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coronavirus

Coronavirus & Social Injustice: A Crisis or an Opportunity? – Part 2

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS

Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

Last week in my blog post, I wrote about one’s perspective about the coronavirus as an opportunity or as a crisis. Initially, most everyone thought it was a crisis and we needed to mobilize to fight it. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker recognized it as a crisis early on and has handled it with steadfastness and clarity; whether or not you agree with his decisions. Recently, he mobilized a commission to discuss the re-opening of schools in the fall. This commission has stakeholders from across the Commonwealth, including parents, business leaders, community leaders, educators and administrators. As part of guidance on the reopening of schools, Governor Baker and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) told school district administrators to plan for three scenarios of returning to school in the fall: in-person, a hybrid of remote and in-person, and all remote learning. The districts were given deadlines to submit their plans – a daunting task for all involved. But this pandemic has created many daunting tasks for all of us, and we must come together thinking flexibly, creatively and collaboratively to handle this crisis and move towards thinking about it as an opportunity. Our world as we know it and much of the workings of our world have changed and probably will remain changed for the foreseeable future (i.e., open floor offices are a thing of the past; working from home is proving for some to be more productive).

We are all in this together and when parents, students, teachers and administrators think about the return to in-person instruction in the fall, it brings about many different emotions as well as concerns. Administrators have to plan for all three scenarios, because there are so many unknown variables to consider. For instance, we could start in-person learning then need to switch to remote if there is an uptick in positive cases of the coronavirus. School re-entry in the fall is an unknown, but our leaders are trying to plan as best they can for all possibilities. Ultimately, returning to in-person learning will be a personal decision for every parent based on many variables for each of their children. What’s good for one child may not be good for another in the same family, let alone one family to another.

I wonder about viewing the coronavirus and the havoc it’s wreaked on our educational systems as a genuine opportunity to truly rethink how we educate students. Maybe it is seriously time to consider dramatic school reform. Our education system is antiquated and has not changed much over the years even with the advent of STEAM. We still have achievement gaps with many students not succeeding even with reforms and many dollars spent. Maybe the coronavirus and the social injustice movement are just the crises that are the opportunity that will really change how we think about education, bringing about dynamic and dramatic school reform.

In last week’s blog, I quoted John F. Kennedy as saying, “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity.” The coronavirus and social injustice are certainly crises of today, yet I do see them as an opportunity to heal the divisions in our country, increase dialogue and create change.

Last week Massachusetts DESE Commissioner Riley’s Weekly Update included “Protocols for Responding to COVID-19 Scenarios.” This guidance provides more information and protocols to answer the following questions:

  • What should a district do if there is a symptomatic individual – at home, on the bus or at school?
  • What should a district do if someone in the school community tests positive for COVID-19 – be it a student, teacher, staff, bus driver, or one of their household members or close contacts?
  • Who should get tested for COVID-19 and when?
  • In what circumstances would someone need to quarantine (when they have been exposed but are not sick) or isolate (when they are sick)?
  • What should school districts do to monitor COVID-19 spread in their communities?”

These guidelines may change as the situation changes, but as they stand now. I have heard a variety of responses to these guidelines, such as:

  • “This makes my head hurt and eyes blur.”
  • “They have got to be joking.”
  • “It’s an attempt. They’re trying.”
  • “Kids have to go back some day.”
  • “Deep breaths and an open mind are needed.”
  • “We’re all in this together. We have to try.”

As these comments demonstrate, there are many different feelings and thoughts about going back to in-person instruction in the fall. Our administrators and leaders are juggling so many different variables in making decisions. It “requires” us to trust them and show concern, compassion and gratitude in their attempts at re-opening schools. I recognize the three options presented are just that – three options. No matter what the decisions are about how we return to school, it will be what it will be in each community.

It is my hope that our leaders can view this pandemic, this crisis, as an opportunity to seriously contemplate and delve deeply into discussions about school reform within our country. This pandemic has dramatically shown the inequities that exist across our state and country and in our cities and towns. We knew they were there before, but now they are in our faces. We have an opportunity to think about education as not related to one’s zip code, socio-economic status, color of one’s skin/ethnicity or other factors; instead we can think about it as a basic human right that should be equal for all.

