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LEARNING DISABILITY

Neurodevelopmental Evaluations for Children under Age 5

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Many families are curious about neurodevelopmental testing. Neuropsychologists who specialize in working with young children are often asked about when it is appropriate to pursue an evaluation, what the evaluation process entails, and where to go.

Why Would a Young Child Need an Evaluation?

There are developmental milestones across several domains that children are expected to achieve within certain timeframes. When children are showing delays in achieving those milestones within expected age ranges, seeking an evaluation may be warranted. From birth to 5 years of age, the areas of development that are especially important to monitor include:

  • Speech and Language (e.g., use of single words/phrases, following directions)
  • Social Skills (e.g., eye contact, social smile, interest in others, imaginative play skills)
  • Motor Skills (e.g., crawling, walking, using a pincer grasp)
  • Cognition/Early Problem Solving Skills (e.g., matching shapes and objects, completing simple puzzles)

If delays in any of the areas listed above are observed, pursing an evaluation sooner rather than later is recommended, as research has shown that early diagnosis and intensive treatment are the most important factors in determining rapid progress and long-term prognosis.

What Does a Neurodevelopmental Evaluation Entail?

Within a comprehensive neurodevelopmental evaluation, the child is administered tests that look at the developmental areas listed above. Information should also be collected from parents, teachers, and other caregivers who know the child well. These evaluations help to provide a better understanding of the child’s developmental profile, including areas of relative strength and weakness. In other words, the evaluation can provide more information about where the child’s skills currently fall when compared to their same age peers. Such information can provide diagnostic clarification, as well as help to inform recommendations for services if needed.

Where to Go

There are several options for where families can pursue evaluations, each with their benefits and drawbacks:

  • Early Intervention (EI): EI is meant to support families of children birth to three years of age who have developmental delays or are at risk of developmental delays. The goal of the Massachusetts EI program is to collaboratively promote skill acquisition based on the family’s priorities and child’s individual needs. Evaluations are typically conducted within the home setting to determine the child’s eligibility for EI services. While these evaluations can provide valuable information about the child’s strengths and weaknesses, a diagnosis will not be provided.
  • Hospital-based Setting: These evaluations are structured differently depending on the hospital system. In most cases, these evaluations are interdisciplinary, meaning that they involve a team of providers from different disciplines (i.e., psychologist, medical provider (pediatrician, nurse practitioner) speech and language pathologist, occupational therapist, etc.). While outcomes of these evaluations can include diagnosis and recommendations for services when appropriate, waitlists are often long, and reports tend to be brief.
  • Independent Setting/Private Practice: Independent evaluations usually involve several visits with a pediatric psychologist or neuropsychologist, rather than with a team of providers. Similar to the hospital-based evaluations, independent evaluations can result in diagnosis when appropriate. Specific recommendations based on the child’s individual profile are offered. These evaluations tend to be more detailed and comprehensive than those conducted by EI and within hospital-based settings. Clinicians also have the option to observe the child in other settings (e.g., daycare, preschool, elementary school), as well as attend school-based meetings.

Relatedly, NESCA is currently providing evaluations for children 12 months to 3 years of age who are showing early signs of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The wait time is 1 month or less – by design –  so children who meet criteria for an ASD diagnosis can access the appropriate interventions for them. If you are interested in learning more about ASD Diagnostic Testing through NESCA’s ASD Diagnostic Clinic, please visit our website at https://nesca-newton.com/asd-diagnostic-clinic-2/ and/or complete our online Intake Form.

Related resources and links to help track developmental milestones:

 

About Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.

Dr. Halladay conducts comprehensive evaluations of toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children with a wide range of developmental, behavioral, and emotional concerns. She particularly enjoys working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and complex medical conditions. She has experience working in schools, as well as outpatient and inpatient hospital settings. She is passionate about optimizing outcomes for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities by providing evidence-based, family-oriented care.

 

If you are interested in booking an appointment for an evaluation with a Dr. Halladay or another NESCA neuropsychologist/clinician, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; and the greater Burlington, Vermont region, serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Falling through the Cracks

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Yvonne Asher, Ph.D.
NESCA Pediatric Neuropsychologist

“You’re going to have a tough conversation on your hands,” I said. The parent sighed and nodded in response. “That’s what her ABA provider said, too,” she responded.

