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

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Why are Some Youths More Susceptible to Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders?

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

References:

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

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

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

 

 

About Pediatric Neuropsychologist Ferne Pinard, Ph.D.

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

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

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

Low Motivation-based Procrastination: Tips for getting over the hurdle

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L
NESCA Transition Specialist & Occupational Therapist

Procrastination is affecting a lot of us these days. There is a wide variety of reasons that people put things off until the last minute. In a previous blog, I discussed tips for anxiety-based procrastination which you can read here. Today I would like to talk about procrastination related to low motivation.

Have you ever had a day where you cannot get off the couch, and you want to keep binge watching your favorite show? Or, maybe you have noticed your child cannot seem to get off TikTok to do their homework. These are all examples of procrastination as a result of low motivation.

It can be extremely challenging to find the motivation to do things we don’t want to, especially when it means transitioning away from the things that bring us joy. You may have noticed this getting worse as the weather turns colder and the sun sets earlier each day. Many people find that their mood and motivation hit a low during these fall and winter months. So, how do you overcome this feeling?

Here are five strategies to get over the procrastination hurdle when motivation is low.

1. Momentum Stairs – Do you remember learning about Newton’s Laws of Motion? The Law of Inertia says an object at rest will stay at rest, and an object in motion will stay in motion. Makes sense, right? If you have been sitting still and engaging in an activity you enjoy (I’m looking at you, Netflix), it can be extremely difficult to transition to the task you have been putting off.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is to start with an activity that is more enjoyable just so you can get moving. For example, if you need to write a paper, but you can’t get off the couch, build your momentum by making yourself a cup of tea. That gets you off the couch and away from the TV, and once you are up, maybe you complete a small chore that isn’t too difficult (watering your house plants, wiping the counter, etc.) then you can move on to start writing your paper.

To initiate that movement, it is easiest to start with something easy and work your way toward the task that you have been procrastinating. Some folks find it helpful to picture a set of stairs; the activity they enjoy is at the top and the uninteresting task is at the bottom. You must take small steps down the stairs to build momentum toward the activity at the bottom of the stairs.

2. Habit Stacking – Habit stacking is a great strategy to help build routines out of existing habits and overcome low motivation. Once a routine is in place, it takes a lot less energy and motivation to complete those regular activities since they have become automatic.

The principle behind this strategy is that you slowly add to existing habits until you have formed a routine. For example, let’s say you eat breakfast every morning, but have not been good about taking your vitamins. By habit stacking, you could start taking your vitamins every day as soon as you finish breakfast, thereby accomplishing two things much more easily than having to remember to take your vitamins separately later in the day.

It may be helpful to place your vitamins in your pantry so there is always a visual reminder when you are making breakfast. Stacking habits in this way can make it much easier to form new routines that help you get past low motivation and accomplish bigger goals.

3. Reduce Barriers – Another helpful strategy for low motivation is to reduce the barriers needed to start the activity. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to think about cooking that homemade meal you have been wanting to try, or to deep clean an area of your house that you can never get to. That results in low motivation, and the best way to overcome it is to reduce any barriers to initiating the activity.

One suggestion is to take all the materials you will need to complete the task out the day or night before. That can help reduce the barriers to getting started when you are feeling tired later in the day. You could also create checklists for yourself to reduce the cognitive load for certain chores. For example, a house cleaning checklist. Follow this checklist each time you have to clean so that you do not need to use as much brain power. When you can reduce the barriers to starting an activity, it will be so much easier to get up the motivation to complete it.

4. Pairing – Try pairing an activity you must do with something you enjoy doing. When motivation is low, sometimes the only way we can get ourselves up and moving is by combining the activity we have been putting off with something enjoyable. The key to making an effective and lasting pair is to ensure you only engage in the specific fun activity while completing the unpreferred task.

For example, if one of your goals it to take a daily walk to improve your health, but you cannot find the motivation to do it each day, it might help to pair it with a new audiobook that you are really excited about. Only allow yourself to listen when you are walking because that will transform the walk itself into a reward, and you will likely stop dreading it.

5. Five-minute Max – The five-minute max strategy is excellent for low motivation – and it’s easy to accomplish. Set a five-minute timer and start the activity you have been putting off. Tell yourself that you can stop the activity after five minutes. More than likely, once you start, you will be able to keep going, but you have the option to stop after just five minutes. Knowing that you only have to work for five minutes can help when motivation is low and make a task seem a lot less exhausting.

There is no perfect strategy that works for everyone in every situation, but adding these strategies to your toolbox can help you experiment with which methods work best for you. See if you can find just one tool to help you in those moments when low motivation is impacting your ability to get moving.

