Tag

MENTAL HEALTH

When Parents and Kids Have BIG Emotions

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Miriam Dreyer, Ph.D.

Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow

Brianna Sharpe’s recent essay for the New York Times – Parenting section titled, “I’d Like to Melt Down When My Kids Do,” captures an essential challenge of parenting – managing one’s own emotions when your child is having big and difficult feelings. Ms. Sharpe writes about her own extensive training as a mental health professional and how even with lots of experience working with children, she was not prepared for the emotional demands of parenting. She writes, “. . . like all preschoolers, my son needs an anchor when the waters get rough. But just when he needed me most, I found myself being pulled under by my own emotions. Although I never called him names or outright accused him of being at fault, I would yell in anger when hurt. My irrational response was often, ‘Why would you do that?!’ Once the red haze faded, I knew he was doing just what preschoolers are designed to do – but I had a hard time reconnecting with him.”

Ms. Sharpe beautifully depicts the intricate link between a child and a parent’s emotions. As parents, one of our essential roles throughout our children’s lives is to help them regulate. From birth, our job is to love, soothe, feed, attend and help our kids make sense of their feelings. This is a hard job, made even more complicated by the nuances and complexities of our own emotional lives.

Emotion regulation is a multifaceted process. As defined by Gross (1998), emotion regulation involves conscious and unconscious processes that operate both before an emotional response is generated and after it occurs. He writes that emotion regulation consists of “processes by which individuals influence which emotions they have, when they have them, and how they experience and express these emotions.” Challenges with emotion regulation are a component of many of the presenting problems we see at our center. Children with ADHD can struggle with emotional impulsivity, shifting and modulating emotional responses. Individuals with depression and anxiety face challenges balancing positive and negative feelings, as well as controlling irrational thoughts and worries. Difficulties with emotion regulation for individuals on the Autism spectrum are also common and intersect with social/emotional and behavioral problems that can arise with symptoms related to rigidity, self-direction and repetitive, self-soothing behaviors.  Symptoms associated with traumatic stress, such as dissociation, mood lability and alexithymia, all interfere with one’s ability to regulate emotionally. Even challenges like communication disorders and other learning disabilities are related to emotion regulation since they generate anxiety and can impede expressing oneself using language, which is a key regulatory process. In fact, theorists are now conceptualizing emotion regulation as a possible unifying, underlying component across psychological disorders (Aldao, Nolen-Hoeksema, & Schweizer, 2010).

What are we, as parents, to do then in the face of our children’s and our own stormy emotions?  How do those of us caring for children who are struggling help them while attending to our own complicated emotional processes? A helpful framework for considering these questions comes from researchers who focus on attachment relationships in parenting, mentalization, as well as the mindfulness and self-compassion literature. 

  • Cultivate self-compassion. Parenting is hard, as is childhood. A stance of self-compassion which acknowledges challenges and encourages kindness to oneself helps move out of cycles of self-blame and anger.
  • Encourage curiosity about your own and your child’s emotions. Developing awareness of our own and our children’s emotional lives helps create a buffer in moments of heightened emotional arousal and can shed light on challenging patterns and interactive cycles.
  • Take a pause. Try breathing and mindfulness exercises to regain calm in difficult moments.
  • Consult with a therapist for parent guidance. There are many different types of parenting programs and support that can help tailor strategies and target complicated dynamics within family systems.

 

References

Aldao, A., Nolen-Hoeksema, S., & Schweizer, S. (2010). Emotion-regulation strategies across psychopathology: A meta-analytic review. Clinical psychology review30(2), 217-237.

Gross, J. J. (1998). The emerging field of emotion regulation: An integrative review. Review of general psychology2(3), 271-299.

Sharpe, B. (2019, June 21). I’d like to melt down when my kids do.  The New York Times.

 

About the Author

Dr. Dreyer enjoys working with children, adolescents and families who come to her office with a wide range of questions about learning, social and emotional functioning. She is passionate about helping children and parents understand the different, often complex, factors that may be contributing to a presenting problem and providing recommendations that will help break impasses – whether they be academic, therapeutic, social or familial.

Dr. Dreyer joins NESCA after completing her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the City University of New York.  She most recently provided psychological assessments and comprehensive evaluations at the Cambridge Health Alliance/Harvard Medical School for children and families with a wide range of presenting problems including trauma, anxiety, psychosis, and depression.  During her training in New York, she conducted neuropsychological and psychological testing for children and adolescents presenting with a variety of learning disabilities, as well as attentional and executive functioning challenges.  Her research focused on developmental/complex trauma, as well as the etiology of ADHD.

Dr. Dreyer’s experience providing therapy to children, adolescents and adults in a variety of modalities (individual, group, psychodynamic, CBT) and for a wide range of presenting problems including complex trauma/PTSD, anxiety, depression, ADHD, and eating disorders informs her ability to provide a safe space for individuals to share their concerns, as well as to provide tailored recommendations regarding therapeutic needs.

Before becoming a psychologist, Dr. Dreyer taught elementary and middle school students for nine years in Brooklyn, NY.  She also had an individual tutoring practice and specialized in working with children with executive functioning challenges, as well as providing support in writing, reading and math.  Her experience in education informs both her understanding of learning challenges, as well as her capacity to make specific and well-informed recommendations.

She received her Masters in Early Childhood Education from Bank Street College, and her B.A. in International Studies from the University of Chicago.

 

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.

 

To book an appointment with one of our expert neuropsychologists, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

When Grandparents Become Parents Again

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Yvonne M. Asher, Ph.D. 

Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Grandparents can hold a special place for any child. For some, though, grandparents play a central role in their day-to-day lives. When grandparents raise a child, it is often related to parental challenges, tragic circumstances or government intervention. This brings inherent, understandable stressors for grandparents. Additionally, grandparents face the more typical challenges of child-rearing, such as managing educational experiences, ensuring emotional well-being and navigating health care.

When concerns with educational achievement, behavior, emotional or social functioning arise, there are many obstacles with which grandparents must wrestle. Feelings of guilt may arise, which can stem from a variety of sources. Grandparents may question their own parenting practices, worrying about past “mistakes” in raising their children. They may be especially sensitive to shielding their grandchildren from exposure to risky situations that their children may have faced without their knowledge. Grandparents may struggle when grandchildren are given diagnoses such as ADHD, autism or learning disabilities, wondering if their children faced these same challenges without formal diagnosis or intervention. Many grandparents express understandable fears around their grandchildren’s future, particularly their level of independence. While many caregivers have concerns with the independence of the children in their care, grandparents are often acutely aware of the limited time they will have to support, counsel and assist their grandchildren through their young adult years.

In navigating the special education and mental health care systems, grandparents can face many complex situations. Complexity may be increased if grandparents are in a caregiving role due to parents’ substance use or dependence. Depending on the timing and extent of substance use, there can be long-lasting impacts on grandchildren’s educational, cognitive or emotional health. This can substantially increase the difficulties that grandparents encounter, both in terms of accessing necessary services and supports, as well as coping with the stresses of caregiving.

There are also a number of strengths that grandparents can bring to their time as caregivers. They may be more aware of their rights as caregivers within the educational system, seeking out services and interventions when the “first signs” of difficulty arise. They may have a broader perspective on the school system, potentially having raised children who went through the same schools in the past. With the wisdom that comes in later adulthood, grandparents may be more discerning and skeptical about the opinions of professionals. They may ask more pointed questions, with less reserve or fear. Grandparents may also have built stronger support networks and have deeper connections to community organizations. These strengths can serve grandparents well in managing the complex systems that all caregivers face.

Several states have created advisory councils or legislation specifically designed to support grandparents raising grandchildren. In addition, there are many resources available to grandparents who are caring for and raising grandchildren, including:

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/parenting-family/grandparents-raising-grandchildren.htm

https://www.grandfamilies.org

http://www.massgrg.com/massgrg_2019/index.html

https://sixtyandme.com/resources-for-grandparents-raising-grandchildren/

 

About Pediatric Neuropsychologist Dr. Yvonne Asher:

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.

 

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.

 

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

 

New Year’s Resolution to Lasting Lifestyle Changes

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By Billy Demiri, CPT
Certified Personal Trainer

The New Year can bring with it so many possibilities, and beginning a new decade is even more exciting. This is the time of year so many of us envision great goals and changes that we want to make in the new year. A 2016 study published in scientific journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, investigated New Year’s resolutions and found that, “55% of resolutions were health related, such as exercising more, or eating healthier.” I know from personal experience and working with so many people, helping them achieve their fitness and lifestyle goals, just how hard it can be to make lasting changes. So how do we stay on track with all of our New Year’s resolutions when, “about 80% of people fail to stick to their New Year’s resolutions for longer than six weeks”? Here are some of the best strategies I use when setting goals and staying consistent with them.

First, when it comes to New Year’s resolutions and goal setting, it is important to make sure they are doable and meaningful if we want to give ourselves the best shot at success. It is essential to make sure that whatever goal we choose really matters to us, and we are making it for the right reasons. I like to use the acronym SMART when setting goals for myself and my clients. That means goals should be S-Specific, M-Measurable, A-Achievable, R-Relevant and T-Time-bound. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, you should be specific about how much weight you want to lose. Also, make sure it is realistic and set a time frame for yourself; such as losing 1-2 pounds a week vs. 5 pounds per week. Most important of all, it has to be the right goal for you! It is really easy to lose sight of our goal if we are making changes based on what someone else or society is telling us to change. So how do we find a goal that will be right for us?

My favorite technique for finding goals that matter to me and my clients is asking the 5- Whys—or the Downward Arrow Technique—which was coined by psychiatrist Dr. David Burns. It works for any goal or statement by asking why five times to really explore why that goal is important. For example, let’s stick with the goal of losing weight and explore it further:

  1. Why do you want to lose weight?
  • Because I want to lose fat and build some muscle.
  1. Why does that matter?
  • So I could walk around with my shirt off in the summer.
  1. Why do you want to be able to walk around with your shirt off?
  • Because I will look good and feel good about myself.
  1. Why do you want to feel good about yourself?
  • Because when I feel good about myself, I am more confident and assertive.
  1. Why do you want to be more confident and assertive?
  • Because I will be in control and will have a better chance at getting what I want out of life.

By using the 5-Whys technique, we can gain critical insight to our goals. For this person, weight loss was really a matter of taking charge of his life. He’s not really motivated by the number on the scale or just looking good with his shirt off. By having that insight, he is far more likely to keep working towards his goal—even if the scale hasn’t moved as fast as he would have liked.

Now that we have a way of choosing the right goals for ourselves, how do we stay consistent and make sure we reach our objectives? The two most important steps to achieving any goal are making time and taking action! Making time declares that you matter, and it is a commitment to your values, priorities and goals. If you don’t make time, time will be taken from you. Practicing making time will also help you practice valuable life skills, such as identifying what is important to you and looking ahead, planning and preparing for anything life throws at you. One way to start this process is by making a time diary. For one day, about every 30 minutes, record how you are spending your time. This will help you assess how you are spending your time and figure out what activities are helping you, adding value, what is non-negotiable, and what is taking your time but not helping you. Now you can figure out what activities you can do less of so you can do more to accomplish your goals.

