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miranda milana

Understanding the Neuropsychological Evaluation Process When an Autism Spectrum Disorder is Suspected

By | NESCA Notes 2024

By Miranda Milana, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

In January, Dr. Folsom published a blog post detailing the reasons why so many females on the autism spectrum are misdiagnosed in childhood. Here at NESCA, we are continuously working to improve our testing practices and administration protocols to ensure that we accurately capture one’s diagnostic picture when they come in for a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation regardless of gender identity, age, or diagnostic presentation. As clinicians, tailoring an appropriate testing protocol is only one piece of the puzzle when working with our clients. From the moment we review your intake paperwork and questions/concerns, we work diligently to make sure we are teasing apart each component of a child’s neuropsychological profile to ensure clarity and accuracy for diagnoses and tailored recommendations. Here is a look into some of what that process looks like:

Initial Paperwork: Before your first intake appointment, your clinician will thoroughly review all of the intake paperwork and supporting documents you have submitted to us. We make sure to read all of your questions and concerns, while also making our own notes of questions that we will have for you during the intake appointment. All neuropsychologists here at NESCA are trained to identify “red flags” or areas of potential concern that we want to know more about through our interviews with you, your child, teachers, and our testing protocols.

Intake Appointment: During this appointment, we will ask you more in-depth questions about your responses and questions from the intake paperwork you provided. This is an opportunity for us to explore any concerns we may have. For many diagnoses, there are overlapping diagnostic features that are important to tease apart. For example, inflexibility and rigidity (not handling transitions well, struggling with changes in routine) may be related to an anxiety diagnosis, a mood disorder, an autism spectrum diagnosis, and/or executive functioning weaknesses.

Speaking with Collaterals: Oftentimes, clinicians will ask for permission to speak to other caregivers who have knowledge of your child, such as teachers, therapists, and pediatricians. Because we only see your child for a “snapshot” in time, it is important for us to also consider the perspectives of those who have longstanding relationships with them in a variety of contexts and environments.

Developing a Testing Battery: After the intake appointment, clinicians put together a tentative list of assessment measures that we may want to utilize. Tentative is the key word because oftentimes testing batteries change throughout the course of the assessment as a diagnostic picture becomes clearer or when specific areas of deficit become more apparent.

At NESCA, we have access to multiple testing tools that allow us to tailor our testing battery to capture any nuanced constellation of symptoms or diagnostic profile. For example, when thinking about how to accurately diagnose someone who is “high functioning” or “masking” areas of vulnerability related to an autism spectrum diagnosis, clinicians have access to the following batteries:

  • Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule—2nd (ADOS-2): The ADOS-2 is one of the most well-known assessments for autism as it utilizes a semi-structured format to assess social communication skills as well as restricted interests, repetitive behaviors, sensory sensitivities, and rigidity. The ADOS-2 relies on standardized observations to capture any difficulties in the aforementioned categories.
  • Childhood Autism Rating Scale—2nd (CARS-2): The CARS-2 is another measure that involves a standardized rating scale based on direct observations of the child. While playing and interacting with your child, the clinician is able to fill out this rating scale to assess symptoms associated with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. The CARS-2 also includes a parent questionnaire to allow for qualitative parent observations.
  • Monteiro Interview Guidelines for Diagnosing the Autism Spectrum—2nd (MIGDAS-2): The MIGDAS-2 assesses qualitative observations of language and communication skills, social relationships, emotional responses, as well as sensory interests and/or sensitivities. The MIGDAS-2 can be particularly helpful for children and adolescents who are “high-functioning,” or do not fit the presentation of the “male prototype” described in Dr. Folsom’s blog.
  • Social Language Development Test (SLDT): The SLDT measures social communication skills such as the ability to make inferences, interpret social situations, and navigate peer conflicts.