This conversation would not be difficult because her child was acting out, engaging in challenging behaviors, or taking up a great deal of adult time. In fact, she was exactly the opposite. Quiet, calm, gentle, and well-regulated were some of the words I used during our feedback session. And this, we discussed, is a huge part of the problem.

Despite their best efforts, teachers simply cannot be with every child that needs help, each time they need help. School providers do not have infinite caseloads, time, or capacity. There are real-world limitations to providing support and services for children at school. And yet, the children who suffer from these very real constraints are so often the quietest and least disruptive. This is extremely unfortunate when the child has real, diagnosed, observable deficits that absolutely require special attention and intervention at school.

Our brains often develop schema in order to reduce the brain’s workload (these occur entirely outside of our conscious awareness). Many social psychology studies have characterized the harm that schema can do. One such harm often comes to children for whom teachers have either strong positive or strong negative schema about. The effects of negative schema are likely obvious, but the positive schema can be just as challenging to manage. When teachers view a child very positively, they may be more likely to “write off” concerns (e.g., “she was just tired today,” “he really does know, he’s just having a bad day”), over-emphasize the child’s effort and diligence (rather than their actual skill level or mastery), and focus on positive attributes of the child in place of focusing on their weaknesses.

It can be challenging for parents to hear such positive feedback, particularly when it does not correlate with their perception of the child’s difficulties. Although neuropsychology attempts to be a strength-based field as much as possible, fully exploring and adequately characterizing deficits is often an invaluable part of what we do. This can help us to bring objective, data-driven recommendations to school teams for all students, hopefully preventing those quiet, hard-working youngsters from “falling through the cracks.”

 

About the Author

Dr. Yvonne M. Asher enjoys working with a wide range of children and teens, including those with autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays, learning disabilities, attention difficulties and executive functioning challenges. She often works with children whose complex profiles are not easily captured by a single label or diagnosis. She particularly enjoys working with young children and helping parents through their “first touch” with mental health care or developmental concerns.

Dr. Asher’s approach to assessment is gentle and supportive, and recognizes the importance of building rapport and trust. When working with young children, Dr. Asher incorporates play and “games” that allow children to complete standardized assessments in a fun and engaging environment.

Dr. Asher has extensive experience working in public, charter and religious schools, both as a classroom teacher and psychologist. She holds a master’s degree in education and continues to love working with educators. As a psychologist working in public schools, she gained invaluable experience with the IEP process from start to finish. She incorporates both her educational and psychological training when formulating recommendations to school teams.

Dr. Asher attended Swarthmore College and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She completed her doctoral degree at Suffolk University, where her dissertation looked at the impact of starting middle school on children’s social and emotional wellbeing. After graduating, she completed an intensive fellowship at the MGH Lurie Center for Autism, where she worked with a wide range of children, adolescents and young adults with autism and related disorders.

 

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham (coming soon), Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; and the greater Burlington, Vermont region, serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

To book an appointment with Dr. Yvonne Asher or another NESCA clinician, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Shouldn’t We All Get Neuropsychological Evaluations, Then?

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Yvonne Asher, Ph.D.
NESCA Pediatric Neuropsychologist

One frequent question I have been asked by parents following a neuropsychological evaluation is, “Wouldn’t this process be helpful for everyone?” This tends to come up around the issue of disclosing results of an evaluation to children and teenagers and helping them better understand “how their brain works.” Many families with whom I have had the privilege of working come back months or years later with siblings of an initial client, noting that the process was so valuable the first time, they are hoping for a similar experience for their other child or children.

So, should we all get neuropsychological evaluations? Largely, I think this question is motivated by parents who are eager to help their children understand their own strengths and weaknesses. This is a wonderful goal, as self-understanding is one of the most valuable and lifelong gifts we can give our children.

