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.

Tag

depression

How to Make the Holidays Less Stressful

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Maggie Rodriguez, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Are the holidays the “most magical time of the year?” Maybe, but they can also be the most stressful. In fact, a recent survey by the American Psychological Association found that 41% of U.S. adults experience increased stress levels around the holidays, while 52% find their stress levels remain the same, and only 7% feel less stressed this time of year. A whopping 43% of American adults acknowledge that the stress that accompanies the holidays compromises their ability to enjoy them (and that number includes only the people willing to admit it!).

As an adult reading this, you may be thinking this information comes as no surprise and you’re all too aware of the stress that comes with the holidays. What you may not realize as fully is that this time of year can be stressful for children as well. While the holidays can bring excitement and fun, they can also present challenges, particularly for our kids and teens who struggle with underlying mental health issues (such as anxiety or depression) or neurodevelopmental conditions (such as Autism, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or Sensory Processing Disorder). For the next few weeks, many of us will be attempting to navigate our own holiday-related stress and manage the stress our children may feel and express in a variety of ways. So, if you’re feeling less overwhelmed with excitement and joy and instead simply overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Here are some strategies for making the holidays work for you:

Notice and recognize the impact of expectations. It all starts here. From Hallmark movies to the pictures posted by mom-fluencers on Instagram, we are bombarded with unrealistic images of what the holidays “should” look like. Social media is particularly insidious, as it tends to contribute to a sense that the everyday, real people around us (not just those celebrities in magazines) are living what we see reflected in their carefully edited and curated photos. It’s important to remind ourselves that these images don’t reflect the reality of life and that we don’t see 99% of what happens in the daily lives of those we follow on social media. We may see the images of perfectly decorated Christmas cookies but not the kitchen counters covered in flour, eggs, and frosting (or the parent yelling) in the background. We click on the beautiful photo of three kids all smiling at the camera from Santa’s lap but don’t see the 25 outtakes featuring those same children in tears, sticking out their tongues, or bolting out of the frame. Realizing this and taking a step back is key for ourselves and our children, who may also need explicit information about what they can expect (for instance, regarding the number of and type of gifts they will get based on your family’s budget versus what they envision).

Realize we also all harbor implicit ideas about what the holidays “should” look like based on our experiences growing up and the way our families did things, which we take for granted. If you’re in a relationship, you may have encountered your own hidden expectations if they ever come into conflict with those of your significant other. Even if you celebrate the same holiday(s), you may do so in very different ways. Some of you may be familiar with conversations, such as, “What do you mean your family decorates the tree Christmas Eve? Christmas trees go up as soon as we put our jack-o-lanterns in the compost on November 1st!” If you and your partner celebrate different holidays or your kids split their time between your home and that of another parent, all of this becomes much more complicated. So, talk about it openly and together. As a family, re-evaluate your expectations and traditions, and start with a blank slate. Sit down together, make your expectations explicit, then assess them together.

Ask some questions, such as:

  • What does each family member, kids included, envision the holidays will look like? This might be general and abstract (maybe Mom wants to ensure there’s downtime for rest and relaxation) or concrete (maybe the kids want to go ice skating over winter break, and Dad wants to make sure the family goes to midnight mass on Christmas Eve). How will you make this work both logistically and in terms of balancing different needs?
  • What traditions do you automatically take part in, and do they work for your family at this particular moment in time? Although traditions are important and meaningful, blind and rigid adherence to rituals and routines that don’t work for us don’t benefit anyone. We often take part in traditions without questioning whether they add to our lives or why we started doing them in the first place.

Once you’ve had these discussions, consider that you don’t have to “do” the holidays the same way ever single year. There’s no rule that says every holiday season has to look the same. Do you always go take photos with Santa at the mall even though your kids inevitably resist the idea, become anxious and overwhelmed, and you end up frustrated? Open up to the possibility of forgoing that tradition even if it’s just for the time being. Do you make an elaborate holiday dinner each year but aren’t up to it this year? Consider finding an alternative for now that takes the stress off of you and still aligns with your priorities. If what’s important to you is enjoying a meal with your family, maybe you can still do that while letting go of the need to do it all yourself.

Modify your expectations and make accommodations for your children given their unique personalities and potential challenges. This might mean forgoing busy and crowded events, such as parties, for children and teens who struggle with anxiety in social settings or become easily overwhelmed by sensory input. Or maybe you still attend, but you have a pre-established plan for leaving by a certain time and/or managing distress that may arise. These days, many public spaces that host events (e.g., museums, theaters) hold modified sensory-friendly versions of events at specified times. For many children, building in predictable routines, and previewing special plans or changes to their usual schedules can be very helpful. For kids or adolescents with significant “picky” eating or Avoidant-Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), you might consider hosting a holiday dinner at your house so you have control over the menu or bringing food you know your child will eat if you’re visiting others. Many kids with ADHD will need movement breaks, so think ahead about how you’ll work those in depending on your plans. It helps to think ahead and have a flexible plan for meeting your kids’ needs in different scenarios.

