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individualized education plan

Transition Assessment: What Are You Testing that Hasn’t Already been Tested?

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

Transition planning is a complex process centered around helping students, typically who receive special education services, to set goals for their postsecondary adult lives and to engage in learning, services, and experiences that will help them to ultimately reach those goals. Assessment is a critical aspect of this process, both as a means for collecting baseline information about the student and measuring progress throughout the planning process. Transition planning is federally mandated for students at age 16. However, some states require schools to start the process earlier. For instance, transition planning is required as part of the IEP process for students turning age 14 in Massachusetts.

Transition assessment is therefore required in middle school or early high school for most students in the United States. By this point in time, students on IEPs have often participated in lots of testing. Students may have had academic testing, psychological evaluation, speech and language testing, occupational and physical therapy assessments, functional behavioral assessment, and even home or health assessments. They have participated in so much previous testing, that some parents or professionals may ask, “What could a transition specialist be testing that has not already been addressed through other evaluations?”

The answer is, “A lot!” There are many areas that can and should be evaluated as part of an informed transition planning process, but which are not frequently evaluated when creating earlier IEPs. This is because initial IEPs and early reevaluations focus on helping students to access education and school life, but transition planning is about helping students to develop necessary skills for accessing learning, living, community, and employment as an adult. The following tables are based on on the Transition Assessment Planning Form developed by the Transition Coalition at the University of Kansas in 2008. These highlight many areas of assessment that can and should be considered as part of a comprehensive transition assessment and planning process. These also indicate which areas have usually not been considered for evaluation prior to a thorough transition assessment process.

Please note that every student on an IEP is an individual with unique strengths and disability-related needs and so these tables are offered as a general picture of what has been observed at NESCA in the majority of cases. Additionally, while all of the areas above are considered as part of a comprehensive transition assessment and planning process, they may not need direct assessment depending on student profile, postsecondary goals, and existing evaluation or report data.

For more information about transition assessment and transition planning at NESCA, visit our transition services page and our transition FAQs.

 

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.

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s transition specialists, please complete our online intake form

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.

Age of Majority: Preparing Students to Make Special Education Decisions as Adults

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

One of the exciting aspects of being a transition specialist who evaluates and provides consultation to students and schools across the country is that transition services are dictated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004), a federal law. Students have similar rights across all 50 states regarding how their IEPs must prepare them for postsecondary learning, living, and employment experiences. However, there are additional rights and responsibilities related to special education that are dictated by state laws and regulations. Age of Majority and the Transfer of Rights to students is one of these issues that varies from state to state.

At the Age of Majority, or the age of legal adulthood, in each state, young adults are granted certain legal rights (e.g., voting, marrying, opening a credit card, signing contracts). Each state determines which rights will transfer to young adults within their state. IDEA 2004 gives states the right to transfer educational decision-making rights to students who have reached the Age of Majority—this means that all of the educational rights previously accorded to parents/guardians may transfer directly to the student. The Age of Majority is 18 in most, but not all, states.

In states that transfer educational rights at the Age of Majority, school districts are required to provide notice to parents and students ahead of time so that families are not surprised that the parents’ rights will transfer to the student. Additionally, at least one year before the student reaches the Age of Majority, the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) needs to include a statement indicating that the student was informed of their rights under IDEA.

There are exceptions to the Transfer of Rights when a student has been determined to be “incompetent” under state law—this often involves a parent/guardian taking partial or complete guardianship of the student. Students may alternatively have a Power of Attorney drawn up so that a parent can continue to represent their educational interests. States may also have their own processes for electing decision-making when the student reaches the Age of Majority. For example, in Massachusetts, students who have turned 18 are presented with a choice to take over decision-making, share decision-making with a parent or other willing adult, or delegate decision making to their parent or another willing third party; They sign a document indicating their elected choice on or after their 18th birthday.

There are many educational rights that a student may assume when they reach the Age of Majority. Some of these include receiving notice of IEP meetings, consenting to evaluation, placement, and/or an IEP, deciding to drop out of school, or deciding to accept a diploma and end eligibility for transition services. Parents and professionals can help students prepare for the Age of Majority and Transfer of Rights ahead of time. Pacer’s National Parent Center on Transition and Employment has put together a handout with tips for doing this important work. Some of the tips are included within my longer list of preparatory activities below:

  1. Start building choice-making and decision-making skills as young as possible.
  2. Teach students about the IEP process in elementary or middle school.
  3. Encourage students to observe and participate in IEP meetings.
  4. Allow students to invite preferred educators, family members, and community members to IEP meetings for support.
  5. Role-play IEP meetings prior to participation.
  6. Begin talking about Transfer of Rights when students first begin attending IEP meetings.
  7. Prior to reaching the Age of Majority, talk about how the student thinks they will want to make decisions across areas of life—What decisions do you want to make totally alone? What decisions do you want to make in collaboration with others? What decisions do you want other people to make for you?
  8. Help students to develop good working relationships with school personnel and team members.
  9. Stay involved in the IEP process even after a child reaches the Age of Majority—but allow the student to be the primary participant in the development of their IEP.

