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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Preparing our Kids to Reenter the Community

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

For many children, new experiences are frightening and anxiety-provoking. Children thrive on routine and predictability; when these get interrupted, it can be hard for them to understand what is happening. As we all know, the last few months have been fraught with unpredictability and change. Now, we are starting to go back to work, eat at restaurants and visit retail stores. As adults, we might have mixed feelings about this – relief to get out of the house but also fear about the ongoing pandemic. For our children, we are expecting them to reenter their communities with a new set of “rules” after months of being in the safety of their homes. This is going to be a difficult process, especially for children with special needs.

So how do we prepare children for all of the new experiences they are about to face?

One method that has been found to be effective is the use of Social Stories™. Social Stories were first developed in 1990 by Carol Gray, a special education teacher. In essence, Social Stories are used to explain situations and experiences to children at a developmentally appropriate level using pictures and simple text. In order to create materials that are considered a true Social Story, there are a set of criteria that must be used. More information can be found here: https://carolgraysocialstories.com/social-stories/what-is-it/.

While special educators or therapists are expected to use this high standard in their work, it is also relatively easy for parents to create modified versions of these stories to use at home. I was inspired by one of my clients recently who made a story for her son with Down syndrome to prepare him for the neuropsychological evaluation. During her parent intake, she took pictures of me and the office setting. At home, she created a short book that started with a picture of her son, a picture of their car, a picture of my office, a picture of me and so on. On each page, she wrote a simple sentence:

  • First we will get in the car
  • We will drive to Dr. Gibbons’ office
  • We will play some games with Dr. Gibbons
  • We will go pick a prize at Target
  • We will drive home

Throughout the evaluation, she referred to the book whenever her son became frustrated by the tests or needed a visual reminder of the day’s schedule. Something that probably only took a few minutes to create played an important role in helping her son feel comfortable and be able to complete the evaluation.

The options for creating similar types of stories are endless, giving parents a way to prepare their children for a scary experience.

Some examples of stories to create during the ongoing pandemic:

  • Wearing a mask when out of the house
  • Proper hand washing
  • Socially distant greetings (bubble hugs, elbow bumps, etc.)

Some examples of more general stories include:

  • Doctor’s visits
  • Going to the dentist
  • Getting a haircut
  • Riding in the car
  • First day of school

You can use stock photos from the internet or pictures of your child and the actual people/objects they will encounter. If you have a child who reads, you can include more text; if your child does not read, focus on pictures only. Read the story with the child several times in the days leading up to the event. For ongoing expectations (e.g., wearing a mask) – you can review the story as often as needed. Keep it short and simple. And have fun with it!

 

About the Author: 

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

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

 

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

 

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

Acupuncture for the Treatment of Specific Conditions

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By: Meghan Meade, L.Ac, MAOM, MS PREP, CYT

Licensed Acupuncturist, NESCA

A Primer on Acupuncture

While the insertion of needles into the skin to provoke a healing response is a hallmark characteristic of acupuncture, the practice actually involves the potential use of a number of other tools and techniques, including cupping, magnets and other non-insertive tools, and moxibustion, the topical application of a heated herbal substance designed to improve circulation and reduce inflammation.

Chinese medicine approaches healing by seeking to restore balance in the body; in so doing, it evaluates the patient as a complex and ever-changing ecosystem, a composite of multiple interrelated and mutually interdependent systems. Though a patient may be seeking relief from anxiety, for example, acupuncture addresses the issue within the context of a wider landscape, as there are often other symptoms and imbalances accompanying a primary imbalance. To that end, treatments will, of course, take into account a patient’s reported symptoms, but they are rarely the main driver of an acupuncturist’s treatment decisions. Acupuncturists additionally rely on observation of patients’ mannerisms, the sound and qualities of their voices, how they carry themselves and perhaps most importantly – the use of palpation techniques to elicit feedback from the body that guide treatment decisions. What an acupuncturist feels in a patient’s pulse or palpates on a patient’s abdomen or acupuncture channels is immensely influential to the diagnostic and treatment processes.

