NESCA is currently booking for in-person Real-life Skills and Executive Function Coaching in the Newton, MA office! Our experienced occupational therapists work alongside individuals to achieve their personalized goals, which often address functional life skills that allow them to thrive in their homes, schools, and communities. For those not local to Newton, MA, remote services are also offered. Click here for more information. To inquire about our coaching services, complete our Intake Form.

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Sibling Stress: How to Support the Siblings of a Child with Emotional Needs

By | NESCA Notes 2024

By: Moira Creedon, Ph.D. 
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

A child with significant mental health or developmental needs impacts the whole family system. The impact is multifaceted – from the way that a child interacts in the home environment to the challenging logistics of coordinating outpatient care and appointments. Families have to make sacrifices with their time, attention, and financial resources to address the mental health needs of one (and sometimes more than one) child. Families may also arrange schedules, including planning vacations or social events, for the family in order to accommodate treatment. It can add more stress when parents stop to consider: how is this impacting the other kids in the family?

To buffer siblings against negative impacts from being in the home with someone struggling with mental health:

  • Create an environment of safety and predictability. Talk in a family meeting about basic safety needs for the household – things like being safe with your body, being safe with property, and maintaining basic travel safety (e.g., staying buckled in the car). It is important that all siblings hear the rules and the consequences for violating the rules. If there is an episode of dysregulation, it can be very helpful to return to this conversation again.
  • Create a plan for when there is dysregulation. Remind your child/children without mental health concerns that the job of the parent is to re-establish safety, and where your other child/children should go while you address a problem. This can be their bedroom, basement playroom, or other identified place in the home. Take a moment to identify Plan B for where the safe place is if the dysregulation is happening in a common space. Talk to your child about what activities may distract and distance them from the commotion.
  • Remind your child what adults are available for them. If you are in a two-parent household, one parent can address dysregulation, and the other can stay with the sibling(s). If you are in a one-parent household (or a partner is not home), remind your child that they can call the other parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or identified friend or neighbor if they need some reassurance.
  • Put on your “oxygen mask” first. After an incident of dysregulation, check in with yourself as a parent to regulate emotionally before approaching your other child/children. Take a few moments for deep breaths or progressive muscle relaxation to calm your own nervous system. Once you are re-regulated, your message that safety has been re-established will be more soothing and believable.
  • Set aside time in each day to connect with each child. The focus can often be on positive connection with the child struggling. But, all children need the positive connection, praise, and child-driven interactions. This can help ensure that all children receive the attention they need to thrive.
  • Hold the frame. It can be easy to relax the rules with a sibling whose struggles and behavior may seem mild by comparison. It’s important to establish standards that work for each child’s unique skills and needs. It’s worth a candid conversation with each child about what the expectations are and why.
  • Use the village. Establishing a support system is critical to buffer the entire family from the overwhelming stress that can accompany emotional health issues. Enlist the support of other family members, neighbors, teammates’ families, or school personnel. If you feel that your support system is small, start with your child’s pediatrician or school to connect to community resources.
  • Reach out for help. It’s important to closely monitor siblings for signs of increased anxiety, stress response, low mood, or atypical behaviors. If you see classic signs of anxiety (fight/flight/freeze), reach out to your child’s school or pediatrician to evaluate symptoms and initiate treatment.

Additional resources to support siblings:

 

About the Author

Dr. Creedon has expertise in evaluating children and teens with a variety of presenting issues. She is interested in uncovering an individual’s unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses to best formulate a plan for intervention and success. With experiences providing therapy and assessments, Dr. Creedon bridges the gap between testing data and therapeutic services to develop a clear roadmap for change and deeper of understanding of individual needs.

 

If you are interested in booking an evaluation with Dr. Creedon or another NESCA neuropsychologist, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; the greater Burlington, Vermont region; and Brooklyn, NY (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.

The ABCs of Challenging Behavior

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

When a child or adolescent is exhibiting challenging behaviors, it is helpful to understand why the behaviors are occurring. The first step is to analyze the situational factors surrounding the behaviors:

A: Antecedent. What is happening right before the behavior occurred?
B: Behavior. What is the specific behavior that the child/adolescent exhibited?
C: Consequence. What happened right after the behavior occurred?

