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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Education for Life: Social Emotional Learning

By | NESCA Notes 2018


By:  Nancy Roosa, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

The agonizing discussion around the tragedy of school shootings – happening on a weekly basis in this country — too often devolves into a polarized argument about whether the main problem is guns OR mental health. The argument seems moot, since BOTH access to a firearm and mental health problems have to come together – in one troubled individual – to result in one of these large-scale school massacres. Therefore, while the discussion about gun control is an important one, I’m going to leave that for another forum. In this blog, in my role as a psychologist, I’d like to focus on how we can improve the mental health of our children.

There is no clear answer as to why some students choose to go on a deadly rampage against members of their own community – the peers and adults they spend time with every day – although clearly something has gone very wrong for them in that community. Some research does link bullying and social isolation to school shootings. The U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education in a 2004 report found that “almost three-quarters of the (school shooting) attackers felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked, or injured by others prior to the incident. In several cases, individual attackers had experienced bullying and harassment that was long-standing and severe. In some cases, the experience of being bullied seemed to have a significant impact on the attacker and appeared to have been a factor in his decision to mount an attack at the school.”

I do not want to blame the victims, by somehow implying that the social environments at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland and Santa Fe – and all the other sites of horrific massacres – were particularly cruel or harsh. We know that some students at every school feel ostracized and alone, and some are also coping with other serious life stresses, i.e. living in families stressed by poverty, addiction, and/or mental health challenges. But just because this is commonplace doesn’t mean we should accept it. Our society needs a stronger safety net, so that all children are safely housed, well fed and emotionally nurtured in their families, outside of school.

In addition, schools are increasingly recognizing their part in raising the next generation of emotionally mature and secure individuals, and many are attempting to include “social-emotional learning (SEL)” in the curriculum. But while everyone might agree that SEL is a good idea, few people seem to know how to teach it. A recent study by the nonprofit organization CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) found that 83% of principals believe that social-emotional learning is important and a full 95% say they are committed to developing their students’ social and emotional skills. However, only 38% of them had a plan for implementing such learning. Clearly the importance of SEL has been recognized, but doing it well – or doing it at all – still leaves many educators at a loss. Implementing an effective SEL program does require substantial resources – time, money and expertise. Teachers and staff must be trained and then spend time and energy every day implementing the plan. How can we expect schools to find those additional resources when they are already underfunded for the many tasks they are currently charged with? Adding SEL effectively will require that we provide adequate funding to our schools.

Yet, some research shows that the resources invested in SEL bring a hefty payback, not just in social emotional health, which is clearly hard to measure, but also in students’ academic achievement. In 2011, a meta-analysis published in the journal Child Development found that students who participated in a well-implemented SEL program showed an 11 percent gain in academic achievement. In 2015, a study in the Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis found an $11 benefit for every $1 spent on a rigorous SEL program.

Here in Boston, we have our own success stories involving SEL. One local school, the Mildred Avenue K-8 School in Mattapan, was, 5 years ago, one of the district’s lowest performing schools, at risk of a takeover; now it’s classified as a “level 1” school, the highest category, based on student achievement. Last fall, they were awarded the coveted School on the Move prize by the nonprofit organization Edvestors, which has, for the past 12 years, awarded this prize to a school within the Boston public school district that has made the most progress, based on quantifiable data about student achievement. This school, as well as the other two finalists at this year’s award ceremony in November, highlighted that one important factor was implementing social-emotional learning across the curriculum. They also spoke about the importance of teacher empowerment and creating a sense of an inclusive community in their schools.

Clearly SEL works. Let’s look a bit more closely at what it involves. The cornerstone of SEL learning is gaining five essential skills and competencies, according to CASEL.
1. Self-awareness: recognizing and labeling one’s feelings and accurately identifying one’s strengths and limitations.
2. Self-management: regulating emotions, delaying gratification, managing stress, motivating oneself, and setting and working toward achieving goals.
3. Social awareness: showing empathy, taking others’ perspectives, and recognizing and mobilizing diverse and available supports.
4. Relationship skills: clear communication, active listening, cooperation, nonviolent and constructive conflict resolution, knowing when and how to be a good team player and leader.
5. Responsible decision making: making ethical choices based on consideration of feelings, goals, alternatives and outcomes, and planning and enacting solutions with potential obstacles anticipated.

This is an ambitious list, and we don’t expect these skills to be mastered by 10th grade along with the ability to write a 5-paragraph essay. These are skills that one can—and should!—spend a life time learning. But just pondering this list for a few minutes makes me realize that these are the qualities I value in the people I interact with—my colleagues, friends, and family members—and they are the main qualities that determine whether one lives a productive, satisfying life … much more so than one’s MCAS score.

Will implementing SEL in our schools stop all mass shootings? Sadly, probably not. But will it allow more of the next generation of Americans to grow into socially and emotionally competent individuals? I’d suspect that answer is yes. So let’s start the conversation about this – in every home, in every neighborhood, in every school. Let’s keep our Eyes on this Prize: educating every child for life.

There are a plethora of programs claiming to promote SEL, and a few important guides to distinguish among the programs. Anyone interested in learning how to implement an SEL program could start with one of the following guides. 
· The 2015 CASEL Guide: Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs ( 
· How to Implement Social and Emotional Learning at Your School, by Maurice J. Elias, Edutopia, March 24, 2016.
· Selecting the Right SEL Program, by Leah Shafer, June 20, 2017. Harvard Graduate School of Education.


