While school may be wrapping up, Summer is an ideal time to embark on transition assessment and services to ensure that your child’s IEP process is preparing them for learning, living, and working after their public education. The ultimate goal of transition assessment is to identify the necessary skills and services to ready a student age 13-21 for transitioning from high school to the next phase of life. To book an intake and consultation appointment, visit: www.nesca-newton.com/intake. Not sure if you need an assessment? You can schedule a one-hour parent/caregiver intake and consultation.

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You’ve Got a Friend – The Importance of a Mentoring Relationship in ASD

By | NESCA Notes 2024

By: Renee Cutiongco Folsom, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

It is graduation time again. Graduation speeches usually include a portion where the graduates thank their parents, siblings, friends, and teachers for their success. Most of the time they also thank coaches, mentors, and counselors for their accomplishments. Listening to them takes me back to my own graduation experience where I credited part of my success to people who came alongside me to mentor and support me through the various stages of my development. The encouragement and feedback provided by these mentors shaped me in ways that I would not have gotten simply by sitting in the classroom or reading books. The role of mentors is also important, and I should say more so, for children and adolescents who are on the autism spectrum.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that manifests in problems with social communication and interaction, and in the presence of repetitive, restricted behaviors that significantly impact functioning. Children and young people with ASD usually have problems with what are called social pragmatic skills – those skills that are necessary for knowing how to act in social situations, reading social cues, and conducting back-and-forth conversation with others. Some persons with ASD have a hard time appreciating the unwritten “rules” of social engagement, for example, that you should look at a person you are talking to, smile, and nod occasionally to signify that you are paying attention and interested in what other people are saying. It is difficult for persons with ASD to read subtle cues and “feel” the room to know how to react to certain dynamics. Appreciating sarcasm or humor could be difficult for them. These skills are often the hardest to “teach” a child or adolescent with ASD because of the complex and dynamic nature of social interactions. Also, these are skills that come naturally or instinctively for many of us, so it is hard to break down interactions and make subtle behaviors (e.g., eye contact, nonverbal cues, gestures) more salient. This is where an older sibling or a mentor – a camp counselor, a coach, or a tutor – could be a wonderful resource for teaching these skills to a young person with ASD. Have you ever had a camp counselor model for you how to react when you are introduced to a new person? Maybe you had a coach hang out with you after a game to model how to engage in back-and-forth conversation and listen to other people’s interests. These mentoring relationships are a good venue for practicing skills that may have been taught to the person with ASD in the context of a formal speech/language therapy session or in the classroom. Indeed, I have found over the years that children and adolescents with autism and have older siblings or mentors do better in these social pragmatic skills than those without this kind of guidance.

Beyond teaching social pragmatic skills, mentors also provide guidance about practical everyday decisions. Has an older sibling ever given you feedback about how your top does not match your pants? Or that you should slow down eating that burger because you are such a messy eater? You may have had an older friend who has shared with you how they navigated dating. Teenagers, not only those with autism, are usually more open to receiving such feedback or information from those who are a little older than they are as opposed to older adults or parents because of wanting to develop their own personalities apart from parents. Therefore, for these young people I usually recommend having a mentor who is a little older than they are who can serve as a friend/mentor/model.

Many skills that are crucial in navigating social situations – how to behave appropriately, how to make friends, how to be a good team member – are usually learned in the context of organic relationships, such as a mentoring relationship, as opposed to a classroom lesson because the interaction itself is the “content” of the instruction. The mentor must be reminded, though, to be more intentional in modeling/teaching these social pragmatic skills to the client.

There is no better way of learning how to be a good and caring friend than to experience having a friend come alongside you to show you how it is done. As my favorite singer, James Taylor, sings, “Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend?”

 

About the Author

Dr. Renee Cutiongco Folsom, Ph.D. has been working with families in the greater Boston area since 2015. Prior to this, she was on staff at Johns Hopkins University and trained at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She provides comprehensive neuropsychological evaluations of children, adolescents, and young adults who have learning, behavioral, and socio-emotional challenges. Her areas of expertise include Autism Spectrum Disorder and other conditions that usually co-occur with this diagnosis; Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder; Dyslexia and other Specific Learning Disabilities; and Anxiety/Depression. She thinks that the best part of being a pediatric neuropsychologist is helping change the trajectory of children’s lives.

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s pediatric neuropsychologists, please complete 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; the greater Burlington, Vermont region, and Brooklyn, NY, serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

A Social Life – What is it Exactly?