By looking at the ABCs of a particular behavior, we can start to understand the function of the behavior. That is to say, why is the child/adolescent engaging in the behavior? How is the behavior being reinforced?

Let’s look at an example:
Tom is in 6th grade. He arrives to math class, and the teacher distributes a worksheet. Tom rips up the math sheet and throws it on the floor. The teacher sends him to principal’s office.

A: Math class, being given a worksheet
B: Ripping up the paper
C: Being sent to the principal/leaving the class

In this example, the aversive situation might be math class itself, it could be the worksheet, or it could be the specific concept being worked on (e.g., multiplication is hard for Tom). Alternatively, something might have happened right before math class that upset him.

The consequence is that Tom is allowed to avoid the problematic situation. Thus, the teacher is inadvertently reinforcing the behavior. Tom has learned that if he refuses to do the work, he gets to leave class.

The more effective intervention would be to understand why he refused the work. In this case, it would be important to have a conversation with Tom. Was the work too hard? Does he need extra explanation of the concepts being covered in the worksheet? Did something happen before math class that Tom was still upset about? If the teacher is not able to engage him in this type of conversation, perhaps it would be better to send him to the school counselor as opposed to the principal.

As you think about your own children, it might be helpful to consider the ABCs of any challenging behaviors that are occurring. What was happening right before? If you can identify antecedents, you might be able to make some concrete environmental changes in order to avoid the behavior. What happened right afterward? Did your reaction to the behavior somehow reinforce it? Could you do something different next time the behavior occurs that would be more effective?

Resources
The Explosive Child by Ross Greene
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
The Behavior Code Companion by Jessica Minahan

 

About the Author

Erin Gibbons, Ph.D., evaluates children presenting with a range of attentional, learning, and developmental disabilities. She has a particular interest in children with autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disabilities, and those with complex medical histories.

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

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

Neurodevelopmental Evaluations for Children under Age 5

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

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

Why Would a Young Child Need an Evaluation?

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

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

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

What Does a Neurodevelopmental Evaluation Entail?

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

Where to Go

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

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

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

Related resources and links to help track developmental milestones:

 

About Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.

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

 

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

 

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

Going South: NESCA Announces New Hingham, MA Location

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach, NESCA

NESCA is excited to announce that it is opening a Hingham location to serve clients on the South Shore of Massachusetts. NESCA is currently booking appointments now for Neuropsychological and Psychological Evaluation Services commencing on November 1, 2023. Learn more about what is being offered by our Hingham-based staff from my interview with Hingham Director; Pediatric Neuropsychologist Moira Creedon, Ph.D.

What prompted NESCA’s expansion to the South Shore or Massachusetts, and how can clients benefit from our Hingham location’s services?
NESCA is expanding our in-person services to Hingham on the South Shore to widen the breadth of neuropsychological and educational evaluation and consulting services offered within the state. We know that families have options as they partner with neuropsychologists, and we want to be in close proximity to communities we hope to serve. This is an exciting opportunity to support students in elementary, middle, and high school as well as young adults, as they navigate the complexities of their daily lives. It is our priority to continue providing detailed, client-centered, thorough evaluations that highlight a client’s areas of strength and vulnerability. I am also excited to strengthen relationships with local care providers and schools, and to build new relationships as a new clinician within the South Shore community.

What services do you offer?
At this time, NESCA’s South Shore-based practice will offer Neuropsychological Evaluations and Projective Assessments. The goal of these services is to build a complete picture of a client’s functioning, including their intellectual, academic, and social-emotional profile. Team members are also available to participate in team meetings at school (IEP meetings), conduct school observations, and offer consultation to parents and team members. Sometimes, a child has already participated in evaluations in other settings (schools, hospitals), and a family needs help to review these documents and make meaning of the findings.

What types of clients will NESCA serve in its South Shore location?
NESCA’s South Shore-based practice is similar to our other locations and will serve children, teens, and young adults with a range of presenting issues. The focus is in working with students in elementary, middle, and high school as well as young adults. I can see clients with diagnostic questions, including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Learning Disorders (e.g., dyslexia, dysgraphia), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, and complex psychiatric diagnoses.