Now for the twist. Remember that APA study I quoted at the start of this blog? Well, even though so many people reported significant stress, it also found that 69% of adults feel the stress of the holidays is “worth it,” and many endorse positive outcomes related to the holidays, including an increased sense of togetherness. No matter what or how you celebrate, the holidays can be a wonderful and meaningful time of the year, and the odds of finding joy, connection, and calm will be higher if you take a step back and figure out how to make the holidays fit into your life and work for your family.

References:
https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2023/11/holiday-season-stress

 

About the Author

Maggie Rodriguez, Psy.D., provides comprehensive evaluation services for children, adolescents, and young adults with often complex presentations. She particularly enjoys working with individuals who have concerns about attention and executive functioning, language-based learning disorders, and those with overlapping cognitive and social/emotional difficulties.

Prior to joining NESCA, Dr. Rodriguez worked in private practice, where she completed assessments with high-functioning students presenting with complex cognitive profiles whose areas of weakness may have gone previously undiagnosed. Dr. Rodriguez’s experience also includes pre- and post-doctoral training in the Learning Disability Clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Neurodevelopmental Center at MassGeneral for Children/North Shore Medical Center. Dr. Rodriguez has spent significant time working with students in academic settings, including k-12 public and charter school systems and private academic programs, such as the Threshold Program at Lesley University.

Dr. Rodriguez earned her Psy.D. from William James College in 2012, where her coursework and practicum training focused on clinical work with children and adolescents and on assessment. Her doctoral thesis centered on cultural issues related to evaluation.

Dr. Rodriguez lives north of Boston with her husband and three young children.  She enjoys spending time outdoors hiking and bike riding with her family, practicing yoga, and reading.

To book a consultation with Dr. Rodriguez or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.

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

NESCA Goes to Brain Camp – Exploring the Connections among Brain Anatomy, Emotional Health, and Neuropsychology

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist; NH Director, NESCA

For three days every July, students, clinicians, and researchers from around the country descend upon Milwaukee for Marquette University’s Neuroanatomical Dissection Course. This Marquette course is the only one in the world that provides a continuing education opportunity to learn about advances in neuroscience research while also engaging in hands-on brain dissection within the university’s gross anatomy lab. This past July, my NESCA colleague, Dr. Erin Gibbons, and I had the pleasure of being two of the participants.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, the lab components of the course were insightful and impactful. This included watching 3-D computer-aided brain maps within the visualization lab at the engineering school, as well as hands-on brain dissection of donor specimens, some of which presented with unique pathologies that had never been seen first-hand within the lab. Across the three days of the seminar, lectures covered a range of topics, such as neuroanatomy, how emotions function in the brain, and functional and neurological presentation of brain pathology. We also had the opportunity to select from a range of presentations that provided a “deep dive” into more specific topics. There was a host of information that directly speaks to our practice as pediatric neuropsychologists. That said, as someone who often works with clients who face depression, anxiety, and trauma, certain information stood out as most relevant to my daily practice.

First, there is an increasing amount of research indicating that early-onset (onset in childhood or adolescence), prolonged depression can significantly reduce the growth and volume of particular brain areas related to learning and memory; however, this negative impact can be ameliorated with antidepressant medication.1,2 Often times, when working with clients, families are understandably reticent about giving medication to their developing child. While individual response to treatment cannot be predicted, this research shows that, when appropriate to the client’s needs, medication can actually protect brain development, and thereby better support learning and memory over the lifespan.

Another topic that was covered was the impact of trauma on brain development and later self-regulation challenges and treatment response. As a clinician who often sees children with developmental, complex trauma, I am often in the position of explaining to families how trauma affects brain development. There is research to suggest that ongoing adversity early in childhood inhibits development in areas of the brain that manage inhibition, emotions, and processing, and this may contribute to later difficulties understanding emotion and modulating stress.3 While trauma may affect brain development in any child, there are also some children who appear to persist through adversity with lesser effect. There is research to suggest that this “resiliency” may not just be a personality characteristic, but may be a result of a larger, better-developed area of the brain that is thought to integrate emotional and cognitive information, allowing them to better manage emotional responses.4 Stronger development in this area can also predict better response to cognitive behavior therapy in older individuals with PTSD. 5 While it is not always clear what allowed those individuals to have stronger brain development, research shows that early treatment and access to social supports results in improved emotion processing and brain function in children with trauma, emphasizing neuroplasticity within the brain.6,7

The message that can be extracted from the above research is that the brain is highly vulnerable, but it can also be very resilient and adaptable. While our experiences and genetic vulnerabilities may present their challenges to neurological development, proper therapies, social supports, and medications can change a person’s developmental course and support long-term gains. Actually measuring brain volume and conducting imaging is not necessary for understanding how these factors present within an individual person. Instead, comprehensive assessment of their neurocognitive functioning, processing, learning, and social/emotional functioning can elucidate their resiliency factors, as well as targets for intervention. This is what we have always strived to do at NESCA, and now with the advantage of the Marquette Neuroanatomical Dissection Course, we can demonstrate how our clinical process, values, and goals are supported by current brain research.