Implicit in this process is the notion that despite the fact that a patient may be seeking relief from a particular condition, that patient is not the same person he is today as he was yesterday, nor the same as he will be tomorrow. The treatment aims to address the nuances of a patient’s presentation within the present moment, guided by the knowledge of the patient’s health history and health objectives for the future.

Put into a biological context, we humans are continually and necessarily affected by our innate biochemistry as well as by our surroundings – both our mental-emotional and physical environments. Chinese medicine does not reduce a condition down to its primary symptoms, but rather considers all symptoms that are overtly or seemingly less-directly related. If the immune system is affected by a virus, for example, because of its cross-talk with the nervous and endocrine systems, all systems will be influenced in some way, shape or form. Though the rest of this article will discuss the ways in which acupuncture can impact specific conditions that commonly affect the pediatric population, it is predicated on this concept of mutual inter-relatedness and interdependence of the body’s systems.

Acupuncture’s Impact on Mental and Emotional Conditions

The incidence of anxiety, depression and behavior disorders has increased markedly in recent years, with data from the CDC indicating that anxiety and depression incidence among children aged 6-17 has grown from 5.4% in 2003 to 8.4% in 2011-2012. Currently, incidence rates among children aged 3-17 are 7.4% for behavior problems; 7.1% for anxiety; and 3.2% for depression. These afflictions do not occur in isolation and often accompany each other, as 73.8% of children aged 3-17 with diagnosed depression also have anxiety and 47.2% also have behavior problems.

Though we should keep in mind that enhanced awareness of these conditions among children as well as improved assessment and detection in recent years may paint a more dire picture of afflictions that have never in actuality been absent from the pediatric population, the data do represent a critical need to help children in their formative and impressionable years feel more at ease in their bodies as they navigate growth and development.

A dysregulation of the stress response is characteristic of chronic depression, anxiety and behavior disorders. The HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis is responsible in part for regulating the body’s response to stress, whether that stress be mental, emotional or physical. When stress becomes chronic, the ability of the HPA axis to allow for functional communication between the brain and body to keep a person feeling safe and calm becomes impaired, resulting in altered activity of stress hormones, such as cortisol, and neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Cortisol is of particular interest in this context, as it not only plays a significant role in the stress response but also modulates immune system activity. When cortisol is elevated due to chronic stress, the body ultimately becomes resistant to it, and the immune system is not kept in check, resulting in a proliferation of inflammation. Acupuncture has demonstrated the capacity to modulate HPA axis function to alleviate stress-related symptoms by restoring the body’s responsiveness to cortisol so that its roles in nervous and immune system function can be maintained appropriately. Dysregulated HPA axis function has been implicated in a number of allergic conditions, such as asthma and dermatitis; somatic conditions, such as Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; psychiatric conditions such as PTSD and depression; and numerous immune and autoimmune diseases, underscoring the importance of maintaining proper function of the HPA axis.

Another component of the body’s response to stress involves the autonomic nervous system, comprised of two branches – the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. Where the sympathetic branch of the nervous system is responsible for the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response that alerts us to and helps us remove ourselves from danger, the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system represents the ‘rest and digest’ state, which we’re biologically designed to occupy the majority of the time. Dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system is thought to underlie a number of prevalent mental, developmental and behavioral disorders, such as depression and anxiety, ADHD, and autism. Acupuncture has been shown to activate and modulate the function of brain regions involved with the autonomic nervous system through a number of mechanisms, including increasing concentrations of endogenous opioids, regulating the function of amino acids, such as GABA and glutamate, and enhancing the activity of neurotrophins, such as nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

While depression and anxiety are highly heterogeneous in their presentations, and are driven by numerous mechanisms in the central and peripheral nervous systems, increases in inflammation are thought to play a correlational – if not at least partly causative – role in their development. Depression and anxiety have been associated with elevated levels of inflammatory markers, such as C-reactive protein (CRP), Interleukin 6 (IL-6) and Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), all of which have been shown to be reduced through acupuncture.