Education is about preparing children to become a competent member of our society and community. We have an opportunity to think about how and where we educate students. Education is about learning and preparing students for tomorrow. Many districts that were socially-emotionally-focused and had good technology capabilities were able to be nimble and pivoted smoothly to remote learning during the pandemic. These districts also had good leadership, solid communication with families and students, and staff felt cared for. There were many other districts that struggled to pivot to remote learning for a myriad of reasons, and this points out that equity in our educational system is necessary. So, while you think about the fall and schools reopening, do what you think is right for your child and family. Also, remember that this “new normal” of remote learning can be okay if done well.

In the special education vernacular, you often hear that special education isn’t a place or a program. That is also true for all education – education isn’t a place. It is so much more. The Center for Education Reform states that the future of schools is students, not systems. This might be a good time to devote some energy to reforming our educational system for the future.

 

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.

 

Coronavirus & Social Injustice: A Crisis or an Opportunity? – Part 1

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS

Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

As our leaders try to handle the crises of today, we can be angry or pleased at their attempt. I know I’ve been both, but yet recognize that they are trying to make tough decisions while taking into consideration many uncontrollable variables. In making these tough decisions (i.e. opening/shutting down schools, stay at home orders, managing protesters, etc.), it is almost impossible to please everyone. As the days turn into months, panic, anger, guilt and irrational thinking won’t work for us as individuals nor as a community. Instead it would behoove us to come together, show care, concern, empathy and gratitude toward each other. Recognizing that the divisions that exist amongst us are what keeps us fighting, in fear and not working towards common goals. We must acknowledge our differences, yet come together to be problem solvers and be optimists to handle the crises of the coronavirus and the social injustice that is plaguing our cities and impacting our children.

John F. Kennedy was quoted as saying, “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity.” The coronavirus is most certainly a daunting, unprecedented crisis that has befallen our country and our world.

In March, our lives changed dramatically as schools in Massachusetts were shut down and we were told to quarantine. Now five months later, we begin to reopen. Now, I wonder if we can look at this crisis a bit differently – maybe as an opportunity. But an opportunity for what? Seeing a crisis as an opportunity takes courage and faith and requires a peace of mind that is rooted in a sense of calm, not fear. This allows creative and flexible thinking to emerge. We become problem solvers. As days turned into months of quarantine and we tried to “settle into the new normal and go with the flow,” my hope is that some of the initial panic and fear has subsided slightly in your hearts and minds. Maybe new rhythms or routines have been created – we’re commuting less, enjoying time with family, cleaning the basement, cooking more, etc. Some opportunities have arisen whether we’ve noticed them or not and whether we’ve liked them or not. Do you think you’re ready to think differently about this crisis? Can you find moments in each day that arise because of the crisis that open up opportunities or possibilities?

As we settle into mid-summer, we also begin to think about schools reopening in the fall and what that will look like. Will it be a crisis or an opportunity? Only you can decide.

 

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.

 

There Is No Wrong Decision

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By:  Alissa Talamo, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

We are living in an unprecedented time. As such, parents are faced with decisions that they have never faced before. For example, families are facing the challenging decision about whether or not to send their children back to school for in-person classes in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents have to wrestle with the idea that, on the one hand, sending children to school could increase the risk of COVID-19 among children and family members; while on the other hand, children who don’t return to in-person school may experience disruptions in their education and may miss out on the social interaction and community feeling within the school building. In addition, some families simply don’t have a choice because they need to go to work or a family member at home is immunocompromised.

What is most important is to recognize is that whether or not to send a child to school in the fall means something different to everybody. It is imperative that, as parents, you give yourself permission to feel whatever it is that you are feeling, and that you do what feels right for you and your family. It may be difficult to accept, but we have little control over much of what is happening around us right now. While it is important to acknowledge how you are feeling, it is equally important to remember that, in fact, any reactions are normal under the current circumstances.

How you respond to stress during the COVID-19 pandemic can depend on your background, your financial situation, your health and emotional background, your social support system, the community you live in and many other factors. When it comes to parenting, every day can be a challenge, and the coronavirus has made an already scary world feel even more menacing.  Remember to “ignore the noise” and give yourself credit for taking care of yourself and your family.

 

 

About the Author:

With NESCA since its inception in 2007, Dr. Talamo had previously practiced for many years as a child and adolescent clinical psychologist before completing postdoctoral re-training in pediatric neuropsychology at the Children’s Evaluation Center.

