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What’s the Big Deal about a Pencil Grip?

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Jessica Hanna MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist, NESCA

With kids back in school, drawings, coloring pages, and written work will make their way from the classroom to backpacks and eventually to the fridge for everyone to admire.

From infancy to adulthood, we all hit many milestones in life. Some milestones stand out more than others, but the little ones are no less important. The ability to hold a writing tool is a milestone that moves through various stages from infancy through adulthood. If you get the chance to view and capture each stage along a child’s development, it’s genuinely fascinating!

So, what’s the big deal about the stages involved in holding a writing tool, such as a crayon, marker, or pencil? These stages are the foundation for developing the tiny muscles and arches of the human hand, creating strength and endurance during a writing/drawing activity, and developing stability to manipulate the writing tool to use it the intended way. As humans, we all move through these stages at one point. The progression through each stage is not uniform or standard. The ultimate goal is to reach the ability to hold a writing tool with a functional grasp pattern that promotes adequate speed, accuracy, and legibility without it being the cause of pain or fatigue.

For many kids, achieving fine motor precision and the skill for written output is challenging. However, as NESCA Occupational Therapist Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L, reminds us in her recent post, “Handwriting vs. Typing: Where do we draw the line?,” handwriting is still a valuable life tool.

So, what does the progression of pencil grasp development actually look like?

Primitive Stages – Observed between 12 and 36 months. The art of drawing and coloring is often the first exposure and gateway to children learning how to hold a writing tool. There is all the freedom, no pressure of writing, and no right and wrong to their drawing.

  • Radial Cross Palmer Grasp (Fig a.) – Full arm and shoulder movement is used to move the writing tool. The writing tool is positioned across the palm of the hand, held with a fisted hand, and the forearm is fully pronated with elbow winged high out to the side.
  • Palmer Supinate Grasp (Fig b.) – Full arm and shoulder movement is used to move the writing tool. The writing tool is positioned across the palm of the hand, held with a fisted hand, with slight flexion of the wrist, and the elbow slightly lowered out to the side.
  • Digital Pronate Grasp (Fig c.) – Full arm and shoulder movement used to move the writing tool. Arm and wrist are floating in the air, and only the index finger extends along the writing tool toward the tip.

Schneck, CM, and Henderson (1990)

Children will begin to shift between the various pencil grips as their shoulder and arm muscles become stronger and steadier.

Immature grasp or transitional grip phase – This grip has been observed as young as 2.7 years of age through 6.6 years of age as stated through research (Schneck, CM, and Henderson (1990)).

  • Static Tripod grasp (Fig g.) – The child will use their forearm and wrist movements only keeping fingers stationery and wrists slightly bent. Movement of the hand can be observed as not graceful. The thumb, index and middle finger will work together as the shaft of the pencil is stabilized by the 4th finger.

Ann-Sofie Selin (2003)

Mature grips – There is so much talk about what looks right and what looks wrong. Traditional pencil grips have evolved through time. There have been four pencil grips now classified as a mature grasp pattern. All mature grips use precise finger movement to manipulate a writing tool while keeping the forearm stabilized.

  • Dynamic Tripod Grip (Fig 1) – Previously known as the golden standard of all grips, where the thumb, index, and middle finger function together, while the pencil shaft rests on the middle finger.
  • Dynamic Quadrupod Grip (Fig 2) –The thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers function together while the pencil shaft rests on the ring finger.
  • Lateral Tripod Grip (Fig 3) – The pencil shaft is stabilized by the inner (lateral) side of the thumb and index finger while resting on the middle finger.
  • Lateral Quadrupod Grip (Fig 4) – The pencil shaft is stabilized by the inner (lateral) side of the thumb, index, and middle finger while resting on the ring finger.

Koziatek SM, Powell NJ (2003)

Pencil grips are generally believed to affect handwriting, and awkward pencil grips become the most commonly assumed cause as to why that is (Ann-Sofie Selin, 2003). However, the production of untidy or illegible handwriting does not always correlate to an unusual pencil grip. The most efficient pencil grip for a child is the one that will help them write with speed and legibility, without pain for an extended period of time.

When should a parent, caregiver or educator be concerned?

  • There is pain and excessive pressure on the writing tool by holding on too tight
  • Illegible handwriting
  • Writing speed is compromised
  • Complaint of hand fatigue during writing and coloring activities
  • Holding the pencil with a primitive grasp (e.g., full fist) after 4 years of age
  • White knuckles or hyperextended joints in fingers holding a writing tool
  • Visible flexed wrist and forearm lifted off the writing surface
  • Inability to choose a clear hand preference between ages 4 and 6 years of age
  • Complete avoidance of all drawing or writing activities

If you are concerned about your child’s pencil grip and/or handwriting, an Occupational Therapist can work with you to identify challenging areas and determine next steps. Let us know if we can help support your child.