Once you find the time, now you can take action! Often, we come up with great, elaborate plans and idea, but  then get stuck in the thought process. The world’s best workout plan, diet plan or life plan is no good unless we can do something about it. The best way to get unstuck in this process is by taking a five-minute action. Only action creates change! Taking action almost always comes before motivation, and it is usually only after we’ve done something that we feel motivated. By taking small actions, we can gain momentum and bust out of procrastination. Usually, all we have to do is drive through the first few minutes of resistance and then five minutes turns into 30 and then into 60 minutes. By being consistent and learning to use this five-minute action, we will not only achieve our goals, but also learn these valuable life skills and truths along with it. Action is empowering, satisfying and serves as evidence that you’re getting things done even if it’s just for five minutes.

To accomplish any goal, we need to build certain skills and practices, then put them into action. Each goal requires different skills and practices to apply, but the process is the same for all of them. Let’s stick with the goal of losing weight by working out. To do so, we must develop and build up the skill of time management. Then we can practice making time to go to the gym or for a jog. Finally, we can take action and go to the gym or do anything that will help us reach our goal. The more we focus on this process, rather than the outcome, the better the results we will see. We will also build valuable life skills that can be used for more than just fitness goals.

So, now that you have a way to find a meaningful goal and an action plan to go with it, it is time to take charge of your path. Also, it’s really important to remember that when working toward a goal or resolution, that you only compare yourself to where you were yesterday, not to where someone else is in the present moment. Adopt a growth mindset and know that there is no such thing as failure…only feedback. There may be setbacks, and that is normal, but you can learn from it and take a five-minute action. Most importantly, have fun with the process, try new things and as Jocko Willink would say, “Get After It!”

References:

https://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/ayelet.fishbach/research/Woolley&FishbachPSPB.pdf
About the Author:

Certified Personal Trainer Billy Demiri offers Personal and Social Coaching (PSC) at NESCA. Billy has several fitness certifications including: NSCA-CPT (National Strength Condition Association- Certified Personal Trainer) Certified and Autism Fit Certified.

To book sessions with Billy Demiri, complete NESCA’s online intake form and note that you are interested in Personal & Social Coaching.

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.

When is it Actually Bullying?

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By Yvonne M. Asher, Ph.D. 
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Autumn holds excitement for many students – heading back to school to see old friends, meet new teachers and learn new skills. However, for some, a new school year holds more apprehension than enthusiasm. Students worry that their teacher will be mean, their math homework will be hard or that their recess time cut short by bad weather. One fear that is described more and more often by parents and children is the fear of bullying.

What is bullying?

There is no single definition of bullying, but most researchers describe the following necessary and sufficient characteristics:

  • unwanted, intentionally aggressive behavior that is aimed at harming another person
  • carried out repeatedly
  • in a relationship where there is a power differential

The quintessential example of this is the hulking, five-foot-five elementary schooler who pushes, shoves and steals the lunch money of a short, scrawny younger child every day. Luckily, this kind of aggression is rare; however, the rarity of “classic” bullying requires us to be somewhat more mindful of what childhood behaviors are (and, are not) considered bullying.

First and foremost, behavior must be unwanted and intended to harm. This means that the rambunctious children rough-housing on the playground is generally not a bullying situation. Playful acts, or acts with the intent of friendly, physical play, are not bullying. Certainly, there are times when children may misunderstand the intent of their peers or friends and perceive an action as hurtful. In that case, a frank discussion of intended message versus experienced consequence is required, but there is no immediate concern for bullying. If a child did not intend to hurt their peer, bullying is not the issue.

When researchers use the term “aggressive behavior,” it should be clarified that aggression is not always physical. Aggression comes in three forms: physical, verbal and relational. Physical aggression is exactly what you are imagining – punching, kicking, hitting and similar behaviors. This kind of aggression occurs in very young children (think: toddlers), most often as a means of communication due to their limited verbal skills. By early childhood, kids rarely use physical aggression to communicate, as most children are able to talk and verbalize their wants, needs and feelings.

The second type of aggression is verbal aggression. This can involve things like yelling, screaming, swearing, threatening and name-calling. This kind of aggression occurs throughout childhood and adolescence, with the frequency decreasing as children mature.

The last form of aggression is the most complex. It is called relational aggression. Researcher Nicki Crick defined relational aggression as any act that uses the social relationships, social standing or social experiences of an individual to harm them. The stereotypical examples of relational aggression come from films like Mean Girls. Gossip, social exclusion, humiliation, embarrassment, rumor spreading and intentional ignoring are all examples of behaviors that fall into the category of relational aggression. This frequency of relational aggression generally increases as children develop, as relational aggression requires more sophisticated verbal and social skills to carry out. In addition, relational aggression is rarely noticed by adults and often does not carry the same disciplinary consequences as physical or verbal aggression. Children learn quickly that refusing to play with a peer or spreading a nasty rumor is unlikely to get them “in trouble,” making this type of aggression far more effective for older children and adolescents.

It is important to note that both boys and girls engage in aggressive behavior. Girls tend to start using relational aggression younger, and use it consistently throughout their lives. Boys tend to start out using physical aggression, and shift to relational aggression as they mature. However, both boys and girls engage in aggressive behavior at all developmental stages.