 

References

  1. Schmaal, L., Veltman, D., van Erp, T. et al.(2016). Subcortical brain alterations in major depressive disorder: findings from the ENIGMA Major Depressive Disorder working group. Molecular Psychiatry, 21: 806–812. https://doi.org/10.1038/mp.2015.69
  2. Sheline YI, Gado MH, Kraemer HC. (2003). Untreated depression and hippocampal volume loss. American Journal of Psychiatry,160(8):1516-1518. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.160.8.1516.
  3. Zhai ZW, Yip SW, Lacadie CM, Sinha R, Mayes LC, Potenza MN. (2019). Childhood trauma moderates inhibitory control and anterior cingulate cortex activation during stress. Neuroimage, 185:111-118. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.10.049.
  4. Stevens, JS, Ely, E.D., Sawamura, T., et al. (2013). Childhood maltreatment predicts inhibition-related activity in the rostral anterior cingulate in PTSD, but not trauma-exposed control. Depression and Anxiety, 33(7): 614-622. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.22506
  5. Bryant RA, Felmingham K, Whitford TJ, et al. (2008). Rostral anterior cingulate volume predicts treatment response to cognitive-behavioural therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, 2008, 33(2):142-6. PMID: 18330460.
  6. Wymbs, NF, Orr, C, Albaugh, MD, et al. (2020). Social supports moderate the effects of child adversity on neural correlates of threat processing. Child Abuse & Neglect, 102: 104413. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2020.104413.
  7. Garrett A, Cohen JA, Zack S, C, et al. (2019). Longitudinal changes in brain function associated with symptom improvement in youth with PTSD. Journal of Psychiatric Research,114:161-169. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2019.04.021.

 

About the Author

Dr. Currie specializes in evaluating children, teens, and young adults with complex profiles, working to tease apart the various factors lending to their challenges, such as underlying learning, attentional, social, or emotional difficulties. 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.

 

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

The Benefits of Volunteering

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Kristen Simon, M.Ed, Ed.S
NESCA Transition Specialist; Psychoeducational Counselor

Volunteering has many benefits for school aged students beginning to participate in transition planning. Many charities and organizations rely on volunteers to continue their services and reach more people. In general, volunteering is a great way to form community connections, achieve a sense of purpose, and boost confidence and self-esteem, all while helping those in need. In thinking about a child’s eventual transition to adulthood, there are many additional hidden benefits to volunteering.

  • Build social connections: Volunteering allows individuals to engage and connect with others in a structured environment. Working with others through task completion towards a common goal is a great way for individuals to form friendships and positive connections in a low-pressure setting.
  • Mental health benefits: Volunteering has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression and loneliness. Many studies have shown that helping others and carrying out altruistic acts makes you happier. In fact, some therapists believe volunteering should be built into a treatment plan in the management of depression.
  • Employment/Transition Skills: Volunteering can help individuals build various skills that will help them in future jobs. Volunteering can help develop leadership skills, one’s ability to work in a team, customer service, following instructions, and punctuality to name a few important pre-employment skills. Volunteering helps individuals learn what type of work they enjoy through exposure to various work activities and work sites. Consistent volunteer work can also help build a young person’s resume.

It may be decided that a good match leads to long-term volunteering; however, it does not have to be a long-term commitment. Consistent volunteering can be a helpful tool in the stressful seasons of the year. Helping others can help to clear your head, reduce stress, and bring a perspective that allows you to engage more fully in your other commitments.

If your child and or family unit is looking for volunteer opportunities, you can start by contacting local animal shelters, senior centers, public libraries, community centers, or food pantries. Other websites to locate family volunteer opportunities in the greater Boston area include:

https://www.doinggoodtogether.org/family-volunteering-boston

https://community-harvest.org/

https://www.cradlestocrayons.org/boston/take-action/volunteer/

 

About the Author

Kristen Simon, M.Ed, Ed.S, has worked with transition-aged youth as a licensed School Psychologist for more than a decade. She has extensive experience working with children and adolescents with a range of learning and social/emotional abilities. Kristen’s strengths lie in her communication and advocacy skills as well as her strengths-based approach. She is passionate about developing students’ self-awareness, goal-setting abilities, and vision through student-centered counseling, psychoeducation, social skills instruction, and executive functioning coaching. Mrs. Simon has particular interests working with children and adolescents on the Autism spectrum as well as individuals working to manage stress or anxiety-related challenges.

Mrs. Simon is an expert evaluator and observer who has extensive working knowledge of the special education process and school-based special education services, particularly in Massachusetts. She has been an integral part of hundreds of IEP teams and has helped to coordinate care, develop goals, and guide students and their families through the transition planning process. Mrs. Simon further has special expertise helping students to learn about their diagnoses and testing and the IEP process in general. She enjoys assisting students, families, and educators in understanding a student’s disability-related needs as well as the strategies that can help the student to be successful in both academic and nonacademic settings. Mrs. Simon has often been a part of teams in the years when students are initially participating in transition services, and she has helped countless students to build the skills necessary to be part of their first team meetings. She is committed to teaching students—as well as parents and educators—how to participate in student-centered team meetings and the IEP processes.

At NESCA, Mrs. Simon works as a transition specialist and psychoeducational counselor. She works with adolescents, their families, and their school communities to identify and build the skills necessary to achieve their postsecondary goals. Mrs. Simon provides transition assessment (including testing, functional evaluations, and observations), program observations and evaluations, case management and consultation, and individualized counseling and skills coaching.

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

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, Londonderry, New Hampshire, and 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.