Acupuncture and ADHD

ADHD, as defined by the DSM-IV, has a prevalence of 5.9% – 7.1% among children. Characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, ADHD is commonly treated pharmacologically with stimulant medications, such as methylphenidate. While little is known about the long term effects of stimulant medication in this population, and short-to intermediate-term effects include anxiety, depression, weight loss and insomnia, 12% – 64% of parents of children with ADHD have sought out complementary and alternative (CAM) therapies, including acupuncture. In a study of children aged 7-18 diagnosed with ADHD, twice weekly acupuncture treatments for six weeks demonstrated improved attention and memory function among children not taking medication. Another study explored the potential for acupuncture to improve school performance among children aged 7-16; following a series of 10 acupuncture sessions over the course of eight weeks, study subjects showed significant improvements across all three school subjects: math, social studies and Turkish language. Aside from the capacity of acupuncture to improve the stress response through modulation of the HPA axis and autonomic nervous system, acupuncture’s effects on attention and memory and on learning and perception are thought to be mediated in part by its regulation of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, respectively.

Acupuncture and Autism

With prevalence reports ranging from as low as 1 in 500 to as high as 1 in 50, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social communication and interaction, language and behavior. Standard treatment of ASD includes pharmacological therapy and behavioral/educational therapy, though reports from a wide sampling of children with ASD indicate that approximately 88% had utilized CAM therapies to address symptoms such as hyperactivity, inattention, poor sleep and digestive issues. In a study of boys with autism, a treatment regimen of five daily acupuncture sessions over the course of eight weeks demonstrated improvements in speech, self-care and cognition. Significant increases in glucose uptake were shown within the intervention group (vs. control), with improved glucose metabolism in areas of the brain involved in visual, auditory and attentional functioning being thought to underlie the improvements seen in language, attention and cognition. An analysis of 13 studies on acupuncture for autism indicated that the most effective treatment regimen entailed 12 sessions within four weeks, each using a minimum of four acupuncture points, and went on to associate individual acupuncture points with specific effects, from improved language comprehension to enhanced self-care abilities. A meta-analysis of 27 randomized controlled trials found that acupuncture in combination with behavioral and educational interventions (BEI) was more effective than BEI in improving symptoms as determined by a number of evaluation scales (CARS, ABC1, ATEC), suggesting the potential for acupuncture to yield an additive positive effect when utilized with standard of care therapy.

Ultimately, though research supports the use of acupuncture for specific conditions among children and adolescents, it is important to remember that the approach of an acupuncturist is generally not solely protocol-driven as it would be in a research setting. While research findings can and certainly do inform treatment decisions, acupuncturists also rely to a great extent on what is observed and felt during the treatment – they listen to patients’ reported symptoms and experiences, observe how patients speak and carry themselves, palpate acupuncture channels and reflex areas, and feel the pulse to determine imbalances in the body. In this way, Western and Eastern science and medicine are invited to work together to treat imbalances in an informed, patient-centric, holistic way.

References

Almaali, H. M. M. A., Gelewkhan, A., & Mahdi, Z. A. A. (2017, November 11). Analysis of Evidence-Based Autism Symptoms Enhancement by Acupuncture. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2005290117301395.

Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health. (2019, April 19). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html.

Duivis, H. E., Vogelzangs, N., Kupper, N., Jonge, P. de, & Penninx, B. W. J. H. (2013, February 8). Differential association of somatic and cognitive symptoms of depression and anxiety with inflammation: Findings from the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety (NESDA). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306453013000073.

Hong, S.-S., & Cho, S.-H. (2015, November 22). Treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder with acupuncture: A randomized controlled trial. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1876382015300585.

Lee, B., Kim, S.-N., Park, H.-J., & Lee, H. (2014, April 1). Research advances in treatment of neurological and psychological diseases by acupuncture at the Acupuncture Meridian Science Research Center. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213422014000237.

Lee, B., Lee, J., Cheon, J.-H., Sung, H.-K., Cho, S.-H., & Chang, G. T. (2018, January 11). The Efficacy and Safety of Acupuncture for the Treatment of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29552077.

Li, Q.-Q., Shi, G.-X., Xu, Q., Wang, J., Liu, C.-Z., & Wang, L.-P. (2013). Acupuncture effect and central autonomic regulation. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3677642/.

Musser, E. D., Backs, R. W., Schmitt, C. F., Ablow, J. C., Measelle, J. R., & Nigg, J. T. (2011, August). Emotion regulation via the autonomic nervous system in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3112468/.

