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depression

Mindfulness: It’s Not Just for Grown-ups

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow

There has been increasing interest in intervention strategies that target self-regulation in childhood. Self-regulation is the process through which the systems of emotion, attention and behavior are controlled in response to a situation, stimulus or demand. It develops rapidly in the early years of life. Self-regulation is necessary for social development because it supports and enhances peer acceptance and social success. Furthermore, it increases academic performance, particularly in elementary school. Problems with self-regulation and the accompanying executive functioning have been shown to correlate with a number of behavioral and emotional problems, particularly depression and anxiety. Mindfulness is emerging as an effective intervention for children struggling with self-regulation, especially when implemented at a time when children are acquiring these foundational skills.

Mindfulness is a way of paying attention, on purpose and non-judgmentally, to the experience of the present moment. Being mindful involves reflecting on the current internal experiences such as thoughts or emotions and the current external environment, such as sights and sounds, both clearly and objectively. This act of purposeful reflection enhances and facilitates self-regulation by promoting control, such as sustained attention and cognitive flexibility. Furthermore, it helps to reduce the incidences of such things as snap judgments, emotional reactivity or distressing thoughts.

Mindfulness-based social-emotional training has been shown to be effective in reducing stress, improving coping skills and building resilience when used with children. Mindfulness teaches children the skills needed to improve focus, calm themselves, plan and organize, and behave in a thoughtful manner. Research on adult populations shows that practicing mindfulness may reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and limited number of studies show some of the same benefits in children. Mindfulness is well tolerated by children and has been proven to improve psychological well-being. Introducing mindfulness practices to children has the potential to make a positive impact on a child’s ability to self-regulate, and thus facilitate their social, emotional and educational growth.

There are a number of ways to introduce children to mindfulness. One activity that children have responded positively to is being challenged to sit still and silent for as long as they possibly can. I have used this strategy in classrooms of children from pre-k to high school, as well as individually with children of all ages. Sometimes they are able to sit for 15 seconds, but they embraced the challenge of trying to beat their record by trying it again. Another mindful technique that works well with children is called “grounding.” Grounding techniques use the five senses to bring ourselves into the present moment. One grounding technique is finding five things in the room – they can be 5 things of the same color or any five things; four things the child can feel; three things the child can hear; two things the child can smell; and one thing the child can taste. Mindfulness can be playful and fun for children and families while effectively reducing stress, improving coping skills, improving ability to self-regulate and building resilience in children.

 

Helpful resources for families:

Mindful Games Activity Cards: 55 Fun Ways to Share Mindfulness with Kids and Teens. Susan Kaiser Greenland and Annaka Harris

A Still Quiet Place: A Mindfulness Program for Teaching Children and Adolescents to Ease Stress and Difficult Emotions By Amy Salzman, MD

I am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness By Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds

Breathe Like a Bear: 30 Mindful Moments for Kids to Feel Calm and Focused Anytime, Anywhere By Kira Willey

 

References:

Britton, W. B., Lepp, N. E., Niles, H. F., Rocha, T., Fisher, N. E., & Gold, J. S. (2014). A randomized controlled pilot trial of classroom-based mindfulness meditation compared to an active control condition in sixth-grade children. Journal of School Psychology, 52(3), 263-278.

Masten, A. S., Best, K. M., & Garmezy, N. (1990). Resilience and development: Contributions from the study of children who overcome adversity. Development and psychopathology, 2(4), 425-444.

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental psychology, 51(1), 52.

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., & Lawlor, M. S. (2010). The effects of a mindfulness-based education program on pre-and early adolescents’ well-being and social and emotional competence. Mindfulness, 1(3), 137-151.

Sibinga, E. M., Webb, L., Ghazarian, S. R., & Ellen, J. M. (2016). School-based mindfulness instruction: an RCT. Pediatrics, 137(1), e20152532.

 

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 and Dr. Jessica Geragosian.

 

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.