In addition to the above measures, clinicians may also choose to administer subtests related to social thinking, perspective taking, and/or emotion identification. Examples of these subtests include:

  • Affect Recognition and Theory of Mind from the NEPSY-II
  • Inferences, Meaning from Context, Idiomatic Language and Pragmatic Language on the CASL-2

For older children and adolescents, clinicians may ask them to fill out/answer questions about their own perceptions of their lived experiences. This can be done through an unstructured interview or by one of the following:

  • Camouflaging Autistic Traits Questionnaire (CAT-Q)
  • Ritvo Autism Asperger Diagnostic Scale—Revised (RAADS-R)
  • Autism Spectrum Quotient (ASQ)

Parent Questionnaires: Whenever there are any questions or concerns related to social communication and interpersonal relatedness, your clinician may ask you to fill out rating scales assessing your perception of your child’s ability to interact with others, engage in age-appropriate play, be flexible in their responses to change or new environments, and have a variety of interests. These questionnaires include:

  • Social Responsiveness Scale—2nd (SRS-2)
  • Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ)
  • Autism Diagnostic Interview—Revised (ADI-R)
  • Gilliam Autism Rating Scale—3rd (GARS-3)
  • Gilliam Asperger’s Disorder Scale (GADS)
  • Autism Spectrum Rating Scales (ASRS)

As you can see, we have a wide variety of measures available at NESCA to look at symptoms of an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Based on the discretion of your clinician, one or more of these may be used to further assess social communication concerns. While you may have heard of some of these being referred to as “the gold standard,” your clinician will use their knowledge, experience, and training to tailor a testing battery for the individual needs of your child. There is never a one size fits all approach to neuropsychological testing!

 

About the Author

Dr. Miranda Milana provides comprehensive evaluation services for children and adolescents with a wide range of concerns, including attention deficit disorders, communication disorders, intellectual disabilities, and learning disabilities. She particularly enjoys working with children and their families who have concerns regarding an autism spectrum disorder. Dr. Milana has received specialized training on the administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS).

Dr. Milana places great emphasis on adapting her approach to a child’s developmental level and providing a testing environment that is approachable and comfortable for them. She also values collaboration with families and outside providers to facilitate supports and services that are tailored to a child’s specific needs.

Before joining NESCA, Dr. Milana completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital in the Developmental Medicine department, where she received extensive training in the administration of psychological and neuropsychological testing. She has also received assessment training from Beacon Assessment Center and The Brenner Center. Dr. Milana graduated with her B.A. from the University of New England and went on to receive her doctorate from William James College (WJC). She was a part of the Children and Families of Adversity and Resilience (CFAR) program while at WJC. Her doctoral training also included therapeutic services across a variety of settings, including an elementary school, the Family Health Center of Worcester and at Roger Williams University.

Dr. Milana grew up in Maine and enjoys trips back home to see her family throughout the year. She currently resides in Wrentham, Massachusetts, with her husband and two golden retrievers. She also enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, and cheering on the Patriots, Bruins, Red Sox, and Celtics.​

To book an appointment with Dr. Miranda Milana or another expert NESCA neuropsychologist, please complete our Intake Form today. 

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

 

Signs and Symptoms of Common Eating Disorders

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By Miranda Milana, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

In today’s world with the toxicity and normalization of diet culture, it can be difficult to identify possible signs and symptoms of a more serious problem such as an eating disorder. At what point does counting calories cross over into anorexia? When does binge eating meet criteria for bulimia? Listed below are the criteria for several eating disorders, possible warning signs, as well as information on how to seek help if you believe your child needs further help/treatment.

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by the restriction of food intake and is characterized by two subtypes: restrictive and binge-purging.

For both presentations, criteria for anorexia nervosa include:

  1. Restriction of food intake leading to a significantly low body weight for age, sex, and developmental trajectory
  2. Intense fear of gaining weight that interferes with one’s ability to gain weight
  3. Feeling disturbed by one’s weight or shape, reduced self-worth second to weight/body shape, or a lack of recognition of the seriousness of their low bodyweight

Criteria for the restricting type include not having recurrent binge eating or purging within the last 3 months

Criteria for the binge eating/purging type include recurrent episodes of binge eating or purging within the last 3 months

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating that include the following:

  1. Eating a “definitively” larger amount of food in a 2-hour period than what most other individuals would eat in similar circumstances
  2. Feeling as though one cannot stop eating or control how much they are eating
  3. Recurrent and inappropriate behaviors aimed at preventing weight gain (e.g., self-induced vomiting, misusing laxatives, fasting, excessive exercise) that occur, on average, at least once a week for 3 months
  4. Self-evaluation being dependent on body shape/weight
  5. Symptoms not occurring exclusively during episodes of anorexia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is also characterized by two subtypes: purging type and nonpurging type.

To meet criteria for the purging type, one must have regularly engaged in self-induced vomiting, the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas.

To meet criteria for the nonpurging type, one must have used inappropriate behaviors, such as fasting or excessive exercise without self-induced vomiting, the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas.

