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Life Skills for College to Work on Now – Part 2

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist

In Massachusetts, we are more than five weeks into home-based learning and looking toward another two months (or more) of schools and childcare facilities being closed. Unfortunately, this is taking a particularly large social and emotional toll on our teenagers and young adults. One strategy for coping with current conditions is to focus on concrete ways that we can control our daily lives and to set short-term tangible goals. With that in mind, I am writing a second blog focusing on the opportunity teenagers are being given to build daily living and executive functioning skills that will ultimately help them live away from home and self-direct their lives. Last week, I discussed four important skills that are critical for attending residential colleges: getting up on time each morning, doing laundry, having basic kitchen skills, and using basic tools for assembling and fixing things around home. This week, I am offering another four skills. For any young person, I always suggest letting the student pick the skill(s) they want to work on first. When you have a lot to work on, you may as well pick the starting point that feels most important and motivating!

  • Medications: For students who have been on medication during high school, keeping that medication regimen stable is typically a must during the transition to college. Students need to have the knowledge, preparation and organizational skills needed to maintain their own medication regimen. Often a good way to start this process is to purchase a 7-day pill organizer and have teens be responsible for dispensing their own medication for the week. Certainly, a smartphone or smartwatch with several alarms can be useful for remembering medications at needed times. For more information about medication management expectations in college, check out this article by Rae Jacobson. He makes some useful recommendations, such as using a unique alarm tone for medication reminders and putting pills in highly or frequently visible locations (e.g., next to your toothbrush that you routinely use).
  • Money: Students in early stages of high school may be too young for their own bank accounts and credit cards. However, some banks do offer accounts that are specially tailored for minors. Students can open a joint bank account as a minor with a parent or legal guardian. Teens can also practice managing plastic through use of traditional prepaid debit cards, Amazon.com or store gift cards, or a debit card made especially for minors like Greenlight. From home, teens can practice making necessary online purchases, tracking payments and shipping, checking account balances, and using a software like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets to keep a record of purchases. There are also plenty of great free web-based financial literacy resources that teens can use to learn about banking and consumer skills from home; a few resources that my colleague Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC, and I like include:
  • Building an Exercise Routine: Believe it or not, basic fundamentals like healthy eating, sleep hygiene and regular vigorous exercise are strong predictors of college success and satisfaction. As we are living in a period of time where team sports are not accessible, this may be exactly the right time for teenagers to build their own individual exercise routine that can be carried out at home and in one’s local neighborhood. A good baseline to strive for is a routine that includes exercise sessions at least three days per week. With decreased time factors in our lives, students can play around with morning, afternoon or evening exercise to see what feels best for their bodies and brains. If brisk dog-walking, jogging/running or biking activities are not appealing, there are plenty of great YouTube exercise videos (e.g., dance, yoga, strength training, cardio training, etc.) that require no equipment and are calibrated for all kinds of bodies and levels of fitness. Setting a schedule for weekly workouts will help to ensure that exercise becomes more routine and tracking progress with that schedule (e.g., journaling, marking a calendar, using an app like Strava or Aaptiv, etc.) helps to build and sustain motivation. Some teens (and adults) also find that they are more able to stick to an exercise routine if they use a smartwatch to help track, celebrate and prompt their progress.
  • Using a Calendar System for Scheduling: The alarm clock mentioned in last week’s blog is certainly an important time management tool that is vital to master prior to attending college. Another critical time management tool for college (and life beyond) is a calendar system for managing one’s schedule. When starting to build time management skills, simply asking your teen to write down their schedule can be a good place to start. What do they know they have to do each day of the week? What appointments or activities are missing? Teens may have a calendar system that they are already accustomed to using for checking the date, but may not be using that tool to manage their entire schedule. Some common calendar app tools include iCal, Google Calendar and Outlook, but some teens may do better with paper-based systems. If a teen benefits from a paper copy of their schedule, I would still recommend that they learn to use something electronic, then just print off their daily, weekly or monthly schedule based on preference and need. Practice inputting activities that are happening right now, such as assignments, remote classes, meals, therapy, etc. Teens can also play around with reminder settings to see what feels best for prompting participation in activities. Sometimes 15 minutes is too much time, but 5 or 10 is just right. Other times, more than one reminder is needed.

To read more about the Life Skills recommendations from last week’s Transition Thursday blog, click here!