In my experience, many people come to this kind of self-understanding naturally, over time, through experiences in adolescence and young adulthood. In particular, experiences that involve more independence in living and learning promote this kind of understanding. During childhood, we may learn our relative skill among family members (“I’m good at soccer, and my sibling is good at piano”), but these relative differences may not hold once we leave our family of origin. Many people venture out into the world and find that, compared to their peers, they are actually quite skilled at getting groups of friends together, doing everyday math, putting their thoughts down in writing, or staying organized. These real-world strengths often reflect the strengths that could be found through formal evaluation. As we gain self-understanding, we may be prompted to enter certain professions, take on particular hobbies, or pursue friends and partners with specific traits.

A neuropsychological evaluation can “speed up” the process of self-understanding, giving some young people a head start on the identity formation process that naturally occurs during adolescence. For some, this head start is vital – their brains are structured in ways that present clear, observable differences between them and their peers. This may be the case with diagnoses like autism spectrum disorder, a learning disability, or ADHD. For these individuals, the feedback from a neuropsychological evaluation can (under the best of circumstances) stave off feelings of inadequacy, negative self-esteem, and shame, helping a young person to recognize the deeply important strengths that are present alongside their more observable challenges. In these cases, a neuropsychological evaluation is not only for self-understanding, but also for self-compassion. Our goal as neuropsychologists in these cases is not just to help the child or teen understand themselves, but also to be gentle and kind with how they view their difficulties. Our hope is that, when these individuals venture out of their families and into the broader world, they are able to show resiliency in the face of the obstacles that will almost certainly be present.

 

About the Author

Dr. Yvonne M. Asher enjoys working with a wide range of children and teens, including those with autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays, learning disabilities, attention difficulties and executive functioning challenges. She often works with children whose complex profiles are not easily captured by a single label or diagnosis. She particularly enjoys working with young children and helping parents through their “first touch” with mental health care or developmental concerns.

Dr. Asher’s approach to assessment is gentle and supportive, and recognizes the importance of building rapport and trust. When working with young children, Dr. Asher incorporates play and “games” that allow children to complete standardized assessments in a fun and engaging environment.

Dr. Asher has extensive experience working in public, charter and religious schools, both as a classroom teacher and psychologist. She holds a master’s degree in education and continues to love working with educators. As a psychologist working in public schools, she gained invaluable experience with the IEP process from start to finish. She incorporates both her educational and psychological training when formulating recommendations to school teams.

Dr. Asher attended Swarthmore College and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She completed her doctoral degree at Suffolk University, where her dissertation looked at the impact of starting middle school on children’s social and emotional wellbeing. After graduating, she completed an intensive fellowship at the MGH Lurie Center for Autism, where she worked with a wide range of children, adolescents and young adults with autism and related disorders.

 

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

 

To book an appointment with Dr. Yvonne Asher or another NESCA clinician, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Explaining Neuropsychological Testing to Your Child

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Neuropsychological testing can be confusing for adults to understand and explain, let alone children. Some of the most common questions that parents ask our neuropsychologists prior to their in-person appointments include:

  • “How do I explain the evaluation to my child?”
  • “How can I best prepare my child for what to expect when they are in the office?”

The answers vary depending on several factors. To name a few, your child’s age, level of awareness of areas they are struggling, and your child’s language abilities guide decision-making about the best way to discuss their upcoming evaluation experience. It is important to talk with your neuropsychologist to plan the most appropriate approach for your child. However, below is some standard guidance.

When describing the evaluation itself, I advise parents to use language that reduces pressure on the situation. In other words, it is best to frame the evaluation as a low stakes experience. For example, using words like “testing” or “evaluation” can create unnecessary worry. I often recommend describing the evaluation experience as a variety of “activities,” some of which may include looking at pictures, playing with toys, drawing, and answering questions. Other activities may seem similar to what your child is asked to do in school, such as reading stories, completing math problems, and writing.

Oftentimes, when children hear they are going to the “doctor” they may worry about medical exams. For this reason, it can be helpful to reassure your child that they are not going to be getting poked and prodded; and definitely will not be getting any shots!

To explain the reasons for doing the evaluation, some key phrases to use with your child include:

  • We want to understand how you learn, because everyone learns differently. It’s great that everyone learns differently because it keeps life interesting!
  • Everyone has things they are really good at and other things that are more challenging for them. This will help us understand what comes easy to you and what might be a little trickier, so that we can help you with things like schoolwork, completing activities around the house, and play.
  • We can also share this information with your teacher so they can better understand your learning style and support you at school.
  • Some activities might seem easy and others might be hard, but your job is just to try your best!

