Tag

developmental

Why Delay a Diagnosis?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

As part of NESCA’s ongoing blog series addressing some of the most frequently asked questions about neuropsychological testing, today we are addressing why neuropsychologists may choose to delay a diagnosis.

At NESCA, I often supervise neuropsychology trainees, and one of the first questions I asked them is: “What is the goal of a neuropsychological evaluation?” I often hear answers, such as “to identify strengths and weaknesses” or “to determine appropriate diagnosis.” These answers are not wrong, per se – they are what we are taught in graduate school. However, I often explain that while these may be part of our goal, the primary goal is to tell a client’s story and help them understand a path for moving forward. While this may sound a bit aspirational, it is the approach that best appreciates developmental, systemic, and individual factors that may come into play. As addressed by Dr. Moira Creedon in the first blog within this series, this is also one of the reasons why neuropsychologists want to review all prior evaluations and documentation, as this helps to elucidate the developmental timeline.

When a neuropsychologist is approaching an evaluation through the above developmental lens, it is not always possible to land on a specific diagnosis. This may sometimes be referenced as a “deferred diagnosis” or “differential diagnosis,” meaning there is evidence to possibly support the diagnosis, but not enough evidence at this time to decide for certain. Another term that may be used is “provisional diagnosis.” This indicates that there is enough evidence to support the diagnosis at this time, and there is clinical utility to diagnosing (e.g., informs intervention, qualifies for services, etc.); however, more information or monitoring may be needed to be completely confident, so future reassessment is warranted.

There are several reasons why a diagnosis may be deferred or deemed provisional. First, children are constantly developing, and sometimes the challenges they are demonstrating may be developmental in nature. This may be particularly so when evaluating young children. For example, if a young child has significant language delays, it may be difficult to assess whether they are also on the autism spectrum or have early signs of a learning disability, as their observed weaknesses in these areas may be accounted for by their language. Often times these are children who may “catch up” in skills once provided intervention, meaning their difficulties were related to delayed acquisition, rather than an being an issue of innate impairment.

Similarly, another reason diagnosis may be deferred is if a child’s self-regulation challenges interfere with their ability to engage in typical daily demands. For example, for a child who has significant anxiety or behavioral dysregulation that interferes with their ability to engage in school, it may be difficult to determine if academic delays are related to a learning disability or are a secondary consequence to their dysregulation. While provision of targeted instruction may still be necessary in order to help the child regulate and close gaps in skills, a full understanding of their innate learning profile may not be possible until such supports are in place.

Deferred diagnosis is quite common when more significant psychiatric diagnoses are in question, such as whether a child or adolescent is presenting with a mood or thought disorder, such as bipolar or emerging psychosis. There are many other conditions that may “look like” these disorders, including trauma or co-occurring anxiety and ADHD. When diagnosing more significant, often life-course disorders, it is important to ensure that all other potential explanations are identified and addressed. This is important for informing the appropriate treatments while also allowing the evaluator to outline some of the “red flags” that should be monitored by the client, their parents, and their care team over time.

Another reason why a diagnosis may be deferred is that there may be systemic factors at play. In other words, there may be things going on within the child’s home, peer setting, school, or other surroundings that interfere with the evaluator’s ability to understand the child in isolation. This is a particular issue when evaluating a client with a trauma history. Developmental trauma can often “mimic” other symptom profiles, and so it may be important to first address issues within the system before providing a diagnosis for the individual.

There are other less common situations in which diagnosis may be deferred, but they warrant mention. One is when the neuropsychologist is concerned about possible malingering, which is when certain symptoms are being falsified or exaggerated for personal gain (e.g., a child with learning disability exaggerating mood symptoms to avoid school). Another less common situation is when prescribed medication or recreational drugs may be inadvertently causing the symptoms of concern (e.g., depression occurring as a side effect).

A final reason why a diagnosis may be deferred is simply that things can sometimes be messy. We often evaluate children and teens who have several presenting concerns, and sometimes it takes time to peel away the layers of the onion. In any of the above scenarios, we start with “what we know” and then describe “what is possible.” Regardless of whether or not a diagnosis is certain, as neuropsychologists, we are still able to tell the client’s story, describing how they “got here” and how to move forward. This developmentally-sensitive approach allows us to make recommendations based on their need, not just their diagnostic label. We are then able to assess how their profile and symptoms change as they access intervention. It is for this reason that we enjoy the opportunity to develop long-term relationships with our clients, helping to monitor growth over time. Children do not develop in one finite time point, and the neuropsychological evaluation process sometimes has to be patient and continue to develop alongside them.

 

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.

Therapeutic Toy Guide to Promote Skill-building

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Jessica Hanna MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist, NESCA

It’s that time of year when parents and loved ones are looking for the perfect gift. As pediatric occupational therapists, we are often asked about our recommendations for the best toys and activities that encourage learning and the development of specific skills. During an occupational therapy session, toys and games are used with people across the life span for many reasons. The biggest reason is to bring joy and develop confidence while simultaneously working on skill-building in areas that require getting and maintaining attention in an effort to improve and develop independence in functional tasks.