If you suspect that your child will not be competent to handle educational decision-making, it will be important to consult with clinical and legal experts well in advance of your child reaching the Age of Majority. It is also important to keep your IEP team informed regarding any legal proceedings or arrangements that may impact educational decision-making. However, many students who are not competent to manage complex medical or financial decisions can still be strong participants in their educational processes and transition services. For tools that you can use to help educate students regarding the IEP process, please check out the video and document resources from imdetermined.org. For tools that you can use to explore decision-making and supported decision-making as students approach adulthood, please review these resources from Charting The Lifecourse.

 

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.

Celebrate the Small Wins

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

In the moment, it can be hard to see the change. It can be hard to find the successes. This is true for any improvement we try to do, whether it is trying to have a healthier lifestyle or build the skills needed for postsecondary life. When looking at a student’s vision, it can feel like getting there is an impossible task. Maybe the student is the only one who believes they can get there. Perhaps they don’t understand all the pieces that need to be put in place. When the rest of the IEP team has doubts, those doubts will likely spread to the student. Objectives about SMART Goals might be added to help the student learn how to set realistic goals and build an understanding of setting small goals and determining specific objectives. However, when we look back to where the student was their freshman year or in elementary school, the progress they made may seem massive. Many small wins over time turn into big wins.

What are the small wins? It might be getting a better grade on a test in math. It might be fastening the buttons on a shirt without help. It could be understanding another’s point of view one time.  Maybe it was trying a bite of one new food. Maybe they were able to identify a coping skill that would have helped after having a rough day. By themselves, none of these seems like they will help a person reach success once they leave special education. But small wins build confidence. They build pride. If we celebrate the small wins, not only do we get reminded that progress is possible, but the student knows they accomplished something. An IEP is filled with areas where the student needs help and even at a young age – when the student is getting more help than their peers – they know it. They should know where they are succeeding, too.

So how can we help our student celebrate the small wins?

  • A high five and a “way to go”
  • Help your child create a list of successes and have them add each win to the list
  • Remind them of where they were at the beginning of the year
  • Pick a fun activity as a “reward”
  • Have your child add to one of their favorite hobbies (e.g., a small LEGO set, a new book, trading cards, collectibles, action figures)
  • Frame it! (If it’s not paper, make part of the celebration part art project)

What do you do to celebrate the small wins?

 

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.

 

Developing S-M-A-R-T Goals in 2021

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

Happy New Year! Now two weeks into 2021, maybe it’s time to revisit those New Year Resolutions.  French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote: “a goal without a plan is just a wish.” This is true for resolutions, just as it is for any goal. How can we help our young people change their wishes, visions and dreams into goals? We teach them (and maybe ourselves while we’re at it) how to plan. One of my favorite strategies for both teaching and reaching goals is by creating SMART Goals. What is a Smart Goal?

Specific – The goal should be specific. I’ll increase the distance I run is vague. Will you increase the distance by 20 feet, 2 miles? Are you planning for a marathon? Instead, let’s take a look at step 2, making it measurable.

Measurable – There’s a good chance that if your goal is not specific enough, it will be hard to measure if you have succeeded in that goal. So, let’s make our exercise goal both specific and measurable. I’ll increase the distance I run from 1 mile to 3.2 miles (5k).

Attainable – Attainable is the hard one for many students who are still building awareness of their strengths and challenges. Let’s say a person who has never run wants to run in the Boston Marathon. This is likely not an attainable goal, even if it is specific and measurable. Couch to 5k training exists; I have not seen the couch to marathon training program. Having measurable steps also helps break down the goal into smaller pieces, which will be further discussed later.

Relevant – If I am trying to increase my social circle and group leisure skills, running is unlikely to get me there. However, if, like many people, we’re trying to improve our health in 2021 (or take off some of those quarantine pounds), increasing the distance we run certainly will get us there. Many young adults may need to bounce ideas off someone to ensure the goal is relevant to the area at hand.