For more helpful tips, please see Dr. Gibbons’ previous blog posts, “How Do I Prepare My Child for a Neuropsychological Evaluation?” and “Preparing our Kids to Reenter the Community.”

 

About Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.

Dr. Halladay conducts comprehensive evaluations of toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children with a wide range of developmental, behavioral, and emotional concerns. She particularly enjoys working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and complex medical conditions. She has experience working in schools, as well as outpatient and inpatient hospital settings. She is passionate about optimizing outcomes for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities by providing evidence-based, family-oriented care.

 

If you are interested in booking an appointment for an evaluation with a Dr. Halladay or another NESCA neuropsychologist/clinician, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

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

Neuropsychological Evaluations at Different Stages of Childhood & Adolescence

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

Having been at NESCA for more than 11 years, I have been fortunate enough to follow many clients throughout their childhood. In some cases, I have conducted two or three neuropsychological evaluations on the same student at different points in their life. After their first experience with an evaluation, parents will often ask, “Will we need to do this again?” or “How often should we get evaluations?”. As is the case for most things, the answer is different for every child depending on their needs. When determining how often to seek an evaluation, it might be helpful to think about what information you are trying to gather depending on the child’s age.

Preschool (2-5)

  • Concerns about developmental delays (not meeting milestones)
  • Concerns about autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Transition from Early Intervention into preschool
  • Transition from preschool to kindergarten

Elementary School (5-10)

  • Concerns about academic skills – assess for dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, or other specific learning disability
  • Why is the student not making expected progress in school?
  • Concerns about attention and executive functioning (possible attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Concerns about ASD (if not already diagnosed)
  • For children who already have an identified disability – need to monitor progress
  • Plan for transition to middle school

Middle School (10-14)

  • If this is the first neuropsychological evaluation – it is usually because the child did okay in elementary school but is now struggling with increased demands in the areas of academics, executive functioning, and social
  • For students with a previously identified disability – need to monitor progress
  • Plan for transition to high school

Early High School (14-16)

  • Monitor progress – how is the student managing increased demands of high school?
  • Mental health – emerging concerns about anxiety and/or depression
  • Start planning for postsecondary transition
    • Is the student on track to graduate in 4 years?
    • Does the student need programming beyond 12th grade?

Late High School (16-18)

  • Heavy emphasis on postsecondary transition planning
  • Do we need to work on vocational skills?
  • If the student is college-bound – determine whether any accommodations will be needed
  • If the student is not going to college – what is next?
    • Remain at high school with ongoing special education services
    • Gap year
    • Young adult transition program for students with disabilities
  • Consult with transition specialist to help with planning

Early Adulthood (18+)

  • If the student is in college – do they need additional supports?
  • If the student is still accessing special education services – where should we be putting the emphasis?
    • Academics
    • Vocational
    • Life Skills
  • For students with developmental disabilities, need to plan for adult services
    • Should the parents seek guardianship?
    • Is the student eligible for DDS or other adult service agencies?
    • What resources are available to the family?
  • Combine with transition specialists to help navigate adult services

 

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 a NESCA neuropsychologist/clinician, please fill out and submit our online intake form

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

Meet Pediatric Neuropsychologist Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Jane  Hauser

Director of Marketing & Outreach, NESCA

I recently had the opportunity to learn more about Pediatric Neuropsychologist Lauren Halladay, Ph.D., who joins NESCA in September. Learn more about her background and specialties in today’s blog interview.

How did you choose pediatric neuropsychology as a profession?

My interest was originally piqued when I was younger, as early as my high school years. I volunteered at a therapeutic riding program for kids with disabilities. That’s what initially sparked my desire to work with kids, and those with disabilities, in particular. My mother was a third grade teacher, which also imparted the desire to work with kids and help them overcome their challenges at school.

I went on to major in psychology and had a strong interest in pediatrics for the reasons I mentioned previously. Based on some of the work I did in graduate school, I learned that I really enjoyed the assessment piece, especially with the younger kids, helping them in life by identifying the right diagnosis (when applicable) and helping to put the right interventions in place for them to build skills that will equip them for the future.