 

If you are interested in working with a transition specialist at NESCA for consultation, coaching, planning or evaluation, please complete our online intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

 

About the Author:

Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

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.

Life Skills for College to Work on Now – Part 1

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist

As a transition specialist working with students who have the cognitive and academic potential for college but have sometimes missed opportunities to develop life skills while keeping up with rigorous academic and extracurricular schedules, I am encouraging families to think of this time as a gift. Students, especially those in 8th-10th grade, have a novel opportunity to build life skills that can help them to live away from home and self-direct their schedules. Without school closures, this opportunity likely would not have come until after 12th grade. With that in mind, here is a list of 4 life skills that are critical for attending residential college that I am recommending some of my students work on:

  • Getting up “on time” each morning: We all know that teenage sleep schedules are rarely in alignment with traditional high school hours. Without transportation time, there is a new opportunity to practice using an alarm clock and build a sleep schedule and that is a little closer to teenage physiological needs. If teens are using a cell phone alarm, it is helpful to put the phone in airplane mode and plug it in away from the bed. With an alarm clock, some experts recommend clocks with blue numbers and facing the clock away from the bed. Good sleep hygiene depends on many factors, such as diet, caffeine intake, exercise, temperature, clothing and electronics use, so teens may want to organize their own “sleep study” to figure out what helps them personally to build a successful sleep routine. Teens can also play around with the sound an app or alarm clock makes to find something that is effective in waking them up without startling.
  • Laundry: When building new skills, I always recommend that students learn and practice the skills to the point of automaticity. Given the amount of time that we are now spending at home, this is the perfect opportunity to learn to do laundry, including reading labels, sorting clothing/linens and running the washer and dryer. If a teen is not interested in learning from a parent, YouTube is a great resource for learning steps to manage laundry and how to operate practically any model of washer or dryer. Teens will learn more quickly if they are practicing the skills multiple times per week, so consider building a schedule that takes into account repeated practice (e.g., clothing is washed midweek, and sheets and towels are washed on the weekend).
  • Basic kitchen skills: While colleges do have meal plans available, many students will still choose to cook a least one meal a day or week for themselves. Being able to cook some basic breakfast, lunch and dinner foods allows students to save money and time, be creative or enjoy a preferred taste/food that they are missing. If a student enjoys cooking and wants to learn to cook for others, that is a great social skill—food is definitely a way to build community (I still have college friends who request I make them grilled cheeses when we get together). I recently came across this parenting piece in The Washington Post highlighting 7 kitchen skills kids need before they leave for college, and now is certainly a good time to work on some of these skills. The article highlights wielding a knife, boiling water, sautéing, baking and roasting, using a slow cooker, planning meals and doing the dishes. But you may want to just start with planning and prepping preferred cold foods or microwave safety. Teens should consider their favorite basic foods and go from there.
  • Using basic tools: You don’t need to know every household maintenance skill to live in a college dorm. But being able to assemble things, fix loose screws and make other basic repairs is important for setting up your dorm or apartment space and saving time (and energy) chasing down maintenance. Some of the basic tools that are useful to be familiar with include a hammer, screwdrivers, measuring tape, pliers, a level, Allen keys and even some wrenches. There are lots of ways to start building familiarity with tools, such as inventorying current household tools, tightening screws on cabinet and drawer handles, hammering down loose nails on a porch, etc. As home repairs need to be tackled, use this as a life skills lesson and include teens in the process. One additional maintenance task that does not require tools is replacing lightbulbs—students should know how to safely remove bulbs from floor and table lamps and check the size, shape and wattage of the bulb, and shop for replacement bulbs.

Stay tuned for additional Life Skills recommendations in next week’s Transition Thursday blog!

 

If you are interested in working with a transition specialist at NESCA for consultation, coaching, planning or evaluation, please complete our online intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

 

About the Author:

Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

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.

Transition Planning: “Remote” Work-based Learning Experiences

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist

In the past three weeks, I have consulted with countless parents of high school students who are worried about how school closures and social distancing are impacting their child’s ability to gain need work experience during high school. Prior to March, I had been working with their teens to plan for summer internship programs, obtain first paid work experiences or finish out volunteer hours needed for senior graduation. Now, many of those plans are moot or uncertain. Instead, we are beginning to create backup plans (and backup plans for our backup plans) for continuing to build skills that will help these students be employable and successful even if internships and competitive work experiences are not accessible.

