financial literacy

Making the Most of Summer – Setting a Few Life Skill Goals (for College and Life in General after High School)

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

Summer in the United States is looking more “normal” than it has in three years. Kids are in camps, summer school is in-person, and families are traveling. While there is a semblance of planning and activity that many of us missed greatly in 2020 and 2021, many teenagers are still finding their groove with changing work schedules, driver’s education, etc. No matter what your teenager is doing, this is great time to sit down and set a few “simple” life skill goals for the summer. In 2020, I wrote a two-part blog series focused on eight life skills that are critical to build before college:

  1. Getting up “on time” each morning
  2. Washing, drying, and putting away laundry—including sheets
  3. Basic kitchen skills
  4. Using basic tools (e.g., screwdriver, hammer, measuring tape, etc.)
  5. Medication management
  6. Money management
  7. Routine exercise
  8. Using a calendar for scheduling

For teenagers in high school or heading off to college, these are great skills to begin tackling over the summer months. For example, getting up by a certain time is something that can be especially important to work on when consequences are low. For instance, it is hard to let a teen sleep in when they are going to miss an AP exam, but it can be easier to let them practice using an alarm (and possibly oversleeping) when they are going to a movie with a friend or attending a camp. Summer is a great time for teens to be able to experience natural consequences as they practice taking on new risks and responsibilities associated with some of the life skills above.

A challenge when working with, or parenting, teenagers who have a lot of skills to develop is figuring out where to start or how to gain “buy-in.” One of the ways that I like to work with students to set life skill goals is to have the student take a basic life skills inventory, such as the Casey Life Skills Toolkit, Life Skills Inventory, or Adolescent Autonomy Checklist. After a student rates their own skill levels, I ask them to review skills that they cannot already do and identify how important those skills are on a scale of 1 to 10. Then, we go through the list again, and I ask which skills they would like to learn in the next 2 months, 6 months, and year. Once the teenager has identified the importance of a skill and the desire to work on the skill in the near future, it is much easier to set short-term goals. We can work out a skill-building plan for the summer. including how much time to dedicate on a daily or weekly basis. We can also talk about the types of barriers or challenges that might get in the way of the teenager practicing these skills. Additionally, we can set expectations for how often the teen is going to report back to me on the skill so that there is built-in accountability, and the teen knows to expect the check-ins rather than feeling like someone is checking up on them.

Every teenager is different. If you are a parent wanting to help your child make the most of summer, you may find that you can go through the same process that I do to help your child set a few short-term goals. Other teenagers will be able to work on goals themselves—once they have gone through the exercise of setting them. And others, may benefit from having a coach who can build a relationship, support development of executive function and coping skills, and partner with the teen in making the most of summer. If you think your child would benefit from some coaching or an “expert” to work with them, we have a great team of professionals here at NESCA who are ready to help.

If you are interested in working with a transition specialist, executive function coach or real-life skills coach at NESCA for consultation, coaching, planning or evaluation, please complete our online intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

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

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

Put Me In, Coach!

By | NESCA Notes 2021


Coaching Services at NESCA

For students and young adults with social, emotional, organizational and/or learning differences, hands-on instruction in real-world environments is a critical means of developing skills for postsecondary living, learning and working. NESCA is pleased to offer individualized home-, community-,and office-based coaching services as well as remote coaching services, delivered by a team of seasoned Occupational Therapists (OTs), Vocational Counselors and Transition Specialists to support the needs of transition-age youth.


Meet the Coaches


Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in pediatrics and occupational therapy, including school-based service delivery. Dr. Bellenis has expertise in working with tweens, teens, and young adults with a wide range of social, emotional, and developmental needs. She joined NESCA full-time in the fall of 2019 in order to oversee the Real-life Skills Coaching program as well as to carry out transition assessment, occupational therapy assessment and treatment services. One of the keys to Dr. Bellenis’ success coaching students and young adults is her ability to form a meaningful relationship with each client and use that relationship to motivate lasting change.





Aubrey Matthews, OTD, OTR/L

Aubrey Matthews, OTD, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist who has focused most of her career on mental health and skill building for adolescents and young adults. She currently works full-time at a behavioral health hospital, splitting her time between the inpatient adolescent unit and the young adult intensive outpatient program. Aubrey tends to focus on building emotional regulation, executive function, and social skills through occupation-based strategies. Aubrey’s doctoral research at the MGH Institute of Health Professions focused on using LEGO therapy to build social skills at a pro-bono pediatric program, and she uses many of these creative strategies to increase client motivation and success.





