Managing Stress while Navigating the Initial IEP Referral Process

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

The special education process is naturally stressful, particularly when submitting a first request for eligibility. It is difficult to watch your child struggle in school, and while the IEP process may bring hope for things improving, there are complex procedures and timelines, as well as feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, that must first be navigated. Luckily, there are some things that families can do to help manage the stress that comes with the IEP eligibility process:

  • Acknowledge from the onset that the process will be stressful and that stress is okay. Stress is telling you that something is important and requires your attention. Try to accept stress as part of the process and use that to help prepare yourself.
  • Build a team. Allow yourself to just be the caregiver, and find professionals who can take on other duties. This may include hiring an educational advocate or attorney who can help you understand special education laws as well as advocate for your child’s needs at meetings. This may also include seeking a private evaluation to obtain an expert opinion on your child’s needs and inviting this individual to participate in the meeting. The goal is to divide responsibilities, focus on your child, and speak to your concerns as the caregiver.
  • If you had an evaluation and are working through a new diagnosis, take in information at a pace that you can handle. Ask your evaluator for clarifying information when needed, and try to reduce your Googling and online research. Do not get yourself stuck in a rabbit hole of online information that may or may not pertain to your child. If you feel uncertain about things, use your team and ask questions.
  • Maintain effective communication with your IEP team. Know your goal for each meeting and plan your input ahead of time. Be concise but include observations or history to support your point, and state your specific goals for each meeting.
  • Manage your expectations. Concerns and requests may not be entirely resolved within one meeting, and there may be many steps you have to go through before a plan is in place.
  • For children who “fly under the radar” at school, take some basic notes of what you observe at home, such as difficulty with homework, “meltdowns” after school, etc., which you can share with the team. That said, only take these notes for a manageable time frame (e.g., two weeks), allowing you to maintain your sanity.
  • Lastly, engage in self-care. While this may sound cliché, it is indeed important to take time to yourself and do activities that bring you some peace and enjoyment while navigating through these stressful procedures.


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.

Rating Scales/Questionnaires – Why Do We Give Them and Why Do They Matter?

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

When you request a neuropsychological evaluation, you are undoubtably inundated with paperwork. Consent forms, confidentiality forms, COVID forms, and credit card forms. Then, to your surprise, you bring your child to their first appointment, and the neuropsychologist hands you…more forms! Why? What are these forms for, and what will you do with the information? These are great questions, and always feel free to ask your neuropsychologist. Here are some answers I give when I am asked:

Why do you need so many forms?

Our goal in completing a neuropsychological evaluation is to have as comprehensive picture of a child as possible. This means gathering information from many sources, including what you and/or others are noticing that is raising concerns (what we discuss in the intake appointment), prior evaluations and documentation (e.g., their IEP, testing done at school), your child’s performance on our assessment measures (what they do when they come to the office), and important people’s perceptions of your child’s functioning in daily settings – this is what we assess through the rating scales (also called questionnaires). The parent/teacher rating scales are an important source of information because they not only capture your concerns, but also show us how your concerns may be similar to or different from parents (or teachers) of same-age children. For example, concerns with “attention and focus” are common for us to hear. Attentional skills develop gradually over time, and having a standardized rating scale that evaluates your concerns (or your child’s teacher’s concerns) with attention helps us understand how far off your child’s skills are from what is expected for their age.

What do the forms ask about?

This depends on why your child is being referred for a neuropsychological evaluation. For example, if your child is referred for a question around autism, you will likely be given forms that ask about their social functioning, such as how they do at playdates, birthday parties, the playground, or other community spaces with peers. Your child’s teacher would also likely be given forms to evaluate how your child interacts with peers at school, such as how they do during lunch, snack, and recess; how well they work in groups; and if they have been successful in forming strong friendships. If the concerns are more related to mental health, you may be given forms that ask about their symptoms of anxiety, depression, etc.

What will you do with the forms?

