Tag

Kelley Challen

Planning and Preparing for College from Home during Covid-19

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

While college in the United States is looking quite different for student’s currently enrolled, many (but not all) high school juniors across the country participated in SAT testing yesterday morning in preparation for their college application process. For teenagers–who have natural difficulties thinking ahead and anticipating consequences–being stuck at home may feel particularly tedious and taxing.

Here are some suggestions for teens that may help to use the time productively and get ahead on next year’s college search and admissions process:

  1. Use this time to draft a college application resume that includes information about your co-curricular and extracurricular activities, employment and volunteer experiences, skills, achievements and awards, summer activities, and any hobbies or interests. Try to include all of the experiences you have had throughout the year (ask your parents if you cannot remember everything you have done). You may not end up providing this directly to a college, but it will be useful when you request recommendations, complete applications, and need to put together a resume for employment. Learn more about building a college application resume at The Balance Careers.
  2. Hop on some college search engines and go through a few search processes. Search engines can help you to think about what characteristics matter to you and which selection criteria are less important. If you happen to find a school that you want to research further, even better. Some of the search engines we like include: BigFuture, Cappex, and Collegedata. There are lots of popular engines and you should pick what works for you.
  3. Take virtual college campus tours to explore colleges of interest and to begin to familiarize yourself with college daily life and vocabulary. Look at admissions sites for tour information or join a site like YouVisit. Learn more about virtual tours in this US News Article: How to Make the Most of Virtual College Tours.
  4. Practice your interview skills! There are lots of great web sites with sample interview questions (e.g., ThoughtCo.com, BigFuture). Practice with a friend via video chat (e.g., Facetime, Google, Skype, Messenger) or record yourself.
  5. Write a practice or rough draft college essay. Common App Essay Prompts remain the same from one year to the next and has already announced that first-year essay prompts will remain the same for next application season. Check those out here: https://www.commonapp.org/apply/essay-prompts

If you are interested in working with a transition specialist at NESCA for consultation, coaching, planning or evaluation, please complete our online intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

About the Author:

Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

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

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

By | NESCA Notes 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you are interested in working with a transition specialist at NESCA for consultation, planning or evaluation, please complete our online intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

About the Author:

Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

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

Transition Planning for Adulthood—It Starts at Birth

By | NESCA Notes 2019

 

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

There are many transitions throughout a person’s life, but as a transition specialist working at a pediatric neuropsychology practice, my focus is most often on helping students who have struggled with learning, social and/or emotional difficulties to plan for and successfully navigate the transition from secondary school to whatever comes next in life (e.g., employment, transition program, community college, apprenticeship, etc.). I focus on helping young people envision their future selves and set short- and long-term goals for themselves—putting them into the driver’s seat for their own lives and helping them manage the risks and responsibilities that come with making choices for themselves.

When a family walks into my office for the first time, it is common for one parent or caretaker to worry aloud that they are starting transition planning for their child “too late.” I consistently respond that it is never too late to start planning and to begin transferring responsibility from one generation to the next. But today, I also want to emphasize that “it’s never too early” to start to plan for your child to be a more independent and competent adult—the best transition planning starts at birth.

Some common examples of transitions that start at a very early age that many parents and caregivers can relate to are: a child sleeping through the night for the first time unsupported, holding a cup and drinking without spilling, feeding oneself with a spoon, and/or riding a bicycle. Each of these activities is an example of a child building competence and independence while their parents simultaneously relinquish some amount of control. Often times, mistakes, messes and even pain are a natural part of the process.

From a young age, there are many skills that children can learn that will make a big difference for them later in life. Some examples include:

  • Picking out clothes for the next morning
  • Putting dirty clothes in a hamper
  • Loading the washing machine
  • Putting clean clothes away in drawers
  • Washing hands before eating, after using the bathroom and after playing outside
  • Setting the table (maybe not plates or glasses, but perhaps napkins, forks and spoons)
  • Carrying dishes to the counter and placing them next to the sink after dinner—or even in the dishwasher
  • Putting their own garbage in the trash
  • Collecting small trash bins to dump into a larger bin/bag on trash day
  • Helping to pack their own lunch
  • Helping to prep a meal (e.g., washing veggies, pouring ingredients, etc.)
  • Getting condiments from the refrigerator and putting them away after dinner
  • Getting a snack for self or a sibling from the refrigerator or pantry
  • Wiping down the table after a meal
  • Feeding/providing water for pets
  • Weeding
  • Raking leaves
  • Shoveling snow
  • Helping to get the mail
  • Brainstorming for/making a shopping list
  • Finding assigned items at the grocery store
  • Carrying light grocery bags
  • Helping to pack belongings for a family trip
  • Making gifts/cards for a celebration
  • Budgeting a few dollars to buy inexpensive but thoughtful gifts for family members