Time-bound – Attainable and time-based work tightly together. If you do not give yourself a deadline, the goal may still be there come December 2021. Humans work best with deadlines. We need the motivation to complete a plan, and often motivation needs a sense of urgency.

Okay, so what does our SMART goal look like for increased health and wellness? I will increase the distance I run from 1 mile to 3.2 miles (5k) in ¼ mile increments by June 30, 2021.

We have all the pieces. It is specific, and we know precisely what the end goal will be and how we will get there. It’s measurable; there is something we can check off as complete, like a to-do list. It’s attainable and seems realistic. We are not trying to run the Boston Marathon course after only running a mile. We will start as a beginner runner and work towards a 5k, and we are not trying to do it tomorrow with no steps in between. It’s relevant; we are working on bettering our health in 2021. And it is time-based. We want to meet our goal by the end of June.

Now that we’ve refreshed our minds on SMART goals, how do we build these skills in transition-aged youth? Ask them. Ask your child, your students, your clients what they want for themselves in education, employment and independent living. We already have the starting points. We have their vision. We have the IEP TEAM’s goals and objectives.

The youth may have a far-reaching (and maybe seemingly unattainable) goal. Help them break that big goal down into smaller parts and work backward. Do they want to be an engineer? Engineers need a college degree. What does the student need to do to graduate college? They need to get into college. How do they get into college? They need to apply and graduate from high school. What do they need to do to graduate high school? They need to pass their science class. That seems like a reasonable starting place, and it is still related to the vision. What might a SMART goal look like for that student? I will receive a passing grade on my final exam by answering the end of chapter questions each week and asking for clarification from my teacher for any questions I got wrong by the end of the spring semester.

But how do we support them when they aren’t making progress? Many people have a hard time adjusting once they have made a plan. Whenever we set a goal, we need to look at our progress periodically. We need to check that the goal is still attainable by the deadline we gave ourselves. Are we making progress? If we are still running only a mile and it’s March, what adjustments do we need to make? Suppose a student is not finding answering the end of chapter questions helpful in confirming their knowledge of the material. What changes can they make to increase their understanding of the material? Maybe the student asks the teacher if they can work one-on-one twice a week to increase understanding? Frustration, when the plan doesn’t work, makes many give up on the goal. Learning how to adapt is just as essential as learning how to make a goal.

A person who has practiced SMART goals is a person who will have an increased understanding of the objectives and smaller steps they need to reach their vision. They will have more confidence in their abilities and more awareness of their challenges. A person who has goal-setting skills is a person who has control of their own life. What are your SMART goals for 2021?

 

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.

 

Transition Goals: What are they and why do they matter in the IEP process?

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

As an evaluator and consultant, I spend a lot of time in team meetings. Usually, I expect to be invited to more of these at the beginning of the school year when teams meet to review assessments or important changes that have occurred during summer months. This year, there will be an unprecedented high number of team meetings early in the school year as families and schools strive to make up for time lost during COVID-19 related school closures. Therefore, it seems timely to write my blog on transition goals and their role in the IEP process.

For all students with individualized educational programs (IEPs), teams are accustomed to writing and implementing annual goals. But, for students 16 and older across the country (or students in Massachusetts who will be turning 14 and older during this IEP period), their IEP process also needs to include transition goals. What is confusing about transition goals is that we commonly used this verbiage to describe a few different components of the IEP for transition-aged students.

In my opinion, the most important transition goals, are the measurable postsecondary goals, that are included in the IEP and which describe the outcomes that a team expects for the student to achieve after exiting public education and which are based on the student’s own strengths, preferences, interests and vision. Every IEP across the country must include measurable postsecondary goals. In Massachusetts, postsecondary goals are documented in the student’s vision statement. Before the student became transition aged, the vision statement typically described the family’s and team’s expectations and dreams for the student over the next 1 to 5 years. For IEPs of students turning 14 and older, the vision statement needs to include explicit statements about the outcomes that are expected for the student in transition planning areas. Postsecondary goals for education or training as well as employment are required for all students on IEPs, and many students will also have independent living and community participation goals.

Below is a formula for writing a postsecondary goal that is adapted from the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT):


Within 2 months of graduation, Joseph will participate in supported employment training and community-based training with assistance from MA Department of Developmental Services.A few examples of measurable postsecondary goals are included below:

  • After earning her diploma, Sarah will attend a four-year college in Massachusetts or New Hampshire (and major in education or child development).
  • After graduation, Tom will work part-time at TJ Maxx with support from his coworkers and supervisor.
  • After high school, Joseph will use public transportation (e.g., subway, bus) to get to and from his apprenticeship.