References

Koziatek SM, Powell NJ. Pencil grips, legibility, and speed of fourth-graders’ writing in cursive. Am J Occup Ther. 2003 May-Jun;57(3):284-8.

Schneck, CM, and Henderson (1990) Descriptive analysis of the developmental progression of grip position for pencil and crayon control in nondysfunctional children. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 44, (10) 893 – 900

Ann-Sofie Selin (2003). Pencil Grip: A Descriptive Model and Four Empirical Studies. Åbo Akademi University Press.

 

About the Author

Jessica Hanna has over 10 years of pediatric OT experience in conducting assessments and providing treatment of children and adolescents with a broad range of challenges and disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders, sensory processing disorders, visual impairments, cerebral palsy, executive function deficits and developmental disorders of motor function. Prior to joining NESCA, Jessica trained and worked in a variety of settings, including inpatient and outpatient hospital settings, private practice, schools and homes. She has served on interdisciplinary treatment teams and worked closely with schools, medical staff and other service providers in coordinating care. In addition, Jessica provided occupational therapy services at Perkins School for the Blind and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital pediatric inpatient unit, where she conducted comprehensive evaluations and interventions for children with a broad range of presentations.

 

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

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.

 

Don’t Let Summertime Chores Deflate Your Vibe

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Jessica Hanna MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist, NESCA

It’s summertime, and let’s face it, nobody wants to do chores. However, through learning about the benefits of chores in a previous NESCA blog post, we realized all that it can bring to the table to improve child development skills.

Nevertheless, let’s step back. No one ever said chores must be painful or that it is all business and no play. Even when it comes to chores, you can keep it fun! The beauty about chores is that in addition to learning personal responsibility, improved self-care skills, and teamwork, chores help children to incorporate and work on an array of skill sets, such as:

  • Visual perceptional skills
  • Executive functioning skills
  • Bilateral coordination skills
  • Fine motor skills
  • Upper body strength
  • Sensory regulation

Let’s take a closer look at exactly what that can look like:

 Water play chores

Stop what you’re thinking…yes, it can seem messy, but remember the goal: participation, have fun, work on important skills (bilateral coordination, sequencing, crossing midline, integrating sensory input).

  • Cleaning off sandy beach items Works on a 2-step or 3-step sequence and bilateral coordination skills.
    • 2-step sequence (rinse and dry using a water bucket or water hose)
    • 3-step sequence (rinse/dry/store back in beach bag)
  • Watering plants/flowers outside – Provides heavy work and promotes bilateral coordination to hold a water-hose and use upper body strength to maintain arms lifted above gravity.
  • Rinse dishes in the sink – Works on sequencing steps, crossing midline, upper body strength, and bilateral coordination.
  • Wipe down indoor/outdoor tables – Incorporates motor planning, crossing midline, and promotes upper body strength.
  • Clean reachable outdoor/indoor windows – Remember it is not about the streaks left behind. The task promotes and builds on upper body strength, hand strength, motor planning skills, and bilateral coordination skills.

Chores that work on visual perceptual skills

  • Sorting clean laundry – Play assembly line with clean clothes or turn it into a mini obstacle course. Sorting and putting away laundry can be a group effort for everyone in the family!   
    • Matching socks
    • Color coding clothing
    • Sorting by category (pants/shirts/undergarments)
  • Putting away groceries…what is more fun than playing store? – Have your child follow a pre-made visual or written checklist to make sure and check off all items purchased (e.g., create your shopping list on Prime Now or Peapod where visuals are supplied, and you print a copy for your child to follow and mark up).
  • Loading the dishwasher – When it comes to loading the dishwasher, we all know it can be a game of Tetris, even for adults! When helping your child load the dishwasher safely, make sure you place one item first in a designated area and see if they can sort items accordingly.
  • Cleaning up toys on a floor – When asking your child to pick up toys, reduce visual clutter, and be specific.
    • Place a perimeter (e.g., use a hoola hoop/painter’s tape) around toys that need to be picked up.
    • Use a visual checklist to identify toys to be picked up (e.g., books, Legos, crayons).
    • You can turn it into a scavenger hunt game (e.g., find 10 crayons on the floor).

Chores that promote regulation

Heavy work chores/activities help with sensory regulation through the act of pushing, pulling, and lifting heavy items.