 

Exercise Before Medication: How consistent workouts can change your life

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By Billy Demiri, CPT
Certified Personal Trainer

Recently I came across an article that highlights what I have believed to be true since I first started exercising regularly myself…a healthy body will foster a healthy mind. The study shows that “lifting weights helps lift depression; cardiovascular activities reduce the effects of anxiety; and any type of movement improves mental health.” Throughout the study, patients were led in a structured exercise program for 60 minutes four times a week. An astounding 95 percent reported feeling better, and 91.8 percent were very pleased with their bodies during each session. With those kinds of results, exercise should be at the forefront of treating mental health issues before psychiatric drugs.

When I started working as a personal trainer and coach, I saw the positive effects that consistent exercise had on all of my clients. Here at NESCA, I have the privilege of working with some amazing kids and young adults—all dealing with different disabilities/mental illness from Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Anxiety, Depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Muscular Dystrophy, and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). My goal has always been to make exercise fun and challenging, while also trying to identify goals that drive each individual to want to make exercise a regular part of their lifestyle.

Using a variety of equipment, we work on agility, conditioning, strength, coordination and overall better movement mechanics. After six years of being a personal trainer, and working at NESCA the past year, I couldn’t agree more with the findings of the article. I continue to see firsthand that consistent exercise can unlock everyone’s full potential and, in turn, create a lot of joy and self-worth.

Over the past year, it has been spectacular to see each person progress from session to session—not just physically but mentally. One of my clients was struggling with staying on task and had a hard time completing one exercise at a time before he got frustrated and needed a break. Each session we kept on progressing, and one exercise turned into two, then three, until we built up to doing four-move circuits. Yes, he built up strength and endurance over time, but more Importantly, he gained confidence in himself. He learned that what he originally thought was daunting was actually easy and very doable. Then  he went one step further and wanted to make it even harder. It was amazing seeing his mood change from not wanting to do any exercise to smiling and celebrating after beating his previous time in a four-move circuit. By staying consistent with exercise and seeing himself improve each week, I could see noticeable changes in his self-esteem, on-task behavior and overall mood during workouts—not to mention that he also developed better movement patterns and gained strength, endurance and overall better health.

Based on my experiences, prescribing exercise before medication is a worthwhile approach to continue to look at. Each person needs to be looked at individually, and more research needs to be done to ensure the safety of the patient and others without medication, however it’s clear through research and my own experiences that exercise has positive impact on our overall well-being. It will take some time to change the norm of prescribing patterns, but we are heading in the right direction.

 

Related Links for Additional Reading:

https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/exercise-mental-health?fbclid=IwAR3bUtp7SQmpI4w6kITG0RVbVrS_XfE9K1eOIoa018iUpTds9WJrxAganL4

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2164956119848657

https://nesca-newton.com/billydemiri/

 

About the Author:

Certified Personal Trainer Billy Demiri offers Personal and Social Coaching (PSC) at NESCA. Billy has several fitness certifications including: NSCA-CPT (National Strength Condition Association- Certified Personal Trainer) Certified and Autism Fit Certified.

 

To book sessions with Billy Demiri, complete NESCA’s online intake form and note that you are interested in Personal & Social Coaching.

 

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.

 

State Dyslexia Laws – What do they aim to do and how can we aid their success?

By | NESCA Notes 2019

 

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

While in 2013 there were only 22 states that had laws regarding dyslexia, as of March 2018, 42 states have dyslexia-specific laws, and as discussed in the article Dyslexia Laws in the USA: A 2018 Update by Martha Youman and Nancy Mather, 33 legislative bills related to dyslexia were introduced between January and March 2018 alone. These dyslexia laws address such things as dyslexia awareness, teacher training, early screening of risk factors, interventions and accommodations, and rights of individuals with dyslexia. In addition to identifying the need to address these matters, at least 10 states have developed dyslexia handbooks, and New Hampshire (where I practice as an evaluator and consultant) has developed a dyslexia resource guide. With Governor Charlie Baker’s signing of S2607 on October 19, 2018, Massachusetts now joins the list of states with dyslexia training, screening, and intervention mandates.