Back to our definition of bullying – the next element is “happens repeatedly.” Bullying is not a one-time occurrence. The behavior, or harm caused by the behavior, must happen over and over. Two children who are angry and get into a fight in the cafeteria may well be intending to harm one another. However, if the fight is a one-time occurrence, there is no immediate concern for bullying. One challenging aspect of this part of the definition is how we handle online or cyberbullying (i.e., bullying that happens through electronic media such as text or social media). Because posts to social media, texts and images online can be viewed multiple times by multiple people, a single act carried out online may meet the definition of bullying. For example, posting a message that conveys a nasty rumor about a peer to one classmate’s profile can have untold impact on the victim’s social relationships depending on how many times that post is forwarded, tagged, “liked,” discussed or otherwise shared across the social network.

The last part of the definition of bullying is that it occurs “in a relationship where there is a power differential.” Power differentials exist in many relationships – parent/child, teacher/student, employer/employee, landlord/renter, therapist/patient and so on. In children, power differentials may exist when a child is:

  • older
  • physically larger
  • more popular
  • more socially skilled

While this is not an exhaustive list, these are the most common situations where we find power differentials in children. Without a power differential present in the relationship, bullying is not an immediate concern. It is not uncommon for children to have challenges in their friendships, such as teasing, unwanted horseplay, sitting with other friends at lunch and choosing to work with a different partner on a project. However, these challenges typically do not meet the “power differential” criterion of bullying. They are better defined as normal, healthy obstacles in relationships that, when worked through productively, can help children develop more sophisticated social problem-solving skills.

What to do when it is bullying

We’ve discussed many examples of what is not bullying, so what should happen when behaviors are best characterized as bullying? First and foremost, assess your child’s safety. If physical aggression is part of the bullying, consider immediate action, such as talking to your child’s teacher or school administrator. Note that bullying is now a legal matter in many states, including Massachusetts. When talking to your child, remember that bullying comes with plenty of shame and anxiety, so make every effort to ask simple, clear, direct questions with as calm a tone as possible.

If your child’s safety is not a primary concern, ask your child if they want your help to solve the problem. If so, consider helping your child map out the social dynamics of what is happening. Who is saying what? To whom? Is it just you who is the victim, or are the bullies doing the same thing to other children? Does the teacher notice? If so, do the bullies get in trouble? Depending on the answers, help your child work toward a strategy to solve the problem. Younger children may require more adult intervention, such as a parent reaching out to the teacher. Older children and adolescents may be able to try out problem-solving strategies independently, with your support at home.

If your child does not want your help, consider letting them try to solve the problem on their own. Remind them that you love and trust them, and have confidence in their ability to figure out tough situations. Encourage your child to participate in other social activities where they experience more positive interactions, such as martial arts, Girl or Boy Scouts, team sports or clubs outside of school. Having strong, positive friendships is one of the most important resiliency factors when a child is the victim of bullying.

It may help to know that upwards of 90% of adults report having been the victim of bullying at least once in their lifetime. Interestingly, over 70% also report having bullied someone else.

 

About Pediatric Neuropsychologist Dr. Yvonne Asher:

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.

 

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.

 

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

 

Exercise Before Medication: How consistent workouts can change your life

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By Billy Demiri, CPT
Certified Personal Trainer

Recently I came across an article that highlights what I have believed to be true since I first started exercising regularly myself…a healthy body will foster a healthy mind. The study shows that “lifting weights helps lift depression; cardiovascular activities reduce the effects of anxiety; and any type of movement improves mental health.” Throughout the study, patients were led in a structured exercise program for 60 minutes four times a week. An astounding 95 percent reported feeling better, and 91.8 percent were very pleased with their bodies during each session. With those kinds of results, exercise should be at the forefront of treating mental health issues before psychiatric drugs.

When I started working as a personal trainer and coach, I saw the positive effects that consistent exercise had on all of my clients. Here at NESCA, I have the privilege of working with some amazing kids and young adults—all dealing with different disabilities/mental illness from Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Anxiety, Depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Muscular Dystrophy, and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). My goal has always been to make exercise fun and challenging, while also trying to identify goals that drive each individual to want to make exercise a regular part of their lifestyle.

Using a variety of equipment, we work on agility, conditioning, strength, coordination and overall better movement mechanics. After six years of being a personal trainer, and working at NESCA the past year, I couldn’t agree more with the findings of the article. I continue to see firsthand that consistent exercise can unlock everyone’s full potential and, in turn, create a lot of joy and self-worth.

Over the past year, it has been spectacular to see each person progress from session to session—not just physically but mentally. One of my clients was struggling with staying on task and had a hard time completing one exercise at a time before he got frustrated and needed a break. Each session we kept on progressing, and one exercise turned into two, then three, until we built up to doing four-move circuits. Yes, he built up strength and endurance over time, but more Importantly, he gained confidence in himself. He learned that what he originally thought was daunting was actually easy and very doable. Then  he went one step further and wanted to make it even harder. It was amazing seeing his mood change from not wanting to do any exercise to smiling and celebrating after beating his previous time in a four-move circuit. By staying consistent with exercise and seeing himself improve each week, I could see noticeable changes in his self-esteem, on-task behavior and overall mood during workouts—not to mention that he also developed better movement patterns and gained strength, endurance and overall better health.

Based on my experiences, prescribing exercise before medication is a worthwhile approach to continue to look at. Each person needs to be looked at individually, and more research needs to be done to ensure the safety of the patient and others without medication, however it’s clear through research and my own experiences that exercise has positive impact on our overall well-being. It will take some time to change the norm of prescribing patterns, but we are heading in the right direction.