Wong, V. C.-N., Sun, J.-G., & Yeung, D. W.-C. (2014, December 19). Randomized control trial of using tongue acupuncture in autism spectrum disorder. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095754814000064.

 

About the Author

Meghan Meade is a licensed acupuncturist practicing part-time at NESCA.

Having suffered from anxiety, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances and exercise-induced repetitive stress injuries throughout her adolescence and twenties, Meghan first sought out acupuncture as a last ditch effort to salvage some semblance of health and sanity during a particularly stressful period in her life. It worked. Remarkably well. So palpable was the influence of acupuncture on her well being that she was compelled to leave a career in advertising to study Chinese medicine so that she could help others benefit from its effects.

Meghan earned her masters degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from the New England School of Acupuncture at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) and a masters degree in Pain Research, Education and Policy from Tufts University Medical School. She is licensed by the Massachusetts Board of Medicine and is a Diplomate of Oriental Medicine, certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).

In her clinical practice, Meghan integrates both Eastern and Western perspectives to provide treatments unique to each patient’s needs and endeavors to empower patients to move forward on their paths to not just feeling good, but feeling like their true selves. In addition to her work as a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, Meghan serves as adjunct faculty at MCPHS and is a certified yoga teacher.

 

To learn even more about Meghan and acupuncture, visit her alternate web site or read her blog: https://meghanmeadeacu.com/Meghan is practicing at NESCA during the following hours. Appointments at NESCA can be booked by reaching out to me directly at meghan@meghanmeadeacu.com.

Monday: 10am – 6pm

Thursday: 9am – 7pm

 

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

Introduction to Acupuncture with Licensed Acupuncturist Meghan Meade

By | NESCA Notes 2019

 

By: Meghan Meade, L.Ac, MAOM, MS PREP, CYT

Licensed Acupuncturist, NESCA

Acupuncture is one of eight branches of Chinese Medicine that dates back over 3,000 years and involves the insertion of hair-thin needles into the body to provoke a healing response.

The body registers needling as a microinjury to which it responds by summoning the immune, nervous and endocrine systems to increase circulation, produce endorphins and other pain-relieving substances and flips the switch on the stress response.1,2,3 The treatment itself effectively assesses the internal imbalance and sends a signal to the body to address it; for this reason, acupuncture’s effects are often described as regulating – reducing elevations in inflammatory markers, enhancing the production and function of essential neurotransmitters, and so on. 1,2,3

Because acupuncture is so regulating to the body’s internal environment, the effects experienced by the patient can be both targeted and systemic2 – while pain relief could be achieved for a specific injury such as a sprained ankle, a patient might also noticed improved sleep or reduced anxiety, for example.

As a practitioner of Japanese style acupuncture, a style that is particularly reliant on using the body’s feedback to guide treatment decisions (though not to the exclusion of a patient’s verbal feedback about their health concerns and experiences), I incorporate pulse diagnosis and palpation into my overall diagnosis and treatments. Because an individual is considered to be the ever-changing reflection of their environment and experiences – physical, mental and emotional – my treatments for a given patient and a given condition will never look the same; each day the body is slightly different than the day prior, and treatments are designed with this principle in mind.

Another important theme within Chinese Medicine is that of duality; acupuncturists consider mutually opposing and complementary elements, such as heat and cold, internal and external, male and female, and yin and yang to be crucial in both assessment and treatment. Whereas yang represents heat, energy, masculinity, day time and light, yin, by contrast, represents coolness, substance, femininity, night time and darkness. When we are born, we are at our peak state of yang, which progressively gives way to yin throughout the lifetime. Because children are by nature more yang, their energy is ample and at the surface; accordingly, treating children and adolescents with acupuncture requires less stimulation to yield a desired response. Often needling is not involved, and non-insertive tools and techniques are preferred for their gentle, effective and often expedient results. Pediatric treatments may involve the use of magnets placed on acupuncture points, as well as brushing and tapping techniques using stainless steel, copper and/or silver tools. Because acupuncture points exist along 14 channels that run up and down the body, an acupuncturist can effect change both in a given channel/organ system and systemically by stimulating a channel through brushing and tapping techniques. While the above statement is true that inserting needles into the skin triggers an extensive sequence of immune, nervous and endocrine system events, so, too, does the more superficial work that acupuncturists perform for their pediatric patients.