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS
Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

Many parents want their children to have friends and a social life, yet are concerned about the quality of their child’s social life. They often describe their child’s afterschool hours as being occupied with screen time, which may actually include others. Other children may be engaged in structured activities, such as scouts, sports, school-based clubs (i.e., robotics), music lessons, gaming clubs, and more. Then there are the children that tire easily when around many people and prefer alone time or being around one or two friends. When children are asked if they have friends, they often say yes and that they are online friends. These children who are engaged in structured social activities, online gaming, and other online activities say they have satisfying social lives. So, who’s to judge? A person’s definition of a satisfying social life is for each of us to decide (so long as they are doing so safely and responsibly).

When it comes to defining friends and a social life, there is often a disconnect between a child or teen’s definition and that of their parents. Today, there are so many more ways to have friends, a social life and socialize than there were “when we were kids.” Having a social life is now defined more broadly, such as online friends, gaming friends, the number of followers on Instagram/Twitter, and so much more.

A “virtual friend” or “online friend” is someone who one connects with online. These virtual friends are often very connected to others and can even become BFVs (best friends virtually). In the “old days” before the internet, these friends would have been called “pen pals,” whereby letters were written and exchanged. These pen pals of old sometimes heard all the trials and tribulations of one’s life. Virtual friends (VF) may stay as that – you may or may not ever meet them, which doesn’t diminish the relationship or make it less important and meaningful. IRLs (in real life friends) are people who one connects with in-person or in real-time. Many times, children and teens have better and stronger VFs than IRL friends. And sometimes they do meet up at different events, such as: E3 Expo, PAX, gaming clubs, Comic-Con and many more.

Socializing is different for each of us. How do we respect our children’s personalities and choices regarding socializing while encouraging them to explore more and different friendships and experiences? There are “introverts” and “extroverts” amongst us. Many extroverts love socializing both in real life and virtually and have many friends. They get energized by being around others. They’ll text a friend(s) and invite them over with no plan on what to do other than hang out. They care little about planning, predictability, and are okay going with the flow, handling ambiguity and uncertainty. Introverts are more comfortable with alone time, structure, predictability, clear boundaries, and rules/guidelines when engaging with others. Often times these kids are more comfortable with VFs and the online world with its structured platforms, anonymity, and being able to participate/not participate on their terms. Many of these kids are often the leaders and moderators on virtual platforms – something you may not suspect given their presentation in real-time/real life.

In this new world of online social connection, it is best to not try to force your child into being an “in real life socializer,” and involved in many social activities but instead make sure they have the social skills and knowledge to be successful in the real world of school, work, and community. Be aware of what and whom your children are connecting with online and accept who they are as a person. Trying to force them to be someone they are not may lead to more mental health challenges than them only having VFs or only engaging with IRL friends occasionally or on their terms. A satisfying social life is a personal choice and one that can’t be forced. There are many adults who are happy with one or two IRL friends and have structured activities they participate in (i.e., book club, trivia night, etc.); yet have many more VFs in their online platforms.

There has been much written about introverts in an extroverted world and how trying to force them to be someone they are not can backfire. Being happy with one’s social experiences and friends – whether virtual or in real life – is what it’s all about.

References

https://www.parents.com/kids/development/shy/raising-an-introvert-in-an-extrovert-world/

https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2015/08/06/chapter-4-social-media-and-friendships/

https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/11/28/teens-friendships-and-online-groups/

 

 

About the Author

NESCA’s Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services Dot Lucci has been active in the fields of education, psychology, research and academia for over 30 years. She is a national consultant and speaker on program design and the inclusion of children and adolescents with special needs, especially those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Lucci was the Principal of the Partners Program/EDCO Collaborative and previously the Program Director and Director of Consultation at MGH/Aspire for 13 years, where she built child, teen and young adult programs and established the 3-Ss (self-awareness, social competency and stress management) as the programming backbone. She also served as director of the Autism Support Center. Ms. Lucci was previously an elementary classroom teacher, special educator, researcher, school psychologist, college professor and director of public schools, a private special education school and an education collaborative.

Ms. Lucci directs NESCA’s consultation services to public and private schools, colleges and universities, businesses and community agencies. She also provides psychoeducational counseling directly to students and parents. Ms. Lucci’s clinical interests include mind-body practices, positive psychology, and the use of technology and biofeedback devices in the instruction of social and emotional learning, especially as they apply to neurodiverse individuals.

 

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

 

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.