Jasmine Badamo, MA

Jasmine is an executive function coach, and a New York State Certified ENL and Special Education teacher. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from Cornell University and her masters degree in TESOL from CUNY Hunter College. She has over 10 years of teaching experience across three countries, and has worked with students ranging in age from 7 years to adults.
Her work focuses on creating individualized supports based on the specific needs and strengths of each client, and supporting the development of metacognition, executive function skills, and independence. Building an authentic connection with clients is a top priority, as this allows her to provide the best supports possible.





Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L

Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist who focuses on helping students and young adults with disabilities to build meaningful skills in order to reach their goals. She has spent the majority of her career working in a private school for students with ASD and related social, emotional and executive functioning challenges. She has also spent some time working in an inpatient mental health setting. Lyndsay uses occupation-based interventions and strategies to develop life skills, executive functioning, and emotional regulation. While completing her doctoral degree at MGH Institute of Health Professions, Lyndsay worked with the Boston Center for Independent Living to evaluate transition-age services. She uses the results from her research to deliver services in a way that is most beneficial for clients. Specifically, she focuses on hands-on, occupation-based learning that is tailored to the client’s goals and interests.




Visit our website for more information about NESCA’s Coaching Services or complete our online Intake Form

What Is A Representative Payee?

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC
Transition Specialist/Counselor

Your child has turned 18. The application for Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) has been submitted and approved. You’ve been assigned to be the representative payee to manage the SSI funds. How can you still help your child gain money management skills while managing the responsibilities as required by the Social Security Administration (SSA)?

What is a Representative Payee?

Many individuals with disabilities can safely and successfully manage their finances without assistance. However, due to their disability’s nature, many individuals are unable to manage their finances without help. In response to individuals who need assistance to ensure their needs are being met through their benefits, the SSA created representative payees. A representative payee is a person or organization assigned by the SSA to be responsible for the benefits that a person receives from the SSA and ensures that the beneficiary’s needs, such as housing, food and medical care are met. A representative payee can be a family member, friend or another person. When the representative payee is an organization, there is often a fee (determined by the SSA), but when the payee is a friend or family member, the payee provides this service at no cost to the beneficiary. The representative payee will make a budget for the beneficiary to ensure basic needs are met and provide money for savings and personal spending if funds allow.

A representative payee is responsible for tracking and keeping detailed records of how the funds are spent and must provide those records to the SSA when asked. Many payees also need to fill out an annual reporting to the SSA detailing how the funds from the previous year were used. Recent changes in the law amended who needed to fill out such reports. Now, parents and spouses who are representative payees and live with the beneficiary no longer need to fill out the annual report. However, they do still need to keep detailed financial records.

How can I support my child’s financial literacy as their representative payee?

I have been a representative payee for individuals with disabilities for the vast majority of my career. In that role, I also worked to increase the individual’s financial literacy skills and increase their understanding of their financial situation. Having the individual involved in the process has innumerable benefits, the most basic of being the respect for their human rights. By having the individuals involved as much as they are capable and is healthy for them, much of the animosity and much of the paternalism of having another person control their finances, can be dissipated. Some individuals will still choose to have minimal involvement in their finances due to anxiety, comprehension or individual priorities. But most will want a say. By meeting your child where they are in their financial journey, you can build their confidence, independence and autonomy.

The first step I like to take in building an understanding around finances is helping the person comprehend where their money is going. Maybe that will be showing your child a bank statement. Perhaps it will be showing receipts. For many young people, the amount they receive in SSI seems like a lot of money. Helping them understand the value of the funds they receive can be one of the most challenging tasks.

Another activity I like to do with the beneficiaries I assist is asking them to create their budget. How would they like to see their money spent? What are their financial goals? Do they want to live on their own someday? How much do they want to set aside for savings for more significant expenses or purchases, like first, last and security deposit; a car; a vacation? Below is a very basic budgeting form I like to use as a starting point.

Beneficiary Budget Month Year
SSI $783.00
MA State Supplement $114.39
Total Income: $897.39
Rent $265.00
Groceries $200.00
Transportation $55.00
Electricity $60.00
Cable $105.00
Cell Phone $75.00
Medication $15.00
Personal Spending $75.00
Savings $25.00
Total Spending: $875.00

Within the last few years, ABLE accounts have been getting a lot of press – and for good reason. For individuals who became disabled at birth or at a young age, an ABLE account is a wonderful way for the individual to save money for important needs and not have those assets affect the essential financial and healthcare benefits they need. The IRS recently updated the rules for ABLE accounts. In the resources below is an article from Disability Scoop with information about these updates.

