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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Kelley Challen

If My Child Attends a Residential School, Will the State Pay for Housing When They Graduate?

By | NESCA Notes 2024

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

The goal of transition services is to help students who are on IEPs to progress toward their measurable postsecondary goals. This includes planning for future learning and work situations, and also planning for future living—as independently as possible. An enormous challenge that comes up in this planning process is that families (and sometimes the professionals supporting them) do not fully understand the realities of housing for adults who have exited public education.

There is a common misconception that if your child has qualified for residential special education programming, that will mean that your child will qualify for residential support as an adult. However, adult human service supports are not an entitlement like special education—these services are voted on by state legislature. The truth is that adult services and benefits are built to fill in the gaps of what you cannot physically or financially do to support your child. If you are alive and you can reasonably take care of your child, even with support, that is what you will be expected to do. If, instead, you want your child to be able to live in their own home or a shared home, then you and your child will be responsible for figuring out how to find and fund that living situation.

Hopefully, this data, shared by Cathy Boyle of Autism Housing Pathways in a January presentation, titled “Thinking About Housing,” will help to hammer home this point. Cathy shared numbers from fiscal year 2021 which quantified some of the residential supports awarded to young adults in Massachusetts who turned 22 during that fiscal year. Specifically, there were 1,233 students turning 22 who were served by the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) in Massachusetts. Of that number, only 263 received “residential supports.” However, the majority of those “residential supports” were provided in shared living situations where the housing was not being funded by DDS. It was only about 100 individuals statewide who turned 22 and entered into brick-and-mortar homes funded by DDS.

Regarding who is able to secure DDS housing in Massachusetts, it is typically only available to individuals who have an intellectual disability that was diagnosed before age 18 and (1) are a danger to themselves, and/or (2) are a danger to others, and/or (3) have pica (a condition in which a person eats items not usually considered food). There are some other criteria considered, including whether the caregiver can keep the individual healthy and safe (based on caregiver criteria, such as age, health, employment) and the judgment of the evaluator from the state. But, as previously described, housing is reserved for individuals with the most significant needs. Also, while there is funding through DDS for day services for adults with autism in Massachusetts, this budget explicitly does not cover residential services or housing. Only individuals with autism who also meet the intellectual disability criteria are eligible for housing under standard criteria.

If your child has a mental health condition, you may wonder about housing through Department of Mental Health (DMH). While it’s difficult to find current statistics on the number of young adults turning 22 and receiving group home services, there is a limited number of beds, and eligibility criteria for DMH services specifies that you can only be eligible for services if they are actually available. Also, the criterion for housing is quite similar to DDS in that an individual has to be entirely unable to live at home even with intensive in-home support. This often equates to the same variable of whether your child is actively at risk of harming themselves or another person.

While I’m providing data from Massachusetts in order to exemplify these housing challenges, the struggles are similar, if not more difficult, across the United States. The reality is that if you have a child with a disability, you and your child are more than likely going to have to plan for and figure out how to pay for their housing in adulthood. This is one of the ways that our children are treated 100% similarly to nondisabled adults. Although having a disability may help your child to qualify for accommodations in adulthood, living accommodations are most often not part of that right.

Resources:

NESCA offers many services designed to help students bridge the transition from high school to college including executive function coaching, pre-college coaching, transition planning, and neuropsychological evaluation. To learn more specifically about our transition planning services, visit https://nesca-newton.com/transition/. To learn about other coaching services, visit: https://nesca-newton.com/coaching-services/. To schedule an appointment with one of our expert clinicians or coaches, please complete our intake at: https://nesca-newton.com/intake/.

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is an expert transition specialist and national speaker who has been engaged in evaluation, development, and direction of transition-focused programming for teenagers and young adults with a wide array of developmental and learning abilities since 2004. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in working with youth with autism, she enjoys working with students with a range of cognitive, learning, communication, social, emotional and/or behavioral needs.

Ms. Challen joined NESCA as Director of Transition Services in 2013. She believes that the transition to postsecondary adulthood activities such as learning, living, and working is an ongoing process–and that there is no age too early or too late to begin planning. Moreover, any transition plan should be person-centered, individualized and include steps beyond the completion of secondary school.

Through her role at NESCA, Ms. Challen provides a wide array of services including individualized transition assessment, planning, consultation, training, and program development services, as well as pre-college coaching. She is particularly skilled in providing transition assessment and consultation aimed at determining optimal timing for a student’s transition to college, technical training, adult learning, and/or employment as well as identifying and developing appropriate programs and services necessary for minimizing critical skill gaps.

Ms. Challen is one of the only professionals in New England who specializes in assisting families in selecting or developing programming as a steppingstone between special education and college participation and has a unique understanding of local postgraduate, pre-college, college support, college transition, postsecondary transition, and 18-22 programs. She is additionally familiar with a great number of approved high school and postsecondary special education placements for students from Massachusetts including public, collaborative, and private programs.

Ms. Challen enjoys the creative and collaborative problem-solving process necessary for successfully transitioning students with complex profiles toward independent adulthood. As such, she is regularly engaged in IEP Team Meetings, program consultations, and case management or student coaching as part of individualized post-12th grade programming. Moreover, she continually works to enhance and expand NESCA’s service offerings in order to meet the growing needs of the families, schools and communities we serve.