 

Related Links for Additional Reading:

https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/exercise-mental-health?fbclid=IwAR3bUtp7SQmpI4w6kITG0RVbVrS_XfE9K1eOIoa018iUpTds9WJrxAganL4

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2164956119848657

https://nesca-newton.com/billydemiri/

 

About the Author:

Certified Personal Trainer Billy Demiri offers Personal and Social Coaching (PSC) at NESCA. Billy has several fitness certifications including: NSCA-CPT (National Strength Condition Association- Certified Personal Trainer) Certified and Autism Fit Certified.

 

To book sessions with Billy Demiri, complete NESCA’s online intake form and note that you are interested in Personal & Social Coaching.

 

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’s Up, Postdocs?

By | NESCA Notes 2019

NESCA currently enjoys having three pediatric neuropsychology fellows on its roster: Caroline Kleeman, Psy.M., Miriam Dreyer, Ph.D., and Zachary Cottrell, Psy.D, LMHC. NESCA’s postdoctoral positions are two-year engagements allowing clinicians who have completed or are finalizing their doctoral degrees to advance their training and acquire/hone their skills in preparation for their long-term careers.

We recently sat down with two of our fellows to learn more about their postdoctoral experiences now that they have almost reached the one-year mark in their time at NESCA.

By Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach

Tell us about your postdoctoral experience at NESCA so far.

Both: As postdocs, we sit in on every phase of an evaluation – from the intake session to the administering and scoring of the tests, interpretation of the results, feedback session with parents, and writing of the report.

We are always working with a supervising clinician during evaluations, and we participate in a training seminar led by NESCA’s Director of Training Dr. Angela Currie. We get feedback from our supervising clinicians throughout every stage in the testing process.

Caroline: I was fortunate to have worked at NESCA as a practicum student in 2016-2017. It’s been great to be back here in a different role. I’ve had the chance to work closely with Dr. Alissa Talamo during my fellowship.

Miriam: I’ve been on board here at NESCA since September 2018, so almost a year now. I worked closely with Dr. Amity Kulis, and now I am working with Drs. Nancy Roosa and Stephanie Monaghan-Blout.

Based on your experiences at NESCA, have you identified a specialty you would like to focus on?

Caroline: Autism has been and remains my area of interest. I also really enjoy working with children with learning disabilities and collaborating with schools to get the right plans in place for the kids we work with. I’ve really enjoyed and benefited from attending school observations and sitting in on Team meetings.

Miriam: Before I went to graduate school, I was a teacher. My area of interest is the intersection of emotional and learning challenges, including executive functioning difficulties and attentional disorders.  In graduate school, my research and therapy training focused on trauma. So, my goal is to combine my clinical and educational experiences to support families in understanding how emotional experiences impact learning in children and adolescents.

 Why did you choose to do your postdoctoral work at NESCA?

Caroline: As I mentioned, this is my second time being a part of the NESCA team. I came back to NESCA for my postdoc work because I valued the collegial environment. I also felt I could benefit from the different clinical staff and their various areas of expertise. It’s such a great experience to work in a practice where someone always knows the answer to my most challenging questions. I really appreciate the model of teaching at NESCA. Because of the apprenticeship model, there’s so much in-the-moment teaching with our clinical supervisors that I benefit from.

Miriam: I was really Interested in the apprenticeship model of training at NESCA as well. It’s a unique arrangement in that postdocs are with a supervising clinician every step of the of the evaluation process. We receive a lot of mentoring here, which is very important to me. I also value the integrated nature of the reports NESCA produces, which portray the sometimes complex kids we see in a nuanced way. Again, this is very important to me in my continued learning.

Both: We get to work with different people here who do different things. It’s given us exposure to so many new areas of neuropsychology that we may not have seen elsewhere. There are a lot of experts here to learn from.

What makes NESCA different? What did you find most beneficial?

Miriam: The structure of NESCA’s training program and the emphasis on continued learning throughout the organization are both so valuable. We frequently have seminars where third-party speakers come in to educate our staff on new areas of psychology and treatments so we all stay current with the latest evidence-based approaches. We also have a weekly case conference where all of our clinicians gather to discuss complex cases and to share resources, knowledge, and experiences to benefit the case at hand. There is a heavy emphasis on learning within the practice, so I am constantly getting exposed to new ideas. I think that’s a valuable and unique asset of NESCA.

Caroline: I absolutely agree with the fact that we are really benefiting from the heavy emphasis on learning and the years of experience our clinicians have. Their willingness to share the knowledge they’ve gained with each other and us is a great benefit to our clients and to my own education. I have also learned so much from our clinicians who attend and bring back such good information from conferences as well as the conferences I’ve had the opportunity to attend.

What’s been your favorite and your most challenging experience so far at NESCA?

Miriam: Each case is unique, so I’ve had lots of exposure to new areas of neuropsychology. Every person who walks in the door presents new opportunities for learning. While this is one of my favorite aspects of NESCA, it is also challenging. With the unique caseloads we take on, there is a lot to learn about the different profiles. As fellows, we do not yet specialize in one area, so we are getting a broad education across domains of neuropsychology. For every new case, there are unique recommendations tailored to that individual that require research, which is an important part of our training.

Caroline: Seeing each child who comes to NESCA as a unique individual is probably my most rewarding and challenging part of being in this practice. Getting to work with some of the more complex profiles out there is exciting to me, but is obviously a challenge, too. There’s always a lot to be learned about each child, and that can take some time to do.

What advice can you share with others looking into this field or who are looking for the right place for their postdoc experience?