 

About Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L

Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist who focuses on helping students and young adults with disabilities to build meaningful skills in order to reach their goals. She has spent the majority of her career working in a private school for students with ASD. She has also spent some time working in an inpatient mental health setting. Lyndsay uses occupation-based interventions and strategies to develop life skills, executive functioning, and emotional regulation. While completely her doctoral degree at MGH Institute of Health Professions, Lyndsay worked with the Boston Center for Independent Living to evaluate transition age services. She uses the results from her research to deliver services in a way that is most beneficial for clients. Specifically, she focuses on hands-on, occupation-based learning that is tailored the client’s goals and interests.

 

To book coaching and transition services at NESCA, complete NESCA’s online intake form

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, 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.

Pediatric Neuropsychologist Ferne Pinard, Ph.D., Joins NESCA

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach

I recently had the opportunity to learn more about Pediatric Neuropsychologist Ferne Pinard, Ph.D., who joined NESCA in this August. We are thrilled to have her on board and hope you learn more about her background and specialty areas in today’s blog interview.

How did you choose pediatric neuropsychology as a profession?

I’ve had an interesting journey to get to where I am today professionally. I started working with adolescents in the West Indies as a high school teacher. There I quickly learned that meant not just teaching to the curriculum, but also looking at each student as a whole person – often along with their parents – providing counseling to them and additional academic support as needed to meet their needs. That sparked my initial interest in working to support children.

That spark turned into a deep interest in psychology. In college I decided to major in psychology. I became involved in research examining various aspects of child development and learned about statistical methods.

In graduate school, I worked with my mentor on research projects that involved administration of neuropsychological tests and examining how performance on these tests were related to various outcomes (e.g., academic performance, externalizing behaviors). I enjoyed doing assessment as part of the research project and other training experiences. Although I toyed with the idea of becoming a therapist – as I was trained to provide therapy and conduct assessment – I decided to further my knowledge in the brain/behavior relationship

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

I spent the last 11 years at Boston Children’s Hospital, first as a post-doctorate fellow and later as an attending neuropsychologist.

As a fellow at Boston Children’s, I had the opportunity to work in various specialty clinics, gaining exposure to patients with a range of medical and genetic conditions, including neurofibromatosis, cancer, etc.

Later, I went on to gain specialty experience in the Pediatric Neuro-immunology and Learning Disabilities programs. As an attending neuropsychologist, I worked with, trained, and supervised pre-doctorate psychology interns and post-doctoral fellows.

As part of the neuroimmunology program, you assisted with research on the impact of post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC) – also known as Long Haul Covid – on children and their education. Tell us about that.

Yes, I had the opportunity to provide consultation to a previous colleague examining the cognitive impact of Long Covid. I also conducted a few assessments of adolescent struggling with persistent symptoms after being diagnosed with Covid. Difficulties with attention, mood, executive functioning (e.g., working memory and slow processing speed), and fatigue are commonly reported among individuals with Long Covid. These students also experienced disruption in school due to their illness then ongoing symptoms and understandably find it difficult to keep up and meet academic expectations. So many young people were sadder and more anxious throughout Covid…layer Long Haul Covid on top of that, and it’s a huge problem.

How do you see your previous work experiences translating to the families we work with at NESCA?

I bring a lot of knowledge and evaluation experience to NESCA, but most importantly, I bring expertise and compassion in working with families – creating and maintaining relationships with them. The greatest thing I can do for a family is to listen to their concerns, let them feel heard, and allow them to express their feelings about what they and their child are going through. This helps the parents and the child’s school gain a better understanding of the child.

How do you tailor your evaluations for different children, say an anxious child?

Patience and validation are key. I think it is also important to include the child and their caregiver in the discussion. Perhaps I add additional structure to the evaluation (e.g., use of a checklist, breaks at predetermined times), integrate strategies to reduce anxiety (e.g., deep breathing, use of fidgets), or modify the evaluation to take place over three sessions instead of two. Sometimes, the child is allowed to have the parent in the room with them throughout the evaluation. There are different approaches that can be taken based on each individual, and it’s my role to work with the child and caregiver to identify what would work best for the child.

You’ve had a lot of experience evaluating medically complex children and children who are dealing with medical conditions that many think only affect adults. Tell us about that.

