Tag

communication

Building Gratitude in our Kids

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC
NESCA Transition Specialist/Counselor

Would it be November without a blog post about gratitude? Gratitude feels both more important and harder to come by this year with the slew of events bombarding people’s personal lives and something different appearing what feels like every news cycle. But there must be something to all this gratitude if everyone from Forbes Magazine to Psychology Today is writing about it?

So what does the science say?

Basically, gratitude makes us happier and healthier. Being grateful and expressing gratitude can increase our social circle and have others be more willing to seek you out. Gratitude also seems to improve not only mental health but physical health as well. Studies show that grateful people take care of themselves better. They are more likely to exercise and more likely to follow up with medical personal. Studies show that writing in a gratitude journal before bed can even help you sleep better! (Morin, n.d.)

How can I help my child build gratitude?

Young people with disabilities, especially speech and language challenges, may have a hard time sharing their experiences at the end of the school day. Before my students left for the day, I would always ask them to go around the room and share one thing they enjoyed during their day. This way, no matter how challenging the day was, they ended it on a good note. Over time, the students began to look forward to sharing a positive experience from their day. Whether it was getting a compliment at their worksite or overcoming a challenge, they began to go looking for the positives.

Another wonderful way to build gratitude is to turn it into a scavenger hunt. Give each day a topic and share your gratitude topic at dinner. 

While we often think of a gratitude journal as something written, it doesn’t have to be. Have fun with it! Instead of writing down what you are thankful for today, take a picture with your phone or have your child make a drawing relating to the topic. Pinterest is full of great ideas, like the image below. Doing this for a month may turn you and your child a little more gleeful and find a brighter outlook on tomorrow.

Image Credit: Woman of Purpose (thepurposedwomanmag.com)

What are you grateful for today?

 

About the Author

Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC, is an experienced transition evaluator and vocational counselor. While she is well-versed in supporting a wide range of transition-aged youth, she is especially passionate and knowledgeable in helping clients and their families navigate the complex systems of adult services and benefits as well as medical and mental health systems. She is further adept in working individually with students of all abilities to empower self-advocacy and goal achievement.

 

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

 

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

 

Becoming a Behavior Detective

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS

Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

Behavior = Communication

Behavior is everywhere you look. All behavior is adaptive and purposeful whether “appropriate or inappropriate,” “expected or unexpected,” or “regulated or not.” Have you ever heard of the phrase, “Behavior = Communication?” It is often used to help us think about behavior as a meaningful and purposeful means of communication, even when it is maladaptive.

Behavior is multifaceted and can be internally- and externally-driven. Every behavior that any one of us does can be interpreted as communicative and as having meaning. When a mom says to load the dishwasher and a child doesn’t respond, the child may not have heard her or may have actually heard the direction and chosen to ignore her. Ignoring her and not responding is actually responding – the is escaping a demand or that direction. If a child asks for a toy at the store and the parent says, “No,” and the child cries and stomps their feet in displeasure, the child is definitely expressing feelings. If the parent gives in to the tantrum and agrees to buy the toy to quiet the child down, the parent is reinforcing the inappropriate behavior/tantrum. This pattern often repeats itself, leaving parents and kids in a vicious cycle. The child learns that crying and stomping gets what he/she wants.

Becoming a Behavior Detective

In the current COVID-19/stay at home landscape, being a behavior detective could serve parents and caregivers well! Parents and children are feeling stressed and anxious, even if they don’t appear so. This is a communal feeling given the current situation, and parents may need to pick and choose their battles wisely. Otherwise, they may spend hours of each day dealing with many unpleasant moments. Being “cooped up” with each other may present an opportunity for parents to become behavior detectives to figure out what their kids are trying to communicate. If the children are older, parents may want share this with them so both parent and child become detectives together; maybe even of each other!

Conjunction, Junction, What’s the Function?

Maladaptive behavior is communicating something, and if we want to change that we need to know what the communicative function of the behavior is. By knowing the function behind the behavior (what they are trying to accomplish by the behavior), we can then think about prevention, intervention and post-intervention—thus being able to intervene at three different times before a behavior actually occurs, during the behavior or after the behavior occurs.