One of the best ways to increase your child’s money management skills is to have them be responsible for portions of their money. They are many ways to do this, and it may take some trial and error to find the best way for your child. It is important to remember that you are not allowed to give the beneficiary direct access to the bank account as the representative payee. That means you cannot just hand over the debit card to your child. However, many companies offer programs that help young people (and adults) manage their money. I tend not to use the word “allowance” for adults when managing their money. Instead, I use words like “personal spending” or “Flex Money.” Whether I write a check to the individual for these funds or reload a prepaid debit card, giving the individuals the remaining money after necessities have been met gives them the freedom to make their own spending choices, whether good or bad. And yes, I have worked with individuals who were without personal spending money within days of receiving their excess funds for the month. Still, I have worked with individuals who have, over time, been able to build some savings and a greater understanding of money management. I have listed some in the resources, but these are not ones I have personally used, so please review and see which ones you think would work best for your family.

Another method that I find beyond useful to help build financial independence and assess current money management skills is to transfer the responsibility of paying a bill over to the individual. This should be a lower priority bill, like the cable bill, a streaming service or a cell phone bill. As time goes on and the person can pay the bill on time without prompts, increase the number of accounts the person is responsible for paying. As they build their financial independence, increase their personal spending to include funds for necessities, such as groceries and prescription copays. And remember, once a person has a representative payee, it does not mean that they must have one for life. Suppose your child is able to build the financial management skills necessary to manage their finances independently. In that case, a representative payee can be removed. If your child now has the skills to manage their own money, talk to one of your child’s providers. They can fill out a form to return this right to your child.

Have you been working with your child on money management skills? How have you fostered financial independence?



Social Security Administration Representative Payee Webpage

Disability Scoop: IRS Issues Final Rules on ABLE Accounts

The Balance: The Best Debit Cards for Teens

Capital One MONEY Account

Dough Roller: Best Prepaid Debit Cards for Teens

FAQs for Beneficiaries that have Representative Payees


About the Author

Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC, is an experienced transition evaluator and vocational counselor. While she is well-versed in supporting a wide range of transition-aged youth, she is especially passionate and knowledgeable in helping clients and their families navigate the complex systems of adult services and benefits as well as medical and mental health systems. She is further adept in working individually with students of all abilities to empower self-advocacy and goal achievement.


To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert transition specialists or 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.


10 Everyday Financial Literacy Activities to Build Skills

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By Kathleen Pignone, M.Ed., CRC
Transition Specialist

Financial Literacy is a much-discussed topic in the field of transition planning and life skills acquisition. Basically, we want our teenagers and young adults to have competence or knowledge in this broad area. Who is responsible for teaching this? Schools, parents, other community providers? The simple answer is all of the above.

Here are 10 quick, easy and hopefully engaging ways to support financial literacy and lots of other life skills in teenagers and young adults while juggling all of our other many parental responsibilities.

  • Plan a preferred meal or dessert and make a budget for ingredients – learn cost comparison and cooking
  • Calculate a tip in a restaurant – teach about tipping habits and budgeting; similarly schedule a haircut and pay adding tip calculation – learn multiplication and practice phone skills
  • Provide a menu of chores and determine prices for duration and frequency – help teens be seen as resources to parents by providing a menu of desired activities and a money value associated with each task
  • Help plan for a vacation – pick an activity in the destination and price it out or cost-compare flight options
  • Cost out weekly snacks – make decisions about healthy spending and healthy eating habits
  • Volunteer at school bake sale with your teen – practice making change for cash purchases while helping fundraise and give back to your school community
  • Purchase birthday card and/or birthday present – model how to budget and cost out how much for a DIY card and birthday present versus buying both from a store
  • Figure out how much it will cost to fill a gas tank – determine how far can you get on one tank of gas versus an hourly salary for entry level competitive job
  • Bus fare or uber fare comparison – great conversation about wants versus needs!
  • Play an online financial game with your teenager, such as Financial Soccer by Visa or Plan It Prom App – learn together how much it costs to attend a prom (and subsequently plan for the expenses) or play a fun game where both parents and teen can learn together

All of these activities teach saving, budgeting, financial goals, wise use of credit, cost comparison and other key executive functioning skills. Hopefully this will make spending time with your teen enjoyable and educational.

About the Author:

Kathleen Pignone, M.Ed. CRC is a deeply knowledgeable and experienced transition specialist. Prior to her tenure at NESCA, Ms. Pignone was the Career Development Director at Bay Cove Academy for 15 years, providing students with classroom and real-world employment skills training, community job placement and on the job employment-training. She has also worked at Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education and privately as a vocational rehabilitation consultant. As a certified rehabilitation counselor, Ms. Pignone brings unique expertise carrying out vocational assessment and employment planning for adolescents and young adults as well as supporting local school programs. In addition to fortifying NESCA’s premier transition assessment services, Ms. Pignone engages in person-centered planning with teens and young adults, consultation and training for parents, providers and schools, and community-based coaching services.


To book a transition assessment or consultation with Kathleen or one of NESCA’s expert neuropsychologists and consultants, please 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, 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.