NESCA has unexpected availability for Neuropsychological Evaluations and ASD Diagnostic Clinic assessments in the Plainville, MA office in the next several weeks! Our expert pediatric neuropsychologists in Plainville specialize in children ages 18 months to 26 years, with attentional, communication, learning, or developmental differences, including those with a history or signs of ADHD, ASD, Intellectual Disability, and complex medical histories. To book an evaluation or inquire about our services in Plainville (approx.45 minutes from NESCA Newton), complete our Intake Form.

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hybrid learning

School Stressors in a Pandemic

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Amity Kulis, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

A recent article published by NBC News highlights the multiple stressors facing school-aged children and their families during this pandemic, with a more specific focus on the differing stress levels between remote and in-person learners. It is becoming clearer that during this time, learners and their families are facing higher rates of depression and anxiety, and there are concerns that students who are attending school remotely are learning less, particularly children with disabilities and those from low-income families.

A recent study from NBC News and Challenge Success, a nonprofit affiliated with Stanford Graduate School of Education, compared the differences between students who have been learning exclusively online and those who have been able to attend at least partially in-person. The study involved more than 10,000 students in 12 U.S. high schools who completed a self-questionnaire provided by the research study. The high schools were reported to come from multiple locations around the country (Arizona, Texas, New York and Midwest) and were descried as “demographically similar to the nation in terms of student family income,” though this was not true of being matched for race and likely other factors not discussed in the article. This also does not appear to be a peer-reviewed study, which suggests limitations to predictive power of the outcomes. Nevertheless, findings suggested that students who spent time in the classroom self-reported lower rates of stress and worry than students who were fully remote. An alarming finding was that half of all students, regardless of how they were attending school at the time of the study, reported they were more stressed by school than they had been during the previous year. Students reported exhaustion, headaches, insomnia or other stress-related ailments at high levels – regardless of whether they were in-person or not – with the highest rates being for remote learners: 84 percent fully remote learners; 82 percent hybrid students; and 78 percent fully in-person.

The article suggested that additional stressors found for remote students included on average more homework and that these remote students were also less likely to feel they had an adult they could go to with a personal problem. Anecdotally, one teacher commented, “In the room, you get more eye contact.” The teacher added, “On the screen, oftentimes the kid could be sitting in front of a window. You can’t see them, so it’s hard to make sure they’re attentive.”

While there are limitations to this study, it is clear that students and their families are currently experiencing a high level of stress. Many schools have been aware of this problem and have taken steps to embed extra programming into their students’ weeks. We need to continue to prioritize community connection and wellness for students attending school in-person and online. It is important to ensure that students know who they can reach out to and how, particularly those learners who are not stepping foot into a school building this year. It is also important to build in opportunities for stress management, as well as instruction in healthy habits, such as exercise, sleep hygiene and healthy eating. Clearly both children and their caregivers could benefit from this type of support right now. If you or a loved one is experiencing heightened emotional stress, it is important to reach out for help. This can include alerting your child’s school to their increasing stress, as well as bringing concerns to your child’s doctor. A referral to a psychologist or licensed mental health professional may be in order to help you and your child through this difficult time.

Source: Remote Students Are More Stressed Than Their Peers In The Classroom, Study Shows by Erin Einhorn, 2/15/2021 published by NBC News.

 

About the Author
Dr. Amity Kulis joined NESCA in 2012 after earning her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, with a concentration in Children, Adolescents and Families (CAF). She completed post-doctoral training in pediatric neuropsychology with an emphasis on treating children with developmental, intellectual, learning and executive functioning challenges. She also has extensive training psychological (projective) testing and has conducted individual and group therapies for children of all ages. Before joining NESCA, Dr. Kulis worked in private practices, clinics, and schools, conducting comprehensive assessments on children ranging from toddlers through young adults. In addition, Dr. Kulis has had the opportunity to consult with various school systems, conducting observations of programs, and providing in-service trainings for staff. Dr. Kulis currently conducts neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments for school-aged children through young adulthood. She regularly participates in transition assessments (focusing on the needs of adolescents as they emerge into adulthood) and has a special interest in working with complex learners that may also struggle with emotional challenges and psychiatric conditions. In addition to administering comprehensive and data-driven evaluations, Dr. Kulis regularly conducts school-based observations and participates in school meetings to help share her findings and consultation with a student’s TEAM.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Kulis or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists and transition specialists, 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, 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.