Fortunately, an unexpected benefit of Covid-19 school closures is the extraordinary educational resource-sharing that is occurring across the country (and even across the globe). We are all able to continue to build resources to help one another and the families that we support remotely. From our couches, we are able to access trainings provided by researchers, providers and educators who are among the top in their fields, often free of cost, and we are able to be part of large active professional networks. One of my favorite resources for transition-related information during this time is the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) who hosted presenters Brenda Simmons, MS, and Michael Stoehr, MS, to speak about Employment Preparation and Work-Based Learning Experiences in a Virtual World on Tuesday, April 7th. Because of the work I am doing with families, I was particularly appreciative of one model shared by Brenda Simmons, MS, and Michael Stoehr, MS, during a webinar I attended: A Work-Based Learning Continuum.

Work-based learning experiences, including paid employment, are one of the most substantial predictors of postsecondary adult employment for students with disabilities. While paid employment in an integrated setting is a critical work-based learning experience, it is a part of a continuum of activities, many of which are still accessible during the current remote-learning times. Below is a graphic adapted from Simmons and Stoehr to help visualize this continuum.

Work-Based Learning Continuum adapted from Simmons and Stoehr NTACT/WINTAC Training

While Internships, Apprenticeships and Competitive Employment are difficult to participate in remotely (especially because these experiences are now isolated rather than integrated), the other activities highlighted along the continuum offer more opportunities for remote exploration:

  • Job Shadowing and Worksite Tours: Even when students cannot visit worksites in person, employers may be able to provide “virtual” tours to share information about what their company does, show teens around their workplace, explain what different employees do and demonstrate work tasks. There are also many virtual tours of workplaces already readily available online. Consider who is in your network that is still going to their workplace or able to travel to work as an “essential” employee. There is a breakdown from Business Insider about the types of businesses that are considered “essential” in current times, and the range of opportunities are impressive. With job shadowing and worksite tours, it is imperative to remember that the most important component of the experience is for teens to engage in self-reflection about the jobs and worksites. What did I see? What did I learn? Is this a place I can picture myself working? What accommodations might I need to be successful in this workplace?
  • Informational Interviews and Mentoring: Before school closures, I worked with many teens who had success in finding their first internship or job through the process of an informational interview. Rather than going through a traditional application and interview process—which can be particularly difficult for teens with social or emotional vulnerabilities—students engage in a “low-stakes” conversation with an employer simply to learn more about a job of interest. While many working adults across the US are strapped for time given that they are now full-time work-from-home employees, stay-at-home parents and teachers/instructional aides all at once, there are also many employees who have found themselves with extra time and a desire to connect with others socially while giving back to their communities. This is a great time for a teen to reach out and ask for 30 minutes of someone’s time to learn more about their field of work. Here is a nice informational interviewing resource that comes from the UC Berkeley Career Center and can be adapted for these remote times. Career-focused mentoring is a step beyond an informational interview and may be a logical next step in a relationship that starts with an informational interview or might be set up with another adult who is able to assist with career exploration and development. Given current times, you may want to consider early career professionals and retired professionals as individuals who may be more available for a career-focused mentoring relationship.
  • Pre-boarding and Onboarding Training: Looking across the continuum of work-based learning experiences, pre-boarding and onboarding trainings are likely to be most unfamiliar to teens. Pre-boarding typically refers to activities that occur between the time a candidate accepts a job and has their first day, while onboarding activities usually occur on an employee’s first day (or first few days). Many companies have created digital materials, including videos and trainings, that help new hires get a sense of workplace culture and community expectations—they provide a level of information that goes beyond what you learn in an informational interview or job shadow. These training activities make for great work-based learning experiences and can be accessed as a creative resource even if a teen is not currently job searching. This is a blog that offers examples of onboarding and pre-boarding videos. But there are many more available through web-based searching or that can potentially be made available through the human resource department at a company of interest.

In a previous blog, 7 Ways to Build Work Readiness from Your Couch, I shared some useful resources for building job search skills and learning about careers of interest remotely. I would recommend that the interested reader check out that blog for websites offering virtual job shadow and worksite tour videos as well as information about volunteer and paid work opportunities that can be completed remotely.

 

If you are interested in working with a transition specialist at NESCA for consultation, coaching, planning or evaluation, please complete our online intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

 

About the Author:

Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

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.