It’s true. I’ve worked closely with children who have gone through cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. These are always very touching experiences. These children have been through so much medically that sometimes the medical experiences lead to mental health challenges. They may have gotten through the cancer itself, but there can be residual and sometimes long-term fears of a reoccurrence. Often, there is an intensely emotional component to these assessments because of what the children and their families have endured. I’ve heard the fear in the voices of both the children and their parents’ voices. It’s my job to listen and provide them with a safe space.

Some of the children seen may not be able to maintain engagement for a typical evaluation due to fatigue related to their medical condition and treatment, for example. In these cases, the evaluation will need to be carefully tailored to address the referral question (s). And again, the approach to the evaluation would have to be modified to meet the child where they are.

I’ve also worked with children who have been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and other autoimmune conditions. With these children, I always factor in the amount of stress they are experiencing in life and school as well as the fears they have about how MS may impact them later in life. The stress they feel, whether at school or based on their diagnosis, can have a negative impact on their symptoms. There’s a cascading effect from the brain and all of its thoughts and worries, and that is what we help them deal with. I am always eager to advocate for these children who bear such a heavy load.

What is the most rewarding part of your job as a neuropsychologist?

I feel that I have added value to a child’s life, when I can provide them and their families with a meaningful and comprehensive understanding of their profile—one that includes strengths, not just a focus on weaknesses. I think this is essential as it enables the family and child to advocate for their needs.

Why did you want to be part of NESCA’s team?

Initially, I was really drawn to the integrative approach to care for the children who are with NESCA. Coordination of care, whenever possible, and consultation among professionals involved in a child’s care leads to better outcomes. I was also excited to work with the professionals who specialize in different areas than I am accustomed to working with, such as postsecondary transition. The team here is very willing to collaborate so we can all teach and learn from each other. While I know I will gain great knowledge from the group, it really best serves the families with whom we work.

 

About Pediatric Neuropsychologist Ferne Pinard, Ph.D.

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

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

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, 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.

Anxiety-based Procrastination: Tips for Getting over the Hurdle

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L
NESCA Transition Specialist & Occupational Therapist

Despite our best efforts, procrastination happens. There are many reasons that you may be putting off that large paper, important phone call or those dishes that are stacking up. You may not have the motivation, you may be tired, you may have more fun plans, or maybe it makes you feel anxious. In fact, one of the top reasons people procrastinate is anxiety. Anxiety rates have increased since the start of the COVID pandemic in 2020, and tasks that previously felt easy can now be daunting to think about. It is important to both treat yourself with kindness AND build up your toolbox so that you can tackle the day ahead. Below is a list of nine tips on getting over the procrastination hurdle when anxiety is taking over.

  1. Five minute max – For this strategy, set a five-minute timer and start the activity you have been putting off. Tell yourself that you can stop the activity after five minutes. More than likely, once you start, you will be able to keep going, but you have the option to stop after just five minutes. This strategy helps with perfectionism and all-or-none thinking that can stop you from starting your tasks.
  2. Task breakdown – Big tasks can often feel overwhelming, so breaking your big project, chore, etc., into small steps can help you get going. Tell yourself you will complete step one today and move on to step two tomorrow.
  3. Seek help – Take a step back. Do you have the skills to complete this task? Is there someone you could ask for help if needed? Do not be afraid to seek the help of others to get started!
  4. Reduce the standard – Identify one task that you would be less likely to avoid if you make it easier. For example, have you been putting off exercise because you are worried about going to the gym? Start with a 10-minute walk and build up to a longer exercise period once you are ready. This method is especially helpful to combat an all-or-none mindset.
  5. Notice negative predictions – Be aware of your thoughts and how they can impact, or even control, your actions. Are you making a negative predication about the outcome? If so, it can be helpful to go through the following questions in your mind to reframe your thinking:
    1. What is the worst outcome?
    2. What is the best outcome?
    3. What is the most realistic outcome?
    4. What might I learn if I am willing to take a risk?
  6. Recognize your strengths and challenges – If you find initiating, planning or sequencing tasks difficult when compared to your other skills, don’t misattribute procrastination to laziness or poor motivation. Mislabeling yourself as lazy can lead to further procrastination and decrease self-confidence. You may instead decide to seek extra support or tools to develop your executive function skills.
  7. Visualize – Visualize the finished product AND the feeling associated with completing the task. It is easier to start a task if you feel like you have already succeeded at it.
  8. Accomplishment journal – Keep a running list of accomplishments (even small ones) and check back in to boost your self-confidence for the tasks ahead. It is much easier to start a task when you are in a positive head space and see that you are capable of meeting your goals.
  9. Treat yourself with small rewards – Sometimes a small reward can help you get over a big scary hump. Perhaps after scheduling all of the health care appointments you have been putting off, you sit down and watch the movie you have been wanting to see.