 

 

Movement Breaks – Part 2

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Julie Robinson, OT

Director of Clinical Services; Occupational Therapist, NESCA

In our last blog, we delved into ideas and suggestions to help preschoolers stay on track with remote and hybrid learning through movement breaks. In this week’s OT Tuesday blog, we move up to our elementary school-aged kids. How do we keep them focused on online learning throughout their long days at home in front of a computer?

Again, here are some suggestions that require minimal equipment, generally using things you can find around your home.

 

Gross Motor for Elementary-age Children

A movement break for 5- to 10-minutes every hour and a half to 2 hours is recommended.

Hopscotch – Draw with chalk or use painter’s tape and play this old school game! Begin by throwing a beanie baby, rock or bean bag so it lands in the first square. Hop over it and jump on all the other squares. At the end, turn around and come back and try to pick up the object while trying to balance on one foot! The next time, throw the object to square 2 and repeat through all the numbers!

 

Photo Credit: sciencebuddies.org

Homemade Hockey Sticks – Use a long wrapping paper roll or tape together paper towel rolls as the handle. Cut a long strip of cardboard and tape to the handle or use an old plastic water bottle. Enjoy playing this game with a balloon or tennis ball. Mark goals with tape, chalk or use empty cardboard boxes.

 

Stack the Cardboard Boxes – Got empty boxes? Have the child stack them up high and knock them over by running into them, or rolling/kicking a soccer ball into them. To make it a little silly, place a tennis ball in the leg of a pair of stockings and the waistband over your child’s head. Use the tennis ball to knock over boxes or cans, with their head upside down.

 

Photo Credit: Hands On As We Grow®

Stair Bean Bag Toss – Try to get bean bags to land on different steps. More points for the higher they land!

 

Tic Tac Toe – Make a big board with sidewalk chalk or painter’s tape. Use bean bags, frisbees, paper plates or crumpled up paper and throw into boxes for a fun spin. Get creative with items around the house – even food!

 

Photo Credit: OT Plan

Belly Catch – Have your child lay on their belly with feet or legs resting on a couch and hands on the floor (plank style). Roll balls or balloons and have them play catch with you, a great exercise to work on core and upper extremity strength.

 

 

 Fine Motor for Elementary-age Children

Photo Credit: Hoglets.org

Monster Feet – Grab some old tissue boxes or cardboard and make your own monster feet. Decorate the toe nails with markers, pom poms or however else you’d like! For an added challenge, try wearing them by using string to tie the child’s feet to them. Or tape their shoes to them and walk around like a monster!

 

Photo Credit: kidsactivitiesblog.com

Homemade Tennis Racquets – Cut slits in a paper plate or punch holes. String yarn through the holes and attach to a paper towel roll, spatula or wooden spoon/popsicle stick. Use it to keep a ball or balloon in the air!

 

Hangman! – Or for an added twist, play Melting snowman! Draw a snowman, and each time someone guesses a letter incorrectly, erase a part of the snowman until he is fully melted!

 

Make Your Own Quicksand – Mix roughly equal parts cornstarch and play sand. Add water until it is the desired consistency.

●       If you don’t have play sand, add 1 cup of water to a bowl and slowly add 1-½ cup of cornstarch and stir.

●       Put toys into quicksand and watch them sink!

 

Paint Pinecones – As the weather gets colder, collect some pine cones or rocks and paint them! Make kindness rocks by writing messages on them with a Sharpie. Leave them out along a wooded trail for others to find.