About the Author:


Nancy Roosa, Psy.D. has been engaged in providing neuropsychological evaluations for children since 1997. She enjoys working with a range of children, particularly those with autism spectrum disorders, as well as children with attentional issues, executive function deficits, anxiety disorders, learning disabilities, or other social, emotional or behavioral problems.

Dr. Roosa’s evaluations are highly-individualized and comprehensive, integrating data obtained from a wide range of standardized assessment tools with information gained from history, input from parents, teachers and providers, and important observations gleaned from interacting with the child. Her approach to testing is playful and supportive.

Her evaluations are particularly useful for children with complex profiles and those whose presentations do not fit neatly into any one diagnostic box.


To book a consultation with Dr. Roosa or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.




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 or call 617-658-9800.


How Language Difficulties Impact Math Development

By | NESCA Notes 2018


By:  Alissa Talamo, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Did you know research shows that 43-65% of students diagnosed with Dyslexia also struggle with math at a level that meets criteria for a Specific Learning Disability in Math? This is in comparison to the general population, where 5-7 % of the population meet criteria for a Specific Math Disability (Dyscalculia – difficulties with number sense, number facts, or calculations).

I recently attended a lecture given by Dr. Joanna A. Christodoulou, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and leader of the Brain, Education, and Mind (BEAM) Team in the Center for Health and Rehabilitation Research at MGH. The topic of discussion? How language difficulties can negatively impact math development.

How do language difficulties impact math development?

When asked to learn math, a student with language problems may: 

  • Have difficulty with the vocabulary of math
  • Be confused by language word problems
  • Not know when irrelevant information is included or when information is given out of sequence
  • Have difficulty understanding directions
  • Have difficulty explaining and communicating about math including asking and answering  questions
  • Have difficulty reading texts to direct their own learning
  • Have difficulty remembering assigned values or definitions in specific problems

It is helpful to have an understanding of typical math development in children. With this information, a parent can monitor their child’s development relative to grade level expectations.

Math difficulties often looks different at different ages. It becomes more apparent as children get older but symptoms can be observed as early as preschool. Here are some things to look for:


  • Has trouble learning to count
  • Skips over numbers long after kids the same age can remember numbers in the right order
  • Struggles to recognize patterns, such as smallest to largest or tallest to shortest
  • Has trouble recognizing number symbols (knowing that “7” means seven)
  • Unable to demonstrate the meaning of counting. For example, when asked to give you 6 crayons, the child provides a handful, rather than counting out the crayons

In grades One to Three, a child should: 

  • Begin to perform simple addition and subtraction computations efficiently
  • Master basic math facts (such as 2+3=5)
  • Recognize and respond accurately to mathematical signs
  • Begin to grasp multiplication (grade 3)
  • Understand the concept of measurement and be able to apply this understanding
  • Improve their concept of time and money

Clearly, as a child continues through school, demands to understanding abstract math concepts increases. For example, in middle school, a child will be expected to understand concepts such as place value and changing fractions to percentiles, and when in high school, a child will be expected to understand increasingly complex formulas as well as be able to find different approaches to solve the same math problem.

What should I do if I suspect my child has challenges with math?

If you suspect your child is struggling to gain math skills, have your child receive an independent comprehensive evaluation so that you understand your child’s areas of cognitive and learning strengths and weaknesses. This evaluation should also include specific, tailored recommendations to address your child’s learning difficulties.

What if I am not sure whether my child needs a neuropsychological evaluation?

When determining whether an initial neuropsychological evaluation or updated neuropsychological evaluation is needed, parents often choose to start with a consultation. A neuropsychological consultation begins with a review of the child’s academic records (e.g., report card, progress reports, prior evaluation reports), followed by a parent meeting, during which concerns and questions are discussed about the child’s profile and potential needs. Based on that consultation, the neuropsychologist can offer diagnostic hypotheses and suggestions for next steps, which might include a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation, work with a transition specialist, or initiation of therapy or tutoring. While a more comprehensive understanding of the child would be gleaned through a full assessment, a consultation is a good place to start when parents need additional help with decision making about first steps.

To book a consultation with Dr. Talamo or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate “Consultation” and your preferred clinician in the referral line.

Sources used for this blog:
– Dr. Joanna A. Christodoulou


About the Author:

With NESCA since its inception in 2007, Dr. Talamo had previously practiced for many years as a child and adolescent clinical psychologist before completing postdoctoral re-training in pediatric neuropsychology at the Children’s Evaluation Center.

After receiving her undergraduate degree from Columbia University, Dr. Talamo earned her doctorate in clinical health psychology from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University.

She has given a number of presentations, most recently on “How to Recognize a Struggling Reader,” “Supporting Students with Working Memory Limitations,” (with Bonnie Singer, Ph.D., CCC-SLP of Architects for Learning ), and “Executive Function in Elementary and Middle School Students.”

Dr. Talamo specializes in working with children and adolescents with language-based learning disabilities including dyslexia, attentional disorders, and emotional issues. She is also interested in working with highly gifted children.

Her professional memberships include MAGE (Massachusetts Association for Gifted Education), IDA (International Dyslexia Association), MABIDA (the Massachusetts division of IDA) and MNS (the Massachusetts Neuropsychological Society).

She is the mother of one teenage girl.


To book a consultation with Dr. Talamo or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.




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 or call 617-658-9800.