When appropriate, Ms. Challen has additionally provided expert witness testimony for families and school districts engaged in due process hearings or engaged in legal proceedings centering on transition assessment, services and/or programming—locally and nationally.

Nearly two decades ago, Ms. Challen began her work with youth with special needs working as a counselor for children and adolescents at Camp Good Times, a former program of Milestones Day School. She then spent several years at the Aspire Program (a Mass General for Children program; formerly YouthCare) 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. Also, she 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 skill and transition programs.

Ms. Challen received her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. While training and obtaining certification as a school guidance counselor, she completed her practicum work at Boston Latin School focusing on competitive college counseling.

Ms. Challen has worked on multiple committees involved in the Massachusetts DESE IEP Improvement Project, served as a Mentor for the Transition Leadership Program at UMass Boston, participated as a member of B-SET Boston Workforce Development Task Force, been an ongoing member of the Program Committee for the Association for Autism and Neurodiversity (AANE), and is a member of the New Hampshire Transition State Community of Practice (COP).

She is also 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: Innovations that Enhance Independence and Learning.

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, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; the greater Burlington, Vermont region; and Brooklyn, NY (coaching services only) serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Preparing for a College Visit

By | NESCA Notes 2024

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

With vacation weeks coming up in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, many local families—especially those with juniors in high school—are contemplating visits to college campuses. School vacation weeks in the spring are a great time to visit colleges because you can tour the campus at a point in time when students are engaged in a typical flurry of academic and extracurricular activities. Summer may allow for more convenient or peaceful tours, but it is not a time of year when the happenings on campus accurately reflect student life (unless there is a very active summer session). Instead, spring and fall are often considered the optimal seasons for campus visits. For those of you planning upcoming visits, here are a few tips to consider—especially if you are a student with a learning disability, autism, or a mental health diagnosis.

  • Sign up ahead of time for the tour through the college’s web site. Even if a college does not require registration, potential students should go ahead and register for the college tour so that they get “credit” for their visit. There are lots of metrics that count as part of the college admissions process, and one of these important variables is literally the number of times that a potential student makes contact with the college. Things like registering for a tour, emailing admissions, following the college on social media, visiting with college representatives at college fairs, and signing up to receive materials by mail or email can all be considered “points of contact” with the college and may help students to ultimately be accepted.
  • Be prepared to answer a few questions about yourself. Most college information sessions or tours will start with the admissions staff and/or tour guide introducing themself and asking a few questions about the students in the group. Students should be prepared to share things like their name, hometown, grade, potential major, and clubs or activities they might want to participate in during college. Not all of this information will be requested outright, but some will typically be part of introductions and more may be asked during a presentation or tour. For students who have a hard time answering questions on the spot, they will feel much more comfortable if they have thought about—and practiced—answering these questions before the tour. They can also be more actively involved. Terms like undergraduate, graduate, first-year, and transfer may also come up when visiting colleges, and it can be helpful to review some college vocabulary ahead of time so that students are not flustered in the moment.
  • Ask questions of your own! (But make sure you are asking the right people your questions.) Information sessions and college tours are typically facilitated by admissions staff and college students. These are the times when you are learning about the college in general and getting a sense of campus culture, facilities, and services available to all students on the campus. For legal reasons, college admissions and college disability supports are notably separate entities. This means that college information sessions and tours are not typically the time and place for accommodation- and disability-specific questions. So, what questions should you ask? Well, there are plenty of web-based resources that you can look to in order to create your own personal list of tour questions. Here are just a few you might find interesting:

Even if you have done online research about a college, it’s a good idea to ask a few questions about items that are important to you to see if things on campus are really as described. Also, if you are a student with a disability, you might ask some of the questions that get at culture and inclusion: What’s it like to be a new student on campus? How do you see the college demonstrate commitment to diversity and inclusion? What controversial issues have come up on campus?

  • Don’t panic if you don’t see yourself or your student in the tour guide. College tour guides are typically some of the highest performing, actively involved students at the college and are usually representative of an extreme rather than the “average” student. While these students are certainly a part of the campus and culture, it is important to get a sense of who else is on the campus. Take time to observe and talk with other students you see walking around on campus. If you can, circle back to an academic building in an area of interest and find a student to talk to there. Or just stop a few students around campus and ask informal questions (e.g., Why did you pick this college? What do you wish you could change? What do you do like about being a student here? What do you wish you knew before you started college here?).
  • Take time to eat on campus. Make time before or after your tour to eat in a main cafeteria or campus center. If you are going to be eating three meals a day on campus, its important to know what that experience will be like. Certainly, the food is important. You need to know if there are a variety of food options and that there is something you would be comfortable eating for all meals. Also, you want to get a sense of the atmosphere, including how crowded it is and how easy it is to find a table.
  • If you are just getting started on your college search process and do not have a set list of schools yet, don’t worry. You can still get out and visit schools. I often suggest starting with different college archetypes (e.g., big school, little school, school spread out in a city, school with more defined campus, private, public, community, etc.). It can be good to just pick a few different school types, visit the colleges, and then do some real downloading of information and preferences immediately after the visits. I often ask students to do some ratings of colleges as they leave the schools so that they can quantify their “gut feeling” about a school and use that for comparison even if they aren’t sure exactly what it was that they liked or disliked. Even a bad college visit can help to determine some of the things that are most important about the college search process!