 

 

About the Author

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

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

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

 

Movement Breaks – Part 1

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Julie Robinson, OT

Director of Clinical Services; Occupational Therapist, NESCA

Many parents are overwhelmed, juggling homeschooling, childcare and work from home. And now that the cold weather has arrived, many parents are looking for activities they can do indoors with their children as movement breaks to support online learning or just to pass some time and get the wiggles out. Here are some suggestions that require minimal equipment, generally using things you can find around your home.

In this week’s OT Tuesday blog, we provide suggestions on both gross and fine motor activities for preschoolers. In our second part of the blog series, we will offer ideas to target fine and gross motor activities for elementary school-age students during movement breaks.

 

Gross Motor Activities for Preschoolers

A 5- to 10-minute movement break is suggested every hour to hour and a half for children in this age group.

Balloon Games – Blow up and see how many times your child can hit the balloon in the air! Use a fly swatter or tennis/badminton racquet to mix it up a little.
Mazes – Use painter’s tape indoors or sidewalk chalk outdoors in the driveway to make mazes for your child to follow. You can even use the lines as a balance beam for added balance practice, draw feet to jump in, make curly lines to indicate twirling around, etc.! If you are looking for ideas, research sensory paths online. You can also draw crazy roads for toy cars or ride-on toys.
Bowling – Fill up old plastic water or soda bottles and have kids knock them over by rolling a ball towards them! You can add stuffed animals on top to make it more enticing.
The Floor Is Lava – Pretend the floor is lava and have the child walk around without touching the ground by walking on pillows and other objects!
Shape Games – Draw shapes, letters or numbers with sidewalk chalk or painter’s tape and try throwing stuffed animals into the shapes an adult calls out. Make it more challenging by increasing the number of shapes, throwing from further away or trying to balance on one foot while throwing.

 

Fine Motor Activities for Preschoolers

Hide Beads In Playdough! – Grab some putty or playdough and hide beads in it. Once all the beads are hidden, encourage your child to try to get them out! This is a great exercise to work on hand strength. It can also be fun to put raw spaghetti into the dough and “string” the beads onto them for working on fine motor precision.
Make Your Own Stamps! – Use household items, such as wine corks, water bottle caps, toilet paper rolls or anything else you can find. Dip them in paint and press onto paper. Enjoy the different shapes you create! For picky eaters, it can be fun to use foods, such as applesauce, yogurt or dips for paint.
Clothespin Activities – Use clothespins to pick up pom poms and put them in containers, such as an ice cube tray. This is a great activity for practicing a tripod grasp.
Shaving Cream Play – Use a tray or large plate and put shaving cream or other messy play materials on it. Allow your child to practice writing their letters with their fingers and have fun with it! To simplify, you can encourage your child to imitate shapes, letters or numbers after you have written them.
Noodle Necklaces – String noodles onto string to make a noodle necklace. Use noodles and put on a string or a pipe cleaner to make a necklace. Color or paint noodles, or soak cooked noodles in food coloring and allow them to dry for more interesting patterns.

 

About the Author

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

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

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

 

OTs’ Remote Learning Equipment Tips!

By | NESCA Notes 2020

Co-authored by: Sophie Bellenis OTD, OTR/L and Jessica Hanna MSOT, OTR/L

With the momentous shift in education this year, many families are looking for support with the remote learning or hybrid learning process. Children are facing new barriers to education, such as inability to focus within the home setting, inappropriate work space and lack of independence with attention, initiation and motivation. Fortunately, many fabulous educators are stepping up to the plate, acknowledging these struggles and advocating on behalf of their students. Many families are working to help in their efforts by finding new products, tricks, tools or strategies to help promote learning and access to curriculums. Some of these products are gimmicky tools promising a “quick fix.” Some of these new tricks and tools may be beneficial, but today we are going to advocate for getting back to the basics and truly analyzing how best to use, set up and care for the foundational tools that children currently employ for learning. If using these tips feels difficult or is not helping your child to achieve the level of focus and commitment to learning that they need, we recommend reaching out to your school-based occupational therapist or getting an occupational therapy evaluation.