After receiving her undergraduate degree from Columbia University, Dr. Talamo earned her doctorate in clinical health psychology from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University.

She has given a number of presentations, most recently on “How to Recognize a Struggling Reader,” “Supporting Students with Working Memory Limitations,” (with Bonnie Singer, Ph.D., CCC-SLP of Architects for Learning), and “Executive Function in Elementary and Middle School Students.”

Dr. Talamo specializes in working with children and adolescents with language-based learning disabilities including dyslexia, attentional disorders, and emotional issues. She is also interested in working with highly gifted children.

Her professional memberships include MAGE (Massachusetts Association for Gifted Education), IDA (International Dyslexia Association), MABIDA (the Massachusetts division of IDA) and MNS (the Massachusetts Neuropsychological Society).

She is the mother of one teenage girl.

To book a consultation with Dr. Talamo 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, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

What Will Transition Services Look Like in the Fall?

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC
Transition Specialist and Consultant

Many parents, educators and students are wondering what school will look like in the fall. This is especially important for those students who are receiving community-based transition services. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education’s (DESE) Senior Associate Commissioner and State Director of Special Education Russell Johnston released a document on July 9th, that provides information regarding the “Guidance on Fall 2020 Special Education Services.” As many of you have heard, there are several options for models for schooling this fall, which include full-time, in-person learning, remote learning and a hybrid model that includes both. The following statement regarding Transition Services was included in this newly released document:

“Although in-person participation in community-based programs and inclusive concurrent enrollment programs at institutions of higher education may be limited at this time, schools and districts should make best efforts to develop plans collaboratively with community-based providers, colleges, parents/guardians, and students in order for students to access as much transition programming as possible. Current health and safety requirements must remain a priority when making decisions as to the extent that transition services are able to be accessed in community-based settings; however, it is highly recommended that in-person transition services resume as soon as it is safe to do so with the proper health and safety measures in place.”

As you can see, it is recommended that in-person transition services begin as soon as it is considered safe to do so. Many educators, families and students rely on schedules to be drafted and/or completed prior to the start of a new school year. In our COVID world that we are currently living in, this is a much harder task to accomplish with there being so many unknowns.

Thinking outside the box when it comes to delivering transition services has always been important. Now, it feels like this needs to be the top priority when planning. Below are some basic ideas around how to continue developing transition skills if community-based options are not available.

Independent Living:

  • Practice using Peapod or other online grocery delivery services
  • Cooking within the school building
  • Research how to order prescriptions online or over the phone
  • Practice mock phone calls to order food, make a medical appointment, etc.
  • Review public transportation schedules and research how long it takes to get from one place to another

Vocational:

  • Folding clothes or stocking shelves in the school store
  • Learn how to use Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.
  • Practice mock interviews
  • Use free online resources to watch short career videos and start a binder of what you like and don’t like about each job
  • Identify places you might like to work once they are hiring again

Functional Academics:

  • Access your bank account online and see where you spend your money
  • Use mock online banking resources to understand the do’s and don’ts
  • Practice ordering at a restaurant by using an online menu

 

About the Author

Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC, works with teens, young adults and their families out of the Newton, MA and Plainville, MA offices. Lauzon has unparalleled experience as a Transition Specialist, Transition Consultant and Vocational Program Coordinator. Lauzon will be providing transition assessment (including testing, functional evaluations and observations) consultation, case management, training and professional development for schools; and transition planning, consultation and coaching for transition-aged students and their parents.

 

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.

 

Positive Coping Strategies for Stress, Anxiety and Trauma During Times of Crisis

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Renée Marchant, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Amidst the global pandemic, children, their caregivers, their teachers and therapists are naturally experiencing heightened stress and anxiety. We are more likely to be sent into “fight, flight, freeze, mode” – the body and brain’s critical survival strategy to prepare and deal with perceived threat. For example, when you see a Grizzly Bear on your hiking trail, you instinctually run, fight back or hide.

However, we can become “stuck” or more sensitive to this instinctual urge, which is not adaptive and can negatively impact physical, emotional and social health. For example, chronic deployment of the “flight, flight, freeze” response occurs for individuals who experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Chronic deployment of “fight, flight, freeze” responses is also more likely amidst a global pandemic, such as COVID-19. Importantly, chronic deployment of “fight, flight, freeze” responses also occurs for individuals and communities who experience chronic racial injustice and oppression.