Binge eating disorder and avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) are also eating disorders recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5).

Binge eating disorder is characterized by:

  1. Recurrent episodes of binge eating (defined by eating an amount of food in a 2-hour period larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances as well as feeling a lack of control during the binge eating episode)
  2. Three or more of the following: eating more rapidly than normal, eating until feeling uncomfortably full, eating large amounts of food when not hungry, eating alone due to embarrassment over the amount of food being consumed, feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty after overeating.
  3. Distress regarding binge eating
  4. Binge eating occurring on average at least 1 day a week for 3 months
  5. Binge eating not associated with the regular use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors, such as purging, fasting, and/or excessive exercise, and does not occur exclusively during the course of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is characterized by:

  1. A lack of interest in eating or food, avoidance of food based on sensory characteristics, and/or concern about consequences of eating that lead to one or more of the following:
    1. Significant weight loss or failure to achieve expected weight gain
    2. Dependence on enteral feeding or oral nutritional supplements
    3. Interference with psychosocial functioning
  2. The eating challenges should not be attributable to a medical condition or better explained by another mental health diagnosis. If there is another mental health diagnosis, the severity of the eating disturbance must exceed what is routinely associated with the mental health condition
  3. The eating challenges should not be better explained by a lack of available food or associated with cultural practices
  4. The eating challenges should not occur exclusively during the course of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa

What are warning signs of an eating disorder that I should be looking out for?

  • A preoccupation with weight loss, dieting, exercise, and/or controlling food consumption
  • Refusing to eat certain foods, such as carbohydrates or fats
  • Not being comfortable eating around others, skipping meals, or eating smaller portions
  • Withdrawing from friend groups and/or typical activities
  • Noticeable fluctuations in weight
  • Stomach complaints/digestive concerns
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Sleep challenges
  • An increase in dental problems

If you suspect your child has an eating disorder, begin by talking to a medical or mental health professional. You can also contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 or by texting NEDA to 741-741. The Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association (MEDA) is another source of information with support groups and resources. More information can be found at https://www.medainc.org/.

 

References:

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596

Warning signs and symptoms. National Eating Disorders Association. (2021, July 14) https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/warning-signs-and-symptoms

 

About the Author

Dr. Miranda Milana provides comprehensive evaluation services for children and adolescents with a wide range of concerns, including attention deficit disorders, communication disorders, intellectual disabilities, and learning disabilities. She particularly enjoys working with children and their families who have concerns regarding an autism spectrum disorder. Dr. Milana has received specialized training on the administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS).

Dr. Milana places great emphasis on adapting her approach to a child’s developmental level and providing a testing environment that is approachable and comfortable for them. She also values collaboration with families and outside providers to facilitate supports and services that are tailored to a child’s specific needs.

Before joining NESCA, Dr. Milana completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital in the Developmental Medicine department, where she received extensive training in the administration of psychological and neuropsychological testing. She has also received assessment training from Beacon Assessment Center and The Brenner Center. Dr. Milana graduated with her B.A. from the University of New England and went on to receive her doctorate from William James College (WJC). She was a part of the Children and Families of Adversity and Resilience (CFAR) program while at WJC. Her doctoral training also included therapeutic services across a variety of settings, including an elementary school, the Family Health Center of Worcester and at Roger Williams University.

Dr. Milana grew up in Maine and enjoys trips back home to see her family throughout the year. She currently resides in Wrentham, Massachusetts, with her husband and two golden retrievers. She also enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, and cheering on the Patriots, Bruins, Red Sox, and Celtics.​

 

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

 

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

 

How Do I Know If My Child Needs Early Intervention?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By Miranda Milana, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

During the first few years of life, parents and caregivers are often tracking baby’s exciting first milestones, such as their first steps or first words. Routine well-child visits at the pediatrician’s office will often include the doctor asking what new skills you have noticed since baby’s last visit—Are they sitting unsupported yet? Crawling? Saying Mama or Dada? It can be stressful when your child is not yet meeting their milestones. It can be especially challenging when you notice they may be behind their peers at childcare or when around same-aged children at family functions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a great resource to utilize as reference for what is expected of children by age. You can access more information here: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/index.html or through their developmental milestone checklist.

What are age-appropriate milestones?