The goal of acupuncture is always to harmonize, reducing what is in excess and restoring what is deficient. On a biomedical level, this typically entails a shift in the autonomic nervous system from a sympathetic dominant state – fight or flight mode – to a parasympathetic state – the calmer and more productive – though elusive – ‘rest and digest’ mode.2,3 Similarly, acupuncture regulates the function of hormones, neurotransmitters and immune mediators to achieve this balance. While many feel a positive response from a single treatment, acupuncture is generally not a ‘one and done’ therapy; instead, the response to acupuncture becomes stronger and more lasting over the course of several treatments, as a cumulative signal is often required for the body to carry out the work of regulating imbalances. Often after an initial series of treatments, a patient can enter a maintenance mode of treatment, spacing treatments out in increasingly longer windows and eventually receiving treatment on a maintenance or as-needed basis.

I hope this introductory conversation provides some insight as to how acupuncture works. I will be back with a follow-up post to shed some light on the effect of acupuncture on specific conditions commonly seen among NESCA’s client base.

  1. Cheng, Kwokming James. “Neurobiological Mechanisms of Acupuncture for Some Common Illnesses: A Clinician’s Perspective.” Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies 7.3 (2014): 105-14. Web.
  2. Carlsson, C. “Acupuncture Mechanisms for Clinically Relevant Long-term Effects – Reconsideration and a Hypothesis.” Acupuncture in Medicine 20.2-3 (2002): 82-99. Web.
  3. Cheng, K. J. “Neuroanatomical Characteristics of Acupuncture Points: Relationship between Their Anatomical Locations and Traditional Clinical Indications.” Acupuncture in Medicine 29.4 (2011): 289-94. Web.

 

About the Author: 

Meghan Meade is a licensed acupuncturist practicing part-time at NESCA.

Having suffered from anxiety, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances and exercise-induced repetitive stress injuries throughout her adolescence and twenties, Meghan first sought out acupuncture as a last ditch effort to salvage some semblance of health and sanity during a particularly stressful period in her life. It worked. Remarkably well. So palpable was the influence of acupuncture on her well being that she was compelled to leave a career in advertising to study Chinese medicine so that she could help others benefit from its effects.

Meghan earned her masters degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from the New England School of Acupuncture at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) and a masters degree in Pain Research, Education and Policy from Tufts University Medical School. She is licensed by the Massachusetts Board of Medicine and is a Diplomate of Oriental Medicine, certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).

In her clinical practice, Meghan integrates both Eastern and Western perspectives to provide treatments unique to each patient’s needs and endeavors to empower patients to move forward on their paths to not just feeling good, but feeling like their true selves. In addition to her work as a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, Meghan serves as adjunct faculty at MCPHS and is a certified yoga teacher.

 

To learn even more about Meghan and acupuncture, visit her alternate web site or read her blog: https://meghanmeadeacu.com/Meghan is practicing at NESCA during the following hours. Appointments at NESCA can be booked by reaching out to me directly at meghan@meghanmeadeacu.com.

Monday: 10am – 6pm

Thursday: 9am – 7pm

 

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

What Does Autism Look Like? Exploring the Differences among Girls and Boys

By | NESCA Notes 2019

 

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

In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that approximately 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Boys are still four times more likely be diagnosed with ASD; however, research indicates that the diagnosis is often missed in girls, especially those who have average intelligence and “milder” forms of ASD. To understand why ASD is more often missed in girls, let’s explore the differences between boys and girls with ASD. This discussion will focus on children with average to above average intelligence (about 50% of all children diagnosed with ASD).

