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Erin Gibbons

The ABCs of Challenging Behavior

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

When a child or adolescent is exhibiting challenging behaviors, it is helpful to understand why the behaviors are occurring. The first step is to analyze the situational factors surrounding the behaviors:

A: Antecedent. What is happening right before the behavior occurred?
B: Behavior. What is the specific behavior that the child/adolescent exhibited?
C: Consequence. What happened right after the behavior occurred?

By looking at the ABCs of a particular behavior, we can start to understand the function of the behavior. That is to say, why is the child/adolescent engaging in the behavior? How is the behavior being reinforced?

Let’s look at an example:
Tom is in 6th grade. He arrives to math class, and the teacher distributes a worksheet. Tom rips up the math sheet and throws it on the floor. The teacher sends him to principal’s office.

A: Math class, being given a worksheet
B: Ripping up the paper
C: Being sent to the principal/leaving the class

In this example, the aversive situation might be math class itself, it could be the worksheet, or it could be the specific concept being worked on (e.g., multiplication is hard for Tom). Alternatively, something might have happened right before math class that upset him.

The consequence is that Tom is allowed to avoid the problematic situation. Thus, the teacher is inadvertently reinforcing the behavior. Tom has learned that if he refuses to do the work, he gets to leave class.

The more effective intervention would be to understand why he refused the work. In this case, it would be important to have a conversation with Tom. Was the work too hard? Does he need extra explanation of the concepts being covered in the worksheet? Did something happen before math class that Tom was still upset about? If the teacher is not able to engage him in this type of conversation, perhaps it would be better to send him to the school counselor as opposed to the principal.

As you think about your own children, it might be helpful to consider the ABCs of any challenging behaviors that are occurring. What was happening right before? If you can identify antecedents, you might be able to make some concrete environmental changes in order to avoid the behavior. What happened right afterward? Did your reaction to the behavior somehow reinforce it? Could you do something different next time the behavior occurs that would be more effective?

Resources
The Explosive Child by Ross Greene
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
The Behavior Code Companion by Jessica Minahan

 

About the Author

Erin Gibbons, Ph.D., evaluates children presenting with a range of attentional, learning, and developmental disabilities. She has a particular interest in children with autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disabilities, and those with complex medical histories.

If you are interested in booking an evaluation with a NESCA neuropsychologist/clinician, please fill out and submit our 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.

Neuropsychological Evaluations at Different Stages of Childhood & Adolescence

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

Having been at NESCA for more than 11 years, I have been fortunate enough to follow many clients throughout their childhood. In some cases, I have conducted two or three neuropsychological evaluations on the same student at different points in their life. After their first experience with an evaluation, parents will often ask, “Will we need to do this again?” or “How often should we get evaluations?”. As is the case for most things, the answer is different for every child depending on their needs. When determining how often to seek an evaluation, it might be helpful to think about what information you are trying to gather depending on the child’s age.

Preschool (2-5)

  • Concerns about developmental delays (not meeting milestones)
  • Concerns about autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Transition from Early Intervention into preschool
  • Transition from preschool to kindergarten

Elementary School (5-10)

  • Concerns about academic skills – assess for dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, or other specific learning disability
  • Why is the student not making expected progress in school?
  • Concerns about attention and executive functioning (possible attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Concerns about ASD (if not already diagnosed)
  • For children who already have an identified disability – need to monitor progress
  • Plan for transition to middle school

Middle School (10-14)

  • If this is the first neuropsychological evaluation – it is usually because the child did okay in elementary school but is now struggling with increased demands in the areas of academics, executive functioning, and social
  • For students with a previously identified disability – need to monitor progress
  • Plan for transition to high school

Early High School (14-16)

  • Monitor progress – how is the student managing increased demands of high school?
  • Mental health – emerging concerns about anxiety and/or depression
  • Start planning for postsecondary transition
    • Is the student on track to graduate in 4 years?
    • Does the student need programming beyond 12th grade?