At a glance, several notable milestones listed by the CDC are as follows:

6 months:

  • Recognize familiar caregivers
  • Reach for toys/objects of interest
  • Roll from their belly to their back

9 months:

  • Respond when you call their name
  • Smile/laugh in response to interactive games, such as peek-a-boo
  • Babble (mama or dada)
  • Bang objects together
  • Sit on their on

1 year:

  • Call their parent by name (e.g., mama or dada)
  • Pull themselves up to stand
  • Walk while holding on to furniture

18 months:

  • Point to show you something interesting
  • Following one-step directions
  • Imitating your actions (e.g., putting on makeup, vacuuming, hammering)
  • Walking unassisted
  • Climbing on and off couches and chairs without support

2 years:

  • Look to you for your reactions in new situations
  • Putting two words together, such as “more milk”
  • Using gestures like nodding/shaking their head
  • Running
  • Eating with a spoon

Should you have any concerns regarding your child’s development, talk to their pediatrician! Your baby may qualify for a referral to Early Intervention (EI), which can help them to gain the appropriate skills in a way that supports you, your child, and your family.

What is EI?

EI is a federal grant program that was established in order to identify children at risk for developmental delays and to help families meet their children’s needs and maximize their potential. EI serves children ages 0-3 and provides a multitude of services depending on a child’s needs. Referrals for EI can be made by caregivers and/or providers for children who are exhibiting delays in their developmental milestones OR for children who have a medical condition that places them at risk for a developmental delay. EI referrals can be made as early as birth for medical conditions, such as prematurity, low birth weight, and Down syndrome. Many children receive referrals for EI from their parents, pediatricians, and/or childcare providers when there are observable delays in meeting speech milestones, motor milestones, speech milestones, and/or social milestones.

Who qualifies for EI?

Once referred to EI, your child will likely undergo a developmental evaluation. They will qualify for services if they have a diagnosed medical condition with a risk for developmental delays OR a delay in one or more areas of development of at least 30% OR a delay in one or more areas at least 1.5 standard deviations below the norm OR there is a questionable quality of skills based on the informed clinical opinion of the multidisciplinary team. Children can also meet criteria if there is a risk for delays due to four or more child or family risk factors (e.g., NICU stay, feeding challenges, chronic illness of a caregiver, lack of social supports for the caregiver).

At the end of the day, you know your child best. If you have concerns, reach out to their pediatrician. You can also reach out to a local EI provider on your own. In MA: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/ei-program-contact-information. In NH: https://www.dhhs.nh.gov/family-centered-early-supports-services.

 

About the Author

Dr. Miranda Milana provides comprehensive evaluation services for children and adolescents with a wide range of concerns, including attention deficit disorders, communication disorders, intellectual disabilities, and learning disabilities. She particularly enjoys working with children and their families who have concerns regarding an autism spectrum disorder. Dr. Milana has received specialized training on the administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS).

Dr. Milana places great emphasis on adapting her approach to a child’s developmental level and providing a testing environment that is approachable and comfortable for them. She also values collaboration with families and outside providers to facilitate supports and services that are tailored to a child’s specific needs.

Before joining NESCA, Dr. Milana completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital in the Developmental Medicine department, where she received extensive training in the administration of psychological and neuropsychological testing. She has also received assessment training from Beacon Assessment Center and The Brenner Center. Dr. Milana graduated with her B.A. from the University of New England and went on to receive her doctorate from William James College (WJC). She was a part of the Children and Families of Adversity and Resilience (CFAR) program while at WJC. Her doctoral training also included therapeutic services across a variety of settings, including an elementary school, the Family Health Center of Worcester and at Roger Williams University.

Dr. Milana grew up in Maine and enjoys trips back home to see her family throughout the year. She currently resides in Wrentham, Massachusetts, with her husband and two golden retrievers. She also enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, and cheering on the Patriots, Bruins, Red Sox, and Celtics.​

 

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. Miranda Milana, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

IEP or 504: What Do They Mean and How Can They Apply to My Child?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By Miranda Milana, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

If your child has ever undergone an evaluation through their school system or received an outside neuropsychological evaluation, chances are you have heard the terms “504 plan” or “IEP” thrown around. Given that it can be difficult to understand the differences between the two, we will break down what both of these terms mean and how they might apply to your child.

What is an IEP?

IEP stands for Individualized Education Program and provides specialized instruction, program modification, and accommodations through the public school system based on a student’s disability and how it impacts access to the curriculum. IEPs must include:

  • Annual goals that are measurable via benchmarks
  • Progress reports of the student’s current performance
  • Descriptions of how services will be provided
  • Outlined transition services as the child ages

In addition, IEPs must detail what academic environment would be the least restrictive, and therefore, most suitable for the student to appropriately access the educational curriculum.