Some of these will apply to your child and some of them will not. And some of these may require adding time to your schedule, allowing a child to complete tasks at their own pace, or doing some household reorganization, allowing a child to access items necessary to complete tasks. Finally, a lot of deep breathing and patience—for both you and your child—will be required!

At any point in time, you can identify a task  you regularly do for your child and consider where there are pieces they can do for themselves. If your only role in the task is to prompt your child, consider whether there might be a low-technology tool (post-it, photograph) or high-technology tool (alarm, phone reminder) that could take the place of your prompt. If you are not sure how to make a change, it may be a good time to get help from a teacher, pediatrician, behavioral therapist, special educator, etc.

The important thing is that you are starting to think about where there is a potential for increasing competence, independence, confidence and self-esteem for your child. You are starting to plan for your own obsolescence in your child’s life, or at least in their carrying out every day self-care activities and chores. While that is a scary thing, it is also a beautiful and empowering thing!

 

If you are interested in working with a transition specialist at NESCA for consultation, planning or evaluation, please complete our online intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

 

About the Author:

Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

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

 

Nearly 1/3 of College Students Drop out or Transfer by the End of Freshman Year: What Can We Do Differently?

By | NESCA Notes 2018

 

 

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

 

As a transition specialist with a guidance counseling background, I work with many students during the college application process and the transition to managing life on a college campus. I help students and their families determine whether the student is ready to make the transition, whether an “in between” step such as a postgraduate or transitional year is needed, and how to shore up necessary skills for managing the enormous step between structured life at home and high school where adults constantly tell you what is expected and independently managing the freedoms, responsibilities, and unspoken expectations of being an adult on a college campus. Furthermore, I support young adults after a transition home from college participation, whether successful or unsuccessful, as they figure out the next steps in their life journey.

Two weeks ago, the New York Times (see link below) featured an article by Dr. William Stixrud and Ned Johnson emphasizing the hard reality that initial college transitions are unsuccessful for nearly one-third of young people.  The article further added that college is not actually a four-year endeavor for the majority of students who enroll (only 20% of the students who enroll in four-year college finish a bachelor’s degree in four years, and only 57% of students graduate within six years). The cited statistics are numbers that I have often mentioned in my own work with families and schools. I believe we need to be talking about, and normalizing these experiences. But, while many high schools track and publicize college admissions statistics, long-term graduate outcomes are less often known or shared. For students, parents, and teachers, being accepted into a college is frequently thought of as a final achievement for a successful high school student, rather than a small step in the context of a larger life plan.

Cue the transition specialist! Postsecondary transition planning 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 New Hampshire, 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.

But, as Stixrud and Johnson point out, thirty percent of students leave college by the end of their freshman year, and “the wheels can start to fall off as early as Thanksgiving.” Students find themselves back at home, no longer a student, but with no other sense of plan or identity. The authors cite two primary issues faced during this transition to college: the highly dysregulated environment that college provides (e.g., inconsistent sleep and diet patterns, lack of structure, and substance abuse including stimulant overuse, binge-drinking, and pot-smoking), and the late transition of managing daily life from parents to students. While I see students transfer or leave colleges for many reasons (e.g., difficulty managing social relationships without support, burnout, technology overuse, underusing needed/available support services, disciplinary issues, etc.), I certainly agree that the identified issues are often at the heart of college difficulties.

So how do we help students to better manage the transition process? First and foremost, we need to start discussing career development earlier and help our youth to understand the wide range of postsecondary options available to them. 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 (see https://www.gapyearassociation.org/gap-year-programs.php). Without understanding the concept of career development, and the alternative paths available, students often do not know that they can make another choice besides (or on the way to) college. We also need to acknowledge that four-year college degrees are not a reality for the majority of people. To be truly informed decision-makers, students need to know that enrolling in college is likely to be a 5 or 6-year process.