Under chronic experiences of stress and threat, our body remains activated and hyper-aroused, even when deploying this response is not helpful. For example, children may shut down or dysregulate when faced with even small stressors – making an error on a math worksheet or even accidentally spilling something on the table. Children and teens may be more irritable, defiant or isolative. Overall, chronic deployment of the “fight, flight, freeze” response heightens anxiety, stress and general feelings of malaise.

So, what can we do? What can we do to “turn off” or lessen this stress response? What are some ways to positively cope during these difficult times?

  1. Research shows that the #1 resiliency factor is the reliable presence of at least one supportive relationship with an adult. Build connection and community through shared activities and conversations about your experiences. Remember to always take care of yourself before taking care of others – self-care is critical.
  2. Focus on validation first; problem-solving second. Validating, acknowledging and accepting pain, distress, hurt and the like builds communication and naturally decreases tension and stress. Validation is the essential first step prior to action, problem-solving and positive coping.
  3. In order to grow positive coping, it is helpful to build mastery and self-expression. Strategies that can help to both organize and “release” feelings and stressful experiences rather than “bottle them up” include:
  • Use your body to heal your mind: play, do yoga, engage with nature, exercise;
  • Engage in shared action to promote communication and change at a community and systemic level. Volunteer or advocate for a cause of importance. Contact your local legislators and express your concerns;
  • Write or draw about your experience. Use collages, images or videos to express your goals, experiences and fears;
  • Engage in therapeutic movement. Create a music playlist for various emotions. Dance or engage in rhythmic actions (e.g. knitting, pottery);
  • Identify your strengths and what you value in life. Happiness is fleeting – goals and values last longer and support positive coping. For a free strengths and values survey, check out: https://www.viacharacter.org/;
  • Connect with community resources available in your area, such as therapists, mentors, religious organizations, support groups, local-nonprofits, etc.; and
  • Be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion.

To learn more about this topic, a helpful webinar is available at “Supports for Students with a History of Trauma and Significant Anxiety,“ presented by Dr. Renee Marchant, PsyD, and Dr. Stephanie Monaghan-Blout, PsyD.

 

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.

 

“Can I Hug You?” – Why the pandemic has us craving closeness

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

At the end of a testing session last week, my young client and I stood looking at each other through the large glass window of our contactless, adjoined testing rooms. Our hands were newly washed; the fresh scent of antibacterial wipes emitted from the tables; and our face coverings were in place. And while looking at one another from our respective bubbles, inside this necessarily sterile setting, my client looked me in the eye and asked: “Can I hug you?”

The question hung in the air for a moment. In the 15 years that I have worked with children, I have rarely hesitated when a child asks me this. But there we were, mid-pandemic, in this brief, perhaps imperceptible, moment of uncertainty.

One thing I have become keenly aware of since starting to see family and friends for socially distanced visits is how much I, and my children, have to consciously fight the physical urge to embrace the people we love. The urge is palpable. But where does this come from?

There is a great body of research demonstrating the importance of physical touch, particularly hugging. Hugs are not just a simply a way of demonstrating your love or support for someone, but hugging actually causes physiological changes within the body. Stress hormones, such as cortisol, reduce, and the nervous system slows down. Oxytocin – a hormone integral to bonding – is released, increasing closeness and affection. Over time, close physical contact results in improved brain development, heart health, emotional health, relationship patterns and immune function.

In many ways, physical touch is a basic human need that must be met. Individuals who are deprived of these experiences, particularly early in life, can experience detrimental effects. Fortunately, some of these effects can be mitigated once opportunities for closeness are offered. As such, our bodies and brains never fully give up on the urge for closeness, even after long durations of it being unmet. And this urge has a name – skin hunger.

Most people have felt skin hunger at some point – a driving urge for human contact and connection. This may come after a particularly stressful day at work, an argument with a friend or just a general feeling of loneliness. In times of uncertainty, distress or instability, the human need for closeness increases. And yet, for so many who are enduring the COVID-19 pandemic, closeness is the exact thing that they are being deprived of. Even when we are lucky enough to still have access to our families, or perhaps a small group of close friends, our emotional needs are high. Physiologically, psychologically, we need more hugs.