We will take your ratings (or your child’s teacher’s ratings) and compare them to normative data. This is a fancy way of saying “we will see how your child compares to kids their age.” Then, we will take that information to help us form a more comprehensive picture of your child’s profile and our recommendations for how to best help and support them. For example, something I see often is a concern with kids following directions, remembering what they are told to do, and finishing all the steps necessary for a task or project (e.g., getting ready for school or bed). This can be (though certainly isn’t always) a difficulty with working memory or, holding information in mind. We assess working memory in many ways during testing. However, we can’t always see the deficits that parents and teachers see, because testing is inherently different from “real life.” So, rating scales serve as an important source of information in understanding what is going on day-to-day, which helps us to make more comprehensive recommendations.

How do I fill these out?

Please, please, please – read the directions carefully! Each form is meant to evaluate something different. For example, some ask you about your child’s emotional state “in general,” others ask about how they have been behaving over the last two weeks, and others ask about how well they can complete tasks independently (i.e., without any help or guidance). Do your best to complete each question – skipping questions that seem “irrelevant” or “inappropriate” may impact how well we can use the information later on. We realize that not every question will apply to every child – we are using the best tools we have, and some are designed to assess a wide range of children. If you have questions about the wording or phrasing, please ask your neuropsychologist – we really don’t mind!

I have a teenager. Why don’t you just ask them about how they are feeling?

If your child is old enough, we will absolutely talk to them about their perceptions of what is going on, what their concerns are, and what has been helpful for them. Many rating scales have a “child” or “self-report” version, and we may have them complete those, in addition to talking more conversationally about how they are doing.


About the Author

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

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

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

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


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


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


Early Detection of Autism: NESCA’s New ASD Diagnostic Clinic

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) vary widely in terms of the intensity of their symptoms as well as the age at which symptoms emerge. In some cases, signs of autism are apparent during infancy. For other children, concerns about autism might not arise until toddlerhood or even early childhood.

As neuropsychologists, we have become increasingly adept at detecting and diagnosing ASD using a combination of developmental history, clinical observation and standardized assessments. We are constantly learning more about ASD and fine-tuning the tools we have available to us to make a diagnosis.

One of the most important things we have learned through longitudinal research over the past 10 years is that early detection of ASD is a crucial part of a child’s prognosis. Young children who receive intensive services are much more likely to develop language, play and social skills. Because their brains are still in a state of rapid development, they are much quicker to acquire new skills and make progress in the areas where they are struggling. Children who receive early intervention for ASD are typically better able to participate in inclusion settings with same-age peers once they enter elementary school.

Unfortunately, many parents are told to “wait and see” when they express concerns about their child’s development – especially with children who are not yet in preschool. This is a risky and sometimes harmful approach as it leads to children with developmental disabilities not receiving the services they need.

In light of our understanding about the importance of early detection of ASD, NESCA is proud to introduce its ASD Diagnostic Clinic. The clinic offers testing that is targeted specifically at identifying ASD in children between the ages of 2 and 5. For children who do receive a diagnosis of ASD, the report will allow parents to start accessing services immediately. As with all of our families, we hope to establish a lifelong relationship and will be available for follow-up consults and additional evaluations at any time.


About the Author: 

Erin Gibbons, Ph.D. is a pediatric neuropsychologist with expertise in neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological assessment of infants,

children, and adolescents presenting with developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorders. She has a particular interest in assessing students with complex medical histories and/or neurological impairments, including those who are cognitively delayed, nonverbal, or physically disabled. Dr. Gibbons joined NESCA in 2011 after completing a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in the Developmental Medicine Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. She particularly enjoys working with young children, especially those who are transitioning from Early Intervention into preschool. Having been trained in administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), Dr. Gibbons has experience diagnosing autism spectrum disorders in children aged 12 months and above.


If you are interested in booking an appointment for the ASD Diagnostic Clinic or an evaluation with a NESCA neuropsychologist/clinician, please fill out and submit our online intake form


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