Unlike annual goals, measurable postsecondary goals are not goals that will be achieved in the calendar year or even while the student is on an IEP. However, there is another type of “transition goal” that is closely related. Once an IEP team has clearly defined a student’s postsecondary goals, they are required to identify transition services that the student will need to make progress toward these goals. When the IEP is developed, the IEP must include annual IEP goals that clearly and directly relate to the student’s postsecondary goals and transition service needs. For example, a student who wants to attend college may need annual goals related to building executive functioning, self-advocacy and college-level academic skills; while a student who wants to use human service supports for community-based employment may need to build communication, self-regulation and work readiness skills. Annual IEP goals should be based on the student’s disability-related needs and also their postsecondary goals—Given the student’s disabilities, what skills does the student need to build this year to be able to attain their postsecondary goals in the future?

 

Special education is about preparing students for future education, employment, independent living and community engagement. Measurable postsecondary goals are how we make sure that special education is individualized for each student, and transition-related annual IEP goals are how we make sure we are progressing toward the postsecondary goals. When we know what the student wants for their adult postsecondary life, we can use the IEP process to help the student build academic and functional skills that can support the student in achieving that vision.

The next time you look at an IEP, take a look at the vision statement (or the section where your state records measurable postsecondary goals). Can you clearly tell what the student wants to do after high school? Are there both employment and education or training goals included? What about independent living and community engagement? These measurable postsecondary goals are the guide posts that provide direction for the IEP process and ensure that the team is working together in support of results and outcomes that will support the student throughout their lifespan.

For more information about postsecondary goals and annual IEP goals in Massachusetts, check out Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2013-1: Postsecondary Goals and Annual IEP Goals in the Transition Planning Process from MA DESE: http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/advisories/13_1ta.html

This link to a presenter’s guide for a presentation on Improving Secondary Transition Services from NTACT is also a great resource for understanding the role of postsecondary goals and annual goals in the IEP process as outlined in IDEA: https://www.transitionta.org/system/files/resourcetrees/I13_One_Hour_Presenter_Guide_FINAL2019.pptx

 

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. 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 or call 617-658-9800.

Adapting Academic Accommodations for Return to Learning

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

As students with disabilities return to learning, the accommodations provided through their 504 Plan or Individualized Education Program (IEP) may no longer meet their needs within the structure and limitations of remote learning and/or return to school protocols. For example, when remote learning, teachers are not as readily available to provide “in the moment” redirection, check-ins for understanding or modifications to the presentation or length of assignments. When at school, many students are at the same desk all day, for academics, “specials,” snack and lunch, meaning teachers have to identify new ways to provide movement and sensory breaks while maintaining social distancing. For hybrid learners, teachers have to consider how to provide structure and predictability in the face of frequent transition and increased demands on independent work.

Within all return to learning plans, parents and school teams are having to be more creative than ever before, working to quickly and flexibly identify and implement new accommodations to address a range of new challenges. While this is new territory for all, there is fortunately an increasing number of online resources to aid this process, some of which are listed below. Foundational to the success of any COVID-era accommodations plan will be the team’s ability to regularly assess its feasibility and effectiveness, engage in open communication between home and school, and steadfastly and flexibly adapt the accommodation plan as individual needs and/or school instructional plans change.

See the following websites for information about how to implement accommodations during COVID-19:

In IEP Accommodations During Distance Learning, Amanda Morin of www.understood.org presents a list of many standard accommodations for presentation of information, assignment completion and daily management/organization, with ways to adapt each for remote instruction, giving specific consideration of available tools within Microsoft and Google suites.

Socially Distant Sensory and Movement Break Ideas by Katie McKenna, M.S., ORT/L, of The Autism Helper provides a range of creative solutions for meeting regulation needs for a wide range of students.

The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) eLearning Coalition website provides webinars and a host of information regarding the development and implementation of accessible educational materials during remote learning.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Angela Currie is a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. She conducts neuropsychological and psychological evaluations out of our Londonderry, NH office. She specializes in the evaluation of anxious children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors lending to their stress, such as underlying learning, attentional, or emotional challenges. She particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child, as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.

 

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

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Londonderry, NH, Plainville, MA, and Newton, MA serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call (603) 818-8526.