In addition to helping students make informed decisions, we must begin planning for a transition of power and responsibility much earlier. Transition planning starts at a young age with things like sleep training, taking the school bus, learning to brush one’s own teeth, or packing one’s own school lunches. But as parents, we often establish patterns of doing things for our kids in order to save time and to cram in more activities. However, the net result of this process can end up being a high school student who has a long resume of extracurricular activities but no idea how to get out of bed in the morning or independently manage a schedule of schoolwork, athletics, and clubs. For students who actually need more time to plan and organize independently, they can also end up feeling like failures for not being able to manage this type of busy (and unrealistic) schedule on their own. As pointed out by Stixrud and Johnson, many college students have been used to their parents managing their daily lives and making decisions for them. When faced with a lack of structure and the opportunity to make an unlimited number of poor choices on a daily basis, new college students are frequently unable to navigate the landscape and manage their responsibilities.

“It takes time, practice and some failure to learn how to run a life.” This is probably my favorite quote from the article as it is very similar to a phrase I learned from my colleague Kathleen Pignone; for every transition-aged client at NESCA, we talk with parents about the importance of allowing the young person to have “the dignity to fail.” This is easiest to do when kids are young and consequences are less (e.g., letting them wear pajamas to third grade when they dawdle with their morning routine). However, the reality is that allowing a high school student to oversleep and be late, or to not turn in an assignment, is a much lower risk activity than waiting for them to fail an expensive class in college or binge drink themselves into a hospital bed. Picking and choosing opportunities to allow our children to be “in charge” and to experience the natural consequences of their actions is critical for helping them to develop planning, organization, and coping skills. Also, letting students advocate for themselves with classmates, teachers, and authority figures is vital since they will be expected to do this for themselves after high school. (You may need to plan a script together initially.)

Work experience is briefly mentioned as an alternative to college, but I see employment as much more than an alternative. Early work experience is something that we should be striving to help all youth attain as part of the process of transferring power and responsibility. There are many recent articles (e.g., J. Selingo., 2015; Gowans, H., 2018) highlighting that the number of teenagers who have a paid job while in high school has dropped from nearly 40% in 1990 to somewhere between 16-17%, an all-time low. While the causes for a decline in teen employment are not clear, I have anecdotally observed that summer academic participation, travel, and extracurricular activities (e.g., athletics) are often prioritized above work experience. Sometimes this is in the name of bolstering a college admissions packet which is unfortunate because colleges are often more eager to accept applications from high school students with work experience. Work experience is exactly the way that a young person can learn to manage a schedule, be on time, complete a task list, budget personal money, and generally be accountable for one’s actions. Having employment during high school has long been a predictor of success in college as well as success in attaining employment later in life. Work experience also helps students to start thinking about work they might like to have, or not have, in their adult lives and to begin to think about the concept of a career path.

But, what if you are reading this blog and your child is already at the end of their high school experience? Certainly, some of the alternatives mentioned by Stixrud and Johnson (e.g., employment, gap year) are important options to consider for building maturity. Another transition plan not mentioned, but often essential for students who struggle with executive dysfunction, social, or emotional difficulties, is to continue living at home and start with community college. This type of slower transition reduces the number of skills that the student has to independently learn to manage at the outset. If your child and you really want to give four-year college a try, the authors note that it is important to strike a balance between supporting student autonomy and extending some parental oversight to college. For example, parents who are contributing to college tuition might require that students give them access to on-line grades and/or that students sign a grade release. I often suggest that parents require that students are engaged in at least one or two student organizations or activities on campus to enable social and emotional success. Also, parents can schedule regular phone times, lunches, or dinners in order to more closely monitor the transition. While you don’t want to hover, it is likely that your child would jump at the chance for a free off-campus dinner once a month, especially if they can bring a few friends.