Miriam: It’s a great opportunity to be here. My advice is to visit NESCA for an interview, see what it’s like here and learn about the different specializations of the practice’s clinicians. In your search, look for a postdoc position where you get varied training and exposure to a lot of different cases, even if they aren’t in your specific area of interest.

Caroline: Neuropsychology is a very fulfilling career. Every day and every child are different, so it never gets boring. Of course, it can also be frustrating in that there are sometimes barriers to kids getting what they need, whether in school or with community resources not being available. In those moments, you have to be creative and problem-solve. That said, the rewards far outweigh the challenges.

 

About Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow Miriam Dreyer, Ph.D.:

Dr. Dreyer enjoys working with children, adolescents and families who come to her office with a wide range of questions about learning, social and emotional functioning. She is passionate about helping children and parents understand the different, often complex, factors that may be contributing to a presenting problem and providing recommendations that will help break impasses – whether they be academic, therapeutic, social or familial.

Dr. Dreyer joins NESCA after completing her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the City University of New York.  She most recently provided psychological assessments and comprehensive evaluations at the Cambridge Health Alliance/Harvard Medical School for children and families with a wide range of presenting problems including trauma, anxiety, psychosis, and depression.  During her training in New York, she conducted neuropsychological and psychological testing for children and adolescents presenting with a variety of learning disabilities, as well as attentional and executive functioning challenges.  Her research focused on developmental/complex trauma, as well as the etiology of ADHD.

Dr. Dreyer’s experience providing therapy to children, adolescents and adults in a variety of modalities (individual, group, psychodynamic, CBT) and for a wide range of presenting problems including complex trauma/PTSD, anxiety, depression, ADHD, and eating disorders informs her ability to provide a safe space for individuals to share their concerns, as well as to provide tailored recommendations regarding therapeutic needs.

Before becoming a psychologist, Dr. Dreyer taught elementary and middle school students for nine years in Brooklyn, NY.  She also had an individual tutoring practice and specialized in working with children with executive functioning challenges, as well as providing support in writing, reading and math.  Her experience in education informs both her understanding of learning challenges, as well as her capacity to make specific and well-informed recommendations.

She received her Masters in Early Childhood Education from Bank Street College, and her B.A. in International Studies from the University of Chicago.

About Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow Caroline Kleeman, Psy.M.:

Caroline Kleeman comes to NESCA with experience providing evaluations for children with a range of neurodevelopmental profiles.  She has focused on assessing children with autism spectrum disorder, including those presentations accompanied by cognitive delays, language impairments, or genetic disorders.  She also enjoys evaluating children with academic difficulties stemming from learning disorders or attention/executive function disorders.

Ms. Kleeman’s approach to testing recognizes that children are so much more than a list of scores.  Combining her own careful observations with input provided by parents and teachers, Ms. Kleeman strives to differentiate between skill deficits or performance deficits, while also identifying unique strengths.  Additionally, drawing on her applied behavior analysis (ABA) background, Ms. Kleeman looks beyond the individual to identify helping and hindering features of the surrounding environment.  The result is meaningful, highly individualized educational and therapeutic recommendations.

Ms. Kleeman received her Sc.B. with honors from Brown University, where she studied cognitive science.  Focusing on early childhood, she conducted research on the role of sleep (especially naps!) in cognitive development.  After college, Ms. Kleeman worked as a therapist at Nashoba Learning Group, using the tenets of ABA to provide instruction across educational, vocational, behavioral, and adaptive domains.

Bridging between psychology and education, Ms. Kleeman is finalizing her doctorate in school psychology at Rutgers University Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology.  Her dissertation is investigating the role that Sesame Street’s autistic muppet, Julia, could play in early childhood social and emotional learning (SEL) programs.  She completed her pre-doctoral internship at the Center for Children with Special Needs in Connecticut, where, in addition to psychoeducational evaluations, she provided ABA therapy and ABA-based reading intervention for children across the autism spectrum.

 

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.

 

To book an appointment with one of our expert neuropsychologists, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Got Complicated? NESCA’s Newest Pediatric Neuropsychologist Wants to Test Your Child. Find Out Why!

By | NESCA Notes 2019

Pediatric Neuropsychologist Yvonne Asher, Ph.D., joins NESCA on June 3, servicing clients in the Londonderry, New Hampshire and Newton, Massachusetts offices, and is scheduling new clients now. We sat down with Yvonne to learn more about her, what her passions in neuropsychology are and why she joined NESCA.

 

By Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach

NESCA has 15 neuropsychologists who test a wide range of individuals. Tell us about your past professional experience and the types of clients you most enjoy serving.

I love working with children with complex profiles where challenges and diagnoses aren’t easily made or identified. This is the group of kids I worked with most often when I was with Mass General Hospital’s Lurie Center for Autism. It’s also incredibly rewarding to work with kids who aren’t able to communicate in a traditional manner—they may be too young, too impaired or potentially non-verbal. Many people think these individuals are too difficult to work with in testing. Using data to better understand their strengths and weaknesses is my passion, and I love to help them tell their stories through the assessment process.

It sounds like you enjoy working with complex kids. Can kids who have limited verbal skills and/or behavior challenges be tested?

Yes! Sometimes these children can be labeled in a punitive or negative way, such as being “uncooperative” or “untestable.” I don’t believe that anyone benefits from these kind of labels. It’s my job as the psychologist to be creative so that we can get the necessary data to understand them. I try to ease parents’ minds by reassuring them that I’ve seen many of these children before. And, if I haven’t frequently seen a particular complex profile, I’m lucky to have wonderful colleagues and resources to collaborate with on such cases.