Communicative functions of behavior include:

  • Escape/Avoidance of a task
  • Access to something/someone desirable
  • To make a request or a comment
  • Negations/refusal
  • Self-non-interactive—communicating with ourselves or self-talk/actions
  • Attention-seeking
  • Expression of feelings
  • Expression of sensory needs

Given our current environment, it may be important to think about the communicative function of a child’s “maladaptive behaviors.” This provides a way to intervene with a hypothesis of function and consistency of prevention, intervention or response. Given parents’ own mental, emotional or psychological state, they have the option to escalate or deescalate any situation. Be honest with your kids if you are tired, stressed or overloaded; let them know that you may have less patience when appropriate. Remind them that they have a role in helping to make the house and family a kind, happy and compassionate place. Honest communication, kindness and gentleness with one another (even when we lose control) goes a long way to help during these trying times.

If you need help in being a behavior detective, NESCA is providing virtual parent coaching and consultation. Complete our online Intake Form for more information.

 

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.

 

Meltdown Analysis — Part 2

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS

Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

As discussed in last week’s blog, Meltdowns Happen, all children meltdown. Adults meltdown, too. Losing control can take many forms. It is a part of human nature unless we deliberately work on “controlling the beast” that’s lurking inside of us when our system gets taxed. When children are very young, we expect them to lose control because they are learning how to identify and express their emotions. A three-year-old who tantrums is not that uncommon; however, by the time that child is six and then 10, we want them to have developed more and more control as they mature.  But, many children don’t always develop the control that we’d like, and those diagnosed with learning differences sometimes have even more difficulty controlling their emotions.

Teaching children about their emotions, their triggers and how to manage their feelings is the backbone of improving self-awareness, stress management and social competency (3 Ss). If children can label and recognize feelings, notice how their body feels with different emotions and know how to calm themselves when stressed, the better off they will be in life. In a previous role as the program director of Aspire/MGH, we focused on these 3 Ss and utilized a volcano image with our autism spectrum disorder (ASD) participants to teach them about their stress cycle. The volcano image represented a meltdown (see below).

In using this with your child, pick a quiet, calm moment to introduce it to him/her. You might want to start the conversation by reading a book about stress or big emotions. There are many to choose from depending upon the age of your child. You could also just begin a discussion with volcano image to help them understand what they look like and sound like when they are melting down. Discuss with your child what you think s/he looks like as s/he begins to meltdown starting at the bottom of the volcano and working all the way to the top (5) and then what s/he looks like when s/he begins to calm down and recover (moving down the right side of the volcano). If your child has not learned stress management strategies, this is a good time to practice. If your child has learned some techniques, you can also create a list of strategies that s/he can do at each step to help gain control so s/he doesn’t continue to escalate to the next stage. For instance, at a 3, you may be able to use humor to help redirect, but when s/he is at a 4 or 5, using humor may increase distress. I hope this image helps with understanding and reducing the meltdowns that are occurring every day in everyone’s home.

If you’d like assistance in creating your child’s personal meltdown plan, self-awareness plan or behavior plan, NESCA’s parent coaching services can assist you in the journey.

 

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.

 

Meltdowns Happen

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS

Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

When we think of the word meltdown, we may think of the economy or stock market, glaciers, nuclear meltdowns or even volcanoes erupting. These are all examples of things collapsing from being over-stressed, overheating, a major disruption to a system or an internal collapse. Using the word meltdown to describe people is similar. In homes across America, even as we settle into quarantine, slow down our lives and find ways to enjoy our time together, there may be more meltdowns happening that are filled with tears, screams and lots of “No, I don’t want to!” Adults and children are becoming overheated, over-stressed, and our systems are over-burdened. And when a system can no longer take it, it melts down, boils over, erupts, or crashes and burns. In these moments, it is the only way of coping – to let loose, let off of steam, erupt – or just plain melt down. Sometimes it’s hard to believe, but each of us is doing the best we can to cope with a difficult environment. We’re trying to do the best we can, because our biological system is in a meltdown. We are not responding; instead we are reacting from our “downstairs” brain and not our “upstairs” brain.