 

Boys Girls
Poor impulse control, more acting out Likely to be quiet and withdrawn
Disruptive behaviors in the classroom setting Tend to be reserved and cooperative at school
Frequent repetitive motor behaviors that are directly observable Lower frequency of these motor behaviors
Lack of interest in imaginary play Very much engaged in imaginary play
Restricted interests may seem unusual – e.g., train schedules, maps, windmills Restricted interests may seem “age appropriate” – e.g., horses, unicorns, ballet
Trouble making friends Might have a few friends
Likely to exhibit angry outbursts when frustrated/anxious Likely to engage in self-harm or other behaviors that are not observed by others when frustrated/anxious
Lack of awareness of being different or not fitting in More motivated to fit in and “hide” social difficulties – might try to imitate the behavior of a peer that is perceived as popular

 

Due to these differences, the diagnosis of ASD is often missed in young girls. Adults might agree that a girl is “odd” or “quirky,” but dismiss these concerns because she has good eye contact, has some friends, and does not engage in hand flapping or other unusual behaviors. Unfortunately, other girls might be misdiagnosed, which could lead to ineffective or inappropriate treatment interventions. Most commonly, they might be misdiagnosed with ADHD or Anxiety Disorder.

In many cases, girls with ASD have increasing difficulties with social interactions as they get older and demands get higher. A young girl with ASD might be able to “get by” in social interactions but by the time she reaches adolescence, she is not able to navigate the intricacies of the social milieu. This can lead to social isolation and high risk of being bullied or rejected by peers.

Unfortunately, a missed diagnosis of ASD for a young girl can have long-reaching ramifications. She might experience depression, anxiety and/or low self-esteem, wondering why she doesn’t “fit in” and “feels different” from other girls. She might start to struggle in school or disconnect from activities that she used to enjoy. Moreover, missing the diagnosis in childhood means that she did not receive services to support her social and peer interaction skills during her formative years.

As always, when parents or other caregivers have concerns about a child’s development, it is important to seek an evaluation from a professional. And if the findings do not feel quite right, parents should never feel uncomfortable about seeking a second opinion.

 

About the Author: 

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

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

 

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

 

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

Interview with Erin Gibbons, NESCA Pediatric Neuropsychologist

By | NESCA Notes 2018

 

By:
Ashlee Cooper
Marketing and Outreach Coordinator, NESCA

 

What is neuropsychology? How did you get interested in this field?

My first introduction to neuropsychology was as a college student when I took coursework in neuroscience and cognition and found it to be fascinating. However, when I started graduate school, I was initially intimidated by neuropsychology courses as I feared they would be too “medical” or focused on research. I specialized in pediatric psychology, but always assumed I would become a therapist. It was not until I took an internship with a pediatric neuropsychologist that I really understood the field and fell in love with this work.

Although the field of neuropsychology is extensive, what we do at NESCA is focus on its practical applications. An evaluation is comprised of a set of tests that seek to assess students’ skills in a variety of areas such as intelligence, memory, organization, learning/academics, and social skills. The data being generated by those tests are then considered within the context of the student’s developmental history and current challenges. Ultimately, the goal is to provide parents with a complete picture of their child’s learning profile – helping to understand where their child might excel and where he or she might struggle. Moreover, recommendations will be provided in an effort to help each student meet his or her innate potential and to experience success.

What do you like about your job?

I love the opportunity to work with many different children and families from across the state and, in some cases, from other countries. Families place a lot of trust in me by sharing very difficult stories about their children’s struggles and I feel privileged to be a member of their team. For me, the most impactful part of the evaluation is often the parent feedback session when I explain the results of the testing and lay out my recommendations. Through this process, I hope to provide parents with an understanding of their child’s learning profile in a way that helps them establish a road map for the next several years. 

Do you have a specialty? What do you specialize in?

At NESCA, we see a wide variety of students presenting with all types of issues. My caseload is always varied and never boring! That said, I tend to see younger clients and have extensive training in evaluating children under 5 years of age. I also enjoy working with students who have developmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorders or intellectual impairments. I often evaluate students who are considered “difficult to test; for example, those who are nonverbal, have vision impairments, or significant motor delays. 

What brought you to NESCA?

After completing my doctorate, I spent two years working in a hospital setting. Although I learned an extraordinary amount during my time there, I had very little opportunity to interact with parents as they were typically followed by their child’s physician. I really wanted to work in a place where I could see an evaluation through from start to finish, and working at NESCA allows me to do this. I also appreciate the opportunity to observe students in settings outside of the office and work closely with teachers and other providers. Through the entire process, I get to know each student very well, and I am also able to establish a meaningful relationship with their parents.