  • Laundry – If you have a front-loading reachable washer and dryer, have your child pull wet clothes out of the washer, or dry clothes from the dryer. Or have your child (depending on size and strength) help carry a basket of clean or dirty clothes to and from the washer and dryer. (To add a fun twist, have them walk over items, around items, spin, bend, etc., with a basket of clothes).
  • Vacuuming/Swiffering – Make sure the size is appropriate. Little ones love handheld vacuum cleaners and dust pans if they cannot manipulate larger sized appliances. Handheld vacuums are fun for kids to use in helping to clean out the car! Turn it into a game to vacuum the treasures your car “ate” during those summer outings can be an adventure for them and a bonus for you!
  • Bed making – Have your child sit in the bed and help pull up those sheets and blankets from the sitting position. It’s fun when it fluffs up and gets tricky when you must sneak or crawl out without pulling the sheets down!

Always keep in mind what you want the goal of a chore to be and remember that they do not have to be done perfectly. When chores are broken down into steps, are provided and paired with a verbal and visual demonstration, and are concrete, your child will be successful in participating in your chore of choice. You must remember to create the just-right challenge regarding your child’s age and pair it with fun!

 

About the Author

Jessica Hanna has over 10 years of pediatric OT experience in conducting assessments and providing treatment of children and adolescents with a broad range of challenges and disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders, sensory processing disorders, visual impairments, cerebral palsy, executive function deficits and developmental disorders of motor function. Prior to joining NESCA, Jessica trained and worked in a variety of settings, including inpatient and outpatient hospital settings, private practice, schools and homes. She has served on interdisciplinary treatment teams and worked closely with schools, medical staff and other service providers in coordinating care. In addition, Jessica provided occupational therapy services at Perkins School for the Blind and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital pediatric inpatient unit, where she conducted comprehensive evaluations and interventions for children with a broad range of presentations.

 

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

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.

 

Learning to Ride a Bike: A Rite of Passage

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Jessica Hanna MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist, NESCA

If there is one positive takeaway from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the ever-growing love for being outdoors. It’s spring, the flowers are blooming, the sun is out, and the air is light. Everything in our body is telling us to go outside and play.

For many kids with and without disabilities, bike riding is meaningful, liberating, and a rite of passage. Close your eyes and try to remember the first time you rode a two-wheel bike. Can you remember the color of your bike? The smell in the air? The complete joy it brought you? That was the day we all felt a bit more confident and like we grew a bit taller.

So how do we help our children achieve this meaningful occupation? The days of running behind our children while holding onto their bike seat, telling them to pedal, not to stop, and hoping for the best and that they will forgive us when we let go (when we clearly promised we would not let go!) should be far behind us. But are they?

A lot goes into learning how to ride a bike, so do not let your child give up so soon when it takes more than a couple of days, weeks, or months to get it right. Consider the following skills that are addressed in learning to ride a bike:

  • Attention and concentration
  • Bilateral coordination
  • Balance
  • Body awareness
  • Core strength
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Motor planning
  • Postural stability
  • Sensory processing
  • Upper and lower extremity strength
  • Visual scanning

Children as young as five years of age will begin to acquire and develop the skills needed to ride a two-wheel bike, and still others may not feel ready until they are pre-teens or even into adulthood.

Before getting started, here are a couple things to consider regarding the equipment involved in learning how to ride a bike:

  • Bike – The height of the bike is a crucial element to success when learning how to ride. When seated on the bike, your child’s feet should be firmly planted on the ground. The bike seat may appear too low and the bike too small; however, this technique enables movement security, engages proper core and postural stability, and increases confidence.
  • Braking System – Be sure to learn the difference between hand brakes vs. coaster brakes (using feet to backpedal). Both braking systems have pros and cons. Hand brakes are a personal favorite. They are more flexible to position, offer better control, but require adequate hand strength and coordination to manipulate. Coaster brakes (using your feet to pedal backward to brake) use an intuitive motor planning motion for children. When you pedal forward, you go; when pedaling backward, you stop. They are helpful for children who lack the hand strength skills to wrap and squeeze their hands around a hand brake; however, they provide awkward foot positioning and the constant tendency to backpedal.
  • Helmet – Safety, Safety, Safety! When handling a bike for any occasion (i.e., walking a bike, doing balance drills on a bike, or riding a bike), it should become an automatic habit to wear a helmet. Your child should be in charge of putting on and taking off their helmet independently. There is nothing more important than wearing a helmet that fits correctly with fasteners that can be easily manipulated. When choosing a helmet, be cognizant of the type of fastener/clasp it comes with and if your child has the fine motor skills to adjust it (this skill could take time to learn).If you are unsure if your child’s helmet is a good fit, any cycling store will be more than pleased to assist in finding your child the most appropriate size. 
  • Pedals – When learning to ride for the first time, the removal of pedals should be highly considered. It provides the opportunity to address balance, core, and postural stability for both younger and older children while also increasing movement security.
  • Training Bike – Which is best…balance bikes vs. training wheels? Balance bikes are light in weight and can be introduced to children at a much younger age than a pedal bike. They promote core strength and increase motor planning, sequencing, and balance training skills, making the transition from a balance bike to a two-wheel pedal bike more fluid and easier to manage. Training wheels promote ease in learning motor planning techniques to push on pedals while providing assisted balance. It’s important to note that removing the balance component can be disadvantageous when transitioning from training wheels to a two-wheel pedal bike.