The good news is, there are things that you can do to meet this need:

  • Consciously make an effort to hug those you can, and do it more often than typical.
  • Snuggle up with your dog, your cat or other pet of choice.
  • For those who live alone and do not have pets, a weighted blanket, warm bath or hugging a pillow can simulate the effects of human touch.
  • Maintain social connection through video chat, phone calls and socially distanced visits. Interpersonal contact without hugging is better than no contact.
  • Be careful to not accidentally over-associate hugs or touch with danger. Coronavirus will eventually be managed, but training our children to fear closeness could have enduring, negative effects. Choose words wisely, teaching pragmatic, unemotional caution, not fear.

 

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.

Preparing our Kids to Reenter the Community

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

For many children, new experiences are frightening and anxiety-provoking. Children thrive on routine and predictability; when these get interrupted, it can be hard for them to understand what is happening. As we all know, the last few months have been fraught with unpredictability and change. Now, we are starting to go back to work, eat at restaurants and visit retail stores. As adults, we might have mixed feelings about this – relief to get out of the house but also fear about the ongoing pandemic. For our children, we are expecting them to reenter their communities with a new set of “rules” after months of being in the safety of their homes. This is going to be a difficult process, especially for children with special needs.

So how do we prepare children for all of the new experiences they are about to face?

One method that has been found to be effective is the use of Social Stories™. Social Stories were first developed in 1990 by Carol Gray, a special education teacher. In essence, Social Stories are used to explain situations and experiences to children at a developmentally appropriate level using pictures and simple text. In order to create materials that are considered a true Social Story, there are a set of criteria that must be used. More information can be found here: https://carolgraysocialstories.com/social-stories/what-is-it/.

While special educators or therapists are expected to use this high standard in their work, it is also relatively easy for parents to create modified versions of these stories to use at home. I was inspired by one of my clients recently who made a story for her son with Down syndrome to prepare him for the neuropsychological evaluation. During her parent intake, she took pictures of me and the office setting. At home, she created a short book that started with a picture of her son, a picture of their car, a picture of my office, a picture of me and so on. On each page, she wrote a simple sentence:

  • First we will get in the car
  • We will drive to Dr. Gibbons’ office
  • We will play some games with Dr. Gibbons
  • We will go pick a prize at Target
  • We will drive home

Throughout the evaluation, she referred to the book whenever her son became frustrated by the tests or needed a visual reminder of the day’s schedule. Something that probably only took a few minutes to create played an important role in helping her son feel comfortable and be able to complete the evaluation.

The options for creating similar types of stories are endless, giving parents a way to prepare their children for a scary experience.

Some examples of stories to create during the ongoing pandemic:

  • Wearing a mask when out of the house
  • Proper hand washing
  • Socially distant greetings (bubble hugs, elbow bumps, etc.)

Some examples of more general stories include:

  • Doctor’s visits
  • Going to the dentist
  • Getting a haircut
  • Riding in the car
  • First day of school

You can use stock photos from the internet or pictures of your child and the actual people/objects they will encounter. If you have a child who reads, you can include more text; if your child does not read, focus on pictures only. Read the story with the child several times in the days leading up to the event. For ongoing expectations (e.g., wearing a mask) – you can review the story as often as needed. Keep it short and simple. And have fun with it!

 

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 Dr. Gibbons 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.

Testing at NESCA during COVID-19

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Ann Helmus, Ph.D.
NESCA Founder/Director

I’m sure you can agree, it’s been an interesting time due to the onset of COVID-19. Our worlds, livelihoods and professional lives have been turned upside down. At NESCA, where our entire business revolves around the in-person evaluations, assessments, coaching and treatment of children, adolescents and young adults, much of our “In Real Life (IRL)” activity had to be put on hold to prevent the risk of infection among our clients and staff.

After making the decision to temporarily close our physical offices, our clinical and administrative staff swiftly geared up to provide as many services as possible remotely. While we were considered an “essential” business by the State of Massachusetts, we opted to pause our neuropsychological testing for the safety of all involved while initiating research into how we could conduct this critical service to our families. We are keenly aware of the long wait times for testing and the associated stress that puts on parents while they seek out answers about their children’s behavior or learning differences—all the while making children who need supports earlier than later wait in the wings as well. We also knew there would be an increased need for testing because of the impact COVID-19 was and is likely to have on the mental health of children and teens; schools would eventually be inundated with a back-log of evaluations already in the works as well requests for new evaluations that, by law, have to be conducted within a specific time period; and to help fulfill the ever-present need to assist schools and parents in providing support to children with special needs.

