Tag

intervention

Neuropsychological Evaluation Results: What, When and How to Share with Children and Teens

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Moira Creedon, Ph.D. 
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

During intake and feedback meetings with families, I find the same question comes up often from parents: what do I tell my child about all of this? NESCA’s Dr. Erin Gibbons gracefully tackled how to prepare your child for their neuropsychological evaluation. After an evaluation is done, you as a parent now have more than 20 pages of historical information, test descriptions, tables, summaries, and recommendations. How do you translate that information into something a child or teen will actually understand? It does not need to be a secret code or a hidden message. Feedback about a child’s strengths and weakness can be an incredibly powerful intervention.

Let’s take a page from Carol Dweck’s work and use a growth mindset to frame the experience. A growth mindset tells us that skills can be learned and neural connections can be strengthened. I advise parents to tell children and teens that testing is a chance for a “healthy check-up” for our brain and our learning, just the same way that the pediatrician performs a yearly healthy check-up for our bodies. The same way that a doctor pays attention to how all of our systems grow and interact with each other, a neuropsychologist can see how a child or teen is growing and how parts of the brain can talk to each other. I shape the dialogue right away that this kind of evaluation can tell us how strong some of the parts of our learning are, like a super strong muscle that has been exercised and practiced with gusto. The evaluation can also tell us what muscles or parts of our learning are a little weaker and need some more “exercise.” Pulling in a growth mindset, we can set the frame that any weakness can be made stronger if we have the right types of exercise, the right amount of practice, the right coaches, and a willingness to work hard. Most children and teens are pretty savvy and can often predict what their weak muscles are (e.g., “math is so hard!”; “I can’t spell!”; or “I can’t pay attention in school and I’m always in trouble for getting out of my seat!”).

Now, back to those 20-plus pages of dense text. It’s rarely helpful for a child or teen to read each page. There are parts of the normal curve, standard scores, confidence intervals, on and on that children and teens have not even learned yet! Those scores are an incredibly important source of information for schools, pediatricians, psychiatrists, therapists, and other neuropsychologists. They are not nearly as helpful when sharing information with children and teens, so do not stress about trying to translate it for kids. It is also not as helpful to have this conversation with your children when you are late for a meeting or they cannot find a soccer cleat on the way to practice. Plan your conversation for a time when your stress level is low as a parent and your child or teen is also more relaxed.

Your neuropsychologist can help you in your personal feedback meeting to identify a few important strengths to share with your child or teen – from your child’s positive attitude, to their strong decoding of new words, to their memory for things they see, to their ability to make and keep friends. With a sense of confidence about their strengths, I share what the “weaker muscle” is using language like, “I can see that word problems can be harder for you,” or “Keeping your anxious thoughts quiet when you are at school so you can concentrate on schoolwork is really hard.” Most of the time, children and teens find this validating rather than shaming – finally someone sees that their struggle is not their fault, not because their brain is wrong or bad, not because they are not trying hard enough. They just need more of the right kind of practice.

Knowing their strengths and their weaknesses, it is much easier to shape the game plan for the future. I tell children and teens that the good news is that we know what strategies can help make that weaker area even stronger. So choose your metaphor: coaches have different plays or practices, music teachers have different pieces for someone to play, artists can try out a new medium or set of supplies, or gamers practice different strategies and read tips and tricks from other gamers. By choosing a relatable experience for your child or teen in that moment, we can make the information both relevant and accessible. Your neuropsychologist can speak with you about how you as a parent can share this information with your child, or they can arrange a time to share the information directly from neuropsychologist to client. It is helpful for you to listen, too, so you can hear the language used by the neuropsychologist. Be prepared that these meetings are not very long to suit a child or teen’s attention span. Children and teens need time to process the information the same way adults do. You might expect a child to return to you a few days later with questions, or for the topic to more organically arise when your teen faces a challenge. Feedback is a unique chance for your child to feel validated, encouraged, and empowered!

 

About the Author

Dr. Creedon has expertise in evaluating children and teens with a variety of presenting issues. She is interested in uncovering an individual’s unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses to best formulate a plan for intervention and success. With experiences providing therapy and assessments, Dr. Creedon bridges the gap between testing data and therapeutic services to develop a clear roadmap for change and deeper of understanding of individual needs.

 

If you are interested in booking an evaluation with Dr. Creedon or another NESCA neuropsychologist, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

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

Early Detection of Autism: NESCA’s New ASD Diagnostic Clinic

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) vary widely in terms of the intensity of their symptoms as well as the age at which symptoms emerge. In some cases, signs of autism are apparent during infancy. For other children, concerns about autism might not arise until toddlerhood or even early childhood.

As neuropsychologists, we have become increasingly adept at detecting and diagnosing ASD using a combination of developmental history, clinical observation and standardized assessments. We are constantly learning more about ASD and fine-tuning the tools we have available to us to make a diagnosis.

One of the most important things we have learned through longitudinal research over the past 10 years is that early detection of ASD is a crucial part of a child’s prognosis. Young children who receive intensive services are much more likely to develop language, play and social skills. Because their brains are still in a state of rapid development, they are much quicker to acquire new skills and make progress in the areas where they are struggling. Children who receive early intervention for ASD are typically better able to participate in inclusion settings with same-age peers once they enter elementary school.

Unfortunately, many parents are told to “wait and see” when they express concerns about their child’s development – especially with children who are not yet in preschool. This is a risky and sometimes harmful approach as it leads to children with developmental disabilities not receiving the services they need.