There is no perfect strategy that works for everyone in every situation, but add these strategies to your toolbox and test them out. See if you can find just one tool to help you in those moments when anxiety is impacting your ability to get moving. You’ve got this!

 

About Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L

Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist who focuses on helping students and young adults with disabilities to build meaningful skills in order to reach their goals. She has spent the majority of her career working in a private school for students with ASD. She has also spent some time working in an inpatient mental health setting. Lyndsay uses occupation-based interventions and strategies to develop life skills, executive functioning, and emotional regulation. While completely her doctoral degree at MGH Institute of Health Professions, Lyndsay worked with the Boston Center for Independent Living to evaluate transition age services. She uses the results from her research to deliver services in a way that is most beneficial for clients. Specifically, she focuses on hands-on, occupation-based learning that is tailored the client’s goals and interests.

 

To book coaching and transition services at NESCA, complete NESCA’s online intake form

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, 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.

Avoiding Burn-out

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

About the Author

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

 

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

 

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

Social Skill Concerns in a Time of Reduced Social Opportunities

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

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

My child does not know how to play with peers.

My child is anxious/fearful around peers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

About the Author

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Getting Back in the Swing of Things

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Miranda Milana, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

About the Author

Dr. Miranda Milana provides comprehensive evaluation services for children and adolescents with a wide range of concerns, including attention deficit disorders, communication disorders, intellectual disabilities, and learning disabilities. She particularly enjoys working with children and their families who have concerns regarding an autism spectrum disorder. Dr. Milana has received specialized training on the administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS).

Dr. Milana places great emphasis on adapting her approach to a child’s developmental level and providing a testing environment that is approachable and comfortable for them. She also values collaboration with families and outside providers to facilitate supports and services that are tailored to a child’s specific needs.

Before joining NESCA, Dr. Milana completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital in the Developmental Medicine department, where she received extensive training in the administration of psychological and neuropsychological testing. She has also received assessment training from Beacon Assessment Center and The Brenner Center. Dr. Milana graduated with her B.A. from the University of New England and went on to receive her doctorate from William James College (WJC). She was a part of the Children and Families of Adversity and Resilience (CFAR) program while at WJC. Her doctoral training also included therapeutic services across a variety of settings, including an elementary school, the Family Health Center of Worcester and at Roger Williams University.

Dr. Milana grew up in Maine and enjoys trips back home to see her family throughout the year. She currently resides in Wrentham, Massachusetts, with her husband and two golden retrievers. She also enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, and cheering on the Patriots, Bruins, Red Sox, and Celtics.​

 

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

 

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

 

A Social Life – What is it Exactly?

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

Many parents want their children to have friends and a social life, yet are concerned about the quality of their child’s social life. They often describe their child’s afterschool hours as being occupied with screen time, which may actually include others. Other children may be engaged in structured activities, such as scouts, sports, school-based clubs (i.e., robotics), music lessons, gaming clubs, and more. Then there are the children that tire easily when around many people and prefer alone time or being around one or two friends. When children are asked if they have friends, they often say yes and that they are online friends. These children who are engaged in structured social activities, online gaming, and other online activities say they have satisfying social lives. So, who’s to judge? A person’s definition of a satisfying social life is for each of us to decide (so long as they are doing so safely and responsibly).

When it comes to defining friends and a social life, there is often a disconnect between a child or teen’s definition and that of their parents. Today, there are so many more ways to have friends, a social life and socialize than there were “when we were kids.” Having a social life is now defined more broadly, such as online friends, gaming friends, the number of followers on Instagram/Twitter, and so much more.

A “virtual friend” or “online friend” is someone who one connects with online. These virtual friends are often very connected to others and can even become BFVs (best friends virtually). In the “old days” before the internet, these friends would have been called “pen pals,” whereby letters were written and exchanged. These pen pals of old sometimes heard all the trials and tribulations of one’s life. Virtual friends (VF) may stay as that – you may or may not ever meet them, which doesn’t diminish the relationship or make it less important and meaningful. IRLs (in real life friends) are people who one connects with in-person or in real-time. Many times, children and teens have better and stronger VFs than IRL friends. And sometimes they do meet up at different events, such as: E3 Expo, PAX, gaming clubs, Comic-Con and many more.