Late High School (16-18)

  • Heavy emphasis on postsecondary transition planning
  • Do we need to work on vocational skills?
  • If the student is college-bound – determine whether any accommodations will be needed
  • If the student is not going to college – what is next?
    • Remain at high school with ongoing special education services
    • Gap year
    • Young adult transition program for students with disabilities
  • Consult with transition specialist to help with planning

Early Adulthood (18+)

  • If the student is in college – do they need additional supports?
  • If the student is still accessing special education services – where should we be putting the emphasis?
    • Academics
    • Vocational
    • Life Skills
  • For students with developmental disabilities, need to plan for adult services
    • Should the parents seek guardianship?
    • Is the student eligible for DDS or other adult service agencies?
    • What resources are available to the family?
  • Combine with transition specialists to help navigate adult services

 

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 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, 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.

What Do We Mean by Individualized Neuropsychological Evaluations?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

Previous blogs in our recent series addressing frequently asked questions during the intake process, have covered the important differences between school-based testing and an independent neuropsychological evaluation. A neuropsychological evaluation should always be comprehensive, meaning that it covers various aspects of the student’s learning profile: cognition, language, memory, attention, and social-emotional functioning. However, the evaluation should also be individualized. Essentially, a good evaluation should aim to answer the questions that are specific to that student, not just a cookie-cutter list of tests.

Prior to starting testing, the clinician reviews any previous records and holds an intake appointment with the student’s parents or caregivers. Through this process, the clinician gathers information about the student’s early developmental history, medical background, and current challenges. If the student is already receiving services – either privately or through the school district – that is also important information. All of this helps to shape the “Referral Questions” for the evaluation. In some cases, the questions are very specific; for example, “Does my child have dyslexia?” or “Does my child have ADHD?” In other cases, the question is less defined, such as when we are asked “What is going on with my child and how do I help them?”

We often get asked by parents or caregivers if their child can have all of the tests available performed during their child’s neuropsychological evaluation. As clinicians, we understand that temptation. An evaluation is both an investment of time and money for the parents or caregivers. But neuropsychological evaluations are a lot of work for children, so we want to be sure to tailor the tests to what is actually going to yield beneficial findings for them or will help answer the referral question.

Some families request the list of tests that will be included in the evaluation. Unfortunately, this is not always possible until after testing is underway. Following the intake process, the clinician starts to develop the “battery” – the specific tests that will be administered to the student. Most clinicians have a skeleton battery of tests that they include for every client – an intelligence test, some academic tests (reading, writing, and math), and tasks that assess skills, such as language, memory, and attention – as described above. The clinician then fills in the testing battery based on the specific questions for that student. For example:

  • An evaluation designed to test for dyslexia should include several tests of reading as well as tests that look at very specific skills related to reading (e.g., phonological processing). When there are no concerns about reading, this aspect of the evaluation would be briefer.
  • An evaluation designed to assess for autism spectrum disorder should include a variety of tasks that examine social communication and reciprocal social skills. These types of tasks would likely not be included for a student who has never had any challenges in the social domain.

If a school district or another provider is asking for the list of tests that will comprise the neuropsychological evaluation, please talk to your clinician about this during the intake process. The final list might not be available until testing is complete, but this is definitely something that your clinician can provide as soon as possible.

 

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 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.

My child is nonverbal. Should I still get a neuropsychological evaluation?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

The short answer to this question is YES. As a neuropsychologist, I enjoy evaluating students who have complex profiles, including intellectual/developmental disabilities, genetic conditions, and medical complexities. In many cases, these students have been deemed “untestable” and have never had a comprehensive evaluation.

This is problematic for two major reasons.