In light of our understanding about the importance of early detection of ASD, NESCA is proud to introduce its ASD Diagnostic Clinic. The clinic offers testing that is targeted specifically at identifying ASD in children between the ages of 2 and 5. For children who do receive a diagnosis of ASD, the report will allow parents to start accessing services immediately. As with all of our families, we hope to establish a lifelong relationship and will be available for follow-up consults and additional evaluations at any time.

 

About the Author: 

Erin Gibbons, Ph.D. is a pediatric neuropsychologist with expertise in neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological assessment of infants,

children, and adolescents presenting with developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorders. She has a particular interest in assessing students with complex medical histories and/or neurological impairments, including those who are cognitively delayed, nonverbal, or physically disabled. Dr. Gibbons joined NESCA in 2011 after completing a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in the Developmental Medicine Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. She particularly enjoys working with young children, especially those who are transitioning from Early Intervention into preschool. Having been trained in administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), Dr. Gibbons has experience diagnosing autism spectrum disorders in children aged 12 months and above.

 

If you are interested in booking an appointment for the ASD Diagnostic Clinic or an evaluation with a NESCA neuropsychologist/clinician, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

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

Taking parents to SPACE! A groundbreaking treatment for parents of children with anxiety

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By: Ryan Ruth Conway, PsyD
Clinical Psychologist

As a child and adolescent psychologist who specializes in treating anxiety, it is very rare that I work solely with the individual. More commonly, in working with anxious youth, I engage the caregivers in treatment as well, as they serve a unique role in helping children better manage their symptoms. Sometimes I even meet with parents without ever seeing their anxious child, usually in situations where children are either very young or having difficulty participating in treatment.

Anxiety is a universal emotion that we all experience, and it can be quite helpful in alerting us to danger. However, some people experience heightened anxiety related to things or situations that do not actually pose a real threat, even though it truly feels that way. There are three parts of anxiety that impact each other – 1) cognitions (worrisome thoughts), 2) feelings (emotions and physiological sensations e.g., racing heart, stomachaches), and 3) behaviors (fight/flight/freeze response e.g., having tantrums, avoidance of anxiety-provoking stimuli).

Children will go to great lengths to find relief from anxiety. One of the typical ways they do so is by avoiding things they find scary. For instance, a child with separation anxiety may decline invitations for sleepovers and/or refuse to go to school. As their “go to” for support, children oftentimes manage anxiety by eliciting their parents to make them feel better. For a child with social anxiety, parents might step in and speak for the child when confronting strangers. When a teenager is facing persistent and obsessive thoughts about germs and cleanliness, parents might wash and re-wash the child’s clothing. For the individual who worries about a bunch of different things, parents might find themselves providing reassurance by answering a lot of their child’s questions or responding to repeated text messages ensuring the parents’ safety.

Anxiety has an interesting way of entangling family members into its “worry web,” and families fall victim to its demands to maintain peace in the household, largely without even realizing they are doing so! We call this parent accommodation, or any actions caregivers take or deliberately do not take because of their child’s anxiety. Accommodation is incredibly common and understandable. Parents will do anything and everything to protect their children and make them feel better. While accommodation might alleviate anxiety symptoms quickly and reduce anxiety in the short-term, unfortunately it is unhelpful in the long-term. Anxiety is tricky – the more parents accommodate, the more the worry web continues to grow, and children end up relying on their parents to bring relief as opposed to learning to manage anxiety on their own.

Last month I had the pleasure of attending a training for the SPACE (Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions) program, an innovative, short-term intervention developed at Yale University’s Child Study Center under the leadership of Dr. Eli Lebowitz, a prominent child therapist, researcher and author. As an empirically-supported treatment, SPACE has been well researched and, in a recent study, shown to be just as effective as individual cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in treating child and adolescent anxiety (Click here).

SPACE is unique in that the treatment is delivered only to parents. In considering the interpersonal nature of anxiety and different reactions parents can have to their child’s symptoms, it brings caregivers together to send consistent, supportive messages. The aim of SPACE is two-fold. One goal is to help parents respond effectively to their child, in a way that both validates the child’s experience of anxiety and also shows confidence in the child’s ability to tolerate discomfort. Parents also work collaboratively with the therapist to develop a clear plan to take small, gradual steps in reducing accommodations. In addition, parents receive guidance on how to respond to their child’s reactions to these changes. Parents are not viewed as the problem, but rather as part of the solution. The result is a child or teen who can better self-regulate and cope with anxiety independently.

The interested reader can access additional articles about the SPACE program here:

https://www.jaacap.org/article/S0890-8567(19)30173-X/pdf

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1077722913000977?via%3Dihub

Dr. Conway offers SPACE to parents at NESCA’s Newton location. For caregivers who would like to participate in this treatment or have any questions, feel free to contact Dr. Conway at rconway@nesca-newton.com or 617-658-9831.

 

About the Author: 
Conway

Ryan Ruth Conway, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), behavioral interventions and other evidence-based treatments for children, adolescents and young adults who struggle with mood and anxiety disorders as well as behavioral challenges. She also has extensive experience conducting parent training with caregivers of children who present with disruptive behaviors and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Dr. Conway has been trained in a variety of evidence-based treatments, including Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Exposure with Response Prevention (ERP). Dr. Conway conducts therapy at NESCA utilizing an individualized approach and tailoring treatments to meet each client’s unique needs and goals. Dr. Conway has a passion for working collaboratively with families and other professionals. She is available for school consultations and provides a collaborative approach for students who engage in school refusal.

 

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.