Things to Consider:

Laptops/Tablets

  • Basic Functionality – Your child is never too young to be part of the process. Teaching your child basic functionalities of their computer and tablet, as well as specific platform features is hugely important. Your child may find a visual checklist helpful to recall what basic features do, where to find them and when it is ok to use them.
  • Keep Screens Clean – As expected, kids often touch everything and anything, including computer and tablet screens. Make sure to check and wipe down screens to limit glare and distortion caused by sticky little fingers. Encourage your child to respect and handle their device with care.
  • Screen Height – According to the American Optometric Association, most people find looking at screens more comfortable when their gaze is pointed slightly down. Ideally, try to set up a computer screen with the center of the screen about 15-20 degrees below eye level (AOA, n.d.). This may be especially tricky with little learners, who tend to crane their necks up to look at a monitor or laptop screen, or students who tend to set their laptop way down on their lap.
  • Screen Distance – To decrease eye strain, try to position a screen about 20-28 inches away from the eyes (AOA, n.d.). Recent evidence shows that there is a significant increase in visual symptoms, such red eyes, blurriness and visual fatigue in individuals who look at screens from a distance of 10 inches or less (Chiemeke, Akhahowa, & Ajayi, 2007). While it is easy to set a computer a certain distance away, make sure that children are not holding an iPad or phone right up to their face during the school day.
  • Simplify Access to School Webpages and Links – Make sure that when your child opens up the computer, they can quickly and easily access all of their school websites and links for Zoom, Google Classroom, etc. One easy way to do this is by creating shortcuts on the desktop or having a visual guide printed next to them for exactly how to access their work.
  • Limit Access to Distracting Apps or Webpages – Is there a way to disable your child’s access to games and apps during school hours? While our students are working hard to attend to remote learning, the pull of distracting digital fun may be too enticing to pass up. Consider looking into some of parental control options on your device.
  • Learn the Limitations of Chromebooks – Due to the digital demands of remote learning, many school districts and community organizations are providing Chromebooks for students to use at home. While this is excellent and allows students access to the curriculum, some of these devices have limitations, such as not allowing communication to certain website or software platforms. Consider reaching out to your district if you need your child’s device to allow communication with an outside therapist or service provider.
  • Back Up Your Personal Work – Many families are sharing one computer or device between multiple family members. It is important to make sure that any important documents, folders or programs are fully backed up before giving a computer to your student. Accidents happen, and children can quickly delete files without meaning to! Creating a separate user login for each family member allows different privileges for each user and helps keep work separate and organized.
  • Say No to Open Drinks! – Water bottles with a lid will help to prevent any hardware damage from spills.

 Extra Equipment

  • Invest in a Mouse – Using a touchpad often requires substantially more fine motor precision and finger isolation than using a mouse. Most devices can connect with a mouse either through a USB port or a Bluetooth connection.
  • Headphones – Different children may benefit from different types of headphones. Some of our learners need earbuds or overhead headphones during Zoom meetings to help them attend to the class going on virtually. Some of our students may prefer being in a quiet space and listening to their teacher and classmates out loud. Additionally, some students may benefit from wearing noise cancelling headphones during independent work to limit the distraction from noises in their environment.
  • External Camera – Using an external camera that is not embedded in a computer or laptop may be helpful for our students who need movement or want to look at a screen while a teacher or therapist observes their work. An external camera pointed down at a student’s hand during an activity can help a therapist to evaluate a child’s fine and gross motor movements, while the student still sees a friendly face up on the screen.
  • Chargers – Help your children remember to keep their devices fully charged and to transport their charger between school and home if necessary. Many students benefit from a visual checklist when packing their bag for the next day. Chargers are hugely important for students who need to access their curriculum and may be especially difficult for students learning in a hybrid model.

 

References

American Optometric Association. (n.d.). Computer vision syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/ caring-for-your-vision/protecting-your-vision/ computer-vision-syndrome?sso=y

Chiemeke S.C., Akhahowa A.E., Ajayi O.B. (2007) Evaluation of vision-related problems amongst computer users: a case study of university of Benin, Nigeria. Proceedings of the World Congress on Engineering. London: International Association of Engineers.

 

About the Co-authors:

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

 

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

 

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

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