Embarking on college campus visits is a bit of a house hunting process—you are looking at potential academic homes. It can definitely be overwhelming, especially when it’s a process that you have not been through before and you may not know exactly what you want or what’s worth looking at. But you have to start somewhere. Following these suggestions should allow you to get a true sense of campus life and culture while also learning about yourself and your own preferences and values. Be prepared, but also trust yourself, and let each experience help you learn who you want to be as a future college student.

 

NESCA offers many services designed to help students bridge the transition from high school to college, work, and more independent adult life. Such services include executive function coaching, pre-college coaching, transition planning, and neuropsychological evaluation. To learn more specifically about our coaching services, visit: https://nesca-newton.com/coaching-services/ . NESCA also offers postsecondary transition consultation to families who want support identifying whether students are ready for college transition, or they may need a step in between or a scaffolded transition: https://nesca-newton.com/transition/#planning. To schedule an appointment with one of our expert clinicians or coaches, please complete our intake at: https://nesca-newton.com/intake/.

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is an expert transition specialist and national speaker who has been engaged in evaluation, development, and direction of transition-focused programming for teenagers and young adults with a wide array of developmental and learning abilities since 2004. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in working with youth with autism, she enjoys working with students with a range of cognitive, learning, communication, social, emotional and/or behavioral needs.

Ms. Challen joined NESCA as Director of Transition Services in 2013. She believes that the transition to postsecondary adulthood activities such as learning, living, and working is an ongoing process–and that there is no age too early or too late to begin planning. Moreover, any transition plan should be person-centered, individualized and include steps beyond the completion of secondary school.

Through her role at NESCA, Ms. Challen provides a wide array of services including individualized transition assessment, planning, consultation, training, and program development services, as well as pre-college coaching. She is particularly skilled in providing transition assessment and consultation aimed at determining optimal timing for a student’s transition to college, technical training, adult learning, and/or employment as well as identifying and developing appropriate programs and services necessary for minimizing critical skill gaps.

Ms. Challen is one of the only professionals in New England who specializes in assisting families in selecting or developing programming as a steppingstone between special education and college participation and has a unique understanding of local postgraduate, pre-college, college support, college transition, postsecondary transition, and 18-22 programs. She is additionally familiar with a great number of approved high school and postsecondary special education placements for students from Massachusetts including public, collaborative, and private programs.

Ms. Challen enjoys the creative and collaborative problem-solving process necessary for successfully transitioning students with complex profiles toward independent adulthood. As such, she is regularly engaged in IEP Team Meetings, program consultations, and case management or student coaching as part of individualized post-12th grade programming. Moreover, she continually works to enhance and expand NESCA’s service offerings in order to meet the growing needs of the families, schools and communities we serve.

When appropriate, Ms. Challen has additionally provided expert witness testimony for families and school districts engaged in due process hearings or engaged in legal proceedings centering on transition assessment, services and/or programming—locally and nationally.

Nearly two decades ago, Ms. Challen began her work with youth with special needs working as a counselor for children and adolescents at Camp Good Times, a former program of Milestones Day School. She then spent several years at the Aspire Program (a Mass General for Children program; formerly YouthCare) 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. Also, she 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 skill and transition programs.

Ms. Challen received her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. While training and obtaining certification as a school guidance counselor, she completed her practicum work at Boston Latin School focusing on competitive college counseling.

Ms. Challen has worked on multiple committees involved in the Massachusetts DESE IEP Improvement Project, served as a Mentor for the Transition Leadership Program at UMass Boston, participated as a member of B-SET Boston Workforce Development Task Force, been an ongoing member of the Program Committee for the Association for Autism and Neurodiversity (AANE), and is a member of the New Hampshire Transition State Community of Practice (COP).

She is also 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: Innovations that Enhance Independence and Learning.

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, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; the greater Burlington, Vermont region; and Brooklyn, NY (coaching services only) serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Summer Planning for Teenagers

By | NESCA Notes 2024

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

March is an incredibly busy time in my household. Three out of four of our family members celebrate birthdays, winter sports turn into playoffs, and school events seem to pop up every week. March is also the time when we finalize our “summer camp plan” and manage lengthy online registration processes. If you have a teenager in the household, particularly a teen with a disability, you may also be thinking about summer and feeling particular pressure to “make the most” of the time while your child is still in high school. In case you are still scrambling for your own summer plan, I wanted to offer up several activities that are worth considering as part of your teen’s summer plan.

Get a paid summer job! Time and time again, research indicates that individuals who have paid employment in high school are more successful college students and more successful in obtaining employment as adults. If your child is college bound, having a paid work experience among their high school activities is a huge boost to their college applications. And, if not, paid work experiences teach soft skills for employment, help students figure out more about their career interests and preferences, and help to build meaningful resumes. Being able to do work that meets someone else’s standards is a vital life skill, and summer is an optimal time to build that skill.

Gain overnight experience. Students who plan to go to college but have never spent a night away from home need to know how they are going to handle that experience. There are all sorts of summer programs where students can spend time overnight, away from home, among peers. Overnight programs vary in length. Students who are just venturing out for the first time may feel most comfortable in a program that lasts a week or less, whereas other students may want a 3-week or 6-week experience. For college-bound students, I often recommend taking advantage of programs that happen right on college campuses in dorms. But there are also great programs outdoors or even travel programs in the United States or overseas. Knowing that you can spend the night away from family (and knowing what it’s like to “live” among a whole group of young people) is often a critical step in setting post-high school goals.