How have your previous work experiences prepared you to be a neuropsychologist?

I’ve had a wide breadth of work experiences where I was supervised by neuropsychologists, whether it be in satellite health systems, the hospital setting, etc. While in those clinics, I had the opportunity to work with a variety of populations and presentations, including those who have experienced trauma, or have developmental or learning disabilities.

Having worked in several states throughout the country, including Oregon, Ohio, New York and Massachusetts, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with a variety of families who present with unique backgrounds, experiences, and cultural values, which I always consider when making diagnostic decisions and developing recommendations.

What areas of neuropsychology have you most enjoyed to date? What would you consider your specialty area?

There are several areas that I am very passionate about. I really enjoy working with young kids, those under the ages of five or six. I also have a great interest in working with families who have concerns about their child potentially having an autism spectrum disorder or an intellectual or developmental disability. In addition, I find it incredibly rewarding to work with and help families whose children are medically complex or have moderate to severe cognitive impairments.

Regardless of how the child or student presents or what challenges they may have, I always individualize my approach so that I can meet the needs of each child. This is especially true in cases where families have had a hard time getting assessments done in the school setting or even privately in the past.

What is the most rewarding experience in neuropsychology that you’ve had to date?

I find it rewarding to hear from families when the strategies I’ve recommended are or are not working for them. For example, hearing that parents achieve success in implementing behavior management strategies, accessing support in the community, and/or learning about their child’s diagnosis and how to create an environment that suits their needs is a wonderful feeling. On the other hand, when the initial recommendations are not as helpful as intended, I enjoy approaching the problem-solving process together and discussing alternate approaches.

I also find it incredibly rewarding to offer parents and caregivers a deeper perspective on a child who has a moderate to severe cognitive impairment or is medically complex. Being able to give them a sense of where their child is developmentally in relation to their peers can be enlightening. Additionally, having more information about a child’s developmental level can help families and school staff establish appropriate, and individualized, expectations that set the child up for success. I strive to make a difference in these cases by developing strong partnerships with families, as well as serving as a trusted resource and advocate as they navigate how to best access supports in the community and in school.

What benefits, having been trained in a school psychology department, do you bring to families at NESCA?

My school psychology background allows me to bring a deep awareness and perspective on how the IEP process works. My experience and knowledge of special education rights allows me to be a true partner to families who are trying to navigate and understand the IEP process. I am able to share that knowledge and better advocate for my clients in Team meetings.

Why did you decide to join the team at NESCA?

I knew that in my next career move, I wanted to be part of a collaborative community that puts an emphasis on work/life balance—I feel that both allow clinicians to produce the highest quality work. At NESCA, I will also have the opportunity to use my school psychology skills and be an active participant in the IEP process on behalf of our clients.

NESCA is known for creating and building long-lasting relationships with the families they work with. I look forward to working with families and their schools/districts for the long-term, helping students to build skills along the way that will help them throughout their lives.

Finally, not being a native Bostonian, I am excited to learn more about and partner with the different school systems on behalf of the families and students we work with at NESCA.

 

About Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.

Dr. Halladay conducts comprehensive evaluations of toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children with a wide range of developmental, behavioral, and emotional concerns. She particularly enjoys working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and complex medical conditions. She has experience working in schools, as well as outpatient and inpatient hospital settings. She is passionate about optimizing outcomes for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities by providing evidence-based, family-oriented care.

 

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

 

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

What Do We Mean by Individualized Neuropsychological Evaluations?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

Previous blogs in our recent series addressing frequently asked questions during the intake process, have covered the important differences between school-based testing and an independent neuropsychological evaluation. A neuropsychological evaluation should always be comprehensive, meaning that it covers various aspects of the student’s learning profile: cognition, language, memory, attention, and social-emotional functioning. However, the evaluation should also be individualized. Essentially, a good evaluation should aim to answer the questions that are specific to that student, not just a cookie-cutter list of tests.

Prior to starting testing, the clinician reviews any previous records and holds an intake appointment with the student’s parents or caregivers. Through this process, the clinician gathers information about the student’s early developmental history, medical background, and current challenges. If the student is already receiving services – either privately or through the school district – that is also important information. All of this helps to shape the “Referral Questions” for the evaluation. In some cases, the questions are very specific; for example, “Does my child have dyslexia?” or “Does my child have ADHD?” In other cases, the question is less defined, such as when we are asked “What is going on with my child and how do I help them?”