Overall, the literature supports the observation that, for children with and without disabilities, learning to ride a bike is a popular activity that increases confidence, provides opportunities for shared recreation with families and peers, and promotes social inclusion (Dunford, Bannigan, Rathmell (2016).

Several of the many clinical diagnoses of children who can ride a bike follow here; however, this list is certainly not inclusive of the many other diagnoses that do not preclude children from bike riding:

  • ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Developmental Coordination Disorder
  • General learning disability
  • Hearing impairment
  • No diagnosis

The art of bike riding can be broken down into various steps, from learning how to use the kickstand to the act of pedaling. Each step deserves attention, because through repetition and practice, confidence is achieved.

If using these tips feels difficult or is not helping your child with the level of focus and skill they need to successfully achieve their goal to use a bike, we recommend reaching out to your occupational therapist or getting an occupational therapy evaluation. If in-person direct services continue to be a concern, biking riding skills can be offered via telehealth from the comfort of  your home. Jessica offers successful biking riding drills and adaptive home exercise plans through telehealth that address the skills required to learn to ride a bike. Contact NESCA’s Director of Clinical Services Julie Robinson, OT, to learn more at: jrobinson@nesca-newton.com.

 

References
Dunford, Bannigan, Rathmell (2016) Learning to ride a bike: Developing a therapeutic intervention. Children Young People & Families Occupational Therapy Journal 20(1) 10-18

 

About the Author

Jessica Hanna has over 10 years of pediatric OT experience in conducting assessments and providing treatment of children and adolescents with a broad range of challenges and disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders, sensory processing disorders, visual impairments, cerebral palsy, executive function deficits and developmental disorders of motor function. Prior to joining NESCA, Jessica trained and worked in a variety of settings, including inpatient and outpatient hospital settings, private practice, schools and homes. She has served on interdisciplinary treatment teams and worked closely with schools, medical staff and other service providers in coordinating care. In addition, Jessica provided occupational therapy services at Perkins School for the Blind and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital pediatric inpatient unit, where she conducted comprehensive evaluations and interventions for children with a broad range of presentations.

 

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

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.

 

Early Detection of Autism: NESCA’s New ASD Diagnostic Clinic

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) vary widely in terms of the intensity of their symptoms as well as the age at which symptoms emerge. In some cases, signs of autism are apparent during infancy. For other children, concerns about autism might not arise until toddlerhood or even early childhood.

As neuropsychologists, we have become increasingly adept at detecting and diagnosing ASD using a combination of developmental history, clinical observation and standardized assessments. We are constantly learning more about ASD and fine-tuning the tools we have available to us to make a diagnosis.

One of the most important things we have learned through longitudinal research over the past 10 years is that early detection of ASD is a crucial part of a child’s prognosis. Young children who receive intensive services are much more likely to develop language, play and social skills. Because their brains are still in a state of rapid development, they are much quicker to acquire new skills and make progress in the areas where they are struggling. Children who receive early intervention for ASD are typically better able to participate in inclusion settings with same-age peers once they enter elementary school.

Unfortunately, many parents are told to “wait and see” when they express concerns about their child’s development – especially with children who are not yet in preschool. This is a risky and sometimes harmful approach as it leads to children with developmental disabilities not receiving the services they need.

In light of our understanding about the importance of early detection of ASD, NESCA is proud to introduce its ASD Diagnostic Clinic. The clinic offers testing that is targeted specifically at identifying ASD in children between the ages of 2 and 5. For children who do receive a diagnosis of ASD, the report will allow parents to start accessing services immediately. As with all of our families, we hope to establish a lifelong relationship and will be available for follow-up consults and additional evaluations at any time.

 

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.

OTs’ Remote Learning Equipment Tips!