Socializing is different for each of us. How do we respect our children’s personalities and choices regarding socializing while encouraging them to explore more and different friendships and experiences? There are “introverts” and “extroverts” amongst us. Many extroverts love socializing both in real life and virtually and have many friends. They get energized by being around others. They’ll text a friend(s) and invite them over with no plan on what to do other than hang out. They care little about planning, predictability, and are okay going with the flow, handling ambiguity and uncertainty. Introverts are more comfortable with alone time, structure, predictability, clear boundaries, and rules/guidelines when engaging with others. Often times these kids are more comfortable with VFs and the online world with its structured platforms, anonymity, and being able to participate/not participate on their terms. Many of these kids are often the leaders and moderators on virtual platforms – something you may not suspect given their presentation in real-time/real life.

In this new world of online social connection, it is best to not try to force your child into being an “in real life socializer,” and involved in many social activities but instead make sure they have the social skills and knowledge to be successful in the real world of school, work, and community. Be aware of what and whom your children are connecting with online and accept who they are as a person. Trying to force them to be someone they are not may lead to more mental health challenges than them only having VFs or only engaging with IRL friends occasionally or on their terms. A satisfying social life is a personal choice and one that can’t be forced. There are many adults who are happy with one or two IRL friends and have structured activities they participate in (i.e., book club, trivia night, etc.); yet have many more VFs in their online platforms.

There has been much written about introverts in an extroverted world and how trying to force them to be someone they are not can backfire. Being happy with one’s social experiences and friends – whether virtual or in real life – is what it’s all about.

References

https://www.parents.com/kids/development/shy/raising-an-introvert-in-an-extrovert-world/

https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2015/08/06/chapter-4-social-media-and-friendships/

https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/11/28/teens-friendships-and-online-groups/

 

 

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.

 

Voting Support in Local Elections

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

It’s after Labor Day, and the signs for local elections will increase significantly over the next two months. Non-presidential election years see a drastic drop in participation in the voting process. This drop extends even more for years where there are only local elections. However, it is our local elections that have the most significant impact on our day-to-day lives. Whether it is the town selectman, city council, zoning board, or school committee, voting for these candidates can make a big difference in the priorities and projects that become the focus of your community.

So how can we help our young people with disabilities exercise their right to vote? Even individuals with guardianship maintain their right to vote in Massachusetts unless the court documents specifically state otherwise. There are many ways to support individuals, but it starts with helping them register. Massachusetts residents can register to vote online when obtaining or renewing a driver’s license or state ID or at the local registrar of voters’ office. Notices from MassHealth and the DTA also include voter registration forms.

Our young people may need more guidance in understanding the importance of voting in local elections and the purpose of those positions. Below are some great resources to support our young people in voting. This article by Rock the Vote explains more about the importance of voting in local elections. Reach out to your local election official to determine what positions will be on the ballot and if there is a local primary election before the November election. Be prepared to explain the role of the positions to youth who may not have had experience dealing with the department.

While there has been less news this year about Absentee/mail-in ballots, and the COVID-19 vaccine is available to all persons of voting age, Absentee/mail-in ballots have long been an excellent strategy for individuals with disabilities who would have difficulty voting in person. Absentee ballots are a great option for individuals who may have difficulty navigating the multiple steps in person or have a lower processing speed.

All citizens are also allowed to bring a person to help them while they are at the polls. Encourage your young person by educating them that many people require assistance at the polls, and it is completely normal to have the help available if they need it. Each polling location should also have at least one AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal, which helps individuals with visual impairments vote independently.

No one wants their vote not to be counted due to errors filling out their ballot. People can request a sample ballot in advance from their local registrar of voters (the Secretary of State’s website can give you the address and phone number of your local registrar). Practicing filling out ballots in advance (even ballots from previous elections) can help a new voter become comfortable with the form and is great fine motor skill practice for those who may need it!

While typically not applicable to local elections, it is important to remember that the Massachusetts Secretary of State also creates a voter information booklet for each election regarding the ballot initiatives. These red booklets can be found at many community locations and frequently include the local library, post office, and city/town hall. These booklets offer information on what a yay or nay vote would mean and have information from each initiative’s proponents and opponents. Use that sample ballot as a starting point for the different types of elected positions.

Help your young adult find out what the different boards do and why there is an election for things such as town selectman or zoning board. Help your young adult find the websites for candidates running for office and review the candidates’ stances on issues. Ask what issues they want to learn more about and are important to them.

Most importantly, remind them that their voice counts. As many disability rights activists have said, “nothing about us without us.” Individuals with disabilities are greatly affected by the policy decisions that occur in government at all levels. Individuals with disabilities have frequently experienced disenfranchisement, and many groups are working tirelessly to lessen and remove these barriers. How have you helped your young adult exercise their right to vote?

 

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.