We often get asked by parents or caregivers if their child can have all of the tests available performed during their child’s neuropsychological evaluation. As clinicians, we understand that temptation. An evaluation is both an investment of time and money for the parents or caregivers. But neuropsychological evaluations are a lot of work for children, so we want to be sure to tailor the tests to what is actually going to yield beneficial findings for them or will help answer the referral question.

Some families request the list of tests that will be included in the evaluation. Unfortunately, this is not always possible until after testing is underway. Following the intake process, the clinician starts to develop the “battery” – the specific tests that will be administered to the student. Most clinicians have a skeleton battery of tests that they include for every client – an intelligence test, some academic tests (reading, writing, and math), and tasks that assess skills, such as language, memory, and attention – as described above. The clinician then fills in the testing battery based on the specific questions for that student. For example:

  • An evaluation designed to test for dyslexia should include several tests of reading as well as tests that look at very specific skills related to reading (e.g., phonological processing). When there are no concerns about reading, this aspect of the evaluation would be briefer.
  • An evaluation designed to assess for autism spectrum disorder should include a variety of tasks that examine social communication and reciprocal social skills. These types of tasks would likely not be included for a student who has never had any challenges in the social domain.

If a school district or another provider is asking for the list of tests that will comprise the neuropsychological evaluation, please talk to your clinician about this during the intake process. The final list might not be available until testing is complete, but this is definitely something that your clinician can provide as soon as possible.

 

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 a NESCA neuropsychologist/clinician, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

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

The Relationship Between Dyslexia and Dyscalculia

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Alissa Talamo, PhD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Reading disability (RD) and math disability (MD) are common developmental disorders that are defined by significant academic underachievement that is unexpected based on an individual’s age and development (e.g., American Psychiatric Association, 2000).”

Research has shown that children who struggle with learning to read often also struggle with math and understanding numbers. It is not uncommon for students to have both a reading disability (dyslexia) and a math disability, with this co-occurrence found at a rate of approximately 40% (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov).

Dyscalculia is a learning disability that makes math challenging to process and understand, with these problems not explained by a lack of proper education, intellectual disabilities, or other conditions. At this time, the estimated prevalence of dyscalculia in school populations is 3 to 6 percent. There is no medication that treats dyslexia or dyscalculia; however, treating any co-occurring issues (e.g., AD/HD, Anxiety) can be helpful.

What are some signs of dyscalculia?

Elementary School Difficulties:

    • trouble learning and recalling number facts
    • trouble processing numbers and quantities, such as connecting a number to the quantity it represents (the number 2 to two books)
    • difficulty counting, backwards and forwards
    • difficulties recognizing quantities without counting
    • weak mental math and problem-solving
    • trouble making sense of money and estimating quantities
    • difficulty quickly identifying right and left
    • difficulty identifying signs like + –
    • trouble recognizing patterns and sequencing numbers
    • poor processing of graphs and charts
    • persistent finger-counting is typically linked to dyscalculia, especially for easy, frequently repeated calculations
    • lack of confidence in areas that require math

Adolescent Difficulties:

    • trouble applying math concepts to money
    • difficulty counting backward
    • slow to perform calculations
    • weak mental arithmetic
    • poor sense of estimation
    • high levels of math anxiety

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), students diagnosed with a Specific Learning Disability (SLD) with impairment in math (i.e., dyscalculia) are eligible for special services in the classroom. In-school dyscalculia services and accommodations may include:

    • direct, specialized pull-out instruction to target core, foundational skills
    • extra time on assignments, quizzes, and tests
    • use of a calculator
    • modifying the task
    • breaking down complex problems into smaller steps

If you believe that your child may be experiencing difficulties in the area of math, one step is to determine the root of the difficulty. For example, does the student have an underlying learning disability or reduced self-regulation that may be negatively impacting their progress? Receiving a neuropsychological evaluation could be a useful tool in determining the appropriate supports and services to best help your child. If you are interested in learning more about NESCA’s Neuropsychological Evaluations, email: info@nesca-newton.com or complete our online intake form.