 

So, You Are Taking a Leave of Absence from College—Now What?

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist, NESCA

Almost 75% of college students reported moderate to severe psychological distress during the 2020-2021 school year (National College Health Assessment, American College Health Association, 2021). College students across the country are continuing to struggle with depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts this school year. My appointment calendar is often made up of meetings with college students or parents of college students beginning the process of taking a leave of absence and wondering what to do next. Here are some tips that I shared with many of these students and families.

Get Treatment

Many students need to participate in skill-based therapies (cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention, acceptance and commitment therapy, etc.) in order to build up coping skills that may not have been developed in high school. Depending on the severity of current mental health issues, a student may need to participate in an intensive inpatient or outpatient treatment. Ultimately, many students need to find a supportive outpatient therapist—ideally someone who will be able to continue treating the student if they plan to make a future college attempt.

Psychopharmacological intervention (i.e., medication) can be important to consider. Sometimes students have not been taking medications as prescribed or they are taking medications exactly as prescribed but not gaining the intended benefits. Consulting with a prescriber can be an important treatment step for determining whether medication, or medication changes, are necessary.

Get Exercise

For any student, having a regular routine for exercise, sleep, and healthy diet has an impact. However, this is even more critical for students who are vulnerable to anxiety and/or depression. Exercise does not have to start big. Walking (with or without the dog), hiking, or just moving along to a YouTube fitness video for 10 minutes a day will make a difference. It’s critical to schedule the exercise in and often easiest if this is part of a morning or evening routine. For some students, working with a personal trainer or attending scheduled classes helps with accountability. Using a wearable exercise tracker like a Fitbit, Garmin Watch, or Apple Watch can also help with motivation and consistency.

Get a Job

Over the past 25 years, we have seen a notable decrease in the number of high school students who have participated in paid employment. Many students went off to college without taking time to connect college participation with future career interests. Using time off from school to explore work preferences and build transferrable skills (and a resume) can help students experience efficacy and improve mood. As a college student, no one is particularly excited when you show up to class, and the professor certainly doesn’t depend on you in order to get their job done. However, as an employee, students can experience tangible success through accomplishing work activities, receiving gratitude from coworkers and supervisors, and earning money. Work can also provide an important social experience. This is also an historic time to be looking for a first or early career position in the American workforce. Entry-level workers can make good wages. and there are plenty of part-time job openings across industries. Moreover, it’s difficult to get fired right now because good help is truly hard to find.

For students who are not ready to commit to paid work, and need time to recover and build energies up, volunteer jobs are also good opportunities. Some students will do better with brief drop-in volunteer activities while others my want to schedule more routine work hours.

Consider Taking Classes

When students take a leave of absence from college, the assumption is that the student will want to return to a college experience. But many students take a leave of absence and determine that they do not want to go back to college or that they do not want to go back to the same college. If a student wants to keep up academic skills, they can audit or take one or more college courses during the spring semester (depending on their college’s policies and whether they are planning to return). Community colleges, state colleges, and part-time or online college programs (like Harvard Extension School) are good options to explore for classes of interest as a non-degree seeking student. Starting back with a class that is high interest or a low degree of difficulty can be helpful for students who need to rebuild confidence. Additionally, when students are unsure if they are going to return to college or uncertain of a potential future major, it can be good to try classes that are likely to transfer and generally meet basic liberal arts requirements.

Get a Coach

Some students with mental health issues have other underlying challenges that contributed to their struggles in college. There could be a learning disability that wasn’t appropriately being addressed with accommodations, executive function challenges that impacted keeping up with pace, or volume of academics, social challenges that were exacerbated by the highly social dorm environment, or other issues. It is important to consider whether there are skill deficits that may have contributed to a student experiencing anxiety or depression. Some students will benefit from life skills, executive function, or social coaching in order to build up areas that are weaker before heading back to college (or may want to continue with that coaching when they head back).

Other students may want to take time to work with a career or transition coach to do some self-exploration. Taking a step back to participate in self-assessment related to one’s preferences and interests and to determine how those align with potential college major and future career interests can be helpful. I have worked with several students on leave to go through a career planning process. For some, they discover that they chose exactly the right college and major, and that can increase motivation when they get back to school, with proper supports in place. For others, this process sets a student on a completely new path.

Let us know, in our online Intake Form, if your student needs support during their time off from school and/or coaching to assist during their time off or when they return to college.

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

 

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, call 617-658-9800 or complete our online Intake Form.

So, You Are Taking a Leave of Absence from College—Now What?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist, NESCA

Almost 75% of college students reported moderate to severe psychological distress during the 2020-2021 school year (National College Health Assessment, American College Health Association, 2021). College students across the country are continuing to struggle with depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts this school year. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, my appointment calendar consisted primarily of meetings with college students or parents of college students beginning the process of taking a leave of absence and wondering what to do next. Here are some tips that I shared with many of these students and families.

Get Treatment

Many students need to participate in skill-based therapies (cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention, acceptance and commitment therapy, etc.) in order to build up coping skills that may not have been developed in high school. Depending on the severity of current mental health issues, a student may need to participate in an intensive inpatient or outpatient treatment. Ultimately, many students need to find a supportive outpatient therapist—ideally someone who will be able to continue treating the student if they plan to make a future college attempt.