Knowing our pause of testing was not a long-term, viable option, after careful consideration and much intense research, we identified several options on how we could bring our neuropsychological evaluation services back to the NESCA community. The options we identified as possibilities included conducting teletherapy, using a partial plexiglass screen (akin to what you would see protecting a store cashier), observing social distancing and constructing a two-office model. We examined the risk to both clients and clinicians, privacy and technology constraints, ethics surrounding the validity of the test findings and legal issues concerning the credibility of evaluation findings/diagnosis among other topics.

While we determined that teletherapy has a role in the testing process, including parent intake and feedback sessions, we ultimately decided that it would not be a solution for NESCA to adopt for the actual evaluation of a child. Next, the partial plexiglass shield did not provide enough risk mitigation for the child or evaluator, and it may not have been a secure enough physical barrier for some of the more aggressive children we test to keep both parties properly distanced.

So, where does that leave us? We do have social distancing in the mix as a potential option. While it does not provide maximum risk reduction, some families see it as the most natural option. The child, and if necessary, a parent helper, are at one end of a long conference table, and the evaluator is at the other end, at least six feet away at all times. All people in the room wear masks to further reduce risk. All testing materials are set up in advance for the child or parent helper. Most tests can be conducted on an iPad, which is controlled by the evaluator’s computer.

Since we were very aware that some parents would not be comfortable with this model, we continued our exploration and education, landing on an innovative two-office model. The two-office set-up involves a four foot by eight foot clear plexiglass window to be installed between two offices. This allows for clear observation of the child by the evaluator, the ability for the child and evaluator to communicate with each other via a high-quality intercom system and for the evaluator to visually demonstrate activities that the child is asked to perform during testing. A parent helper can be allowed in the room with the child should they need support during the session. Again, many of the tests would be administered via an iPad, which is controlled by the evaluator in the adjoining room. All additional test materials are organized and arranged in the office where the child is prior to testing.

NESCA’s two-office approach was piloted in our Londonderry, N.H. office by Dr. Angela Currie. Due to its maximum risk reduction for all parties and its similarity to the standard testing experience, NESCA expanded its testing capabilities with this model to the Newton office, where there are currently two of these testing areas available. While it does have some limitations, it is working very well with our families.

Along with the new testing models implemented, NESCA is, of course, taking all precautions available to reduce risk of exposure. We require risk assessment questionnaires, temperature checks and hand sanitizing; implemented a “touchless” check-in process; limit the number of people to a total of eight at one time in the 7,000 square foot Newton office, with testing being done at opposite ends of the office; provide private waiting rooms for parents who are not involved in the child’s testing; and sanitize all equipment and rooms used both before and after every appointment. We continue to follow the CDC and State’s guidelines for re-opening requirements.

We are very proud of our ability to continue to serve parents, children, families and schools during this extremely difficult time. I am once again so grateful to the cohesive and collaborative team we have in place here at NESCA and for its creativity, innovation, determination and dedication. The needs of families with children who have special needs never stop. While we may be forced to pause, NESCA will do everything in its power not to stop either.

Resources/Notes:

  • To view the Federation for Children with Special Needs webinar with Dr. Ann Helmus, visit Testing in the Age of Remote Learning
  • Dr. Helmus will present, “Testing in the Time of Covid,” to the Massachusetts Urban Project, a statewide network of special education leaders from 15 urban school districts across the state, on June 9.
  • Dr. Helmus will present on this topic in conjunction with Massachusetts Advocated for Children in June TBD.

 

About the Author: 

NESCA Founder/Director Ann Helmus, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical neuropsychologist who has been practicing for almost 20 years. In 1996, she jointly founded the  Children’s Evaluation Center (CEC) in Newton, Massachusetts, serving as co-director there for almost ten years. During that time, CEC emerged as a leading regional center for the diagnosis and remediation of both learning disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

In September of 2007, Dr. Helmus established NESCA (Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents), a client and family-centered group of seasoned neuropsychologists and allied staff, many of whom she trained, striving to create and refine innovative clinical protocols and dedicated to setting new standards of care in the field.