To see such progress in the identification and intervention of dyslexia is exciting for everyone who is connected to this community. As a pediatric neuropsychologist, I have worked with individuals with dyslexia and related disorders for many years, and in 2017 I had the pleasure of being one of the many professionals involved in the development of the NH dyslexia resource guide. Since that time, it has been encouraging to see a number of school districts embrace training opportunities and develop early screening efforts. While that is so, across the nation several states still do not have dyslexia-specific laws, and most states that do have them continue to experience uncertainty about how to implement said laws. Based on my personal experience and observations, there appear to be some basic steps or efforts that may improve the effectiveness of these efforts:

  • Use the term “Dyslexia.” Historically, the term “dyslexia” has been rejected or discouraged by most schools, instead preferring to label the associated learning profile as a Specific Learning Disability in reading; however, dyslexia specialists and advocates have long argued that this latter term is problematic because it fails to acknowledge the neurobiology of dyslexia and it does not inform interventions, accommodations, and related services with the level of specificity that is dictated by the defined diagnosed label. To address this concern, in 2015 the U.S. Department of Education issued a formal letter clarifying that “there is nothing in the IDEA or [the] implementing regulations that would prohibit IEP Teams from referencing or using dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia in a child’s IEP.” Until schools are willing to routinely use the term “dyslexia,” the potential success of dyslexia laws is significantly challenged.
  • Educate families about universal screening and differentiated instruction. The screening and intervention requirements outlined in most dyslexia laws fall within the purview of general education, aiming to identify children with risk factors for learning disabilities and support their needs through multi-tiered systems of support, such as Response to Intervention (RTI). As such, there are not as many defined requirements regarding progress monitoring and reporting, or the coordination of the child’s “team” (i.e. parents, teachers, and other pertinent school personnel), as there would be within special education procedures. Families need to be educated about these universal screening procedures and methods of differentiating instruction within the general education curriculum so that they can understand their child’s challenges and monitor progress in a more informed manner.
  • Coordinate general education and special education screening and evaluation procedures. While the screening and intervention procedures discussed in dyslexia laws are generally within general education, a child should be referred for special education consideration if he or she is not making progress with the increased levels of RTI support. To optimize the utility and impact of the early screenings and to ease the referral process, the criterion that is measured within the general education setting should map onto the criterion for special education eligibility as much as possible; however, should a child require referral for special education consideration, it will also be critical to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of why the child is not progressing, allowing for more individualized and appropriate interventions.
  • Ensure the dissemination of dyslexia handbooks or resource guides. While the dyslexia community is enthused by state dyslexia laws, many teachers and school personnel are not aware of these mandates or the associated resources. These resources are a treasure trove of information about how to delivery differentiated instruction and integrate instructional methods and accommodations that are likely to be helpful for all students.
  • Continue raising awareness. Parents, teachers, and school personnel should all be educated about learning profiles, early warning signs, screening procedures, and interventions. School districts should take advantage of the resources provided by their state, which often includes the availability of a state-appointed reading specialist who can provide training or aid the dissemination of information or development of screening and intervention procedures.

There has been great progress in the recognition, identification, and remediation of dyslexia within American schools; however, this work is only just beginning. At the core of this issue is the need to recognize dyslexia as a defined, neurologically-based learning disability that can be identified at an early age and can be effectively remediated through targeted, evidence-based interventions.

Through our evaluations with students in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, clinicians at NESCA aim to identify and define learning profiles such as these and provide recommendations for targeted instruction as well as systemic support and training. Please visit our website at www.nesca-newton.com for more information.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Angela Currie is a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. She conducts neuropsychological and psychological evaluations out of our Londonderry, NH office. She specializes in the evaluation of anxious children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors lending to their stress, such as underlying learning, attentional, or emotional challenges. She particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child, as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Currie or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician in the referral line.

 

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Londonderry, NH, Plainville, MA, and Newton, MA serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call (603) 818-8526.

