical histories and neurological conditions. She has expertise in assessing children and adolescents with childhood cancer as well as neuro-immunological disorders, including opsoclonus-myoclonus-ataxia syndrome (“dancing eyes syndrome”), central nervous system vasculitis, Hashimoto’s encephalopathy, lupus, auto-immune encephalitis, multiple sclerosis (MS), acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), and acute transverse myelitis (ATM), and optic neuritis.

 

To book a neuropsychological evaluation with Dr. Pinard or another expert neuropsychologist at NESCA, complete NESCA’s online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; and Coaching and Transition staff in greater Burlington, Vermont, 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 are Some Youths More Susceptible to Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders?

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Ferne Pinard, Ph.D.
NESCA Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Anxiety disorders are one of the most commonly diagnosed disorders in childhood and adolescence. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9.4% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 5.8 million) were diagnosed with anxiety between 2016-2019. These numbers have increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some studies estimate that the prevalence of child and adolescent anxiety disorders nearly doubled during the pandemic.

Why are some individuals more susceptible to anxiety than others? The development of anxiety and anxiety disorders during youth is not simple or straightforward but involves complex interactions among the following variables:

  • Temperament: Children with the behavioral inhibition temperamental style described as timidity, shyness, and emotional restraint when with unfamiliar people and or in new places are more likely to develop anxiety disorders.
  • Parent-child Attachment: Children who did not experience a trusting and secure parental bond, but received inconsistent responses from caregivers and are preoccupied with the caregiver’s emotional availability (Ambivalent attachment) are at increased risk for developing an anxiety disorder.
  • Parental Anxiety: Children with anxious parents are at higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder. This relation is partly influenced by genetics. The risk of developing specific anxiety disorders has been associated with various genes. These can be passed to the child, thereby increasing their genetic vulnerability to anxiety disorders. However, parental behavior and practices are also important in understanding this link.
  • Parenting Behavior/Practices: When parents model anxious, overcontrolling, or demanding behavior, their children are more reluctant to explore new situations and display more avoidance behaviors.
  • Adversity: Trauma, negative/stressful life events as well as low socio-economic status are also risk factors for childhood anxiety. The more adverse life events an individual experiences in childhood, the greater the likelihood that they will develop an anxiety disorder. They also experience higher levels of anxiety.
  • COVID-19: The combination of social isolation and lack of support networks increased anxiety among youth during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Bullying: Being the victim or perpetrator of bulling is also associated with anxiety symptoms later on in life
  • Externalizing Disorders: Adolescents with early externalizing disorders are at increased risk for later anxiety disorders. Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), in particular, is a significant risk factor.
  • Sleep: Sleep disturbance often predicts the emergence of anxiety disorders.
  • Cognition: Maladaptive cognitive responses (e.g., inability to tolerate distress, negative beliefs about uncertainty, avoidance of new/unfamiliar people/things, and repetitive negative thinking) are associated with impaired emotion regulation and a greater risk of developing anxiety disorders.

Supportive relationships with family and peers as well as problem-focused coping strategies can guard against anxiety disorders. Problem-focused coping refers to strategies that directly address the problem to minimize its effect.

Parents, caregivers, and other adults involved can also help by:

  • being aware of the signs of anxiety
  • being mindful of expectations set for children and teens
  • encouraging participation in sports teams, clubs, community- or religious-based groups
  • supporting a healthy lifestyle, including a nutritious diet, exercise, and adequate sleep
  • providing access to support services

 

References:

Donovan, C. L., & Spence, S. H. (2000). Prevention of childhood anxiety disorders. Clinical psychology review20(4), 509-531.

Vallance, A., & Fernandez, V. (2016). Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents: Aetiology, diagnosis and treatment. BJPsych Advances, 22(5), 335-344. doi:10.1192/apt.bp.114.014183

Warner, E. N., & Strawn, J. R. (2023). Risk Factors for Pediatric Anxiety Disorders. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics. Published: February 26, 2023 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chc.2022.10.001

 

 

About Pediatric Neuropsychologist Ferne Pinard, Ph.D.

Dr. Pinard provides comprehensive evaluation services for children, adolescents, and young adults with learning disabilities, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), and psychiatric disorders as well as complex medical histories and neurological conditions. She has expertise in assessing children and adolescents with childhood cancer as well as neuro-immunological disorders, including opsoclonus-myoclonus-ataxia syndrome (“dancing eyes syndrome”), central nervous system vasculitis, Hashimoto’s encephalopathy, lupus, auto-immune encephalitis, multiple sclerosis (MS), acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), and acute transverse myelitis (ATM), and optic neuritis.

To book a neuropsychological evaluation with Dr. Pinard or another expert neuropsychologist at NESCA, complete NESCA’s online intake form

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