Finally, there is enormous value in talking about the reality that students who finish high school can “try” college and that it may not be completely successful the first time around or they may not like it at all. Students may figure out that they have picked the wrong school, don’t actually like lecture learning, would rather live at home, or don’t want to participate in a general studies program because they don’t want to take another math class, ever.  We need to be clear that the requisites for getting into college are not the same as those for getting out. College failure is a reality for a high percentage of students and good transition planning requires that teens and young adults make informed decisions, understand the risks, and have the skills for coping with the realities. As part of transition planning, we need to be emotionally and financially planning for much more than a four-year college experience and we need to be thoughtful about the timing of college participation and how the experience fits or doesn’t fit, into a longer and larger plan for our children. Thank you to Dr. Stixrud, Mr. Johnson, and the editors at The New York Times for shining a light on something we need to talk more about!

Articles:

Stixrud, W., and Johnson, N. (November 19, 2018). When a College Student Comes Home to Stay. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/19/well/family/when-a-college-student-comes-home-to-stay.html?nytapp=true.

Selingo, J. (November 25, 2015). Why more teenagers and college students need to work while in school. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2015/11/25/why-more-teenagers-and-college-students-need-to-work-while-in-school/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.db2aeb63c5bd.

Gowins, H. (May 25, 2018). Fewer high schoolers are working. This is not good. Crain’s Chicago Business. Retrieved from https://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20180525/ISSUE07/180529922/fewer-teens-working-in-high-school-a-worrisome-trend.

 

About the Author:

Challen

Kelley Challen, EdM, CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training, and program development services. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles.  She also 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. 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. 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.

 

To book a consultation or evaluation with one of NESCA’s expert transition specialists, please complete NESCA’s online intake form today.

 

 

 

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

 

Transition Planning: Let’s Talk about Graduation Dates for Students on IEPs

By | NESCA Notes 2018

 

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

On March 26, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) sent out an important administrative advisory regarding transition services and graduating with a high school diploma (Administrative Advisory SPED 2018-2: Secondary Transition Services and Graduation with a High School Diploma). This much-needed advisory clarifies when and how students with IEP’s should be issued a high school diploma and also touches on best practices for planning both student graduation and appropriate secondary transition services.

As a transition specialist who is often contracted by schools and families, it is not uncommon to be asked to help determine whether a student is ready to graduate. The challenge in answering this particular question is that there is no universal set of skills or level of knowledge that deems a student on an IEP “ready” to graduate. In fact, students on IEP’s, just as with mainstream students, graduate all the time without being ready for many adult activities (e.g. apartment hunting, changing jobs, applying for a bank loan, comparing health insurance plans).

The truth is, there are a number of skills that we need for “adulting,” but do not need in order to graduate with a high school diploma. As this important advisory points out, the special education process is not simply about completing local graduation requirements. It is also about transition planning and services that uniquely equip a student for reaching their goals after leaving public education. Therefore, we need to rethink the question, “Is my child/student ready to graduate?” And instead, the critical question to ask when a student approaches the end of 12th grade is, “Has the child/student received a free and appropriate public education (FAPE)?”

As I discussed in a previous blog (Transition Planning: The Missing Link Between Special Education and Successful Adulthood), FAPE as guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) includes transition planning and services. Under IDEA 2004, a federal law, transition planning must start by the time a student turns 16. Here in Massachusetts, we have even stronger regulations, and secondary transition services may begin “no later than the age of 14.” This means that the IEP has to be carefully constructed to help students build skills “in a stepwise and cumulative manner” toward completing their high school program while also making progress toward their desired post-secondary learning, working, and independent living activities including community engagement.

The foundation for this process is an individualized and coordinated transition assessment process that carefully evaluates a student’s needs, strengths, preferences, and interests beginning before the age of 14. Just as with all IEP goals and services, assessment informs the team’s discussion and decision-making; it helps the team to know how to plan for the long-term, prioritize for the coming school year, and to track progress.

In each annual meeting for a transition-aged student, the IEP team needs to explicitly discuss whether the student is progressing towards their measurable postsecondary goals and whether the educational program and related transition services are calibrated in such a way that the student will continue to make progress. Anticipated graduation date (listed on the top of the Transition Planning Form and recorded in the Additional Information section of the IEP) is a critical part of this discussion each year. When a student, parent, teacher, or other team member is uncertain about a student’s ability to complete local requirements and receive appropriate transition services “on time,” this needs to be discussed directly.