More Than An Inkblot: Measuring Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking Skills with Projective Tests

By | NESCA Notes 2019

Image Cred: SlidePlayer.com 2019

By Renée Marchant, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

What might this be? A saxophone player? A woman’s face? A bunch of black and white paint? Or is it something else entirely? This classic optical illusion engages the parts of the brain responsible for perception, critical thinking, and problem-solving so that humans can “make sense” of a somewhat ambiguous picture. We know that everyone perceives and experiences the world differently. In order to best support a child’s growth and development, parents, educators, and professionals need to understand a child’s “lens” or “brain habits” that guide how they think, how they feel and how they behave. Projective testing assesses these “brain habits” and sheds light on a child’s problem-solving style.

If you google or look up “projective test” in the dictionary, an array of definitions pop up. The general theme is: a projective test is a test designed with ambiguous stimuli upon which a person presumably “projects” hidden, unconscious emotions and conflicts. Yes, a person’s internal thoughts, feelings, and assumptions sometimes outside of conscious awareness do influence your response to projective tests and your behavior in everyday life. However, projection is only one piece of the puzzle. A broader, more accurate definition is:

A projective test is a “performance-based” test that requires the respondent to perform a task that has little structure, direction or guidanceThese tasks might, for example, involve completing a sentence, telling a story, or describing inkblots (i.e. the famous Rorschach Inkblot Test).

So why do we care about assessing a child or teen’s ability to make sense of an unstructured, ambiguous task? In addition to measuring a child’s concrete knowledge and skills (e.g. academics, intellectual functions, memory capacity etc.), it is oftentimes crucial to understand how a child problem-solves a situation “in action” – when they must rely on themselves to formulate a solution. This is particularly true for children who have difficulties managing their emotions, children who have trouble making reasonable decisions, and children who can’t seem to make or keep friends. For youth with these challenges, understanding how “in the moment” problem-solving and critical thinking skills work or don’t work gives parents, educators, and professionals insight into learning style, challenges and strengths, and most importantly, guides individualized therapeutic interventions.

A growing number of business and education leaders have begun to recognize the importance of performance-based assessments to evaluate student learning in the classroom and the workplace. Creativity, ingenuity, “thinking on your feet” and the capacity for critical thinking and analysis are clearly key skills in today’s innovative world. Therefore, to set kids up for success, it is understandably helpful to evaluate a child’s thinking and feeling “brain habits” that affect their choices, behaviors, and aspirations. As assessors, teachers, professionals, and parents, we want to better understand how each child applies knowledge to solve problems they face now and in the future – social problems, work problems, emotional problems and beyond. Projective testing provides not only a current evaluation of a child’s capacity to problem solve “on their feet” but provides a direction for how those “brain habits” might pose a strength or a challenge for that child as they grow.

Are you thinking about referring a child, teen, or young adult for projective testing? Here are 5 “fast facts” to guide you:

  1. Projective (also known as performance-based) tests are powerful diagnostic tools when administered and interpreted in conjunction with observation and other standardized test results by a skilled, experienced practitioner. It is important to ask a potential evaluator about their training in projective testing and how they utilize the results.
  2. Projective testing is helpful for children and teens with various complex, social and emotional challenges. Common referrals include questions related to: thinking problems/emerging psychosis, trauma, attachment-related concerns, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, developing personality traits and disorders, high-risk behaviors such as suicidal or homicidal thoughts and actions, substance abuse, poor emotion regulation, and self-injury.
  3. Projective testing provides information about a child’s thinking patterns, how they experience emotions, self-esteem, and their habits of interacting with others. For example, is a child more likely to “keep everything inside” and avoid or do they dysregulate and “explode” when they experience anxiety? Are a child’s difficulties making and keeping friends because they get “stuck” on the details of a situation, is it because they “miss the big picture”, or are they in a constant state of worrying that others will let them down? Answering these questions results in a more individualized intervention plan for therapy, at home and at school.
  4. Projective testing is not for everyone. There is little research on the use of projective testing with children and adolescents with low visual acuity, below average verbal and/or non-verbal IQs, impairments in visual-spatial processing, social-communication challenges, or language disorders. Be cautious of practitioners who do not inquire and evaluate these important aspects of a child’s functioning, as they are crucial components to determine the appropriateness of a projective evaluation.
  5. Projective testing sheds light on not only a child’s areas of difficulty, but can also provide an individualized analysis of a child’s strengths. For example, projective testing can identify capacity for insight into choices and behaviors, ability to engage effectively in a therapeutic relationship, capacity for empathy and perspective-taking, as well as a child’s inclination towards imagination, creativity, and ingenuity.