Transition Planning at IEP Team Meetings – The Good, The Fun and The Beautiful

By | NESCA Notes 2019

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

Transition planning is a complicated process for schools, families and related service professionals. It is not something that can be done well without key ingredients, such as open minds, collaboration and creative brain power… not to mention time. But when good transition planning happens in the context of a team meeting, it is a really powerful and awesome process – and even, dare I say, fun!

I recently worked with a young woman – let us call her Julie – who had spent four years of high school in a small therapeutic program. It took Julie, with great support from her team, a lot of effort to get through the academic demands of high school while simultaneously managing and remediating social and emotional complexities. As Julie progressed through her senior year, her school team recognized that she had not had the time or opportunities to build some critical life skills, including the self-advocacy and executive function skills she would need to manage post-secondary, real-world activities. Everyone agreed that she needed another year to build and generalize the functional skills that are essential for being a student in a post-secondary learning environment and to be deemed employable. With no option available for Julie to continue in her therapeutic school program, the team agreed to set up a meeting to create a new IEP that focused largely on Julie’s remaining transition-focused needs. Due to time constraints, the team meeting occurred at the start of this school year.

I was fortunate to be invited to consult at this meeting. After introductions, we dug in together to review Julie’s most recent transition evaluation. Julie had a thorough evaluation that had been completed by the school district, which provided a lot of information about her disability-related needs as well as her vision and interests. We talked about the most pressing areas to address in developing the IEP goals and debated options for creatively writing the annual goals in the IEP document (i.e. whether to focus annual goals on life, vocational and college participation skills with objectives related to social, emotional, executive functioning and self-advocacy issues in each arena or whether to employ a more traditional IEP format with seven goal areas).

We discussed objectives that would be most useful in the context of Julie’s long-term goals – attaining a college degree and working as a nutritionist. Julie’s mom had done a great deal of work prior to the team meeting, helping Julie apply to Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Services, connecting with the local agency contracted to provide Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS), and setting up Julie’s first internship experience for the summer. She also helped Julie to sign up for an adaptive driver’s education class to occur on weekends throughout the fall. Julie’s mother had also researched options for college classes that Julie might be able to participate in, even though she had missed the start of many fall classes.

Julie’s Special Education Director had worked equally hard in looking into resources within the school district and community that could provide Julie with meaningful activities and experiences and assist her in making progress with the skills outlined in the transition assessment. One such resource identified by Julie’s Special Education Director was a non-profit social skills group. Another resource was a coach who could provide hands-on support on a college campus and was already in place as part of a postgraduate program run through a nearby district. The Director also identified several staff withing the school district who were experienced in supporting transition-age students – the school social worker and lead teacher within the school’s therapeutic program – who could work with Julie.

We gathered in a room together not to talk about a program that already existed, but to design the individualized, unique transition program that Julie required. We brainstormed options for shoring up her writing skills with such approaches as drafting an independent research paper on being a nutritionist and participating in a dual enrollment college writing class. We thought of ways to build money management skills through an online personal finance class with school support and real-life practice by visiting her local bank and several ATMs with her school’s occupational therapist.

When we left the meeting, we had designed a brand new program for Julie that would satisfy her needs in the areas of social, emotional, self-advocacy, executive functioning, adaptive and vocational skills development through a combination of school-, community- and home-based activities, with defined support from the school district, community agencies and her family. Everyone left the meeting ready to carry out the next steps of planning for Julie, with roles and responsibilities clearly outlined to initiate the activities that would hopefully propel Julie toward greater independence and satisfaction in her adult life.

This is just one example of a great team meeting that I have been a part of this school year. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to contribute to many of these meetings as well as some of the more challenging ones. After this meeting, I drove all the way home smiling about how much can be accomplished in a 75-minute team meeting when everyone comes to the table thinking about the student, willing to brainstorm, interested in collaborative problem-solving, thinking outside the box, and eager to share responsibility in supporting the student.

Certainly, there are many times when a school district or local collaborative already has a great program and peer group that will work for a student’s post-12th-grade needs, but, as a Transition Specialist, it is truly a lot of fun when everyone is ready to roll their sleeves up and pitch in to create a new tailored individualized education program that taps into the internal resources available to the student and school, while adding community supports and services as appropriate.