If there is confusion or disagreement about the graduation date, additional assessment may be needed to clarify the student’s needs. However, if the team starts the transition planning process when a student is 14, and carefully plans out the instruction, community experiences, and employment related activities necessary for progressing toward the student’s post-high school goals, and closely tracks the student’s progress, then students, parents and educators will rarely need to ask whether the student is “ready to graduate.” Instead, they will know if the student has received FAPE because the student’s IEP has included well-calculated transition services and there will be clear measures of the student’s progress with annual goals and transition-related services indicating whether this particular student requires support beyond the traditional 12 years of education.

I am grateful for the recent administrative advisory from DESE and have found each of their advisories on the topic of transition to be tremendously helpful in supporting a shared understanding of the transition planning process among families, schools, and the professionals supporting them. At NESCA, we have seen great progress in the delivery of individualized transition services across the state of Massachusetts since the Massachusetts Legislature approved the amendment to the Massachusetts special education statute in 2008 to require transition planning services “beginning age 14 or sooner” and DESE put out Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2009-1: Transition Planning to Begin at Age 14. With the recent advisory, I am certain that we will continue to see more teams embrace the transition planning process early. Students, families, and districts will experience less confusion and distress as a student approaches the end of 12th grade, because there will be a clear plan for exiting or continuing special education based on effective transition planning and a collaborative and communicative team process.

Transition Resources and Advisories from MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education 
· MA DESE Secondary Transition Page – http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/secondary-transition/default.html
· Administrative Advisory SPED 2018-2:Secondary Transition Services and Graduation with a High School Diploma – http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/advisories/2018-2.html
· Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2017-1: Characteristics of High Quality Secondary Transition Services – http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/advisories/2017-1ta.pdf
· Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2016-2: Promoting Student Self-Determination to Improve Student Outcomes – http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/advisories/2016-2ta.pdf
· Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2014-4: Transition Assessment in the Secondary Transition Planning Process – http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/advisories/2014-4ta.html
· Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2013-1: Postsecondary Goals and Annual IEP Goals in the Transition Planning Process – http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/advisories/13_1ta.html
· Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2009-1: Transition Planning to Begin at Age 14 – http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/advisories/09_1ta.html

While this blog includes some specific content that applies only to families of students in IEPs in Massachusetts, the requirement of transition services for students on IEPs is a federal mandate. For families living in New Hampshire, guidance from the New Hampshire Department of Education can be found athttps://www.education.nh.gov/instruction/special_ed/sec_trans.htmThe NH DOE has additionally helped develop a website with resources for increasing the college and career readiness of NH Students that can be found ahttps://nextsteps-nh.org.

 

If you are interested in working with a transition specialist at NESCA for consultation, planning, or evaluation, please complete our online intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

 

About the Author:

Kelley Challen, EdM, CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning,  consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services.  She 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 also 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. 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. 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.

 

 

 

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

 

Pre-Employment Transition Services – What Are They and Who Is Eligible?

By | NESCA Notes 2018
What are MRC Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS)?
How Could They Help Your Child on an IEP?

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

On July 22, 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) was signed into national law. The goal of the act is to help job seekers, including vulnerable populations such as individuals with disabilities, to access education, training, and support services enabling them to be successful in finding and sustaining employment.

In response to this act, Massachusetts developed a comprehensive workforce development plan involving a number of programs and partners including The Vocational Rehabilitation Program which spans across Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) and Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB). One important aspect of this plan is that MRC must spend at least 15% of its Title I budget on pre-employment transition services (Pre-ETS) for students ages 16 to 22 with disabilities.
Whereas students historically did not begin involvement with MRC Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services until the age of 18 or until exiting high school, many students on IEPs are now eligible for support at the age of 16 while enrolled in high school. Given that paid employment in high school is a predictor of both college success and adult employment, the opportunity to engage with MRC VR services in high school is an exciting opportunity!
Each Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Office has contracted with local providers in order to offer services benefiting students in the following areas: Job Exploration Counseling; Workplace Readiness Training, Work-Based Learning Experiences; Counseling on Enrollment in Transition or Postsecondary Educational Programs; and Self-Advocacy/Mentoring Instruction. Often these services include activities like interest assessment, worksite tours, “soft skills” training, travel training, and paid internships.
Also, every public high school has an MRC liaison who often has office hours within the school. These liaisons are able to offer many direct services within the school setting including providing group education and attending IEP meetings when appropriate.
Transition services as part of an IEP process are designed to support students developing skills and making progress towards their postsecondary employment goals. However, educators may not be as familiar with employment trends and entry-level work skills as vocational rehabilitation specialists. The opportunity for a student to work with MRC VR counselor in conjunction with their IEP team creates a wonderful opportunity to make progress toward high school completion requirements while simultaneously preparing to become an employable adult.
To learn more about MRC and Pre-Employment Transition Services, please visit the following links:
Students with visual impairments may additionally be interested in Pre-ETS services through Mass Commission for the Blind (MCB) VR services:
About the Author:
Kelley Challen, EdM, CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. She 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 also 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. While Ms. Challen has special expertise 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. 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.