Psychopharmacological intervention (i.e., medication) can be important to consider. Sometimes students have not been taking medications as prescribed or they are taking medications exactly as prescribed but not gaining the intended benefits. Consulting with a prescriber can be an important treatment step for determining whether medication, or medication changes, are necessary.

Get Exercise

For any student, having a regular routine for exercise, sleep, and healthy diet has an impact. However, this is even more critical for students who are vulnerable to anxiety and/or depression. Exercise does not have to start big. Walking (with or without the dog), hiking, or just moving along to a YouTube fitness video for 10 minutes a day will make a difference. It’s critical to schedule the exercise in and often easiest if this is part of a morning or evening routine. For some students, working with a personal trainer or attending scheduled classes helps with accountability. Using a wearable exercise tracker like a Fitbit, Garmin Watch, or Apple Watch can also help with motivation and consistency.

Get a Job

Over the past 25 years, we have seen a notable decrease in the number of high school students who have participated in paid employment. Many students went off to college without taking time to connect college participation with future career interests. Using time off from school to explore work preferences and build transferrable skills (and a resume) can help students experience efficacy and improve mood. As a college student, no one is particularly excited when you show up to class, and the professor certainly doesn’t depend on you in order to get their job done. However, as an employee, students can experience tangible success through accomplishing work activities, receiving gratitude from coworkers and supervisors, and earning money. Work can also provide an important social experience. This is also an historic time to be looking for a first or early career position in the American workforce. Entry-level workers can make good wages. and there are plenty of part-time job openings across industries. Moreover, it’s difficult to get fired right now because good help is truly hard to find.

For students who are not ready to commit to paid work, and need time to recover and build energies up, volunteer jobs are also good opportunities. Some students will do better with brief drop-in volunteer activities while others my want to schedule more routine work hours.

Consider Taking Classes

When students take a leave of absence from college, the assumption is that the student will want to return to a college experience. But many students take a leave of absence and determine that they do not want to go back to college or that they do not want to go back to the same college. If a student wants to keep up academic skills, they can audit or take one or more college courses during the spring semester (depending on their college’s policies and whether they are planning to return). Community colleges, state colleges, and part-time or online college programs (like Harvard Extension School) are good options to explore for classes of interest as a non-degree seeking student. Starting back with a class that is high interest or a low degree of difficulty can be helpful for students who need to rebuild confidence. Additionally, when students are unsure if they are going to return to college or uncertain of a potential future major, it can be good to try classes that are likely to transfer and generally meet basic liberal arts requirements.

Get a Coach

Some students with mental health issues have other underlying challenges that contributed to their struggles in college. There could be a learning disability that wasn’t appropriately being addressed with accommodations, executive function challenges that impacted keeping up with pace, or volume of academics, social challenges that were exacerbated by the highly social dorm environment, or other issues. It is important to consider whether there are skill deficits that may have contributed to a student experiencing anxiety or depression. Some students will benefit from life skills, executive function, or social coaching in order to build up areas that are weaker before heading back to college (or may want to continue with that coaching when they head back).

Other students may want to take time to work with a career or transition coach to do some self-exploration. Taking a step back to participate in self-assessment related to one’s preferences and interests and to determine how those align with potential college major and future career interests can be helpful. I have worked with several students on leave to go through a career planning process. For some, they discover that they chose exactly the right college and major, and that can increase motivation when they get back to school, with proper supports in place. For others, this process sets a student on a completely new path.

Let us know, in our online Intake Form, if your student needs support during their time off from school and/or coaching to assist during their time off or when they return to college.

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

 

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, call 617-658-9800 or complete our online Intake Form.

Risk Factors & Warning Signs of Substance Use

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By Miranda Milana, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

It is estimated that approximately one third of adults in the United States have met criteria for an alcohol use disorder at some point in their lives, while approximately 10% have met criteria for another substance use disorder. While these numbers are staggering, what is even more astonishing is the fact that consuming substances before the age of 14 increases the likelihood of abusing substances later in life by 400%. In fact, The National Child Traumatic Stress Network reports that 9 out of 10 individuals who abuse substances began using these substances before the age of 18. So, what are the risk factors and early signs to watch out for? What can you do to help?

Risk Factors:

  • Family history—if you have a family history of addiction, it is important to talk about this with your children just as you would have a conversation about a family history of cancer, diabetes, or any other mental illness. Determine when and how to approach this conversation by talking with your pediatrician.
  • Comorbid diagnoses—having an existing mental health diagnosis (e.g., ADHD, depression, anxiety) increases the chances that one will use and abuse substances later in life. Many individuals start using substances as a method of self-medicating if their mental health symptoms are not well managed.
  • Exposure—having easy access to substances, being exposed to peer groups or family members who use substances, or being exposed to media messages encouraging substance use can also increase the risk of substance use and abuse.
  • Additional risk factors include poor coping skills, academic failure, chaotic home or peer environments, as well as impulsivity and risk taking behaviors.