Use the time to build new executive functioning or emotional regulation skills. Students who struggle with executive functioning or emotional regulation often need coaching or therapy during the school year, just to keep up with school activities. However, students and families often reach out for these resources because they are already in crisis. A student will seek out an executive function coach when a student is already behind with assigned work or grades. Families often seek out therapy when an emotional crisis has occurred. School provides a number of executive functioning and emotional demands, so it can be hard for a coach or therapist to build new skills with a student while the student is also meeting those demands. Summer can be an optimal time to work more intensively to build new skills, strategies, and systems because it is a time when other demands are reduced. If your teen has a therapist, tutor, executive function coach, social pragmatic coach, or other support person who is helping them to tread water during the school year, it’s definitely worth asking whether intensive services over the summer might help the student to build skills that will last long-term and help the student be better prepared for the following school year.

Summer can also be a great time to tackle time-consuming activities, like completing the college application, drafting a college essay or two, cleaning out a bedroom or reorganizing study space, or building a new life skill, like driving, cooking, or mastering a laundry routine.

March is a great time to take stock of what your teenager wants to do after high school, what challenges might impede them smoothly transitioning to those activities, and thinking about how summer might be the perfect time to eliminate some of those challenges!

NESCA offers many services designed to help students bridge the transition from high school to college, work, and more independent adult life. Such services include executive function coaching, pre-college coaching, transition planning, and neuropsychological evaluation. To learn more specifically about our coaching services, visit: https://nesca-newton.com/coaching-services/. NESCA also offers postsecondary transition consultation to families who want support identifying the most meaningful ways for their student to spend the summer: https://nesca-newton.com/transition/#planning. To schedule an appointment with one of our expert clinicians or coaches, please complete our intake at: https://nesca-newton.com/intake/.

 

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is an expert transition specialist and national speaker who has been engaged in evaluation, development, and direction of transition-focused programming for teenagers and young adults with a wide array of developmental and learning abilities since 2004. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in working with youth with autism, she enjoys working with students with a range of cognitive, learning, communication, social, emotional and/or behavioral needs.

Ms. Challen joined NESCA as Director of Transition Services in 2013. She believes that the transition to postsecondary adulthood activities such as learning, living, and working is an ongoing process–and that there is no age too early or too late to begin planning. Moreover, any transition plan should be person-centered, individualized and include steps beyond the completion of secondary school.

Through her role at NESCA, Ms. Challen provides a wide array of services including individualized transition assessment, planning, consultation, training, and program development services, as well as pre-college coaching. She is particularly skilled in providing transition assessment and consultation aimed at determining optimal timing for a student’s transition to college, technical training, adult learning, and/or employment as well as identifying and developing appropriate programs and services necessary for minimizing critical skill gaps.

Ms. Challen is one of the only professionals in New England who specializes in assisting families in selecting or developing programming as a steppingstone between special education and college participation and has a unique understanding of local postgraduate, pre-college, college support, college transition, postsecondary transition, and 18-22 programs. She is additionally familiar with a great number of approved high school and postsecondary special education placements for students from Massachusetts including public, collaborative, and private programs.

Ms. Challen enjoys the creative and collaborative problem-solving process necessary for successfully transitioning students with complex profiles toward independent adulthood. As such, she is regularly engaged in IEP Team Meetings, program consultations, and case management or student coaching as part of individualized post-12th grade programming. Moreover, she continually works to enhance and expand NESCA’s service offerings in order to meet the growing needs of the families, schools and communities we serve.

When appropriate, Ms. Challen has additionally provided expert witness testimony for families and school districts engaged in due process hearings or engaged in legal proceedings centering on transition assessment, services and/or programming—locally and nationally.

Nearly two decades ago, Ms. Challen began her work with youth with special needs working as a counselor for children and adolescents at Camp Good Times, a former program of Milestones Day School. She then spent several years at the Aspire Program (a Mass General for Children program; formerly YouthCare) 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. Also, she 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 skill and transition programs.

Ms. Challen received her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. While training and obtaining certification as a school guidance counselor, she completed her practicum work at Boston Latin School focusing on competitive college counseling.

Ms. Challen has worked on multiple committees involved in the Massachusetts DESE IEP Improvement Project, served as a Mentor for the Transition Leadership Program at UMass Boston, participated as a member of B-SET Boston Workforce Development Task Force, been an ongoing member of the Program Committee for the Association for Autism and Neurodiversity (AANE), and is a member of the New Hampshire Transition State Community of Practice (COP).

She is also 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: Innovations that Enhance Independence and Learning.

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, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; the greater Burlington, Vermont region; and Brooklyn, NY (coaching services only) serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Why is it so hard to develop Executive Function skills for college as a high school student?

By | NESCA Notes 2024

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

Students with disabilities often have challenges with executive function skills. These may include difficulties with organization, planning and prioritization, time management, task initiation, attention and effort, working memory, self-regulation, self-monitoring, and mental flexibility. Being successful as a college student often depends on using and integrating these skills. Therefore, it’s no surprise that most of the IEPs I read when working with teenage and young adult students have goals or objectives aimed at remediating executive function (EF) skills. However, many students on IEPs have these “EF” goals for years and still don’t effectively develop the skills they need to successfully manage executive functioning tasks as college students.