A specialty we have at NESCA – including in Hingham – is working with clients who have multiple diagnoses or who don’t fit neatly into a singular diagnostic box. I also see clients who are high functioning and curious about their learning style, how to improve their study skills, and how to plan for their academic future based on their unique profile.

Where are you on the South Shore? Are services in-person or remote?
We are practicing in person in an office at 99 Derby Street, Suite 200, in Hingham, MA. Hingham is uniquely positioned to serve the South Shore/Southcoast, and the Cape and Islands. For those traveling for appointments, most clients schedule testing in two longer (2.5 hour) blocks of time so the commute is reduced for families. I am also available to participate in IEP team meetings and conduct student observations in person on the South Shore, which is an exciting way to collaborate and build strong relationships with families, schools, and organizations.

What is different about what NESCA offers on the South Shore compared to other organizations or services available locally?
NESCA is highly respected in the community for providing detailed, comprehensive evaluations of students that speak to their strengths as well as their needs. Compared to some practices, your child or teen will be assessed directly by a neuropsychologist rather than a technician. You can depend on your neuropsychologist to bring their own expertise as well as the “village” of NESCA, as I am always collaborating with NESCA’s team of innovative neuropsychologists, transition specialists, educational consultants, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, and therapists. We work routinely with special education attorneys, advocates, therapists, and school personnel in collaborative relationships to support children and teens. At NESCA, we live our core values everyday: being creative problem solvers, being collaborative and building lasting relationships, and caring deeply for students, their families, and the community.

Does insurance cover your services in Hingham?
Several NESCA providers take both Blue Cross Blue Shield and private pay for services. I am paneled with BCBS. Some families are able to obtain some coverage or reimbursement through other insurance agencies, and we can provide those families with brief billing information to submit to their insurance company. We can never guarantee insurance reimbursement, so it is important that families check with their insurance plan regarding covered services.

What if I am unsure if I should refer my child or client for an evaluation?
Give us a call! Our administrative team is happy to support you in navigating this process. We are also planning some community events to provide information to our community about a variety of topics, including who we are and how to recognize signs that a child or teen may need additional support. There is also a ton of information on our website.

How do people get more information about NESCA’s South Shore services?
You can fill out our online intake form, call 617-658-9800 to speak with an intake coordinator, or reach Hingham-based Pediatric Neuropsychologist Dr. Moira Creedon directly at mcreedon@nesca-newton.com.

 

About the Author

Hingham Director; Pediatric Neuropsychologist Dr. Moira Creedon has expertise in evaluating children and teens with a variety of presenting issues. She is interested in uncovering an individual’s unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses to best formulate a plan for intervention and success. With experiences providing therapy and assessments, Dr. Creedon bridges the gap between testing data and therapeutic services to develop a clear roadmap for change and deeper of understanding of individual needs.

 

If you are interested in booking an evaluation with Dr. Creedon or another NESCA neuropsychologist, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

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

Explaining Neuropsychological Testing to Your Child

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

About Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.

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

 

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

 

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

Neuropsychological Evaluations at Different Stages of Childhood & Adolescence

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

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

Preschool (2-5)

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

Elementary School (5-10)

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

Middle School (10-14)

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

Early High School (14-16)

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

Late High School (16-18)

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

Early Adulthood (18+)

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

 

About the Author

Erin Gibbons, Ph.D. is a pediatric neuropsychologist with expertise in neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological assessment of infants,

children, and adolescents presenting with developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorders. She has a particular interest in assessing students with complex medical histories and/or neurological impairments, including those who are cognitively delayed, nonverbal, or physically disabled. Dr. Gibbons joined NESCA in 2011 after completing a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in the Developmental Medicine Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. She particularly enjoys working with young children, especially those who are transitioning from Early Intervention into preschool. Having been trained in administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), Dr. Gibbons has experience diagnosing autism spectrum disorders in children aged 12 months and above.