A meltdown may be an explosion and look like crying, throwing things, yelling, aggressing, breaking things, etc. Or it may be more like an implosion – a withdrawal from the family, hiding, sleeping more, lethargy, etc. Both are the same in many ways biologically; the system is in fight, fright or freeze. A meltdown should be viewed as a “neurological storm.” This fight, flight or freeze response is not a child being “bad” or disrespectful, but rather is “bad behavior” that needs to be changed. Remember, it is their best attempt to cope, not a deliberate, willful, defiant act towards you. It is your child saying, “Help me – I can’t help myself! I’ve lost it!” This is not a time to teach, reason with, or win a battle. It is a fire to be put out, and you as the parent or caretaker is the firefighter. It’s a crisis to be managed, and you become your child’s “upstairs brain” or frontal lobe (even though you may want to react from your “downstairs brain,” because you may also be losing it.

Everyone wants to have a good day. Remember, when it’s going in a different direction, you are the adult. You can take a breath and even walk away (if you can) for a few seconds to compose yourself. This allows you to respond versus react. It is your job to manage the situation and take the emotional high road (often easier said than done). In these moments, it is really only about a few things.

  1. Safety and dignity
  2. Keep calm and reduce/simplify your language
  3. Keep calm and know this too shall pass
  4. Don’t get pulled off topic by all the things your child is saying or doing – this is a rabbit hole that you won’t emerge from
  5. Mention what you want to have happen, rather than what you want to stop (“Bang your pillow” instead of “Stop banging the wall”)
  6. Establish connection – right brain to right brain. Remember the mantra, “Name it to tame it.” (i.e. I know this is hard; I know you don’t want to do it; I wouldn’t want to either; or I know you don’t like it, etc.)

Resources:

https://www.drdansiegel.com/books/the_whole_brain_child/

 

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.

 

Resilience during COVID-19: Collective Efficacy

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Renée Marchant, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

There is an array of research-proven factors shown to increase psychological and physiological resilience or “bounce-back” from stressful experiences, such as maintaining a social network and practicing healthy coping skills when in distress.

One important factor is self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is distinct from self-esteem. Self-esteem is a judgement of self-worth whereas self-efficacy is a judgement of personal capability. People with a strong sense of self-efficacy:

  • View challenging problems as tasks to be mastered;
  • Develop deeper interest in the activities in which they participate;
  • Form a stronger sense of commitment to their interests and activities; and
  • Recover quickly from setbacks and disappointments (Bandura, 1995).

The COVID-19 crisis has cultivated a closely related and critical construct, collective efficacy. Collective efficacy is a group’s shared belief in its capability to organize and execute actions required to achieve goals (Bandura, 1995). In other words, members of a community look out for each other, support each other in solving problems, and, in effect, improve their lives through combined efforts.

Collective self-efficacy is everywhere amidst this crisis. Social distancing is in itself a collective efficacy measure. Thousands of communities across the world continue to show everyday kindness for those in need and solidarity for those on the front lines. A few local Massachusetts examples are:

Collective efficacy is proven to increase resilience at a family level and at a community level. Collective efficacy is critical for navigating through, tolerating and “bouncing back” from this crisis. Collective self-efficacy can be cultivated and grown at home through small, meaningful and intentional acts.

Here are three research-proven “collective self-efficacy” enhancers to practice while you’re home with your family during COVID-19:

  1. Stay active in a cause for kindness and connection: Make art or compliment cards for first responders. Record a video and send to a local nursing home. Participate in an organized trip to the grocery store for vulnerable members of your community.
  2. Create collective mastery experiences: Mastery experiences are experiences we gain when we take on a challenge and succeed. Identify a “home project” such as organizing a closet together. Creatively problem solve how to cook a snack or meal with four ingredients already in your kitchen. Organize a family “work-out” exercise challenge.
  3. Encourage reflection and communication: Identify a small, realistic goal for each family member to accomplish each morning. Have each family member name a “take away” and “throw away” from their day in the evening. Share a “strength story” to reflect on a strength you and/or your family member showed that week. Consider using specific value-driven language to identify this strength (see examples from the VIA character strengths research studies below).