Who is eligible for an IEP?

In order to qualify for an IEP, students must receive an evaluation either through the school system or through an outside provider that outlines the student’s disability status and how it negatively impacts accessing the educational curriculum. Importantly, a diagnosed disability is not enough to quality for an IEP on its own. Instead, the disability must be impacting the student’s ability to make effective progress in the general education program, which includes both academic and non-academic offerings of the district. Some examples of qualifying diagnoses include (but are not limited to):

  • Autism
  • Emotional Disturbance
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Specific Learning Disability

A parent or caregiver may ask what happens if  their child has a diagnosed disability but does not require special education services? Instead, the team may determine, through the eligibility process, that the student only requires accommodations, such as extended time on tests.

This is a perfect example of when a student might not qualify for an IEP and would instead be considered for a 504 plan. Simply put, IEPs and 504 plans both provide accommodations; however, 504 plans do NOT provide for specialized instruction or program modifications.

 What is a 504 plan?

A 504 plan is referred to as such because it is covered under Section 504 of a federal civil rights law called the Rehabilitation Act. This law works to ensure that students receive appropriate supports and accommodations within the academic setting. 504 plans outline accommodations for students which can include some of the following (but again, accommodations are not limited to the following):

  • Preferential seating
  • Extended time on tests and quizzes
  • Reduced distraction testing environments
  • Access to class notes
  • The use of a calculator during exams

As you can see, none of these accommodations is modifying the curriculum or providing a student with educational services as would be the case with an IEP.

Who is eligible for a 504 plan?

Any student with a disability impairing functioning in one or more areas is eligible for a 504 plan. One common example would be a student with diagnosed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) who requires distraction-reduced testing environments and/or other associated accommodations but does NOT require specialized academic instruction.

Another example is a parent of a child with an autism spectrum diagnosis may find that their child was found to be ineligible for an IEP through the special education eligibility determination process. Shouldn’t the student qualify for an IEP based on the autism disability?

The answer is not necessarily. If a student has a diagnosis of autism but is showing no signs of impairment within the academic setting (i.e., making appropriate academic progress, showing no signs of emotional distress, doing well with their peers, etc.), an IEP would not be warranted. Instead, a 504 plan would likely be considered (but again, is not guaranteed if academic functioning is not impaired).

If you feel your child requires a 504 plan or IEP and you are not sure where to start, contact your child’s special education program at their school. You may also wish to consult with an educational advocate or attorney who has a thorough understanding of special education laws.

References:

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2018, June 29). Education Laws and Regulations. 603 CMR 28.00: Special Education – Education Laws and Regulations. Retrieved August, 2022, from https://www.doe.mass.edu/lawsregs/603cmr28.html?section=05

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2014, July 14). Section 504 and the Americans with disabilities act. Section 504 – Special Education. Retrieved August, 2022, from https://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/links/sec504.html

 

About the Author

Dr. Miranda Milana provides comprehensive evaluation services for children and adolescents with a wide range of concerns, including attention deficit disorders, communication disorders, intellectual disabilities, and learning disabilities. She particularly enjoys working with children and their families who have concerns regarding an autism spectrum disorder. Dr. Milana has received specialized training on the administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS).

Dr. Milana places great emphasis on adapting her approach to a child’s developmental level and providing a testing environment that is approachable and comfortable for them. She also values collaboration with families and outside providers to facilitate supports and services that are tailored to a child’s specific needs.

Before joining NESCA, Dr. Milana completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital in the Developmental Medicine department, where she received extensive training in the administration of psychological and neuropsychological testing. She has also received assessment training from Beacon Assessment Center and The Brenner Center. Dr. Milana graduated with her B.A. from the University of New England and went on to receive her doctorate from William James College (WJC). She was a part of the Children and Families of Adversity and Resilience (CFAR) program while at WJC. Her doctoral training also included therapeutic services across a variety of settings, including an elementary school, the Family Health Center of Worcester and at Roger Williams University.

