By: Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach
I recently had the opportunity to learn more about Pediatric Neuropsychologist Ferne Pinard, Ph.D., who joined NESCA in this August. We are thrilled to have her on board and hope you learn more about her background and specialty areas in today’s blog interview.
How did you choose pediatric neuropsychology as a profession?
I’ve had an interesting journey to get to where I am today professionally. I started working with adolescents in the West Indies as a high school teacher. There I quickly learned that meant not just teaching to the curriculum, but also looking at each student as a whole person – often along with their parents – providing counseling to them and additional academic support as needed to meet their needs. That sparked my initial interest in working to support children.
That spark turned into a deep interest in psychology. In college I decided to major in psychology. I became involved in research examining various aspects of child development and learned about statistical methods.
In graduate school, I worked with my mentor on research projects that involved administration of neuropsychological tests and examining how performance on these tests were related to various outcomes (e.g., academic performance, externalizing behaviors). I enjoyed doing assessment as part of the research project and other training experiences. Although I toyed with the idea of becoming a therapist – as I was trained to provide therapy and conduct assessment – I decided to further my knowledge in the brain/behavior relationship
How have your previous work experiences prepared you to be a neuropsychologist with NESCA?
I spent the last 11 years at Boston Children’s Hospital, first as a post-doctorate fellow and later as an attending neuropsychologist.
As a fellow at Boston Children’s, I had the opportunity to work in various specialty clinics, gaining exposure to patients with a range of medical and genetic conditions, including neurofibromatosis, cancer, etc.
Later, I went on to gain specialty experience in the Pediatric Neuro-immunology and Learning Disabilities programs. As an attending neuropsychologist, I worked with, trained, and supervised pre-doctorate psychology interns and post-doctoral fellows.
As part of the neuroimmunology program, you assisted with research on the impact of post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC) – also known as Long Haul Covid – on children and their education. Tell us about that.
Yes, I had the opportunity to provide consultation to a previous colleague examining the cognitive impact of Long Covid. I also conducted a few assessments of adolescent struggling with persistent symptoms after being diagnosed with Covid. Difficulties with attention, mood, executive functioning (e.g., working memory and slow processing speed), and fatigue are commonly reported among individuals with Long Covid. These students also experienced disruption in school due to their illness then ongoing symptoms and understandably find it difficult to keep up and meet academic expectations. So many young people were sadder and more anxious throughout Covid…layer Long Haul Covid on top of that, and it’s a huge problem.
How do you see your previous work experiences translating to the families we work with at NESCA?
I bring a lot of knowledge and evaluation experience to NESCA, but most importantly, I bring expertise and compassion in working with families – creating and maintaining relationships with them. The greatest thing I can do for a family is to listen to their concerns, let them feel heard, and allow them to express their feelings about what they and their child are going through. This helps the parents and the child’s school gain a better understanding of the child.
How do you tailor your evaluations for different children, say an anxious child?
Patience and validation are key. I think it is also important to include the child and their caregiver in the discussion. Perhaps I add additional structure to the evaluation (e.g., use of a checklist, breaks at predetermined times), integrate strategies to reduce anxiety (e.g., deep breathing, use of fidgets), or modify the evaluation to take place over three sessions instead of two. Sometimes, the child is allowed to have the parent in the room with them throughout the evaluation. There are different approaches that can be taken based on each individual, and it’s my role to work with the child and caregiver to identify what would work best for the child.
You’ve had a lot of experience evaluating medically complex children and children who are dealing with medical conditions that many think only affect adults. Tell us about that.
It’s true. I’ve worked closely with children who have gone through cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. These are always very touching experiences. These children have been through so much medically that sometimes the medical experiences lead to mental health challenges. They may have gotten through the cancer itself, but there can be residual and sometimes long-term fears of a reoccurrence. Often, there is an intensely emotional component to these assessments because of what the children and their families have endured. I’ve heard the fear in the voices of both the children and their parents’ voices. It’s my job to listen and provide them with a safe space.
Some of the children seen may not be able to maintain engagement for a typical evaluation due to fatigue related to their medical condition and treatment, for example. In these cases, the evaluation will need to be carefully tailored to address the referral question (s). And again, the approach to the evaluation would have to be modified to meet the child where they are.
I’ve also worked with children who have been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and other autoimmune conditions. With these children, I always factor in the amount of stress they are experiencing in life and school as well as the fears they have about how MS may impact them later in life. The stress they feel, whether at school or based on their diagnosis, can have a negative impact on their symptoms. There’s a cascading effect from the brain and all of its thoughts and worries, and that is what we help them deal with. I am always eager to advocate for these children who bear such a heavy load.
What is the most rewarding part of your job as a neuropsychologist?
I feel that I have added value to a child’s life, when I can provide them and their families with a meaningful and comprehensive understanding of their profile—one that includes strengths, not just a focus on weaknesses. I think this is essential as it enables the family and child to advocate for their needs.
Why did you want to be part of NESCA’s team?
Initially, I was really drawn to the integrative approach to care for the children who are with NESCA. Coordination of care, whenever possible, and consultation among professionals involved in a child’s care leads to better outcomes. I was also excited to work with the professionals who specialize in different areas than I am accustomed to working with, such as postsecondary transition. The team here is very willing to collaborate so we can all teach and learn from each other. While I know I will gain great knowledge from the group, it really best serves the families with whom we work.
About Pediatric Neuropsychologist Ferne Pinard, Ph.D.
Dr. Pinard provides comprehensive evaluation services for children, adolescents, and young adults with learning disabilities, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), and psychiatric disorders as well as complex medical histories and neurological conditions. She has expertise in assessing children and adolescents with childhood cancer as well as neuro-immunological disorders, including opsoclonus-myoclonus-ataxia syndrome (“dancing eyes syndrome”), central nervous system vasculitis, Hashimoto’s encephalopathy, lupus, auto-immune encephalitis, multiple sclerosis (MS), acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), and acute transverse myelitis (ATM), and optic neuritis.
To book a neuropsychological evaluation with Dr. Pinard or another expert neuropsychologist at NESCA, 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 and Plainville, Massachusetts, as well as Londonderry, New Hampshire. NESCA serves clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.