One of the reasons for the remaining skill gap when students matriculate to college is because high school student responsibilities are pretty radically different from college student responsibilities. While research indicates that individuals can continue developing executive function skills throughout the lifespan, this requires a very particular set of activities. Executive function skills develop through a combination of direct instruction and opportunities to practice using the learned skills with and without support. But there often are not opportunities for practicing the skills needed for college as a high school student.

Below is a list of executive function supports that exist in high school, but often disappear in college:

  • Classes are small and always taught by teachers
  • Class material is centralized in books or on the board in the classroom
  • Time is structured by the school
  • Students are told what they need to learn from homework
  • Students are reminded of assignments and due dates
  • Completed homework is checked by teachers
  • Reading is discussed in classes
  • Studying is limited to a few hours per week
  • Testing is frequent and covers small amounts of material
  • Teachers approach students who need help
  • Schools are required to find students with disabilities who need specialized instruction and accommodations
  • Parents and teachers will remind students of their responsibilities
  • Parents and teachers will help to set priorities (or simply set them for the student)
  • Parents and teachers will correct students when behavior is unexpected

In college, students may have large classes taught by other students or experts in their fields who aren’t experts on teaching. They have to use syllabi, manage their own schedules (with large swaths of unscheduled time), integrate academic materials from a wide range of sources, and self-direct long hours of reading and studying. They also have to be responsible for advocating for themselves, knowing when they need help, and knowing what they are responsible for (academically, socially, and in their dorms) and getting those things done without parent and teacher reminders. For students who have strengths with executive functioning, often the transition to college still presents a steep learning curve. But for those who have vulnerabilities in these areas, it can be critical to recognize that the gaps are large between these two learning environments, and sometimes additional support and instruction is necessary while students are taking college classes. Some students will still need to build effective academic and executive function skills, and practice and master those executive function skills, while they are in college and managing this new set of demands.

NESCA offers many services designed to help students bridge the transition from high school to college, including executive function coaching, pre-college coaching, transition planning, and neuropsychological evaluation. To learn more specifically about our coaching services, visit: https://nesca-newton.com/coaching-services/ . To schedule an appointment with one of our expert clinicians or coaches, please complete our intake at: https://nesca-newton.com/intake/ .

Reference:

Many of the bulleted items of executive function supports that exist in high school are adapted from this high school versus college comparison by King’s College: https://www.kings.edu/admissions/high_school_vs_college

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is an expert transition specialist and national speaker who has been engaged in evaluation, development, and direction of transition-focused programming for teenagers and young adults with a wide array of developmental and learning abilities since 2004. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in working with youth with autism, she enjoys working with students with a range of cognitive, learning, communication, social, emotional and/or behavioral needs.

Ms. Challen joined NESCA as Director of Transition Services in 2013. She believes that the transition to postsecondary adulthood activities such as learning, living, and working is an ongoing process–and that there is no age too early or too late to begin planning. Moreover, any transition plan should be person-centered, individualized and include steps beyond the completion of secondary school.

Through her role at NESCA, Ms. Challen provides a wide array of services including individualized transition assessment, planning, consultation, training, and program development services, as well as pre-college coaching. She is particularly skilled in providing transition assessment and consultation aimed at determining optimal timing for a student’s transition to college, technical training, adult learning, and/or employment as well as identifying and developing appropriate programs and services necessary for minimizing critical skill gaps.

Ms. Challen is one of the only professionals in New England who specializes in assisting families in selecting or developing programming as a steppingstone between special education and college participation and has a unique understanding of local postgraduate, pre-college, college support, college transition, postsecondary transition, and 18-22 programs. She is additionally familiar with a great number of approved high school and postsecondary special education placements for students from Massachusetts including public, collaborative, and private programs.

Ms. Challen enjoys the creative and collaborative problem-solving process necessary for successfully transitioning students with complex profiles toward independent adulthood. As such, she is regularly engaged in IEP Team Meetings, program consultations, and case management or student coaching as part of individualized post-12th grade programming. Moreover, she continually works to enhance and expand NESCA’s service offerings in order to meet the growing needs of the families, schools and communities we serve.

When appropriate, Ms. Challen has additionally provided expert witness testimony for families and school districts engaged in due process hearings or engaged in legal proceedings centering on transition assessment, services and/or programming—locally and nationally.

Nearly two decades ago, Ms. Challen began her work with youth with special needs working as a counselor for children and adolescents at Camp Good Times, a former program of Milestones Day School. She then spent several years at the Aspire Program (a Mass General for Children program; formerly YouthCare) 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. Also, she 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 skill and transition programs.

Ms. Challen received her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. While training and obtaining certification as a school guidance counselor, she completed her practicum work at Boston Latin School focusing on competitive college counseling.

Ms. Challen has worked on multiple committees involved in the Massachusetts DESE IEP Improvement Project, served as a Mentor for the Transition Leadership Program at UMass Boston, participated as a member of B-SET Boston Workforce Development Task Force, been an ongoing member of the Program Committee for the Association for Autism and Neurodiversity (AANE), and is a member of the New Hampshire Transition State Community of Practice (COP).

She is also 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: Innovations that Enhance Independence and Learning.

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, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; the greater Burlington, Vermont region; and Brooklyn, NY (coaching services only) serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

October is Gap Year Exploration Month – Why Should Teens on IEPs Care?