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5987869/

https://www.understood.org/

https://safespot.org

https://www.additudemag.com/

https://dyslexiafoundation.org/

 

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 info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

I Can Tell You a Story…I Just Can’t Write It

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Alissa Talamo, PhD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

According to understood.org, “Written expression disorder is a learning disability that results in a person having trouble expressing their thoughts in writing… They might have the greatest ideas, but their writing is disorganized and full of grammar and punctuation mistakes.” Experts believe that between 8 and 15 percent of people have a written expression disorder and it often co-occurs with other learning challenges, with two of the most common being dyslexia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD).

Writing is difficult because it depends upon many separate components that need to be integrated into a complex whole. For example, to write well, a person needs to have acquired knowledge about the topic, retrieve needed vocabulary and express the information in a way that can be followed by the reader. At the same time, the writer needs to be able to self-monitor their progress, including switching between the main idea and writing mechanics, such as spelling, punctuation and grammar. People with written expression disorder might be able to tell an organized and interesting story, but struggle when asked to recreate that information in written form. Receiving a formal diagnosis can help a child receive extra help at school or even specialized instruction. Also, a diagnosis can possibly lead to accommodations at college.

There are also several methods of instruction that can help a student organize their writing. These programs help a student visualize or represent abstract ideas by using visually-based templates. While many of these methods are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced in this blog, some examples are programs such as Thinking maps by David Hyerle, Ed.D. or “Brain Frames.” These programs have developed specific graphic organizers to help a student with a variety of writing assignments (e.g., comparing and contrasting, ordering and sequencing) and provide specialized instruction that can help a student greatly improve their ability to express their ideas in writing.

If you believe that your child may be experiencing difficulties in the area of writing, one step is to determine the root of the difficulty. For example, does the student have an underlying learning disability or reduced self-regulation that may be negatively impacting their progress? Receiving a neuropsychological evaluation could be a useful tool in determining the appropriate supports and services to best help your child.

Sources:

https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences

http://www.ldonline.org/article/33079/

http://www.thinkingmaps.com

http://www.architectsforlearning.com

 

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 info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Increasing Reading Success: Early Identification of Reading Challenges

By | NESCA Notes 2019

 

By:  Alissa Talamo, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

I recently attended the International Dyslexia Association Conference in Atlanta, GA (dyslexiaida.org). Among the conference attendees were researchers, teachers, speech-language pathologists, psychologists, and parents of children with dyslexia. One recurring key point was the importance of early identification of reading difficulties, as early provision of appropriate interventions and services leads to better outcomes.

It is important to remember that unlike seeing, hearing, and eating, reading is not something humans do naturally. Reading must be learned and it is not easy (Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid).

As a parent, your early observations are important as there are many developmental indicators that may signal a risk for reading difficulties such as:

  • Experiencing repeated early ear infections
  • History of speech delay and/or pronunciation problems
  • Slow vocabulary growth, frequent difficulty finding the right word, use of less specific words such as “the thing,” “the stuff,” or “that place.”
  • Your child struggles to recognize words that start with the same sound (e.g., cat and car) or end with the same sound (rhyming).
  • Difficulty learning letter and number symbols when in preschool
  • Family history of reading problems

During first grade, you can watch for these warning signs as you listen to your child read aloud:

  • Does not know the sounds associated with all of the letters
  • Skips words in a sentence and does not stop to self-correct
  • Cannot remember words; sounds out the same word every time it occurs on the page
  • Frequently guesses at unknown words rather than sounding them out
  • If you ask your first grader to read aloud to you and he/she is reluctant and avoidant

Remember: 

Early identification of reading issues is extremely important for outcome. If children who have dyslexia receive effective phonological awareness and phonics training in Kindergarten and 1st grade, they will have significantly fewer problems learning to read at grade level than children who are not identified or helped until 3rd grade.

What should I do if I suspect my child has challenges with reading?
If you suspect your child is struggling to learn to read, 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.

To learn more about evaluations and testing services with Dr. Talamo and other clinicians at NESCA, you may find the following links helpful:

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.

Sources used for this blog:

 

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 info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

This blog was originally published in 2017.