Dr. Milana grew up in Maine and enjoys trips back home to see her family throughout the year. She currently resides in Wrentham, Massachusetts, with her husband and two golden retrievers. She also enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, and cheering on the Patriots, Bruins, Red Sox, and Celtics.​

 

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. Miranda Milana, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Risk Factors & Warning Signs of Substance Use

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By Miranda Milana, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

It is estimated that approximately one third of adults in the United States have met criteria for an alcohol use disorder at some point in their lives, while approximately 10% have met criteria for another substance use disorder. While these numbers are staggering, what is even more astonishing is the fact that consuming substances before the age of 14 increases the likelihood of abusing substances later in life by 400%. In fact, The National Child Traumatic Stress Network reports that 9 out of 10 individuals who abuse substances began using these substances before the age of 18. So, what are the risk factors and early signs to watch out for? What can you do to help?

Risk Factors:

  • Family history—if you have a family history of addiction, it is important to talk about this with your children just as you would have a conversation about a family history of cancer, diabetes, or any other mental illness. Determine when and how to approach this conversation by talking with your pediatrician.
  • Comorbid diagnoses—having an existing mental health diagnosis (e.g., ADHD, depression, anxiety) increases the chances that one will use and abuse substances later in life. Many individuals start using substances as a method of self-medicating if their mental health symptoms are not well managed.
  • Exposure—having easy access to substances, being exposed to peer groups or family members who use substances, or being exposed to media messages encouraging substance use can also increase the risk of substance use and abuse.
  • Additional risk factors include poor coping skills, academic failure, chaotic home or peer environments, as well as impulsivity and risk taking behaviors.

Warning Signs to Watch for:

  • Unexplained and/or extreme mood swings
  • Dilated pupils/bloodshot eyes
  • Changes in appetite
  • Change in sleep patterns or levels of fatigue
  • Changes in friends
  • Loss of interest in previously preferred hobbies
  • Being secretive about friends and activities
  • Withdrawing from family members and loved ones
  • Not respecting curfew or breaking other house rules
  • Running away from home or sneaking out
  • Stealing or having unexplained amounts of money
  • Increased absences from school
  • Decline in grades
  • Increase in behavioral problems

How to Help:

  • Start the conversation when it is appropriate. Talking to your pre-teen or teen about the effects of substances and alcohol/drug laws is essential in keeping the lines of communication open. Ask them first about their level understanding and what they have already learned or heard about.
  • Increase coping skills—having appropriate communication skills, positive social-emotional connections, strong self-esteem, and confidence in dealing with peer pressure are all extremely beneficial in helping children and teens navigate adolescence. If your child struggles in one or more of these areas, it is important to target these vulnerabilities early on through the appropriate therapeutic supports (i.e., psychotherapy, social skills groups, school counseling, occupational therapy, executive function coaching).
  • If you are concerned your child is using substances, you may contact their pediatrician or find support through SAMHSA’s national helpline (call 1-800-662-HELP or text HELP4U to 435748 to receive information on local treatment facilities, support groups, and local community organizations).

References:

Grant BF, Goldstein RB, Saha TD, et al. Epidemiology of DSM-5 Alcohol Use Disorder: Results From the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions III. JAMA Psychiatry. 2015;72(8):757–766. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.0584

Grant BF, Saha TD, Ruan WJ, et al. Epidemiology of DSM-5 Drug Use Disorder: Results From the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions–III. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73(1):39–47. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.2132

 

About the Author

Dr. Miranda Milana provides comprehensive evaluation services for children and adolescents with a wide range of concerns, including attention deficit disorders, communication disorders, intellectual disabilities, and learning disabilities. She particularly enjoys working with children and their families who have concerns regarding an autism spectrum disorder. Dr. Milana has received specialized training on the administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS).

Dr. Milana places great emphasis on adapting her approach to a child’s developmental level and providing a testing environment that is approachable and comfortable for them. She also values collaboration with families and outside providers to facilitate supports and services that are tailored to a child’s specific needs.

Before joining NESCA, Dr. Milana completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital in the Developmental Medicine department, where she received extensive training in the administration of psychological and neuropsychological testing. She has also received assessment training from Beacon Assessment Center and The Brenner Center. Dr. Milana graduated with her B.A. from the University of New England and went on to receive her doctorate from William James College (WJC). She was a part of the Children and Families of Adversity and Resilience (CFAR) program while at WJC. Her doctoral training also included therapeutic services across a variety of settings, including an elementary school, the Family Health Center of Worcester and at Roger Williams University.