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

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

What Is Projective Testing and Why Might My Child Need It?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Moira Creedon, Ph.D. 
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

There can be a great deal of confusion about what kind of testing you want for your child. No wonder when we have so many options – neuropsychological testing, psychoeducational testing, speech and language testing, occupational therapy testing, personality testing, and psychological testing. The part that can be incredibly challenging is that these labels often involve overlapping test measures, meaning that the assessor may choose the same specific tasks that might fall into most or all of these categories. Take cognitive assessment using IQ tests which can be used by a psychologist conducting psychological, neuropsychological, or psychoeducational testing. Another layer of confusion is added for parents when one considers that many professionals in schools or medical practices are also confused and interchangeably use these labels. In an effort to demystify the process, I want to tackle a common question: what is projective testing and why might my child need it?

Projective testing provides psychologists with very specific and unique insight about a person’s thinking habits and processing. Unlike cognitive or academic tests, projective tests do not have a “right answer.” So, projective testing is not going to ask a child to solve a math problem or define a word. It is not going to test how quickly they can name vegetables or see how skilled they are at shifting between sets of the rules. The overall goal of projective testing is to figure out how a child, teen, or adult responds to an ambiguous situation. This means, we ask people to project their brain habits (thinking style, way of interpreting the world, way of processing emotions, way of viewing self and others) onto a situation when it is not clear that there is a “right” or “wrong” answer. A person must use their problem-solving and emotion regulation skills in action. Examples of projective tests include the Rorschach inkblot test, story-telling tasks (e.g., the Thematic Apperception Test or the Roberts Apperception Test), drawings, and incomplete sentences. Projective tests take additional time to administer and usually longer to score, so they are scheduled as separate visits at NESCA.

Why might you use a projective test? There are some situations where projective testing is incredibly useful, such as when a diagnosis of a thought disorder (e.g., psychosis) is in question. It is also very useful for questions of trauma, attachment, anxiety, or mood disorder. Projective testing is also incredibly useful when psychiatric symptoms are confusing. Take the example of someone who is a perfectionistic or very guarded about their symptoms. A person with this profile is very likely to read a question that says, “I am very anxious,” and answer no. However, projective testing can see if there are themes of anxiety by considering how a person responds to an ambiguous situation. Take another example of someone who leans in the other direction and reports many symptoms that overlap with many diagnoses. In this case, many symptoms are endorsed as “yes.” Projective testing can help to provide clarity to narrow down the list, especially without an obvious answer. In both of these cases, it is helpful to access a person’s unconscious brain habits as a key to understanding a person’s functioning.

When would you not use projective testing? I do not use projective testing when my referral question does not need it. For example, a question of a learning disability or ADHD does not require projective testing. Using projective measures would be inappropriate, time consuming, and potentially stressful for a person when it is not needed. Similarly, projective testing is not often used in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder as there is little research about how neurodivergent populations respond to the ambiguous stimuli. I also do not use projective testing if neuropsychological testing suggests that a person has an intellectual disability or struggles in their visual processing skills (e.g., NVLD) since many of the projective measures (e.g., Rorschach, story-telling, drawings) use a visual stimulus card. In those cases, it would be inappropriate to assume that a response reflects a person’s emotional processing when it would really be about their visual processing.

Projective testing is incredibly informative and, like other neuropsychological tools, should only be utilized by professionals who are trained to administer and interpret these tests. Since it is not as simple as a correct single answer on an answer key, it is critical that these procedures are administered by psychologists with the advanced training to use and interpret the information. And, like all of our measures, the results gathered using projective measures are data points that are combined with other data points. The performance on one test or demand does not dictate the entire conclusion. A strong and comprehensive assessment will use projective test data as part of a larger understanding of your child. Information gathered in projective testing can highlight important strengths for your child and contribute helpful information to drive treatment.

NESCA has several clinicians who are highly trained and skilled at administering projective testing. If you have questions about projective testing and whether your child needs it, let us know by filling out our online Intake Form.

 

About the Author

Dr. Creedon has expertise in evaluating children and teens with a variety of presenting issues. She is interested in uncovering an individual’s unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses to best formulate a plan for intervention and success. With experiences providing therapy and assessments, Dr. Creedon bridges the gap between testing data and therapeutic services to develop a clear roadmap for change and deeper of understanding of individual needs.