Warning Signs to Watch for:

  • Unexplained and/or extreme mood swings
  • Dilated pupils/bloodshot eyes
  • Changes in appetite
  • Change in sleep patterns or levels of fatigue
  • Changes in friends
  • Loss of interest in previously preferred hobbies
  • Being secretive about friends and activities
  • Withdrawing from family members and loved ones
  • Not respecting curfew or breaking other house rules
  • Running away from home or sneaking out
  • Stealing or having unexplained amounts of money
  • Increased absences from school
  • Decline in grades
  • Increase in behavioral problems

How to Help:

  • Start the conversation when it is appropriate. Talking to your pre-teen or teen about the effects of substances and alcohol/drug laws is essential in keeping the lines of communication open. Ask them first about their level understanding and what they have already learned or heard about.
  • Increase coping skills—having appropriate communication skills, positive social-emotional connections, strong self-esteem, and confidence in dealing with peer pressure are all extremely beneficial in helping children and teens navigate adolescence. If your child struggles in one or more of these areas, it is important to target these vulnerabilities early on through the appropriate therapeutic supports (i.e., psychotherapy, social skills groups, school counseling, occupational therapy, executive function coaching).
  • If you are concerned your child is using substances, you may contact their pediatrician or find support through SAMHSA’s national helpline (call 1-800-662-HELP or text HELP4U to 435748 to receive information on local treatment facilities, support groups, and local community organizations).

References:

Grant BF, Goldstein RB, Saha TD, et al. Epidemiology of DSM-5 Alcohol Use Disorder: Results From the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions III. JAMA Psychiatry. 2015;72(8):757–766. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.0584

Grant BF, Saha TD, Ruan WJ, et al. Epidemiology of DSM-5 Drug Use Disorder: Results From the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions–III. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73(1):39–47. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.2132

 

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.

 

Counseling/Therapy: So Many Types and Approaches…Which One Should I Choose?

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

Many adults, teens and children struggle with a myriad of challenges from everyday stressors, feelings of worthlessness and insecurities to official diagnoses of anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, OCD, addiction, and more. Deciding how to grow and change and alleviate the pain and suffering can be daunting. There are so many different ways to address psychological pain. Psychological, medical, behavioral, psychopharmacological, complementary (e.g., acupuncture), and educational treatments, among others, are possible choices and can assist in lessening an individual’s anguish. How do I decide which one(s) to try? Usually, treatment involves more than one of these, so the decisions may not be as difficult as you think. The first step is recognizing that you, your child, your marriage or family needs help and taking a step to get help.

Psychological treatments include many options: psychotherapy (i.e., “talk therapy or insight-based therapy”), psychoeducational counseling, biofeedback, social training, behavior therapy, mindfulness, stress management, anger management and so many more. Therapy can be individual, group, family or couples work, and there is no single approach that works for everyone. It often depends on the referral question and complaint. Counseling is typically provided by a psychologist, social worker, mental health counselor, marriage and family counselor, expressive therapist, psychiatrist and/or psychiatric nurse. Many factors go into making psychological treatment decisions (i.e., referring question/complaint, cost, location, approach, etc.). When it comes to therapy, it is most important to have “goodness of fit” between the clinician and the client. The client needs to have a connection with and feel valued, supported and understood by their practitioner. This allows whatever treatment approach or method to be more readily accepted by the client.

Reviewing the differences between treatment approaches may help with the decision-making process beyond “the goodness of fit.” Psychotherapy involves talking with a clinician to address emotional, psychological and behavioral challenges that can be both conscious and unconscious. The client’s past experiences, perceptions and history may play an important role in psychotherapy. The client “tells a story” that helps the clinician understand their life experiences through their eyes, therefore allowing treatment to be tailored to that client’s personal experience. By working through one’s thoughts, past experiences and stressors with a caring clinician, the client is able to gain insight and perspective, reduce symptoms, change behavior, learn strategies to lighten the load and improve quality of life. Often psychotherapy is long-term and involves good communication/language skills as well as higher level of thinking, often abstractly, and insight capacity.

Psychoeducational treatment is somewhat different than psychotherapy. Education is central to treatment and is a more directive approach. It can have very specific goals and may be short-term. The past is not actively addressed; rather, the purpose is to teach the client to acknowledge, accept and understand their disability and/or mental health condition and provide ways to support growth, change and meet goals. Psychoeducational treatment can be provided to individuals, groups, families, couples, employers and others and may include reading informational text, video analysis, homework, data collection, biofeedback, journal writing and more.

Some of the goals of both treatment approaches may be to:

  • connect how thoughts, feelings and behavior are intertwined;
  • improve coping and problem-solving skills to better deal with life’s stressors;
  • increase positive self-regard; and
  • recognize and better deal with strong emotions.

Many clinicians have training in specific techniques and some use a combination of approaches and philosophies. Psychotherapy typically falls into broad categories: Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic, Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, Humanistic Therapy and Integrative or Holistic Therapy.  Sometimes a specific approach may be the best method of choice given a specific condition or specific goal of the client. Some techniques have been researched on large samples of people and proven to yield positive results with certain diagnoses; while others are newer, less researched (yet are still effective).

In determining what technique is most appropriate, consider the age, diagnosis, goal of treatment, efficacy of the treatment, as well as the personality, cognitive and language capacity, cultural/family background, location, cost, etc. Many treatment approaches share common techniques, but some techniques are better suited with certain conditions/diagnoses. There are upwards of 100 different types of psychotherapeutic approaches, so knowing which one works with what conditions, resonates with you as the client and can meet the needs/goals.