In thinking about what makes transition planning at IEP team meetings, such as Julie’s, notably successful, the following “ingredients” stand out:

  • The meeting focuses on the student, with the student’s vision presented at the start of the meeting (ideally by the student), and the team is in agreement about supporting that vision;
  • Team members come to the table eager to work with one another, willing to problem-solve, ask questions, listen to feedback and build on one another’s ideas;
  • There is good assessment data to inform the team process, whereby the team has a good sense of the student’s strengths, preferences and needs, and works together to prioritize what has to be addressed through the IEP; and
  • Team members come to the table knowing what resources exist inside and outside of the school program, with parents and educators having researched and reached out to invite new team members who may know about internal and external resources.

If you are interested in working with a transition specialist at NESCA for consultation, 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. 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 or call 617-658-9800.

How to Advocate for Your Child

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By: Reva Tankle, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

The Federation for Children with Special Needs in Boston offers a Parent Consultant Training course several times every year. I have been privileged to teach this group about Neuropsychological Assessment and the IEP Process for the past 15 years. While many people take this course to become Parent Advocates as a profession, it is just as common that the participants are trying to figure out how to best advocate for their own children.

The process always starts with a concern. Parents request an initial evaluation from either the school or a private clinician because they have a concern about their child’s development. They are looking to understand their child’s challenges, obtain a definitive diagnosis and most importantly develop a treatment plan that will ensure their child’s positive trajectory into the future. What I have learned from the many participants in this course is that they are hungry for information about what they should be doing for their children.

It is encouraging that there are so many resources available for parents to help them with some of these concerns. However, the sheer amount of information can also be overwhelming, as it can be hard to know where to start. And it is important that parents get started right away, as we know there is a great advantage in early diagnosis and intervention; especially when autism is suspected. But where does one start?

  • Assessment/Diagnosis
  • Education
  • Parent Support
  • Advocacy

If you suspect your child may be on the autism spectrum, organizations such as AANE, The Asperger/Autism Network, and Autism Speaks can help you find diagnosticians in your area. Your child’s pediatrician may also be knowledgeable about local referral sources for assessment for suspected learning or developmental issues. Finally, word of mouth referrals from those who have previously navigated the process on behalf of their own child is often another great resource to rely on.

Once there is a diagnosis, parents should educate themselves as much as possible about the needs of their child and the options available. Organizations such as AANE and Autism Speaks can provide a lot of the information parents need at this often stressful time if their child has autism. Of particular benefit, Autism Speaks offers a “100 Day Kit for the Newly Diagnosed Family of Young Children.” This step-by-step guide helps parents feel more in control and confident about how and where to start this journey.

For language-based learning disabilities, parents may find needed resources through organizations such as Decoding Dyslexia or the International Dyslexia Association. Whatever diagnosis a parent is facing on behalf of their child, there are resources to provide the education that is needed.

The internet provides so many resources to parents, which is both a blessing and a curse. How can a parent sort through it all and establish priorities? How do they avoid becoming overwhelmed? Parent Support Groups! It may seem like an overly simple solution, but the benefits of sharing with others who have gone through what you are going through are immeasurable. And not feeling like you are in this alone will give you the confidence to keep going.

Armed with a diagnosis as well as education and support, a parent is ready to advocate as needed. Organizations like the Federation for Children with Special Needs are there to help throughout the advocacy journey. Finally, a strong partnership between the child’s parents and school district is critical to ensure that the district understands the individual child, their unique needs and to know that they will work to provide the appropriate educational opportunities for the child.

It may not be an easy journey to embark on, but know there are wonderful resources out there to help make things smoother.

About the Author

Combining her experience and training in both pediatric neuropsychology and educational advocacy, Dr. Reva Tankle has particular expertise in working with families who are navigating the IEP process. Having participated in numerous team meetings over the years, Dr. Tankle is especially knowledgeable about the many ways that schools can support and accommodate students with special learning needs, information that she clearly communicates in her evaluation reports and in team meetings, if needed. She also has a great deal of experience in articulating the reasons that a student may need a program outside of the public school.

Dr. Tankle evaluates students with ADHD, learning disabilities, high functioning autism spectrum disorders, and neurological conditions, as well as children with complex profiles that are not easily captured by a single diagnostic category.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Reva Tankle in Plainville, MA, or any of our expert 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.

The Path to Eligibility

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By: Reva Tankle, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

A child’s pediatrician is often the first professional who hears a parent’s concern that their child is struggling in school. It is comforting to know that The American Academic of Pediatrics has recently provided guidelines to pediatricians that outline the important role they can play when a child is struggling in school. The guidelines refer to pediatricians’ involvement in prevention (e.g. avoiding brain injuries, good nutrition, etc.), early recognition, diagnosis, treatment, advocacy/monitoring and referral. Regarding referral, pediatricians are asked to consider involvement of a number of subspecialties, including neuropsychologists, child psychologists, speech and language pathologists and others.