Transition Planning: The Missing Link Between Special Education and Successful Adulthood

By | NESCA Notes 2018
What is Transition Planning and Why Does it Matter?

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

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) is the law that guarantees students with disabilities an equal opportunity for a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). For professionals and parents supporting youth with special needs, and for the children we love, this is a powerful law. IDEA 2004 guarantees that no matter what a young person’s struggles, they have the right to learn and grow and be provided with the specialized instruction necessary for their individual progress.

While many people are aware that IDEA 2004 guarantees the right to special education for academic learning, the concept of “transition services” is still catching on. In addition to requiring that public schools educate our students, IDEA 2004 mandates that special education services are designed to meet a student’s unique needs and to prepare them for further education, employment and independent living. According to this influential federal law, it is not enough that students be included in learning core academics (reading, writing, math, science, history). Rather, we are mandated to ensure that students with disabilities make progress toward being able to manage learning, working, and daily living activities in their postsecondary adult lives.

In December, I was excited to see the Huffington Post (see link below) publish an article emphasizing the importance of transition services and the challenges for students both during and after public education if this part of special education is ‘forgotten.’ The article was written by Sarah Butrymowicz and Jackie Mader and published in partnership with The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focusing on inequality and innovation in education. The authors profiled two young people who participated in public special education: Kate and Peter.

Kate’s educational program did not include meaningful transition services (e.g., career planning, homework activities) and was primarily driven by parent goals rather than person-centered activities. The initial outcome for Kate after special education was unemployment; after two years, her parents secured work for her using their own personal networks but not in an area of true interest or strength. Kate’s father summarized, “It was my absolute goal to have her not fall off the map. It’s unfortunate, she kind of has.”

Peter, however, was an active participant in his Individualized Education Program (IEP) process. While career testing indicated possible aptitude in food services, Peter wanted to be a Supreme Court justice and his team supported his enrollment in community college courses utilizing his school’s dual-enrollment program. With this experiential learning activity, Peter realized he was not interested in college and changed his goal, enrolling instead in vocational technical classes related to office administration. When Peter finished high school, he immediately went to work in an office and continued to full time employment as an administrative assistant at a nonprofit organization.

For so many students with disabilities, experiential learning is a critical component of their development of career, classroom, community living, and home living skills. This is best achieved when students have a collaborative IEP team and good transition services. Butrymowicz and Mader interviewed 100 parents, students, advocates and experts across the country and found that the best transition planning requires several things:

  1. An accurate and thoughtful assessment of a student’s abilities and interests
  2. Clear, measurable goals related to his or her postsecondary aspirations
  3. Appropriate support and services to help them achieve their goals

NESCA has provided person-centered transition services since 2009 and this article beautifully captured what we see every day in our work. What I love about being a transition specialist is helping young people to find their voices, to figure out what they love most, and to create small successes that can ultimately build into a meaningful postsecondary adult life. While many parents and educators I work with can find team meetings challenging or stressful, this is often my favorite part of the job — working collaboratively with the student, parents, educators, and community members to think creatively and build a unique strength-based transition plan.


Article:

Butrymowicz, S., and Mader, J. (2017). This ‘Forgotten’ Part of Special Education Could Lead To Better Outcomes For Students: Many former special education students struggle to find good-paying jobs, and high schools are partly to blame. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/special-education-transition_us_5a341a65e4b0ff955ad2b810 

About the Author:
 
Kelley Challen, EdM, CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. She 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 also 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. While Ms. Challen has special expertise 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. 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.