What do you enjoy about working at NESCA?

NESCA has a wonderful work culture that is extremely collaborative, supportive, and enriching. Everyone truly enjoys each other’s company and we often have social gatherings to celebrate milestones such as weddings, graduations, and births. Aside from that, our director Dr. Ann Helmus is committed to having all clinicians stay up to date on current research and treatment in the field of neuropsychology. Every other week, we have outside professionals provide staff training, allowing us to learn about local resources, which we can then share with our clients. We also frequently share new information with one another as we attend conferences or read new articles.

What do you think sets NESCA apart? Why should a parent bring their child here when there are so many other neuropsychologists in Massachusetts and New Hampshire?

Every clinician at NESCA is extraordinarily dedicated to providing the best care to their clients. We have case conferences every week during which clinicians discuss challenging cases and seek input from our colleagues. With each new presentation, it is clear that the clinician has genuine compassion for the child and family and is striving to help in every way possible.

Further, our evaluations are remarkably in depth, and we often ask students to return for additional appointments if we feel that we need more information to help round out our understanding of a particular case. Every clinician conducts school or community observations on a regular basis as well; these are often essential in order to see how a student is functioning on a daily basis since test scores do not always tell the “whole story.” Along with these very detailed evaluations, the reports that are provided by NESCA clinicians are outstanding. I have the opportunity to read many, many neuropsychological reports, and I can honestly say that I believe NESCA reports are the best. They describe the student as a whole, including both strengths and weaknesses. Recommendations are consistently specific, detailed, and thoughtful. I often hear parents say that after reading the report, they have a better understanding of their own child.

What advice do you have for parents who are not sure if a neuropsychological evaluation is needed for their child?

The best first step is to have a consult with one of our clinicians. These one-hour appointments give parents the opportunity to describe their concerns and seek advice on next steps. While a neuropsychological evaluation might be necessary in order to answer their specific questions and address their concerns, this is not always the case. Having the chance to talk things out with an expert can be extremely helpful in terms of creating the most sensible plan.

 

 

We are very excited to announce that on October 1, 2018, NESCA will open a bright new, satellite office in Plainville, MA! To schedule an appointment with Dr. Erin Gibbons in Plainville, please complete our online intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/  The address of NESCA-Plainville is 60 Man Mar Drive, Suite 8, Plainville, MA 02762.

 

 

About the Author: 

As Marketing and Outreach Coordinator, Ashlee oversees marketing campaigns and develops community relationships through various programming activities – all of which expand NESCA’s well-respected reputation in New England. Ashlee brings a wide range of marketing, design and communications experience in the social service and non-profit industry. She lives in Newton with her husband and their beloved dog, Winnie. In her free time, she enjoys doing yoga, watching documentaries and promoting her and her husband’s housewares startup.

Get in touch with Ashlee with any questions you may have about NESCA’s programs and events at acooper@nesca-newton.com. She looks forward to hearing from you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

The Northeast Arc Spotlight Model: Drama-Based Social Skills Intervention using evidence-based Socio-dramatic, affective relational intervention (SDARI)

By | NESCA Notes 2018

By:
Rebecca Girard, LICSW, CAS
Licensed Clinical Social Worker, NESCA

Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Community-Based Skills Coach, NESCA

 

This summer, NESCA piloted its first series of social pragmatics groups using the Northeast Arc Spotlight/SDARI model. We are excited to continue offering these groups in the 2018-2019 school year. Please read below to learn more about this model and whether it sounds like to fit for a child or adolescent in your life:

For those of us in the autism community, you may have noticed a lot of buzz recently around drama-based social pragmatic intervention for children on the spectrum. Perhaps this is because they provoke creativity, self-expression of participants, and are often more fun than traditional didactic models. Creating spaces for ASD individuals to practice social interactions in a semi-structured setting while providing fun and interactive activities allow for true, authentic social connection.