About the Author:

Dr. Renée Marchant provides neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments for youth who present with a variety of complex, inter-related needs, with a particular emphasis on identifying co-occurring neurodevelopmental and psychiatric challenges. She specializes in the evaluation of developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorder and social-emotional difficulties stemming from mood, anxiety, attachment, and trauma-related diagnoses. She often assesses children who have “unique learning styles” that can underlie deficits in problem-solving, emotion regulation, social skills, and self-esteem.

Dr. Marchant’s assessments prioritize the “whole picture,” particularly how systemic factors, such as culture, family life, school climate, and broader systems impact diagnoses and treatment needs. She frequently observes children at school and participates in IEP meetings.

Dr. Marchant brings a wealth of clinical experience to her evaluations. In addition to her expertise in assessment, she has extensive experience providing evidence-based therapy to children in individual (TF-CBT, insight-oriented), group (DBT), and family (solution-focused, structural) modalities. Her school, home, and treatment recommendations integrate practice-informed interventions that are tailored to the child’s unique needs.

Dr. Marchant received her B.A. from Boston College with a major in Clinical Psychology and her Psy.D. from William James College in Massachusetts. She completed her internship at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute and her postdoctoral fellowship at Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, where she deepened her expertise in providing therapy and conducting assessments for children with neurodevelopmental disorders as well as youth who present with high-risk behaviors (e.g. psychosis, self-injury, aggression, suicidal ideation).

Dr. Marchant provides workshops and consultations to parents, school personnel, and treatment professionals on ways to cultivate resilience and self-efficacy in the face of adversity, trauma, interpersonal violence, and bullying. She is an expert on the interpretation of the Rorschach Inkblot Test and provides teaching and supervision on the usefulness of projective/performance-based measures in assessment. Dr. Marchant is also a member of the American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA) and continues to conduct research on the effectiveness of family therapy for high-risk, hospitalized patients.

To book an evaluation with Dr. Marchant or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.

 

 

 

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

 

Smart and Slow: What is a processing speed deficit? How can evaluation help?

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By Jessica Geragosian, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Emilia is in the 7th grade. Teachers have always found her to be an intelligent and academically motivated child; however, she has historically been quite slow in completing classwork and tests. Homework, particularly now in middle school, has been a highly laborious process, taking her far longer than her peers. Emilia’s parents were also concerned when receiving her SSAT results, as the scores did not seem to reflect the capabilities of their smart kid. But what is most concerning to Emilia’s parents is that Emilia has recently been coming home saying she is “dumb” and hates school.

Processing speed is the rate at which an individual can process information and produce an output. Although it is measured as part of many standard intelligence tests, it has nothing to do with how “smart” an individual is. Processing speed challenges can be visual, oral, and graphomotor in nature. They do not have to be related to a learning disability or ADHD, though they can be. Also, processing speed can be easily impacted by many things. For example, while an individual may not have a primary processing speed deficit, depression and anxiety can temporarily cause deficits in processing speed.

It is not uncommon for children to have strengths and weaknesses in their cognitive profile. Weaknesses in processing speed, however, can be particularly frustrating, especially when children are very bright. This is because these children may have many ideas, but cannot produce them efficiently or effectively. Children with processing speed deficits tend to experience a high level of frustration, as they are not able to demonstrate their knowledge and keep up with their peers in the classroom. Sometimes, processing speed deficits do not become apparent until middle or high school when work demands ramp up, or the student begins taking standardized exams with strict time limits.