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.

 

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

 

Why are they called “Soft” Skills?

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By Kathleen Pignone, M.Ed., CRC
Transition Specialist

If they are soft, why are they so crucial in this hard, cruel world? As a transition specialist, I meet with young adults and their parents on a daily basis. All parents want to know what is that missing piece for child to really succeed after high school? What should my priorities be? Is the right college more important than the right internship or vise versa? I often hear the saying, “I remember in my day, you just dusted yourself off and kept going. Why is this new generation struggling?”

While I don’t have an answer to those profound questions, I can offer some go-to skills that will support our young adults as they transition from high school to college, the world of work and the great beyond…soft skills—those intangible, hard-to-pin-down skills that we all know we need to succeed, but are so hard to teach. As a wise practitioner once told me, “Just because it is simple, it doesn’t make it easy.” While it’s critical to teach, prepare and equip our students with the necessary skills for academic success, soft skills can be just as important in many instances. Young adults need a balance of academic, executive functioning, communication and soft skills to set themselves up for success in their multi-faceted life after high school. These soft skills can make the difference between candidates competing for college acceptance and job opportunities.

I also like to refer to these skills as the job keeping and high achieving skills. Strong foundational academic, planning and team-building skills are necessary for success, but these soft skills are the subtle differences observed in the student chosen for that internship by the professor and recognized in the entry-level employee who quickly advances to the mentor employee.

In my practice, I am witness to amazing, capable, energizing and unique young adults, who are unaware of the many talents and strengths they already possess. I work to coach, teach and persuade them that these soft skills are in there, but are struggling to make an appearance. The key is identifying them and knowing when to call on them in stressful times. As a transition specialist, I offer the young people I meet with the opportunities to name and own these skills within themselves. For example, when a teenager is struggling with school, but shows up every day, I introduce them to their “grit,” their get-up- and-go and “try again” skill.  By identifying skills that may just be lying dormant or unrecognized, I offer them a chance to see that they have an innate strength that has both a name and a purpose. These skills are not only necessary, but are transferable to all aspects of their future lives. Their internal grit pushes them to go to class when their roommate is sleeping in and go to work even though they have a cold and could call out sick.

By definition, students ready to transition from high school are at an age and stage of curiosity, exploration, hope and optimism. But they may easily miss out on identifying these characteristics as strengths and skills, if we do not point it out and celebrate it with them. When they are resisting rules and boundaries, they are employing their skills of curiosity and exploration. When they want to protest against inequity in this unfair world and are perceived as naive and inexperienced, I praise their hope and optimism. We talk about how these soft skills are integral to their success as an adult and will serve them as they continue to grow and learn.

Young adults in our current society have no other option than to be flexible and adaptable. Technology is constantly updating and changing, forcing them to move forward or be left behind. Their resilience in handling all that social media exposes them to on a daily basis is admirable. I wouldn’t have stood as tall and strong as they do with such public scrutiny.

As we prepare our young adults for life after high school, let us always take the time to see, name and recognize the strengths and soft skills they show us. We have the opportunity to observe and learn from them and value these skills so that they may offer themselves as resources to their community. The balance necessary to teach young people how to manage an interdependent world as an adult is complicated. It is exciting and energizing to witness young people find these strengths within themselves, helping them to conquer that great big world.

 

About the Author:

Kathleen Pignone, M.Ed. CRC is a deeply knowledgeable and experienced transition specialist. Prior to her tenure at NESCA, Ms. Pignone was the Career Development Director at Bay Cove Academy for 15 years, providing students with classroom and real-world employment skills training, community job placement and on the job employment-training. She has also worked at Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education and privately as a vocational rehabilitation consultant. As a certified rehabilitation counselor, Ms. Pignone brings unique expertise carrying out vocational assessment and employment planning for adolescents and young adults as well as supporting local school programs. In addition to fortifying NESCA’s premier transition assessment services, Ms. Pignone engages in person-centered planning with teens and young adults, consultation and training for parents, providers and schools, and community-based coaching services.

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 a transition assessment or consultation with Kathleen, please complete NESCA’s online intake form