 

If you are interested in booking an evaluation with Dr. Creedon or another NESCA neuropsychologist, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

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

Meet Pediatric Neuropsychologist Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Jane  Hauser

Director of Marketing & Outreach, NESCA

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

How did you choose pediatric neuropsychology as a profession?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why did you decide to join the team at NESCA?

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

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

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

 

About Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.

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

 

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

 

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

What Do We Mean by Individualized Neuropsychological Evaluations?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

About the Author

Erin Gibbons, Ph.D. is a pediatric neuropsychologist with expertise in neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological assessment of infants,

children, and adolescents presenting with developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorders. She has a particular interest in assessing students with complex medical histories and/or neurological impairments, including those who are cognitively delayed, nonverbal, or physically disabled. Dr. Gibbons joined NESCA in 2011 after completing a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in the Developmental Medicine Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. She particularly enjoys working with young children, especially those who are transitioning from Early Intervention into preschool. Having been trained in administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), Dr. Gibbons has experience diagnosing autism spectrum disorders in children aged 12 months and above.

 

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

 

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

My child is nonverbal. Should I still get a neuropsychological evaluation?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

The short answer to this question is YES. As a neuropsychologist, I enjoy evaluating students who have complex profiles, including intellectual/developmental disabilities, genetic conditions, and medical complexities. In many cases, these students have been deemed “untestable” and have never had a comprehensive evaluation.

This is problematic for two major reasons.

  • First, we cannot understand a student’s potential if we have no data or assessments available. Following from this, it is very hard to develop realistic and measurable goals without using the student’s innate potential to guide those goals.
  • Second, lack of testing causes practical and logistical problems later in the student’s life. As a child approaches adulthood at 18, it is necessary to have documentation of their cognitive and adaptive skills as well as diagnoses in order to seek adult services. More specifically, the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) requires documentation of intellectual disabilities prior to age 18.

Having assessed thousands of children and adolescents over the years, I’ve learned that I can ALWAYS gather important information from a neuropsychological evaluation. I have evaluated students who are nonverbal, students with severe intellectual disabilities, students with limited to no motor abilities, students with vision and hearing impairments, students with severely challenging behaviors…. In every case, a neuropsychological evaluation has been meaningful and useful in terms of A) understanding the student’s capabilities, and B) developing educational and treatment goals.

It is important to understand that a neuropsychological evaluation with a more developmentally complex student will look different than an evaluation with a neurotypical student. There are standardized tests that I will not be able to administer based on the student’s language skills, motor abilities, and academic knowledge. Some students can only tolerate 20 or 30 minutes of testing at a time, so the evaluation is broken into 9 or 10 sessions. Some students provide their responses using a communication device. Some students need to be supported by a behavior therapist to help them maintain a safe body.

In some cases, students cannot engage in any standardized tests due to multiple disabilities. However, I still have them come into my office at least once so that I can meet them in person and gather information about their communication skills, social interest, and activity levels. I will then spend time observing the student at their educational program, interviewing school-based staff, and gathering information from the student’s caregivers about their skills at home. With all of these data points, I can then provide a thorough set of recommendations for school-, community-, and home-based goals – even though I might not have “valid” standard scores.

For all of the families who think that a neuropsychological evaluation cannot be done with their child for one reason or another, I urge you to reconsider your perception of the purpose of an evaluation. In these cases, the emphasis of the evaluation is not on test scores, but on developing a better understanding of the student’s strengths and weaknesses. More importantly, the evaluation should be used as a reference to guide treatment goals to help the student achieve the highest level of independence of which they are capable based on their potential.

 

About the Author

Erin Gibbons, Ph.D. is a pediatric neuropsychologist with expertise in neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological assessment of infants,

children, and adolescents presenting with developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorders. She has a particular interest in assessing students with complex medical histories and/or neurological impairments, including those who are cognitively delayed, nonverbal, or physically disabled. Dr. Gibbons joined NESCA in 2011 after completing a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in the Developmental Medicine Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. She particularly enjoys working with young children, especially those who are transitioning from Early Intervention into preschool. Having been trained in administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), Dr. Gibbons has experience diagnosing autism spectrum disorders in children aged 12 months and above.

 

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

 

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