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

On September 12th, I received an email from a colleague with the title May I nominate you? The body of the email described that October is Gap Year Exploration Month (GYEM) and asked if I would be willing to be a GYEM Amplifier, meaning would I be willing to share information with my personal and professional network to create awareness about gap years and increase student consideration of gap years as one of their post-secondary options. This was an easy “YES!” for me because I have spent the majority of my career trying to help students and families who I work with to understand that there are many other options besides college, or before college, for students to pursue after high school. Just last week, I was in an IEP meeting for a 10th grade student recommending that the student have an IEP goal and objectives that would help to enhance his understanding of a variety of post-12th grade options so that he could make an informed and active choice about his post-high school activities.

In the United States, every student who is on an IEP has the right to postsecondary transition planning. This is a process by which a young person is supported in the setting of goals and expectations for themselves and in building the skills and resources that will enable them to reach those goals. This should be a completely individualized process. However, in working with a large number of clients in Massachusetts and other Northeast states, I have observed that most middle and high school students have the same postsecondary vision: College. There is a strong consensus that college is the only goal to reach after high school, rather than an important step that leads to gainful employment in an area of strength, interest, or aptitude. Students with and without disabilities often know that they want to go to college (or that they are expected to go to college), but they have no career goals or sense about whether a college degree will actually benefit them in finding employment related to their aptitudes. Despite the data, most young people (and their parents) simply take as fact that college is what you do after high school. So how do we empower students to better manage the transition process? First and foremost, we need to start discussing career development, and to help our youth to understand the wide range of postsecondary options available to them, at earlier ages. A bachelor’s degree is one academic pursuit that has a place for many students, but for a great number of students, it is not the best immediate option available after high school. There are many other options worth exploring, such as two-year college programs, vocational or certificate programs, apprenticeships, military, employment, and gap year programs. So today, let’s talk about those gap year programs!

What is a gap year? A gap year is a deliberate period of personal growth typically taken by students after high school and before post-secondary education or career. During a gap year, individuals engage in various activities that foster personal growth, skill development, and exploration of different paths before committing to further education or career choices. These activities may include volunteering, interning, traveling, working, learning new skills, or pursuing other forms of experiential learning. The purpose of a gap year is to gain valuable life experiences, expand one’s perspective, and make informed decisions about future educational and career endeavors.

What can you do on a gap year? The options are endless! Gappers can choose from structured programs like service learning or volunteer projects, or pursue independent activities, such as interning, hiking, or working on organic farms. There are opportunities both within the US and abroad.

Is a gap year expensive? A meaningful gap year can be planned on various budgets. Students can offset costs through work, fundraising, scholarships, and financial aid. Some gap year programs accept funds from 529 Plans. Moreover, gap year students often graduate from college in less time, potentially saving families money in the long run. Explore a comprehensive list of scholarships here.

What are the evidence-based benefits of taking a gap year?

  • Academic Success: Recent studies show that gap year students outperform traditional students academically when they enter college.
  • Employability Boost: 88% of gap year graduates report that their experience significantly enhances their employability.
  • Personal Development: 98% of gap year graduates claim that their gap year helped them grow as a person.
  • Career Exploration: 60% of gap year graduates credit their experience with either confirming their choice of career or setting them on their current path.

References for these statistics can be found here.

Can you still attend college after a gap year? According to the best data on this question, 90% of gap year students who intended to go to college enroll within a year of graduating high school.

How can I learn more about planning a gap year?

Seek guidance from your school counselor.

Attend local USA Gap Year Fairs or online events to meet with programs and gather more information.

Check out some of the following Articles/Videos:

Visit the web sites below:

Listen to a Podcast

Read a Book

Is a transition program the same thing as a gap year program? Not exactly. Postsecondary transition programs are typically programs for young adults with disabilities that target skill development in one or more transition planning areas: life skill development, vocational skill development, and/or readiness for college. Often, developing executive function and social skills is a strong emphasis of these programs. Some of these programs are therapeutic and target the mental health needs of the young adult while supporting skill development in transition planning areas. While some students will participate in transition programs or transitional living programs as gap experiences, transition programs are typically a different category of program. At NESCA, we specialize in helping families determine whether transition programming is needed beyond 12th grade and support families to find – or create –

postsecondary transition programs. We also coordinate with local specialists – Gap Year Consultants, College Consultants, and Therapeutic Educational Consultants—when students may need special expert support in any of those areas.

REFERENCE: Several of the FAQs in this blog are copied directly from GYEM: Digital Dispatch materials created by the Gap Year Association of America and distributed to Gap Year Exploration Month Amplifiers throughout the world.

 

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, Plainville, and Hingham (coming soon), Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; and the greater Burlington, Vermont region, serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Building Independence—How Independent Living Centers Can Help Youth with Disabilities

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

Good transition planning is about building a “team” that can outlast special education and using resources wisely. There is often talk of “maximizing benefits” so that private funds can be reserved and made to last. In order to create an effective and individualized transition plan, you have to know what resources are available in your local community as well as on the state and federal levels. One resource that may be overlooked or underused is your local Center for Independent Living (CIL). In Massachusetts, and some other states, these are often named Independent Living Centers (ILC).

Across the United States, CILs are free community-based agencies that provide a range of services designed to help individuals with disabilities build skills for living more independently. The barrier to entry is typically very low as the intake process may sometimes just be a phone call and acknowledgement of having a disability.