For students like Emilia, who experience increased academic challenges as they progress in school, neuropsychological evaluation can be extremely useful and effective. In this case, the purpose of neuropsychological testing aims to better understand the nature of the processing speed challenges, the impact on the child, and how to utilize strengths to overcome challenges. Students with processing speed deficits are often entitled to academic accommodations and can be quite successful with such supports in place. Testing can also be important for ruling in, or out, emerging mental health issues.

For Emilia, the following recommendations were particularly important to address in her educational planning:

-extra time on tests (including standardized exams such as the SSAT)

-the use of a computer to minimize graphomotor output demand (and access to voice-to-text software)

-help with notetaking in the classroom (copy of teacher’s notes)

-learning tools to circumvent processing speed challenges (i.e. use of a Livescribe pen which records audio as she is taking her own notes)

-putting value on quality rather than quantity of school work (e.g., when given a homework assignment in math, Emilia was required to complete every other item)

However, the most effective approach, and one of the most important outcomes made possible by neuropsychological evaluation, was explicitly teaching Emilia about her unique strengths and challenges. Children (especially middle schoolers) tend to be black and white—if they finish their test last, then they must be “dumb.” When Emilia was able to see that this was a challenge that could be overcome, especially in the context of her very impressive intellectual abilities, she was able to re-engage in school without frustration. Moreover, parents and teachers were able to better understand and address her academic challenges in a thoughtful and effective way.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Jessica Geragosian is a Licensed Psychologist in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. She has a wide range of clinical experience – in hospital, school and clinic settings – working with children and adolescents presenting with a wide range of cognitive, learning, social, and psychological challenges.

Dr. Geragosian operates under the primary belief that all children want to, and can be, successful. The primary goal of her work is to identify the child’s innate strengths, and find any underlying vulnerabilities preventing a child from achieving success. Whether the primary problem is an inability to acquire academic skills, maintain friendships, control emotions, or regulate behavior to meet expectations; she takes a holistic approach to understand the complex interplay of developmental, neurological, and psychological factors contributing to a child’s presenting challenges.

Dr. Geragosian earned her doctoral degree from William James University, before completing postgraduate training in pediatric neuropsychology at the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children at North Shore Medical Center, where a focus of her work was neuropsychological assessment of young children with developmental challenges.

To book an evaluation with Dr. Geragosian or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.

 

 

 

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

 

Lessons from My Children: Always Ask “Why?”

By | NESCA Notes 2018

 

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

There is a lot that we can learn from our children. They are not as burdened as we, and they approach life with more vigor, wonder, and confidence. With this, they do a lot of important things that we adults have forgotten to do.

Right now, both of my boys are at ages when they are constantly asking, “Why?” For my two year old, it may sound something like this:

Me: “It’s time to put on our shoes.”
Him: “Why?”
Me: “Because we have to go to school.”
Him: “Why?”
Me: “Because we leave at 7:45.”
Him: “Why?”
Me: “Because I have to be at work at 8:15.”
Him: “Why?”

I think you can see where that one is going…

For my five year old, the questioning is a little more sophisticated:

“Why can’t we feel the earth moving?”
“Why do the teens always start with number one?”
“Why is ‘W’ an upside down ‘M’?”

While sometimes the incessant questioning can make a parent’s head spin, asking “why” is how children learn about the world. Questioning is one of the primary tools aiding children’s cognitive development. But in spite of the importance of questioning early on, as we get older, we increasingly forget to make such inquiries. While this may be for understandable reasons – life is busy, we are set in our routines, we have learned to trust the expertise and opinions of others, etc. – such lack of questioning can often interfere with our ability to effectively solve life’s dilemmas, and effectively help our children.

At NESCA, families and caregivers seek out our evaluations for a range of concerns: reading interventions were tried, but they did not work; a child’s behavior is out of control, but they are not responding to the behavioral plan; a teenager is not motivated to do their schoolwork, and they are failing; or conversely, in spite of spending five hours per night on homework, the teen is still failing.