Another option is online treatment. In recent years, many in-person practices and newer standalone online treatment options have emerged. Often these are for mild depression and anxiety. As you search out any treatment, ask for references and reviews and assess treatment efficacy. Some online sites include Talkspace, TeenCounsleing and more. There are also online apps to help with stress management, anxiety, depression and more, such as Moodfit, HeadSpace for Kids, MindShift, Inner Balance, and so many more. Needless to say, online therapy and apps are not the same as in-person therapy but may augment and be helpful in some situations.

Many clients at NESCA present with learning differences, anxiety, OCD, depression, trauma, addiction, ASD, and more. The following partial list includes just some of the treatment approaches recommended by many of NESCA’s neuropsychologists. At NESCA, we currently offer a psychoeducational approach to psychological treatment and short-term pandemic related issues of anxiety and depression. If interested in learning more, please visit: https://nesca-newton.com/integrativetherapeutic/.

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Attachment-based Therapy
  • Animal-assisted Therapy
  • Bibliotherapy
  • Biofeedback
  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectic Behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy
  • Expressive Therapy (art, music, drama, etc.)
  • Family Systems Therapy
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Narrative Therapy
  • Positive Psychology
  • Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)
  • Play Therapy
  • Psychoeducational Counseling
  • Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Additional information about treatment approaches can be found at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/types-of-therapy.

https://www.nami.org/learn-more/treatment/psychotherapy

https://apa.org/topics/psychotehrpay/approaches

https://talkspace.com/blog/different-types-therapy-psychotherapy-best/

https://verywellmind.com

 

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.

 

Appreciating and Responding to The New York Times article, For Some Teens, It’s Been a Year of Anxiety and Trips to the E.R. by Benedict Carey

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach, NESCA

As an occupational therapist working almost exclusively with teenagers and young adults over the past year, the title of Benedict Carey’s article jumped out at me like a tired and worn flag, waving frantically for acknowledgement. Our teens are anxious, tired, and dealing with living through the proverbial “unprecedented times” without the developmental capabilities needed to quickly adapt in this era of remote learning, remote social interaction, and remote extracurriculars. Remote everything!

It is important for me to note that I really enjoy working with teenagers. I find myself in constant awe of their resiliency, their willingness to confront hard truths that many of us shy away from, and their ability to push forward despite having huge questions about who they truly are. All of these things are tough and require immense emotional fortitude, but this year many of these challenges feel impossible.

Carey has taken the time to gather perspectives from multiple stakeholders. He provides a platform for parents, educators, professors, therapists, pediatricians, and directors of hospital programs to explain the struggles of supporting these kids without adequate resources. Parents describe the fear of supporting their children as they struggle with mental health. Doctors discuss the frustration of having inadequate resources and support in emergency rooms around the country. Carey highlights that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the proportion of adolescent emergency admissions for mental problems, like panic and anxiety, is up 31 percent. Some of my clients add to this statistic and are navigating their own path through chaotic hospitalizations and overwhelmed support systems. Carey’s article is absolutely worth taking the time to read, if only to see the ubiquity of these issues and how they are happening all around our country. Simply put, we have a clear problem. Less clear, is the solution.

When meeting with adolescents and young adults themselves, I hear three main fears popping up week after week. Here are a few thoughts and suggestions on how to support these specific fears or feelings.

  1. “I can’t get this done, (and therefore) I am going to completely ruin my future.”

When looking at future success through a transition lens, we consider the areas of independent living, community participation, post-secondary education, and employment. In the school setting, most students’ curricula are focused solely on academic success. Sometimes, we do a poor job of teaching students about multiple intelligences or emphasizing the importance of hard work. While grades are important, they are not everything, and while standardized testing is returning to students’ schedules, they should not serve as students’ measure of self-worth. We know this, but do they? We have to teach our children that if they are hardworking, kind, and truly doing their best, the threat of “ruining their future” is much less likely than they fear. Let’s highlight the undeniably true narrative that everyone’s path can look different and still lead to success.

  1. “I’m so tired. All of the time.”

Many of my clients tell me they are not sleeping. If they are sleeping, they fall asleep late with a phone in their hand, constantly refreshing apps or trying to maintain communication with their peers. In our current remote world, the phone can feel like a lifeline. Sleep is a foundational need for mental and physical health. Students who are 15 or 16 years old often have a limited understanding of how holistic the effects of decreased sleep can be. Sleep is not their priority. Recently, I have seen parents disable the internet or have their teenagers put their phones into a lockbox from midnight until 6:00am. This new boundary is often met with anger or frustration at the beginning, but then these students start to sleep. They are better able to manage their emotions. They have more energy. They start to see the benefits despite their skepticism. If a tech break doesn’t feel quite right for your family, it is still worth opening up a conversation about the need for strong sleep hygiene and modeling a routine that promotes calming down by limiting screens before bed, which can have hugely positive effects.

  1. “This is never going to end.”