Dr. Milana grew up in Maine and enjoys trips back home to see her family throughout the year. She currently resides in Wrentham, Massachusetts, with her husband and two golden retrievers. She also enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, and cheering on the Patriots, Bruins, Red Sox, and Celtics.​

 

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. Miranda Milana, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Getting Back in the Swing of Things

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Miranda Milana, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

The past 22 months have brought more transitions and changes to our daily lives than ever before. Whether children and parents have had to transition from routine school breaks, or to unprecedented remote learning environments, we have all dealt with our fair share of the unexpected since the COVID-19 pandemic began. As we prepare to enter yet another transition with winter break ending (and February break not too far away), these changes in schedule and routine can be difficult adjustments for entire families. Not to mention the seemingly never-ending worries wondering whether virtual learning will resume once again. In order to help ease these times of transition, try utilizing the following tips:

Consider sticking to similar routines when possible. Sleeping in, unusual mealtimes, and later bedtimes are all tempting (and sometimes unavoidable!) when we don’t have our regular school or work routines during breaks and vacations. Try to implement some sort of routine whenever possible if routine is what works best for you and your family. It might mean that you can still sleep in, but mornings start consistently at 7am instead of 5am. Maybe dinner is no longer eaten at 7pm but at 6pm. Whatever the changes may be, consistency is key.

Schedule time for fun! As much as routine and schedules can be important, don’t forget to leave time for enjoyable activities! The holiday season can bring numerous obligations between holiday parties, visiting with family/friends, and previously scheduled extracurricular activities. Take some time to plan preferred family activities as well! After all, a break is supposed to be just that…a break!

Don’t wait to start transitioning back to school day routines until the morning of. Going back to work or school after extended time off can be really challenging. There is often a sense of dread and “Sunday Scaries” that accompany a return back to our daily responsibilities. Don’t wait until the night before or morning of to resume a typical bedtime and wakeup call. Instead, gradually shift the nighttime and early morning routine over a few days so that the night before/morning of doesn’t feel so daunting and overwhelming! By pushing back bedtime and setting the alarm 15 minutes earlier over the course of several days, the difference won’t seem as insurmountable.

Create visual calendars and talk about the transition ahead of time. Creating visuals can be crucial in helping children to prepare for what is to come. For younger children who do not yet have an appropriate conceptualization of time, a visual can be a particularly useful resource in preparing them for what to expect and when. Make reviewing the visual calendar a part of the nighttime or morning routine.

Provide validation and have patience with yourself. No matter how hard we try to prepare, seeing an increase in problematic behaviors, temper tantrums, and emotional outbursts is to be expected throughout times of change. Helpful strategies during times of dysregulation include naming the emotion, validating it, and creating space for safe and appropriate expression. Try using statements such as:

  • Labeling the emotion: “It looks like an earlier bedtime is really frustrating for you.”
  • Validating the feeling: “It’s okay to feel this way.”
  • Normalize the feeling: “Sometimes I feel overwhelmed when I have to do things I don’t like.”
  • Modeling appropriate strategies: “Something that can be helpful for me is deep breathing. Do you want to try and see if this is helpful for you, too?

 

About the Author

Dr. Miranda Milana provides comprehensive evaluation services for children and adolescents with a wide range of concerns, including attention deficit disorders, communication disorders, intellectual disabilities, and learning disabilities. She particularly enjoys working with children and their families who have concerns regarding an autism spectrum disorder. Dr. Milana has received specialized training on the administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS).

Dr. Milana places great emphasis on adapting her approach to a child’s developmental level and providing a testing environment that is approachable and comfortable for them. She also values collaboration with families and outside providers to facilitate supports and services that are tailored to a child’s specific needs.

Before joining NESCA, Dr. Milana completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital in the Developmental Medicine department, where she received extensive training in the administration of psychological and neuropsychological testing. She has also received assessment training from Beacon Assessment Center and The Brenner Center. Dr. Milana graduated with her B.A. from the University of New England and went on to receive her doctorate from William James College (WJC). She was a part of the Children and Families of Adversity and Resilience (CFAR) program while at WJC. Her doctoral training also included therapeutic services across a variety of settings, including an elementary school, the Family Health Center of Worcester and at Roger Williams University.

Dr. Milana grew up in Maine and enjoys trips back home to see her family throughout the year. She currently resides in Wrentham, Massachusetts, with her husband and two golden retrievers. She also enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, and cheering on the Patriots, Bruins, Red Sox, and Celtics.​

 

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. Miranda Milana, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Meet NESCA Pediatric Neuropsychologist Miranda Milana, Psy.D.