  • First, we cannot understand a student’s potential if we have no data or assessments available. Following from this, it is very hard to develop realistic and measurable goals without using the student’s innate potential to guide those goals.
  • Second, lack of testing causes practical and logistical problems later in the student’s life. As a child approaches adulthood at 18, it is necessary to have documentation of their cognitive and adaptive skills as well as diagnoses in order to seek adult services. More specifically, the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) requires documentation of intellectual disabilities prior to age 18.

Having assessed thousands of children and adolescents over the years, I’ve learned that I can ALWAYS gather important information from a neuropsychological evaluation. I have evaluated students who are nonverbal, students with severe intellectual disabilities, students with limited to no motor abilities, students with vision and hearing impairments, students with severely challenging behaviors…. In every case, a neuropsychological evaluation has been meaningful and useful in terms of A) understanding the student’s capabilities, and B) developing educational and treatment goals.

It is important to understand that a neuropsychological evaluation with a more developmentally complex student will look different than an evaluation with a neurotypical student. There are standardized tests that I will not be able to administer based on the student’s language skills, motor abilities, and academic knowledge. Some students can only tolerate 20 or 30 minutes of testing at a time, so the evaluation is broken into 9 or 10 sessions. Some students provide their responses using a communication device. Some students need to be supported by a behavior therapist to help them maintain a safe body.

In some cases, students cannot engage in any standardized tests due to multiple disabilities. However, I still have them come into my office at least once so that I can meet them in person and gather information about their communication skills, social interest, and activity levels. I will then spend time observing the student at their educational program, interviewing school-based staff, and gathering information from the student’s caregivers about their skills at home. With all of these data points, I can then provide a thorough set of recommendations for school-, community-, and home-based goals – even though I might not have “valid” standard scores.

For all of the families who think that a neuropsychological evaluation cannot be done with their child for one reason or another, I urge you to reconsider your perception of the purpose of an evaluation. In these cases, the emphasis of the evaluation is not on test scores, but on developing a better understanding of the student’s strengths and weaknesses. More importantly, the evaluation should be used as a reference to guide treatment goals to help the student achieve the highest level of independence of which they are capable based on their potential.

 

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.

The Importance of Self-care for Parents

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

As a working mother of two young children, I often feel as if I am being pulled in a million different directions. When I am at work, I want to be present for my clients and families and not distracted by personal problems. When I am at home, I want to leave my work at the office and be available to play with my children. In an ideal world, I would have the energy to be fully alert and attentive in both settings. In reality, I often find myself distracted and then the guilt sets in. If I’m thinking about my own kids while I’m sitting with a client, does that make me a bad psychologist? If I’m thinking about my clients while I’m with my children, does that make me a bad parent?

Parent guilt is not going to go away, but we can do things in our everyday lives to help combat it. Something that we all need to practice is self-care!

Self-care can take many different forms depending on what you find relaxing or enjoyable. Personally, I use exercise as my daily self-care routine. I subscribe to an online fitness program which means no hassle commuting to/from the gym, and I know I can commit to 30 minutes a day even when I’m busy. Some other examples of self-care might include:

  • Going to bed at a reasonable time every night
  • Scheduling a massage/manicure/pedicure/facial, etc. on a regular basis
  • Take a walk in the evening
  • Write in a journal
  • Meditate
  • Use a self-care app

Whatever you decide to try – remember that self-care is extremely important. We can’t be there for the ones we love if we are not taking care of ourselves. Further, by practicing self-care, we are teaching our children healthy habits that they will take with them and incorporate into their own lives as they grow up.

 

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.

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.

How Do I Prepare My Child for a Neuropsychological Evaluation?

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

Parents often ask us what they should tell their child about their upcoming neuropsychological evaluation, especially when it is their first experience with testing. I advise parents to refer to the neuropsychologist using his or her first name, as the term “doctor” can be scary and raise fears about medical exams. I might also add that the visit will not involve any shots! In order to describe the evaluation itself; here is some helpful language:

  • They are going to ask you questions, and you just need to do your best to answer.
  • They might ask you to do some drawing or writing.
  • Some activities might feel like you’re in school; for example, reading stories or doing math problems.