The Spotlight Model was originally developed in 2004 at the Northeast Arc under the clinical guidance of Dr. Matthew Lerner and Dr. Karen Levine. Since that time, Dr. Lerner has used the acronym SDARI (Socio-Dramatic Affective Relational Intervention) to describe the model in his past and current research studies. The Northeast Arc Spotlight Model was created in response to children who were not having success in traditional social skills models, and who needed something more engaging and personalized. This method was developed as a way to teach social pragmatics, as opposed to social skills.  While these terms may sound similar, the differences are vast when it comes to developing generalizable skills. Simply put, social skills consist of rote memorization, manners, active listening, and following a basic set of social rules. Social pragmatics focus on finding one’s own unique social style that is intrinsically motivating and fluid. It is the ability to effectively use communication in social situations while maintaining individuality and being able to respond to unpredictable circumstances.

What makes the Northeast Arc Spotlight Model different?

The Spotlight Model/SDARI uses a three-part model to create engaging groups that maximize the potential for ongoing friendships. Groups are formed by taking into account a number of factors, including personality, socialization style, common interests and, to a lesser degree, age and gender.

  1. Improvisation and dramatic training as social learning. Many of the skills necessary to be a confident social individual are the same skills necessary to become a successful actor. Goals such as Thinking of Your Feet, Body Language, Tone of Voice, and Someone Else’s Perceptive work on both improv and skills, dramatic training, and reciprocal scene work, as well as social competence and confidence. Improvisation’s one and only rule is “yes, and”; meaning that no matter what happens in a game/scene/activity, the participant must say, “yes” to accept what is happening and not block to flow, the “and” to build on that idea with a new one. Improv games allow groups to implicitly work on skills while laughing together, being creative, and forming lasting bonds. After all – laughter is the shortest distance between two people!
  2. Relational reinforcement. Counselors using the Northeast Arc Spotlight Model work to form trust and real relationships with participants. Each group has a head counselor, the individual responsible for creating the flow of the day, overseeing the group as a whole, and maintaining momentum. They are complemented by support counselors who check in with each child, create ways for everyone to be involved, and use strategies to help everyone feel like a contributing group member. Counselors use redirection, side-coaching, playful humor, inside jokes, and even passwords or codes. For example, during the opening meeting, the head counselor asks each participant the “question of the day” – a support counselor may sit next to a participant with slower processing to help them quietly prepare an answer before it is their turn to speak. During improvisation games, a support counselor may have a secret code word with a participant as a reminder to stay focused on the game they are playing. Participation looks different for everyone, and improv games and activities allow for a wide range of abilities and engagement.
  3. Strong use of age-appropriate motivators. The Northeast Arc Spotlight Model incorporates the use of video games, board games, and special interests to promote connection and interaction. During “break time” participants are encouraged to choose a preferred activity, as long as they are working together with a peer. This creates a space for independent conversation and interaction, with active facilitation from staff, and a way to share what they love. In addition, counselors often use a participant’s special interest to keep them engaged and excited. For example, someone who loves trains may play the game, Ask an Expert! to teach his peers about his favorite topic.

Many of our autistic friends and family thrive when their quirky humor is encouraged. Their unique perspective and disinhibited nature often lend itself to a unique and hilarious sense of humor. The Northeast Arc Spotlight Model creates a setting where children can be fully themselves, while simultaneously working to develop their social abilities. The facilitation of positive interactions and collaborative learning builds confidence and successful peer relationships.

Learn more and schedule an intake:

  • For more information about the Northeast Arc Spotlight Model groups being run at NESCA, please contact Rebecca Girard at rgirard@nesca-newton.com.
  • To learn more about the Northeast Arc in Danvers, MA, visit: ne-arc.org
  • To read more about the current efficacy of the SDARI model please visit lernerlab.com.

 

About the Authors: 
Girard

Rebecca Girard, LICSW, CAS is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in neurodivergent issues, sexual trauma, and international social work. She has worked primarily with children, adolescents, adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families for over a decade. Ms. Girard is highly experienced in using Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) as well as Socio-dramatic Affective Relational Intervention (SDARI), in addition to a number of other modalities. She provides enhanced psychotherapy to children with ASD at NESCA as well as to provide therapeutic support to youth with a range of mood, anxiety, social and behavioral challenges. Her approach is child-centered, strengths-based, creative and compassionate.

 

Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L is Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in pediatrics and occupational therapy in the developing world. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as well as social skills coaching as part of NESCA’s transition team.

 

 

 

 

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