In many ways, a year feels much longer to a 17 year-old than it does to an older adult. Working at a job for four years never feels as long or as formative as the four years of high school. And objectively, a year to a 17 year-old is over five percent of their life, while it’s only two percent of 50 year old’s life. Let’s acknowledge that. Let’s verbalize the fact that teenage years are also full of milestones that have been constantly cancelled or changed to fit social distancing recommendations and safety precautions. There is a sense of loss and grief surrounding many events that these students have been looking forward to since elementary school. Encourage students to do their own research into what the next six months may look like as we start to open back up. Help them to understand the vaccine rollout and the pitfalls and successes that we have had as a nation tackling a novel disease.

Adolescent mental health is going to be an on-going challenge that we tackle as a community. As we slowly forge out of isolation, let’s center our conversations around the mental health of our teens and honestly acknowledge the unique position that they have found themselves in.

References

Carey, B. (2021, February 23). For some teens, it’s been a year of anxiety and trips to the e.r. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/23/health/coronavirus-mental-health-teens.html

Leeb, R.T., Radhakrishnan, L., Martinez, P., Njaj, R., Holland, K.M. (2020, October 27). Mental health-related emergency department visits among children aged <18 during the covid-19 pandemic. MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2020:1675-1680. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6945a3

 

About the Author

Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

 

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

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.

 

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

By | NESCA Notes 2020

*This blog post was originally published prior to the start of in-person school last fall for some. While many students have returned to their school buildings, many others are just now returning or will be in the coming weeks. 

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.

 

School Stressors in a Pandemic

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Amity Kulis, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

A recent article published by NBC News highlights the multiple stressors facing school-aged children and their families during this pandemic, with a more specific focus on the differing stress levels between remote and in-person learners. It is becoming clearer that during this time, learners and their families are facing higher rates of depression and anxiety, and there are concerns that students who are attending school remotely are learning less, particularly children with disabilities and those from low-income families.

A recent study from NBC News and Challenge Success, a nonprofit affiliated with Stanford Graduate School of Education, compared the differences between students who have been learning exclusively online and those who have been able to attend at least partially in-person. The study involved more than 10,000 students in 12 U.S. high schools who completed a self-questionnaire provided by the research study. The high schools were reported to come from multiple locations around the country (Arizona, Texas, New York and Midwest) and were descried as “demographically similar to the nation in terms of student family income,” though this was not true of being matched for race and likely other factors not discussed in the article. This also does not appear to be a peer-reviewed study, which suggests limitations to predictive power of the outcomes. Nevertheless, findings suggested that students who spent time in the classroom self-reported lower rates of stress and worry than students who were fully remote. An alarming finding was that half of all students, regardless of how they were attending school at the time of the study, reported they were more stressed by school than they had been during the previous year. Students reported exhaustion, headaches, insomnia or other stress-related ailments at high levels – regardless of whether they were in-person or not – with the highest rates being for remote learners: 84 percent fully remote learners; 82 percent hybrid students; and 78 percent fully in-person.

The article suggested that additional stressors found for remote students included on average more homework and that these remote students were also less likely to feel they had an adult they could go to with a personal problem. Anecdotally, one teacher commented, “In the room, you get more eye contact.” The teacher added, “On the screen, oftentimes the kid could be sitting in front of a window. You can’t see them, so it’s hard to make sure they’re attentive.”

While there are limitations to this study, it is clear that students and their families are currently experiencing a high level of stress. Many schools have been aware of this problem and have taken steps to embed extra programming into their students’ weeks. We need to continue to prioritize community connection and wellness for students attending school in-person and online. It is important to ensure that students know who they can reach out to and how, particularly those learners who are not stepping foot into a school building this year. It is also important to build in opportunities for stress management, as well as instruction in healthy habits, such as exercise, sleep hygiene and healthy eating. Clearly both children and their caregivers could benefit from this type of support right now. If you or a loved one is experiencing heightened emotional stress, it is important to reach out for help. This can include alerting your child’s school to their increasing stress, as well as bringing concerns to your child’s doctor. A referral to a psychologist or licensed mental health professional may be in order to help you and your child through this difficult time.

Source: Remote Students Are More Stressed Than Their Peers In The Classroom, Study Shows by Erin Einhorn, 2/15/2021 published by NBC News.

 

About the Author
Dr. Amity Kulis joined NESCA in 2012 after earning her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, with a concentration in Children, Adolescents and Families (CAF). She completed post-doctoral training in pediatric neuropsychology with an emphasis on treating children with developmental, intellectual, learning and executive functioning challenges. She also has extensive training psychological (projective) testing and has conducted individual and group therapies for children of all ages. Before joining NESCA, Dr. Kulis worked in private practices, clinics, and schools, conducting comprehensive assessments on children ranging from toddlers through young adults. In addition, Dr. Kulis has had the opportunity to consult with various school systems, conducting observations of programs, and providing in-service trainings for staff. Dr. Kulis currently conducts neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments for school-aged children through young adulthood. She regularly participates in transition assessments (focusing on the needs of adolescents as they emerge into adulthood) and has a special interest in working with complex learners that may also struggle with emotional challenges and psychiatric conditions. In addition to administering comprehensive and data-driven evaluations, Dr. Kulis regularly conducts school-based observations and participates in school meetings to help share her findings and consultation with a student’s TEAM.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Kulis or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists and transition specialists, 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, 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.