For example, I worked with one very sweet, four-year-old child who had severe communication issues.  The parents and his pediatrician questioned whether he had autism. Since he had incredibly limited verbal skills, we altered all of the assessment tasks, using some non-verbal assessments and creatively modifying others to complete the testing. We noted that everything in the assessments—aside from his language—was on track developmentally. Prior to testing, everyone was pointing toward autism as the diagnosis, but he actually had a severe expressive/receptive language delay. His parents had figured out some tricks to communicate with him, but the world was a very scary place to him. He didn’t understand what was going on and primarily used gestures and facial expressions to communicate. That, unfortunately, only got him so far. As you can imagine, these challenges and frustrations led to a very stressful environment for the entire family. We recommended intensive speech therapy to help develop his communication skills, providing the family with a clear path forward.

You were a teacher before becoming a neuropsychologist. How do you feel your past experience as an educator enhances your work as a pediatric neuropsychologist?

I have a lot of experience working in public and charter schools. I was also a preschool teacher before graduate school, where I found the children to be endlessly funny, creative and just awesome! This experience is, in part, what fuels my desire to work with younger children who are experiencing challenges.

Having that educational experience is so valuable for the families at NESCA. I’ve been in special education and can help parents understand the process and landscape every step of the way—from an initial concern and assessment to getting an IEP and to thinking about high school placement and transition to adulthood.

The school experience also helps me to relate to the teachers, since I’ve been one and know how to partner with them to help students. We always help our families and push for what’s needed, but it’s helpful to also understand the constraints of the school setting. Knowing the constraints won’t change our recommendations, but it’s helpful in providing recommendations that will be implemented.

Why did you opt to move from the school setting to neuropsychology?

While I loved working in the school setting, I found that I didn’t get the chance to work as closely with families as I wanted. While families were there for school meetings, I’m looking to work with and serve the whole family system. I enjoy taking a close look at why children are having particular challenges, whether there’s a diagnosis that can be identified, and determining what school or path best fits a child and their family. I like taking the time to talk with parents and educators, giving each of them the chance to talk about the child, and to ask questions and make a plan for the child and their family. With really young kids, this is often just a first step, and I am excited to work with families long-term and help them through future hurdles.

What is so special about working with young children and their families?

Being a family’s first introduction to mental health is so meaningful. I tend to work with families who may be noticing that some milestones or behaviors are a bit off, or when they may first be considering a neuropsychological evaluation or other assessments. I like to find those parents who are asking, “What do you think it could be?” I truly enjoy giving these parents insight into their child, and providing exposure to and help along their path in mental healthcare.

Why did you opt to work in a group practice, like NESCA?

During my postdoctoral work, I really came to value the consultation with and supervision from other psychologists. I thought about going back into the school setting, but school psychologists are typically the only ones in that role at their school, or even their district. I appreciate the ability to put heads and knowledge together as colleagues. Doing so, on behalf of our clients, can help us to frame a case or intervention in a different way. Being able to bounce ideas or recommendations off of each other and using the combined experiences, knowledge and referral resources of other neuropsychologists brings so much to clients, families and individuals with challenges. NESCA, in particular, offers a very supportive environment in which to work. That can be felt by co-workers as well as the families we serve.

 

About Pediatric Neuropsychologist Dr. Yvonne Asher:

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.

 

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.

 

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

 

The Struggle is Not Only Real, It is Necessary

By | NESCA Notes 2018

 

By: Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

From an early age, we are subliminally taught that stress is a bad thing. Whether frustrated because your LEGO tower broke or confused about which two paint colors to mix to get green, you were more likely to hear “Calm down – no reason to get stressed,” than you were to hear “Let’s use your stress to help us make a plan for how to solve this problem.”

For most adults, the natural, well-meaning response to a child’s expression of stress, or most any unwanted feeling, is to try to fix it, make it go away, avoid it, or make it seem like it isn’t such a big deal. We do this by saying things like:

“Don’t be sad.”
“No need to worry about it.”
“It’s not as bad as you think it is.”
“Just try thinking about something else.”
“Let me do that for you.”

We all say and do these things, and the good intention is clear. Nobody likes to see a child struggle or experience discomfort. Unfortunately, manageable stress and discomfort is necessary for growth. When we minimize, distract, or dismiss a child’s emotional reaction, we are sending the message that feelings are unimportant, untrustworthy, and bad. This means that we are also missing the opportunity to teach the child about why we have feelings, and how even the unwanted ones are incredibly useful.

Stress and anxiety are at an all-time high nowadays. It is important to think about small things that we can do each day to help children feel more confident and competent in their ability to navigate this stressful world. One of the best ways we can help them to become more resilient is by creating an environment where emotions are acknowledged, accepted, and used in a functional manner. To start doing this, here are some basic things to keep in:

1) Feelings are information. They are telling us that something is important and may require our attention.
2) Feelings are never bad or “negative,” though they may be unwanted.
3) Stress is often a good thing – without it we would not prepare for tests, show up to work, or care about our relationships. Life without stress would be pretty unfulfilling.
4) The goal is not to control stress or other unwanted feelings – the goal is to recognize, use, and cope with them.
5) Acknowledging and accepting unwanted emotions is one of the best ways to reduce their impact.
6) Regular, casual discourse about wanted and unwanted feelings is healthy and normal. If we talk about the day to day feelings, it will make it easier to talk about the “big ones.”
7) Let children struggle sometimes. Don’t feel the need to fix things right away. Help them express how they’re feeling, gently guide them toward problem-solving, and praise their persistence in the face of challenge.