At a minimum, each center is charged with providing the following core services:

  • Information and referral: Learning about services, providers, benefits, and programs within your local community that can help you achieve your goals (e.g., advocacy, daily living, housing, recreation, etc.). Also, learning about resources offered through state and national organizations.
  • Skills training: Explicit instruction of self-advocacy and/or life skills that can help you to live, learn, and work more independently. Examples areas for skill development include accommodations, personal care, housing and household management, managing finances, interview preparation, etc.
  • Peer counseling/mentoring: Talking with a peer by phone, video conference, or in person for mutual support, confidence building, and ultimately to make more independent and informed choices.
  • Advocacy: Learning to advocate on both individual and systems levels. Building skills to advocate for oneself, including filing complaints or taking legal action to remove barriers when needed.
  • Transition services: Services to facilitate transition to postsecondary adult life, services to facilitate transition from institutions to the community, and services to assist individuals at risk of needing to be in institutions.

Additionally, ILCs/CILs may have developed services that are specifically useful for consumers in their local community or state. And there is generally no age requirement for accessing services. For example, many ILCs in Massachusetts have specific youth programming or Transition to Adulthood Programs (TAPs) which offer advocacy, skills training, and peer counseling specifically tailored to students.

ILCs/CILs are awesome agencies run by, and for, individuals with disabilities. However, in my experience, they are not talked about or accessed nearly enough as part of transition planning. If you are reading the blog and interested in building independence at home and in the community for yourself, your child, or a youth you work with—I strongly recommend you look up your local Center for Independent Living and call to find out more about accessing services today.

Resources:

Administration for Community Living – What is Independent Living?  https://acl.gov/programs/aging-and-disability-networks/centers-independent-living

ILRU Directory of Centers for Independent Living and Associations – https://www.ilru.org/projects/cil-net/cil-center-and-association-directory

Massachusetts Independent Living Centers – https://www.mass.gov/independent-living-centers

 

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.

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.

So, You Are Taking a Leave of Absence from College—Now What?

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

Almost 75% of college students reported moderate to severe psychological distress during the 2020-2021 school year (National College Health Assessment, American College Health Association, 2021). College students across the country are continuing to struggle with depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts this school year. My appointment calendar is often made up of meetings with college students or parents of college students beginning the process of taking a leave of absence and wondering what to do next. Here are some tips that I shared with many of these students and families.

Get Treatment

Many students need to participate in skill-based therapies (cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention, acceptance and commitment therapy, etc.) in order to build up coping skills that may not have been developed in high school. Depending on the severity of current mental health issues, a student may need to participate in an intensive inpatient or outpatient treatment. Ultimately, many students need to find a supportive outpatient therapist—ideally someone who will be able to continue treating the student if they plan to make a future college attempt.

Psychopharmacological intervention (i.e., medication) can be important to consider. Sometimes students have not been taking medications as prescribed or they are taking medications exactly as prescribed but not gaining the intended benefits. Consulting with a prescriber can be an important treatment step for determining whether medication, or medication changes, are necessary.

Get Exercise

For any student, having a regular routine for exercise, sleep, and healthy diet has an impact. However, this is even more critical for students who are vulnerable to anxiety and/or depression. Exercise does not have to start big. Walking (with or without the dog), hiking, or just moving along to a YouTube fitness video for 10 minutes a day will make a difference. It’s critical to schedule the exercise in and often easiest if this is part of a morning or evening routine. For some students, working with a personal trainer or attending scheduled classes helps with accountability. Using a wearable exercise tracker like a Fitbit, Garmin Watch, or Apple Watch can also help with motivation and consistency.

Get a Job

Over the past 25 years, we have seen a notable decrease in the number of high school students who have participated in paid employment. Many students went off to college without taking time to connect college participation with future career interests. Using time off from school to explore work preferences and build transferrable skills (and a resume) can help students experience efficacy and improve mood. As a college student, no one is particularly excited when you show up to class, and the professor certainly doesn’t depend on you in order to get their job done. However, as an employee, students can experience tangible success through accomplishing work activities, receiving gratitude from coworkers and supervisors, and earning money. Work can also provide an important social experience. This is also an historic time to be looking for a first or early career position in the American workforce. Entry-level workers can make good wages. and there are plenty of part-time job openings across industries. Moreover, it’s difficult to get fired right now because good help is truly hard to find.

For students who are not ready to commit to paid work, and need time to recover and build energies up, volunteer jobs are also good opportunities. Some students will do better with brief drop-in volunteer activities while others my want to schedule more routine work hours.

Consider Taking Classes

When students take a leave of absence from college, the assumption is that the student will want to return to a college experience. But many students take a leave of absence and determine that they do not want to go back to college or that they do not want to go back to the same college. If a student wants to keep up academic skills, they can audit or take one or more college courses during the spring semester (depending on their college’s policies and whether they are planning to return). Community colleges, state colleges, and part-time or online college programs (like Harvard Extension School) are good options to explore for classes of interest as a non-degree seeking student. Starting back with a class that is high interest or a low degree of difficulty can be helpful for students who need to rebuild confidence. Additionally, when students are unsure if they are going to return to college or uncertain of a potential future major, it can be good to try classes that are likely to transfer and generally meet basic liberal arts requirements.