It may also be helpful to create a simple social story prior to the evaluation to help preview what to expect for your child.

To explain the reasons for doing the evaluation, some key phrases to use with your child include:

  • We want to understand how you learn, because everybody learns differently.
  • We are going to be “brain detectives” and figure out how your brain works!
  • This will help us identify your strengths and areas that we need to work on. That way, we can help you with things that are harder for you.
  • This will help your teachers understand your learning style so they can help you better at school.
  • Just try your best!

Testing in the age of Covid-19 is different. It can be harder to help children feel at ease when everyone is wearing masks, and we can’t offer a high five for good work. But as we are all learning, children are often more resilient than adults. Prior to coming in for an evaluation, you might want to remind your child to wear their mask, wash their hands and not approach people too closely.

It is also important to understand that a neuropsychological evaluation is a lot of work for your child! Finding a way to reward them for their effort will go a long way in helping them stay motivated and positive. This could be as simple as swinging by the drive-thru for a donut or something more extravagant, like a new video game. Whatever you choose to do, create a plan with your child and let the neuropsychologist know. When I have a child in my office who is starting to fatigue, it’s always a great motivator to remind them of the special prize they’ll get at the end of the visit!

 

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 evaluation with Dr. Gibbons or another NESCA neuropsychologist, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

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

Preparing our Kids to Reenter the Community

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

For many children, new experiences are frightening and anxiety-provoking. Children thrive on routine and predictability; when these get interrupted, it can be hard for them to understand what is happening. As we all know, the last few months have been fraught with unpredictability and change. Now, we are starting to go back to work, eat at restaurants and visit retail stores. As adults, we might have mixed feelings about this – relief to get out of the house but also fear about the ongoing pandemic. For our children, we are expecting them to reenter their communities with a new set of “rules” after months of being in the safety of their homes. This is going to be a difficult process, especially for children with special needs.

So how do we prepare children for all of the new experiences they are about to face?

One method that has been found to be effective is the use of Social Stories™. Social Stories were first developed in 1990 by Carol Gray, a special education teacher. In essence, Social Stories are used to explain situations and experiences to children at a developmentally appropriate level using pictures and simple text. In order to create materials that are considered a true Social Story, there are a set of criteria that must be used. More information can be found here: https://carolgraysocialstories.com/social-stories/what-is-it/.

While special educators or therapists are expected to use this high standard in their work, it is also relatively easy for parents to create modified versions of these stories to use at home. I was inspired by one of my clients recently who made a story for her son with Down syndrome to prepare him for the neuropsychological evaluation. During her parent intake, she took pictures of me and the office setting. At home, she created a short book that started with a picture of her son, a picture of their car, a picture of my office, a picture of me and so on. On each page, she wrote a simple sentence:

  • First we will get in the car
  • We will drive to Dr. Gibbons’ office
  • We will play some games with Dr. Gibbons
  • We will go pick a prize at Target
  • We will drive home

Throughout the evaluation, she referred to the book whenever her son became frustrated by the tests or needed a visual reminder of the day’s schedule. Something that probably only took a few minutes to create played an important role in helping her son feel comfortable and be able to complete the evaluation.

The options for creating similar types of stories are endless, giving parents a way to prepare their children for a scary experience.

Some examples of stories to create during the ongoing pandemic:

  • Wearing a mask when out of the house
  • Proper hand washing
  • Socially distant greetings (bubble hugs, elbow bumps, etc.)

Some examples of more general stories include:

  • Doctor’s visits
  • Going to the dentist
  • Getting a haircut
  • Riding in the car
  • First day of school

You can use stock photos from the internet or pictures of your child and the actual people/objects they will encounter. If you have a child who reads, you can include more text; if your child does not read, focus on pictures only. Read the story with the child several times in the days leading up to the event. For ongoing expectations (e.g., wearing a mask) – you can review the story as often as needed. Keep it short and simple. And have fun with it!