Play and exploration of games and toys are for those of all ages. The right toy and game can be used to develop new skills and strengthen and refine learned skills.

Skills addressed through play and active exploration:

  • Attention and concentration
  • Balance
  • Coordination skills
  • Core strength
  • Executive functioning
  • Emotional regulation
  • Fine motor skills
  • Gross motor skills
  • Handwriting
  • Imaginative play
  • Motor planning
  • Sensory motor needs
  • Visual perceptual skills

How many times have you endlessly scrolled online looking for the best-fit gift, wondering if it will be one more item that ends up collecting dust on a shelf? How often do you wish a toy store existed like when we were kids, instead of walking down the same small toy aisle at the local department store and leaving with nothing? Or having to weed through page after page of online stores and catalogs?

Below is a helpful guide to therapeutic games and toys that focus on a couple of specific skill areas. Most of the games included can fall into more than one skill area, depending on how it’s used.

Coordination Skills – Skills that help develop body control and awareness. Bilateral coordination is the ability to use both sides of your body together in a coordinated way, and hand-eye coordination is when the eyes guide the hands in movement.

3 + years

  • EleFun (Hasbro)
  • Feed the Woozle
  • Kids Magnetic Fishing Games (iPlay, iLearn)
  • Instrument toys
  • Marble Run
  • Target activities
  • The Yoga Garden Game
  • Wooden Balance Board
  • Zoom Ball

6 + years

  • Bob it
  • BucketBall
  • Kan Jam
  • Klask
  • Rev balance board
  • Ring Toss
  • Simon
  • Spike Ball
  • Throw the Burrito
  • Twister

Executive Functioning Skills The ability to sustain attention, organize and plan, initiate and complete, problem solve and regulate emotions.

3 + years

  • Bee Genius (MUKIKIM)
  • Bunny Hop (Educational Insights)
  • Cootie
  • Create-A-Burger (Lakeshore)
  • Dino Escape
  • Don’t Break the Ice
  • Frankie’s Food Truck Fiasco Game
  • iPlay, iLearn Kids Magnetic Fishing Games
  • Hoot Owl Hoot
  • Movement Memory

 6+ years

  • Battleship
  • Checkers
  • Chess
  • DogPile
  • Distraction
  • Gravity Maze
  • Life Junior
  • Monopoly
  • Outfoxed
  • Rush Hour (Think Fun)

Fine Motor Skills – The ability to control the small muscles of the hands and fingers. Fine motor development contains many components. Some of those areas include pincer and pre-writing grasp development, hand strength, wrist stability, motor control, and separation of the sides of the hand.

3 + years

  • Alphabet Learning Locks
  • Bee Genius
  • Duplo Sets
  • Forest Friends Playset (Lakeshore)
  • Light table pegs and pegboard (Lakeshore)
  • Magnet Alphabet Maze
  • Noodle Knockout!
  • Pegcasso Build and Drill
  • Poke-a-Dot: Old MacDonald’s Farm
  • Pop the Pig
  • Woodpecker feeding game (iPlay, iLearn)
  • Snap Dinos (Lakeshore)

6+ years

  • Frankie’s Food Truck Fiasco Game
  • LEGOs
  • Light Brite
  • LiquiPen (Yoya Toys)
  • Mancala
  • Kanoodle
  • Operation
  • Perfection
  • Pictionary
  • Scratch Art
  • Shelby’s Snack Shack Game
  • Trouble

Sensory Play – The opportunity to receive sensory input through play. It can foster listening skills and body awareness, encourage tactile exploration and risk-taking, and promote a calming and alert state of being.

3+ years

  • Bean bags
  • Kinetic Sand
  • Monkey Noodle
  • What’s in Ned’s Head?
  • Playdoh
  • Pop Fidgets
  • Squishmellos
  • Scooter boards
  • Sit and Spin
  • Trampoline

6 + years

  • Aromatherapy
  • Bubble tubes
  • Color mix sensory tubes
  • Doorway Sensory Swing Kit (DreamGym Store)
  • Thinking Putty (scented/glow in the dark)
  • Tent
  • Tunnel
  • Water Beads
  • Weighted blanket
  • LiquiPen (Yoya Toys)

Visual Perception Skills – The ability to make sense of what is being seen. Skills are used to copy information from a board, manipulate items, identify, read, recall info, visually locate things, and write.

3 + years

  • Alphabet Bingo
  • CandyLand
  • Chutes and Ladders
  • Fox in the Box
  • Honeybee Tree
  • Magnatiles
  • Spot-it
  • Pete the Cat- I Love My Buttons Game
  • Puzzles
  • Zingo (Think Fun)

6+ years

  • Connect Four
  • DogPile
  • Guess Who
  • Jenga
  • Kanoodle
  • Klask
  • Let’s Go Code
  • Mancala
  • Perfection
  • Pixy Cubes

This list is just the tip of the iceberg of the many toys and games you will come across. Many toys and games can be therapeutically and easily graded to any individual, no matter the age. The trick is to find the just-right challenge to work on the skill area desired through fun and motivating means. We recommend reaching out to your occupational therapist if you require assistance with either new or older games and toys and how to create the just-right challenge for your child.