Get a Coach

Some students with mental health issues have other underlying challenges that contributed to their struggles in college. There could be a learning disability that wasn’t appropriately being addressed with accommodations, executive function challenges that impacted keeping up with pace, or volume of academics, social challenges that were exacerbated by the highly social dorm environment, or other issues. It is important to consider whether there are skill deficits that may have contributed to a student experiencing anxiety or depression. Some students will benefit from life skills, executive function, or social coaching in order to build up areas that are weaker before heading back to college (or may want to continue with that coaching when they head back).

Other students may want to take time to work with a career or transition coach to do some self-exploration. Taking a step back to participate in self-assessment related to one’s preferences and interests and to determine how those align with potential college major and future career interests can be helpful. I have worked with several students on leave to go through a career planning process. For some, they discover that they chose exactly the right college and major, and that can increase motivation when they get back to school, with proper supports in place. For others, this process sets a student on a completely new path.

Let us know, in our online Intake Form, if your student needs support during their time off from school and/or coaching to assist during their time off or when they return to college.

 

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.

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.

So, You Are Taking a Leave of Absence from College—Now What?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

Almost 75% of college students reported moderate to severe psychological distress during the 2020-2021 school year (National College Health Assessment, American College Health Association, 2021). College students across the country are continuing to struggle with depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts this school year. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, my appointment calendar consisted primarily of meetings with college students or parents of college students beginning the process of taking a leave of absence and wondering what to do next. Here are some tips that I shared with many of these students and families.

Get Treatment

Many students need to participate in skill-based therapies (cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention, acceptance and commitment therapy, etc.) in order to build up coping skills that may not have been developed in high school. Depending on the severity of current mental health issues, a student may need to participate in an intensive inpatient or outpatient treatment. Ultimately, many students need to find a supportive outpatient therapist—ideally someone who will be able to continue treating the student if they plan to make a future college attempt.

Psychopharmacological intervention (i.e., medication) can be important to consider. Sometimes students have not been taking medications as prescribed or they are taking medications exactly as prescribed but not gaining the intended benefits. Consulting with a prescriber can be an important treatment step for determining whether medication, or medication changes, are necessary.

Get Exercise

For any student, having a regular routine for exercise, sleep, and healthy diet has an impact. However, this is even more critical for students who are vulnerable to anxiety and/or depression. Exercise does not have to start big. Walking (with or without the dog), hiking, or just moving along to a YouTube fitness video for 10 minutes a day will make a difference. It’s critical to schedule the exercise in and often easiest if this is part of a morning or evening routine. For some students, working with a personal trainer or attending scheduled classes helps with accountability. Using a wearable exercise tracker like a Fitbit, Garmin Watch, or Apple Watch can also help with motivation and consistency.

Get a Job

Over the past 25 years, we have seen a notable decrease in the number of high school students who have participated in paid employment. Many students went off to college without taking time to connect college participation with future career interests. Using time off from school to explore work preferences and build transferrable skills (and a resume) can help students experience efficacy and improve mood. As a college student, no one is particularly excited when you show up to class, and the professor certainly doesn’t depend on you in order to get their job done. However, as an employee, students can experience tangible success through accomplishing work activities, receiving gratitude from coworkers and supervisors, and earning money. Work can also provide an important social experience. This is also an historic time to be looking for a first or early career position in the American workforce. Entry-level workers can make good wages. and there are plenty of part-time job openings across industries. Moreover, it’s difficult to get fired right now because good help is truly hard to find.

For students who are not ready to commit to paid work, and need time to recover and build energies up, volunteer jobs are also good opportunities. Some students will do better with brief drop-in volunteer activities while others my want to schedule more routine work hours.

Consider Taking Classes

When students take a leave of absence from college, the assumption is that the student will want to return to a college experience. But many students take a leave of absence and determine that they do not want to go back to college or that they do not want to go back to the same college. If a student wants to keep up academic skills, they can audit or take one or more college courses during the spring semester (depending on their college’s policies and whether they are planning to return). Community colleges, state colleges, and part-time or online college programs (like Harvard Extension School) are good options to explore for classes of interest as a non-degree seeking student. Starting back with a class that is high interest or a low degree of difficulty can be helpful for students who need to rebuild confidence. Additionally, when students are unsure if they are going to return to college or uncertain of a potential future major, it can be good to try classes that are likely to transfer and generally meet basic liberal arts requirements.

Get a Coach

Some students with mental health issues have other underlying challenges that contributed to their struggles in college. There could be a learning disability that wasn’t appropriately being addressed with accommodations, executive function challenges that impacted keeping up with pace, or volume of academics, social challenges that were exacerbated by the highly social dorm environment, or other issues. It is important to consider whether there are skill deficits that may have contributed to a student experiencing anxiety or depression. Some students will benefit from life skills, executive function, or social coaching in order to build up areas that are weaker before heading back to college (or may want to continue with that coaching when they head back).

Other students may want to take time to work with a career or transition coach to do some self-exploration. Taking a step back to participate in self-assessment related to one’s preferences and interests and to determine how those align with potential college major and future career interests can be helpful. I have worked with several students on leave to go through a career planning process. For some, they discover that they chose exactly the right college and major, and that can increase motivation when they get back to school, with proper supports in place. For others, this process sets a student on a completely new path.

Let us know, in our online Intake Form, if your student needs support during their time off from school and/or coaching to assist during their time off or when they return to college.

 

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.