What is most often happening in these situations is that there is not a sufficient understanding of why the child is struggling, and so well-intentioned attempts at helping are rendered fruitless.

Things are not always as they seem. Behavior, be it academic difficulties or noncompliance, is a symptom of an underlying issue. So while some children struggle to read because they are delayed in the acquisition of phonological skills and other foundations of reading, other children may struggle to read because of deficits in things like visual scanning and processing, attention, and/or auditory processing. For the out of control child, if their noncompliance is based in underlying anxiety and their need to avoid anxiety triggers and feared situations, then behavioral plans that are not paired with anxiety-focused therapeutic interventions will be ineffective.

It is because of the need to know “why” that NESCA’s neuropsychologists always conduct the most comprehensive neuropsychological evaluations. Unless we know the underlying reasons for a client’s challenges, we cannot create the well-informed recommendations and roadmap for how to help them make progress. Through in-depth inquiry and investigation, we get a detailed understanding of a client’s strengths and challenges. We find the reason “why.”

So, while I may sometimes get tired of answering my children’s near-constant questioning, they may have this one right. It is only with ongoing contemplation and inquiry that we can be confident in our understanding of the world, and of our children.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Angela Currie conducts neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments out of NESCA’s Londonderry, NH and Newton, MA offices, seeing individuals with a wide range of concerns. She enjoys working with stressed-out children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors that may be lending to their stress, including assessment of possible underlying learning challenges (such as dyslexia or nonverbal learning disability), attentional deficit, or executive function weakness. She also often conducts evaluations with children confronting more primary emotional and anxiety-related challenges, such as generalized anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, or depression. Dr. Currie 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 or consultation 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.

Mindfulness in Schools

By | NESCA Notes 2017

 

By:  Ann-Noelle McCowan, M.S., RYT
Guidance Counselor; Yoga Specialist

Open Google and type in Mindfulness in Schools and you are presented with a buffet of resources. What was once seen as an alternative idea has become mainstream. But what is Mindfulness and why is it something that deserves a place in schools?

Mindfulness was originally developed as part of the 8 Fold Path of Buddhism. With mindfulness, your attention would be turned inward and also impact your relationship with the world through mindful actions and behaviors.  Now it is scientifically studied and found in locations like professional locker rooms, jails and hospitals to fortune 500 companies like Nike, Google and Apple. Advancements in brain imaging show that a regular mindfulness practice creates increased activity in the areas of the brain associated with working memory, executive function, emotional regulation, perspective taking and empathy, with decreases in the areas of the brain associated with depression, PTSD and stress (correlated with a decrease in amygdala size).

Mindfulness’ increased popularity may be due to the fact that it is an adaptable, take with you anywhere antidote to a society that is increasingly fast-paced and technology focused. In a global world, it helps us feel both connected to ourselves and grounded where we are. More adults and kids are feeling stressed, anxious and depressed, and mindfulness can help soothe our worries without negative side effects.

Schools are responsible for teaching children skills and information across many content areas, yet how often are children taught the best way to pay attention, or how to use attention?  Attention is the lens through which all of our experiences are filtered through, yet it is rarely directly and specifically taught! Mindfulness is at its core simply focusing on a single thing at a time, in a particular way, without evaluation. It is an invaluable life skill for helping children be successful students as well as happy well adjusted and connected children. An informal survey of my colleagues and friends found that yoga and mindfulness are being adapted to various school settings.  From class transitions that begin with listening bells, rounds of belly breathing before assessments, calming scented oils on cotton balls in the nurse’s’ office,  books clubs with teachers, introductions to mindfulness apps in health class and mindfulness or yoga activities and clubs.  mindfulness is staking its place in schools.

When introducing mindfulness in classrooms and schools the following steps help outline ways to weave mindfulness into classrooms and schools.