Dr. Helmus specializes in the evaluation of children with learning disabilities, attention and executive function deficits and primary neurological disorders. In addition to assessing children, she also provides consultation and training to both public and private school systems. She frequently makes presentations to groups of parents, particularly on the topics of non-verbal learning disability and executive functioning.

To book an evaluation with Dr. Helmus, NESCA Founder and Director, 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, as well as Londonderry, New Hampshire. NESCA serves clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

How to Talk to Your Kids about Racial Inequality and Current Events

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow and Therapist

It is old news that parents and children have been experiencing an increased sense of uncertainty and vulnerability due to COVID-19. That vulnerability may be exacerbated by the news of violent protests that were sparked by anger over police brutality against black men and women. News of widespread violence around the country spread rapidly in a country already stressed to its capacity in dealing with a global pandemic and the resulting economic hardship. In the aftermath of these recent tragedies, parents should be aware that children may be experiencing collateral consequences, such as fear, anxiety and confusion. Rhea Boyd, MD, MPH, stated, “Whether from social media accounts, conversations with peers or caregivers, overheard conversations, or the distress they witness in the faces of those they love, children know what is going on. And without the guidance and validation of their caregivers, they may be navigating their feelings alone.” So, what do we do?

First, take care of yourself. Now is a good time to practice self-compassion and selfcare. The stress of watching traumatic events on television and smartphones “lingers within our bodies and minds,” states developmental pediatrician Dr. Jenny Radesky. Recognize that vicarious trauma is real, and even if you have not been directly affected, you may be experiencing heightened anxiety, difficulty sleeping, fatigue or increased irritability. Practice accepting your own feelings, instead of controlling them. Go for a walk, talk with a friend, practice relaxation techniques or do something you enjoy.

It is important to consider how we talk with children. While children from birth to age three do not understand what is happening, they can feel it through the reactions of the adults around them. You may notice that your young child has become more irritable, or perhaps crying more than usual. In addition to calming your child, limit the amount of time you spend accessing unsettling news reports in the presence of young children.

With elementary children, it is wise to begin your discussion with, “tell me what you know.” By elementary age, children have a good idea about what is happening. Asking children what they know and following up with any questions they might have will help you to provide age appropriate information. It is important to keep channels of communication open, because as time passes it is likely more questions will arise. Children may want to know that they are safe and, if they ask, provide reassurance. With that being said, limit their exposure to media, be it on television, tablet or smartphone. If they are accessing media, be aware of what they are watching and learning. Answer questions as appropriate and, as with all ages, validate their feelings and assure them that whatever they are feeling, it is okay.

It is probable that teenage youth have seen the images and been involved in learning about the events that precipitated the violence that unfolded. They may even be getting involved in activism by posting and re-posting social media messages. Teenagers often process events by talking with their peers, and it can, at times, be difficult to engage them in conversation. Approach the topic with your teen from a position of curiosity. What do they know? How do they know it? How do they feel about it? It is also a good time for you and your teen to become more educated about the history of racism in our country and how it has been perpetuated through generations of people. A broader societal context of racism will help youth have a better understanding of the anger seen in the demonstrations. A documentary called “13th,” about the 13th amendment, takes an in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it mirrors the nation’s history of racial inequality. It is both educational and provides a starting point for having conversations about race with your teen. Additionally, as much as possible, be aware of your teen’s online activity. There is a lot of misinformation and inflammatory rhetoric on social media, and teens need guidance on how to be thoughtful and responsible consumers of all types of media.

Given that the recent unrest was sparked by anger over police brutality against black people, it is important take this opportunity to have these conversations with children about race and racism. By age four, children have begun to internalize cultural attitudes and values, thus, it is not too early to introduce your child to the concepts of race and inequality. Books that include multi-racial characters are a good way to introduce children to people of color in a positive light. Common Sense Media has a list of books appropriate for kids of all ages beginning in infancy, and the link is provided below.