 

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 evaluation with Dr. Gibbons or another NESCA neuropsychologist, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

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

Neurodevelopmental Evaluations – Where and When to Start

By | NESCA Notes 2018

**Creating Roadmaps for the Lifespan: Preschool Neurodevelopmental Evaluations to Life After High School**

NESCA Pediatric Neuropsychologist Dr. Erin Gibbons will be presenting on neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological evaluations in a free educational workshop at NESCA’s Plainville, MA office on Monday, March 9 from 6:30 – 8:00 PM. NESCA Transition Specialist Becki Lauzon will be co-presenting to address the transition process/how to start preparing for life after high school.

For more information, visit the event page. To register to attend the event, email Jane Hauser at jhauser@nesca-newton.com. As a preview to what attendees can expect to learn at the event, read Dr. Gibbon’s blog post.

 

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

Parenthood is a daunting task to say the least. Not only must we worry about keeping our children healthy and safe, but we are constantly bombarded with information about potentially harmful foods, chemicals, toys, etc. Many parents also have concerns about whether their children are meeting developmental milestones on time and/or whether they should worry about certain behaviors their children are displaying.

When concerns arise about older children, parents are often advised to seek a neuropsychological evaluation to rule out possible attention, learning, or developmental challenges. However, parents of children under 5 are often urged to “wait and see” or might be told it is “too early” to seek an evaluation. The truth of the matter is that it is never too early to have your child evaluated when you are worried about his or her development.

Where do I start?

If you have concerns about your child’s development, it is always a good idea to start with your pediatrician. Describe what you are seeing at home and any difficulties you have noticed. Your pediatrician might recommend that you seek a comprehensive neurodevelopmental evaluation to assess for any developmental delays.

What is a neurodevelopmental evaluation?

This is a comprehensive set of tests designed to assess all aspects of your child’s development, including cognition, language, motor, and social skills. This type of evaluation is conducted by a pediatric neuropsychologist. First, you will be asked to provide information about your child’s developmental and medical histories. Your child will then be asked to participate in a series of activities over the course of 2 or 3 hours. For example, he/she will have to solve simple puzzles, label pictures, or play with different types of toys.

Why is a neurodevelopmental evaluation useful?

After completing the evaluation, the neuropsychologist will analyze all of the information and develop a comprehensive picture of your child’s developmental profile. In addition to helping you understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses, the neuropsychologist will also identify any developmental delays that require intervention.

What happens next?

An evaluation will identify developmental delays that need to be treated in order to help your child catch up with peers. Some examples include speech/language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy or applied behavior analysis (ABA).

For children under 3, this means they can start receiving Early Intervention services right away. Early Intervention is a system of services for babies and toddlers who have developmental delays or disabilities and is available in every state in the US.

For children over 3, parents can seek services privately, or can work with their local school district to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for their child. Having an independent evaluation completed prior to your child’s transition to public education is extremely useful as it provides the district with the child’s type of disability and informs the process of developing necessary services.

Where can I go?

Neurodevelopmental evaluations are available at many local area hospitals as well as private neuropsychology clinics. Parents can also contact their insurance company for a list of providers or search through the Massachusetts Neuropsychological Society: https://www.massneuropsych.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageID=3309.

At NESCA, we are proud to offer neurodevelopmental evaluations for children ages 1-5 and will provide parents with a comprehensive report, extensive recommendations for services, and ongoing consultation through the years. Our clinicians are able to do observations of children in their natural environments (e.g., day care, preschool) to gain a full picture of the child and provide environmental recommendations that would be most supportive. Moreover, we are available to attend meetings with early intervention specialists and special educators to help a child’s team fully understand their individual learning and service needs.

If you are interested in scheduling a consultation or evaluation at NESCA, please complete our on-line intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

About the Author:

GibbonsErin 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.