 

 

About the Author:

Currie

Dr. Angela Currie conducts neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments out of NESCA’s Londonderry, NH and Newton, MA offices, seeing individuals with a wide range of concerns. She enjoys working with stressed-out children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors that may be lending to their stress, including assessment of possible underlying learning challenges (such as dyslexia or nonverbal learning disability), attentional deficit, or executive function weakness. She also often conducts evaluations with children confronting more primary emotional and anxiety-related challenges, such as generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or depression. Dr. Currie particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.

 

To book an evaluation or consultation with Dr. Currie or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician in the referral line.

 

 

 

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.

 

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 (CASEL.org). 
· 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:

Roosa

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

 

Modern Parenting – Part 3: Sarahah, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Oh My! Navigating the Wide World of Apps

By | NESCA Notes 2018

 

By: Jacki Reinert, Psy.D., LMHC
Pediatric Neuropsychology Post-Doctoral Fellow

I recently had the opportunity to co-evaluate a young woman in high school who was recently suspended from school due to ongoing peer conflicts with classmates on a social media app called Sarahah. What initially started as an innocent question soon escalated into an online battle, fueled by a misunderstanding and magnified by an impulsive decision to post a verbal threat. Since that time, Sarahah has popped up in my social media feeds, particularly among parents, educators, and therapists on Facebook. Well-intentioned adults are scrambling to learn more about the app, how they can protect their children, clients, and students from the dangers of yet another social media platform which promotes anonymous bullying. This phenomenon highlights the significant and misguided, albeit well-intentioned, approach adults use to conceptualize social media and adolescent usage. It is March 2018, and Sarahah has been unavailable for download on iTunes for approximately two months. Teens have already begun to move on to the next app, while adults are only more recently learning about the obsolete app.

Some common misconception adults have about social media is that they need to know each of the apps that teens are using, an impossible feat considering the speed with which they become popular, trend on iTunes, and quickly become a relic of the past. As digitally competent adults, we are better served by understanding the types of social media apps teens use, how to talk to kids about which apps they should steer clear of and why.

Generally, there are four types of social media apps that are currently trending, moving adolescents away from typical texting to new social platforms. The first are new texting platforms, which include WhatsApp, KikMessanger, Telegram, and GroupMe. These types of apps allow teen to group chat for free in virtual “private chat rooms.” Live streaming group chats are also popular because they allow multiple people to participate in a group “FaceTime” experience. Apps that offer these experiences are HouseParty, Live.ly, and Live.me.

Microblogging is another popular social media platform which allows teens to quickly post relevant information. Examples of this are classified into platforms such as Twitter or Tumblr, which allow teens to share text, GIFs, and videos, and photo-based microblogging, such as Snapchat, Instagram, and the now-defunct Vine. Of these, photo and video-based apps are more popular.

Lastly, there has been a huge shift from identifiable users to anonymous platforms, which include Yik Yak, Saraha, Spillit, Secret, Whisper, and AskFm, as well as meet-up and online dating apps. These apps include Monkey, Meet.me, Omegle, Yubo, and Tinder. Apps that promote anonymity are arguably the most dangerous, primarily because people (adults and adolescents) are more likely to say things online that they would never say to someone face-to-face, increasing cyberbullying. In a nationally-representative sample of 5,700 middle and high school students, the Cyberbullying Research Center found that over the last ten years, 27% of students had been cyberbullied at some point in their life. Further, anonymous social media apps and increased incidents of cyberbullying have been linked to multiple teen suicides around the globe.

As I mentioned in a previous post (http://www.nesca-news.com/2018/03/modern-parenting-part-2-what-are.html), talking to teens about their digital footprints is the first step in opening a social media dialogue about expected behaviors when using social media as a member of an online community, and the ramifications associated with engaging with others online. As a social media consumer, I have found CommonSense Media to be the best spot to access relevant information about not only apps but also other types of media, including movies and video games.

Research conducted by CommonSense Media highlights misconceptions about age-appropriateness for apps; they often compare what parents think is an appropriate age for specific apps, what kids think, and what the specialists think. For example, Snapchat is one of the most popular apps currently used by teens. Parents think it is appropriate for kids ages 14 and up, while kids think ages 12 and up is okay. CommonSense Media recommends users ages 16 and up. What about Instagram? Parents, 14 and up, kids say 12 and up, and CommonSense Media? Ages 15 and up.

So, who’s right? When is it appropriate for a kid to use Instagram? A one-size-fits all approach is likely to mismatch kids, particularly those who may have complex cognitive or social-emotional profiles, with the appropriate social media platforms. Join me next week to learn more about how to start social media conversations with kids, pitfalls adults can make, and when to seek advice from a professional.

Read the rest of this series:

Modern Parenting – Part 1: A Heartfelt Series of Social Media Tips

Modern Parenting – Part 2: What are Digital Footprints and Where Do They Lead?

 

About the Author:

Dr. Jacki Reinert is a Pediatric Neuropsychology Postdoctoral Fellow who joined NESCA in September 2017. Dr. Reinert assists with neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments in the Newton office and will join the Londonderry office in March 2018. In addition to assisting with neuropsychological evaluations, Dr. Reinert co-facilitates parent-child groups and provides clinical consultation. Before joining NESCA Dr. Reinert worked in a variety of clinical settings, including therapeutic schools, residential treatment programs and in community mental health. She has comprehensive training in psychological assessment, conducting testing with children, adolescents, and transitional-aged adults with complex trauma.

 

To book a consultation with one of our many 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.