In my prior work as a Special Needs Advocate and now as a pediatric neuropsychologist, I understand how the referral to a neuropsychologist for a comprehensive evaluation can assist a parent in the Special Education eligibility process, but it is still too often an unknown for many others. To be eligible for Special Education services, a child must meet three basic criteria (1) present with a qualifying disability; (2) demonstrate a lack of effective progress in the general education setting; and (3) require specialized instruction or related services (e.g. Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Psychological Services, etc.). The determination of eligibility is made by the school team that includes the parents. The school will conduct its own assessments which may provide the information needed to make a determination of eligibility. A private neuropsychological evaluation provided by the parents can also help to inform the process, by providing a diagnosis(es) as well as a deeper and more integrated look at the child’s cognitive, academic and social/emotional profile.

School evaluators do not typically provide what are considered medical diagnoses, such as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders or Dyslexia. A neuropsychologist can make such a diagnosis, and a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation should also provide an understanding of how the disability is impacting the child’s academic, social and/or emotional development. The neuropsychologist can then relate the diagnosis to the appropriate educational disability category for the school’s consideration. A neuropsychological evaluation can also assist in determining if a child is making effective progress within the general education setting. Data obtained through standardized testing, teacher reports and observation of the student in the school setting can provide information needed to determine if the child is making progress commensurate with their potential. Finally, delineation of specific skill deficits identified in an evaluation can provide information necessary for selecting appropriate specialized methodologies or the related services the child requires to make progress.

We often hear the phrase, “It takes a village.” It certainly “takes a village” of professionals to provide the coordinated and comprehensive care that a child who is struggling in school requires. With pediatricians providing the first line of support and referrals for parents, the outside professionals, including neuropsychologists, can work with the pediatrician and in conjunction with the school staff to provide the struggling student the range of services needed to foster their academic, social and emotional development.

 

About the Author

Combining her experience and training in both pediatric neuropsychology and educational advocacy, Dr. Reva Tankle has particular expertise in working with families who are navigating the IEP process. Having participated in numerous team meetings over the years, Dr. Tankle is especially knowledgeable about the many ways that schools can support and accommodate students with special learning needs, information that she clearly communicates in her evaluation reports and in team meetings, if needed. She also has a great deal of experience in articulating the reasons that a student may need a program outside of the public school.

Dr. Tankle evaluates students with ADHD, learning disabilities, high functioning autism spectrum disorders, and neurological conditions, as well as children with complex profiles that are not easily captured by a single diagnostic category.

 

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Reva Tankle in Plainville, MA, or any of our expert 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.

 

Back to School 101: How to Support your Child

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By: Reva Tankle, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

 

When should I start transitioning back to the “school routine?”

The summer break should be a time for kids to have fun playing with their friends and family and enjoying new adventures and experiences. As the new school year looms, however, parents start to think about how to transition from the flexible downtime of summer to the more structured and rigid schedule of the school year. As such, they often wonder when to start the process of getting back to the school routine. Of course, it will be different for each child but, for most children, a slow transition is the best plan. Things to consider are:

  • Probably the most important routine to get back into is the bedtime and morning schedule. Parents should consider a slow transition starting 1–2 weeks before the first day of school. Move the bedtime by 10–15 minutes earlier every few days; inching closer to the school night bedtime. By the time it is the night before the 1st day of school, your child should be back to their regular bedtime. After allowing for an adequate number of hours of sleep, parents might consider waking their child up earlier in the morning, again, inching closer to the wake-up time on school days.
  • During the summer months, some children’s access to screen time might increase. Parents should consider reducing screen time during the day and especially in the evening; closer to their family’s rules for access to screens during the school year. Since many children have summertime reading to do, this might be a good time to get your kids off the screens and focused on completing their summer reading.
  • Regardless of your best intentions to transition smoothly to the school year routine, the beginning of school can be challenging for many children. Giving children, especially younger children, adequate time after school for play and ensuring the right amount of sleep will help children make the transition from summer to school.

What can I do to help this year’s teachers, specialists and therapists get to know my child as well as what’s in their IEP or 504 Plan?