 

About the Author

Jessica Hanna has over 10 years of pediatric OT experience in conducting assessments and providing treatment of children and adolescents with a broad range of challenges and disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders, sensory processing disorders, visual impairments, cerebral palsy, executive function deficits and developmental disorders of motor function. Prior to joining NESCA, Jessica trained and worked in a variety of settings, including inpatient and outpatient hospital settings, private practice, schools and homes. She has served on interdisciplinary treatment teams and worked closely with schools, medical staff and other service providers in coordinating care. In addition, Jessica provided occupational therapy services at Perkins School for the Blind and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital pediatric inpatient unit, where she conducted comprehensive evaluations and interventions for children with a broad range of presentations.

 

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.

 

Buyer’s Guide 101: How to Shop for a Pediatric Occupational Therapist

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Julie Robinson, OT
Director of Clinical Services; Occupational Therapist, NESCA

As a parent of a child who has just been referred for Occupational Therapy (OT) services, the prospect of what to do next and where to go can be quite confusing. With so many providers in the area, it can be difficult to know who would be the right fit for your family. Typically, when you reach out to express interest in OT services at NESCA, Julie Robinson, OT, our department director, will have a personal phone call with you to help you through the process. As you conduct your search for the right fit for your child and family, here are some good questions you might ask to help you determine what works best. We’ve offered answers regarding NESCA’s services to let you know more about how we provide OT services.

What type of insurance do you take for occupational therapy?

Here at NESCA, we are in-network for BCBS and Allways, and we bill them directly on behalf of our patients.

How long are your OT sessions?

We spend 45 minutes directly with a child and another 5 – 10 minutes at the end of the session to consult with the caregiver. Other practices provide 30 or 38 minute sessions to compensate for decreases in insurance payments since the outset of Covid-19.

How long do we have to wait for an OT session? 

We can initiate an evaluation within 2 – 3 weeks of initial contact. If you have availability to bring your child in for treatment during the school day, there is no waitlist at this time. If you require sessions in the afterschool hours, there is a very small waitlist.

How many patients does a clinician typically see per week?

Some practices require their clinicians to perform as many as 30 or 32 patient hours per week to maximize their income. Here at NESCA, we cap patient hours at 26 per week. It is very important for us to focus on providing excellent clinical care to our clients with staff who are not burnt out or struggling to manage paperwork, treatment planning, and administrative activities, such as phone calls and emails to support our families. We are proud to offer research-backed services and want to provide our clinicians with ample time for continued opportunities for learning, allowing them to reach their highest level of potential and skill as a therapist – which they then pass on that knowledge and skill to our families.

What does your OT practice focus on?

At NESCA, our focus of therapy is based on a holistic view of a child to encourage life-long functional skill acquisition. We use a combination of sensory motor, sensory integration, developmental, and trauma-informed techniques, as well as practice and repetition of those techniques. We offer coaching on daily living skills to address weaknesses across a variety of areas: self-regulation, executive functions, self-care skills, such as dressing and bathing, handwriting and fine motor development, feeding, academic readiness, organization and attention. Other practices may utilize sensory integration or applied behavioral analysis as the basis for their program, for example.

Does the practice provide OT services in a clinical setting, remotely, at home, in school, or in the community?

Our primary service provision at NESCA is in the office or over teletherapy. In some instances, where schedules can be accommodated, we will provide services in the home, schools, or in the community. There may be additional travel fees involved for services outside of the office.

Does your OT practice offer comprehensive or second opinion evaluations for academic programming if needed?

NESCA does provide this service.

Will your practice consult with teachers or other caregivers if needed?

Yes. Sometimes additional fees are required, as insurance does not cover this service. We believe that consultation with outside providers is a critical part of our success!

Does your practice provide any specific programs outside of traditional sensory-motor based Occupational Therapy services?

At NESCA, we provide several specialty services in addition to traditional OT:

  • Feeding therapy
  • Safe and Sound Protocol for auditory sensitivity and self-regulation
  • Handwriting Without Tears
  • Trauma-informed Sensory Integration

What makes our clinicians so special?

One of the things that makes our occupational therapists an ideal match for your family is our love for children, the work we do, and our commitment to lifelong learning and the development of our clinical skills. Our entire OT department has known each other for at least four years, and we all came together as a team from another practice, with clinicians that are hand-picked by our director. We meet together on a weekly basis to share ideas and information, as well as to support each other in our clinical development.

For more information about NESCA’s Pediatric Occupational Therapy services, please visit: http://nesca-newton.com/occupational_therapy/ or submit an online Intake Form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

 

About the Author

Julie Robinson is an occupational therapist with over 25 years of experience as a clinician. The work Julie does is integral to human development, wellness and a solid family unit. She particularly enjoys supporting families through the process of adoption and in working with children who are victims of trauma. Julie has extensive experience working with children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or who have learning or emotional disabilities. She provides services that address Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and self-regulation challenges, as well as development of motor and executive functioning skills.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services or other clinical therapies, 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.