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach

This September, NESCA welcomed a new neuropsychologist to its team. Learn more about Pediatric Neuropsychologist Miranda Milana, Psy.D., in my interview with her below.

Where did your interest in neuropsychology come from?

I knew from an early age that I wanted to work with children. I initially thought I would work with children in the medical field, but I ended up being fascinated by child psychology, which led to my focus on the clinical aspect of therapy with kids and families.

I then started to notice the importance of neuropsychological reports in schools, treatment planning, formulating diagnoses and determining the tools needed to help kids be successful. I knew I wanted to do that! I saw my fair share of unhelpful reports and wanted to take the opportunity to write truly beneficial ones.

What is your focus area in working with kids?

I really enjoy working with all kids, but have a particular intertest in early elementary-aged kids – toddlers through early elementary schoolers. I love to get to know kids whose parents, caregivers or educators are questioning whether they may have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or some kind of learning challenge. It’s exciting to start to work with a child as they are entering school and continue to watch them progress throughout their education.

Tell me about your clinical experience prior to joining NESCA.

Before coming to NESCA, I was a post-doctoral fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital, which provided me with great exposure to a wide variety of kids and the challenges they were experiencing. My case load there exposed me to a vast range of educational and developmental concerns and presentations. Working with children aged 2 through 17 who showed a wide-ranging array of presentations really helped me to become a flexible thinker.

It was a great opportunity to work with all types of clinicians, families and children. Also, having such a diverse case load afforded me the opportunity to become part of so many teams within the hospital, including the Down Syndrome, Adoption and Teenager teams, among others. It was rewarding to be able to learn from each one of them.

What drew you to NESCA?

I wanted to continue to work in a collaborative environment, where it wasn’t just me contributing to a child’s evaluation and plan. I really wanted to learn and collaborate with a team of psychologists and other providers in a group practice, outside of the hospital setting. Being part of a child’s trajectory in school is exciting, and NESCA allows me to do just that!

What are some of the more rewarding experiences you’ve had as a pediatric neuropsychologist?

Getting kids who are closed off to share their experiences with me is very rewarding. With these kids, we have to be creative in how we approach them, get them to share and play. Having anxious, resistant children feel comfortable opening up to me in conversation or who allow themselves to be vulnerable by sharing personal information, is such a rewarding part of what I do. To know you have built that kind of trust with a child is so fulfilling.

What’s your secret sauce in building that trust with a child who is anxious or resistant?

I am kind of a kid at heart, so I use that in testing children to engage them and create a more fun environment. I take pride in getting to know a child beyond the test scores and collected data. Finding common ground and relating to them is so important. I also like to make sure they know I am part of their team that will support them as they move forward in school and in life. It’s a personal challenge to me to get the most resistant kids to engage and maybe even crack a smile during the evaluation!

 

About Miranda Milana, Psy.D.

Dr. Miranda Milana provides comprehensive evaluation services for children and adolescents with a wide range of concerns, including attention deficit disorders, communication disorders, intellectual disabilities, and learning disabilities. She particularly enjoys working with children and their families who have concerns regarding an autism spectrum disorder. Dr. Milana has received specialized training on the administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS).

Dr. Milana places great emphasis on adapting her approach to a child’s developmental level and providing a testing environment that is approachable and comfortable for them. She also values collaboration with families and outside providers to facilitate supports and services that are tailored to a child’s specific needs.

Before joining NESCA, Dr. Milana completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital in the Developmental Medicine department, where she received extensive training in the administration of psychological and neuropsychological testing. She has also received assessment training from Beacon Assessment Center and The Brenner Center. Dr. Milana graduated with her B.A. from the University of New England and went on to receive her doctorate from William James College (WJC). She was a part of the Children and Families of Adversity and Resilience (CFAR) program while at WJC. Her doctoral training also included therapeutic services across a variety of settings, including an elementary school, the Family Health Center of Worcester and at Roger Williams University.

Dr. Milana grew up in Maine and enjoys trips back home to see her family throughout the year. She currently resides in Wrentham, Massachusetts, with her husband and two golden retrievers. She also enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, and cheering on the Patriots, Bruins, Red Sox, and Celtics.​

 

To book an evaluation with Pediatric Neuropsychologist Dr. Milana or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists or therapists, complete NESCA’s online intake form

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