Experts stress that parents also need to give their children the broader societal context of racism to try to explain the rage of protestors filling the streets of cities across the nation. Doing so helps build empathy and teach perspective-taking, shifting the focus from the child’s specific fears. Helping children to view events from different perspectives provides understanding and promotes empathy. When your child sees something on television, YouTube or social media, employ a sense of curiosity. Ask them what they saw, how they felt about what they saw, and have them think about and share how they think different people involved in the situation felt. Dr. Radesky suggests, “Instead of focusing on questions the child may have about concrete things, ask them questions like ‘How do you think those people were feeling? Do you know why they were angry? What do you do when you feel like something is unfair?’” We all have our different perspectives regarding racism and the complex history of race in our country. Providing space for children to ask questions, discuss their feelings and process the world around them will help them cope with the myriad emotions that may arise due to current events and the sense of helplessness and fear they may be experiencing.

 

Some helpful resources:

https://www.pbs.org/parents/authors/jenny-radesky-md

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/books-with-characters-of-color

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/black-history-movies-that-tackle-racism

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/movies-that-inspire-kids-to-change-the-world

https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/144/2/e20191765

https://raisingequity.org/

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie.

 

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

 

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

 

The Uncertainty, Stress and Anxiety About What School Will Look Like

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow and Therapist

Much of adjusting to the world in the midst of a global pandemic has been learning to live with nearly constant uncertainty. Undoubtedly, this pandemic and ensuing uncertainty has caused significant stress for youth and their families. The experience of persistent stress can result in increased vulnerability to anxiety and depression. Symptoms may become magnified in those who already faced mental health challenges. There is little doubt that there will be increases in mental and behavior health problems for children and families both in anticipating the re-opening of schools, and when schools reopen their physical buildings.

We all wonder what school will look like in the fall. The anticipation of returning to school can be especially stressful, and will likely be so for most youth. Given that students will not have been in schools with their peers for several months, it can be anticipated that they might feel a heighted sense of insecurity and uncertainty. Even in “normal times,” returning to the complex social and educational environment of school can be worrisome for many children and adolescents.

Each individual child will have had their own experiences while schools were closed. Some children and/or staff members may have been impacted by COVID-19 and some families and/or staff may be experiencing financial hardship due to parental unemployment or loss of household income. It is important to realize that regardless of their experience, each individual will have a unique response. It is helpful to recognize the signs of stress and help children learn positive ways of coping with it.

Signs of stress in preschool children include, but are not limited to, anger, nervousness, eating and sleeping problems (including nightmares), fear of being alone, irritability and uncontrollable crying.

In elementary age children, stress may manifest as increased complaining of headaches and stomachaches, feeling insecure, reduced appetite and difficulty sleeping, withdrawal and worrying about the future.

Signs of stress in pre-teens and teens may include anger, disillusionment, distrust of the world, low self-esteem, stomachaches and headaches, panic attacks and rebellious behavior.

As each person works through this very challenging situation, it is more important than ever to adopt a position of acceptance, as we never truly know what another person is experiencing or has experienced. The following are offered as suggestions on how to help children and teens cope with stress.

  • Help them identify how they are feeling and acknowledge and validate those feelings.
  • Encourage them to talk about what is bothering them.
  • Share strategies you use to cope with stress.
  • Talk openly and, as appropriate, share stories about stress in your day.
  • Find a physical activity and/or hobby that they enjoy and encourage them to participate.
  • Encourage them to eat healthy foods and emphasize the importance of a healthy lifestyle, especially as it relates to stress.
  • Make sure they get plenty of sleep.
  • Set clear expectations, without being overly rigid, and allow for “down” time.
  • Spend time outdoors, encourage them to do something they love – read a book, ride their bike, bake, etc.
  • Learn and teach your children relaxation skills, such as breathing exercises, muscle relaxation exercises, meditating, yoga, drawing or writing.

Our world will have changed by the time children re-enter their classrooms. No matter what happens in the fall, when it is time for school to start, it will inevitably be stressful. Learning to cope with and manage stress is important for physical and emotional health. However, if you are concerned about your child or are struggling yourself, seek help and support for yourself, your child or anyone in your family who is struggling.

Below are some helpful resources:

https://www.apa.org/topics/children-teens-stress

https://nesca-newton.com/helping-your-anxious-child-through-covid-19/

https://childmind.org/article/how-to-ask-what-kids-are-feeling-during-stressful-times/

https://healthy.kaiserpermanente.org/health-wellness/health-encyclopedia/he.stress-in-children-and-teens.ug1832

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie.

 

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

 

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