1. Learn More. 

Starting with this blog post the internet is full of articles and videos to explore.
How Meditation Can Reshape Our Brains: Sara Lazar at TEDxCambridge 2011
https://www.nytimes.com/guides/well/mindfulness-for-children
Kids getting lessons in mindfulness in school – Today’s Parent

2. Model Mindfulness and Practice Yourself. 

You can’t teach what you don’t know. Practicing mindfulness will help you be aware of your own reactions if at first your students are squirmy or resistant. Keep in mind that students may not use the words you expect to describe their experience, listen for what is behind their words.

3. In an age-appropriate way, explain how mindfulness is beneficial for them. 

My teens love learning about how their brain works and that mindfulness is a form of training for their brain.

Some videos for younger  kids:

4. Teach about the monkey or animal mind. 

Children of all ages enjoy the practice of noticing how many places their thoughts go and how quickly thoughts connect to others. There are fantastic books for younger kids such as Moody Cow Meditates and  Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda.  Teens understand how if walk into class and see their friend laugh with a peer after a glance towards them their thoughts immediately race…. “ “what did I do” …“ they are mad”…“I’m not going to have a partner for this project”… “ there goes my secrets, begin the rumors”… “I’ll be left out of the weekend plans” … “I’ll be alone forever”.  Teach them to acknowledge the chatter but not get caught in it.

5. Start small. 

Begin with 1-3 minutes at the start of class directing kids to feel their seat in their seat, their feet on the floor, their hands on their lap and intentionally take 5-10 long inhales and exhales. Other ideas:

  • Practice silent snack one day a week, take a mindful walk as a class and have them focus on their senses and record it in their own journal ( words or visuals) when back in the classroom. Create a mindful space in a corner of your room with coloring books, pencils, cushions as a safe break place.
  • For kids it may be hard to focus on a single item at a time, so use manipulatives. A Hoberman Sphere, Pinwheels or feathers to demonstrate breath.  Build Worry Jars, adapt Chutes and Ladders or other familiar games with mindful exercises. Use one of the many Yoga Card Decks.

6. There’s an App for this!

Ironic perhaps to use technology but most kids love technology and it offers choice and control. Try  “Calm.com”, “Stop, Breathe and Think”, “Smiling Mind” or the “Insight Meditation Timer” (after medications my kids love to check out the world map and see all the locations where people are meditating!).  Try a classroom program such as http://www.innerexplorer.org/.

7. Be consistent.

Greater benefits and habits are created when mindfulness is done repeatedly. Colleagues who practice mindfulness daily, even for a few minutes notice the impact is greater than if  done sporadically.

Mindfulness is good for us and our children and has a natural place in our schools. Benefits abound like enhanced attention, self-regulation, social competence, as well as greater kindness and compassion. After I have practiced mindfulness with my students or clients they look different, calmer and relaxed and ask for it again. I too notice the rest of my day feels more manageable and my smile is broader. Enjoy adding mindfulness to your classroom or express your hope to your child’s teacher or school leaders that mindfulness be a part of your child’s school experience.

About the Author:

McCowan

Ann-Noelle provides therapeutic yoga-counseling sessions individually designed for each child. NESCA therapeutic yoga establishes a safe space for a child to face their challenges while nourishing their innate strengths using the threefold combination of yoga movement, yoga breath, and yoga thinking.

Ann-Noelle has worked with children and adolescents since 2001 and practiced yoga and meditation since 2005. Since 2003 she has been employed full time as a school counselor in a local high performing school district, and prior to that was employed in the San Francisco Public Schools. Ann-Noelle received her dual Masters Degree (MS) in Marriage, Family and Child Therapy (MFCC), and School Counseling from San Francisco State University in 2002, her BA from Union College in New York, and her 200 hour-Registered Yoga Credential (RYT) from Shri Yoga. Ann-Noelle completed additional Yoga training including the Kid Asana Program in 2014, Trauma in Children in 2016 and Adaptive yoga for Parkinson’s in 2014.

For more information on the therapeutic yoga at NESCA, please visit  https://nesca-newton.com/yoga/

 

 

 

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.