If you child is in elementary school, your child will likely have one or at most two new teachers. It is a good idea to make sure the teachers are prepared to meet your child’s educational needs from the first day of school. But it is also important to recognize that it will take time for the teacher to get to know your child, and you want to make sure that you don’t overload the teachers with more information than they can handle. They will read the IEP, but that can be very overwhelming. To help them get started, you can send an email on the teachers’ first day back at school. Keep it short. Write a few sentences describing your child’s strengths and weaknesses. And then write the 2 or 3 things in the classroom that you think will be most important for your child to be successful in the upcoming year. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be short and to the point in this note. If you keep it focused on the most important information, it is more likely that the teachers will remember what you have shared.

If your child is in middle or high school, you could use a similar approach and write a short note about your child. You may choose to send it to all their content teachers or specifically to their Special Education teacher/liaison.

Finally, if your child is on a 504 Plan, it is definitely worthwhile to send a note to all your child’s teachers that informs them of the 504 Plan, listing the accommodations that are in your child’s 504 Plan. If, however, it is a very long list, you might consider writing the most important accommodations and request that they refer to the official 504 Plan for the comprehensive list. If you have a scanned copy, you could attach it to the email and make it easier for them to have access to it.

My child is anxious – how can I help my child feel more at ease?

Many children feel anxious at the start of a school year. They worry about having a new teacher and being with new classmates. To ease your child’s worries about the first day of school, here are some suggestions:

  • Often teachers start working in the school a few days before the students arrive. Call the teacher and arrange for your child to visit the classroom and have a brief 1:1 meet and greet with the child. If the classroom is set up, the teacher might be able to show your child where their desk will be. Consider taking pictures of the room, desk, locker/cubby and other locations in the school where your child may frequent throughout the school day. As the first day approaches, you can remind your child about how nice the teacher was and possibly, where their desk is, reviewing the photos, if taken. Taking away some of the “unknowns” should reduce your child’s anxiety.
  • Find out from other parents which children from last years’ class are in your child’s new class. Arrange playdates toward the end of summer so you child has some familiar faces to look for.
  • Make sure your child has a “go-to” person in the school with whom they feel comfortable. If they had a counselor the prior year, make sure that person is available to them and remind your child they can go see them if needed.
  • Most importantly, be positive and optimistic about the upcoming year. If you are calm and expect the best, your child will pick up on that and approach the new year with a positive attitude.

New School?

If your child is moving to a new school, many of the suggestions listed above will be helpful in your child’s transition to that school. Most importantly, the opportunity to tour the school and meet teachers should ease their concerns. If they are a middle or high school student, it might be helpful for them to know where their locker is and to “practice” going to their different classrooms. Again, revisit pictures, if  taken during the school visit/meet and greet. The more familiar they are with the environment, the better!

My child doesn’t have an IEP or 504, but I have concerns. What do I do?

If, as the school year begins, you have concerns from the previous year, you should be prepared to act quickly to ensure that your child doesn’t fall further behind. Within the first few days of school, you should send your child’s primary teacher a brief note that outlines your concerns. For example, you might write: “My son didn’t meet the end of the year benchmark in reading last year. I am concerned about his reading development. I would like more information from you about his reading level after you do your beginning of the year benchmark assessment.” It will be important for you to follow up with the teacher within 3–4 weeks and get the information you requested. If you remain concerned because of academic, behavioral or emotional issues you are seeing at home, you should not hesitate to request a Special Education evaluation for your child. Make your request in writing to either the Special Education coordinator at your school or the main Special Education office (find out from your school where to send it or, to be sure, send it to both).

It is critical that you don’t let too much time go by at the beginning of the year to make your request for an evaluation. The school is obligated to evaluate at your request so, don’t be dissuaded from the evaluation if you have concerns about your child’s development and their ability to make progress in school.

I wish you and your family a positive and happy return to school this year!

 

 

Reva Tankle, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Combining her experience and training in both pediatric neuropsychology and educational advocacy, Dr. Reva Tankle has particular expertise in working with families who are navigating the IEP process. Having participated in numerous team meetings over the years, Dr. Tankle is especially knowledgeable about the many ways that schools can support and accommodate students with special learning needs, information that she clearly communicates in her evaluation reports and in team meetings, if needed. She also has a great deal of experience in articulating the reasons that a student may need a program outside of the public school.

Dr. Tankle evaluates students with ADHD, learning disabilities, high functioning autism spectrum disorders, and neurological conditions, as well as children with complex profiles that are not easily captured by a single diagnostic category.

 

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Reva Tankle in Plainville, MA, or any of our expert 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.