By | NESCA Notes 2020

Co-authored by: Sophie Bellenis OTD, OTR/L and Jessica Hanna MSOT, OTR/L

With the momentous shift in education this year, many families are looking for support with the remote learning or hybrid learning process. Children are facing new barriers to education, such as inability to focus within the home setting, inappropriate work space and lack of independence with attention, initiation and motivation. Fortunately, many fabulous educators are stepping up to the plate, acknowledging these struggles and advocating on behalf of their students. Many families are working to help in their efforts by finding new products, tricks, tools or strategies to help promote learning and access to curriculums. Some of these products are gimmicky tools promising a “quick fix.” Some of these new tricks and tools may be beneficial, but today we are going to advocate for getting back to the basics and truly analyzing how best to use, set up and care for the foundational tools that children currently employ for learning. If using these tips feels difficult or is not helping your child to achieve the level of focus and commitment to learning that they need, we recommend reaching out to your school-based occupational therapist or getting an occupational therapy evaluation.

Things to Consider:

Laptops/Tablets

  • Basic Functionality – Your child is never too young to be part of the process. Teaching your child basic functionalities of their computer and tablet, as well as specific platform features is hugely important. Your child may find a visual checklist helpful to recall what basic features do, where to find them and when it is ok to use them.
  • Keep Screens Clean – As expected, kids often touch everything and anything, including computer and tablet screens. Make sure to check and wipe down screens to limit glare and distortion caused by sticky little fingers. Encourage your child to respect and handle their device with care.
  • Screen Height – According to the American Optometric Association, most people find looking at screens more comfortable when their gaze is pointed slightly down. Ideally, try to set up a computer screen with the center of the screen about 15-20 degrees below eye level (AOA, n.d.). This may be especially tricky with little learners, who tend to crane their necks up to look at a monitor or laptop screen, or students who tend to set their laptop way down on their lap.
  • Screen Distance – To decrease eye strain, try to position a screen about 20-28 inches away from the eyes (AOA, n.d.). Recent evidence shows that there is a significant increase in visual symptoms, such red eyes, blurriness and visual fatigue in individuals who look at screens from a distance of 10 inches or less (Chiemeke, Akhahowa, & Ajayi, 2007). While it is easy to set a computer a certain distance away, make sure that children are not holding an iPad or phone right up to their face during the school day.
  • Simplify Access to School Webpages and Links – Make sure that when your child opens up the computer, they can quickly and easily access all of their school websites and links for Zoom, Google Classroom, etc. One easy way to do this is by creating shortcuts on the desktop or having a visual guide printed next to them for exactly how to access their work.
  • Limit Access to Distracting Apps or Webpages – Is there a way to disable your child’s access to games and apps during school hours? While our students are working hard to attend to remote learning, the pull of distracting digital fun may be too enticing to pass up. Consider looking into some of parental control options on your device.
  • Learn the Limitations of Chromebooks – Due to the digital demands of remote learning, many school districts and community organizations are providing Chromebooks for students to use at home. While this is excellent and allows students access to the curriculum, some of these devices have limitations, such as not allowing communication to certain website or software platforms. Consider reaching out to your district if you need your child’s device to allow communication with an outside therapist or service provider.
  • Back Up Your Personal Work – Many families are sharing one computer or device between multiple family members. It is important to make sure that any important documents, folders or programs are fully backed up before giving a computer to your student. Accidents happen, and children can quickly delete files without meaning to! Creating a separate user login for each family member allows different privileges for each user and helps keep work separate and organized.
  • Say No to Open Drinks! – Water bottles with a lid will help to prevent any hardware damage from spills.

 Extra Equipment

  • Invest in a Mouse – Using a touchpad often requires substantially more fine motor precision and finger isolation than using a mouse. Most devices can connect with a mouse either through a USB port or a Bluetooth connection.
  • Headphones – Different children may benefit from different types of headphones. Some of our learners need earbuds or overhead headphones during Zoom meetings to help them attend to the class going on virtually. Some of our students may prefer being in a quiet space and listening to their teacher and classmates out loud. Additionally, some students may benefit from wearing noise cancelling headphones during independent work to limit the distraction from noises in their environment.
  • External Camera – Using an external camera that is not embedded in a computer or laptop may be helpful for our students who need movement or want to look at a screen while a teacher or therapist observes their work. An external camera pointed down at a student’s hand during an activity can help a therapist to evaluate a child’s fine and gross motor movements, while the student still sees a friendly face up on the screen.
  • Chargers – Help your children remember to keep their devices fully charged and to transport their charger between school and home if necessary. Many students benefit from a visual checklist when packing their bag for the next day. Chargers are hugely important for students who need to access their curriculum and may be especially difficult for students learning in a hybrid model.

 

References

American Optometric Association. (n.d.). Computer vision syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/ caring-for-your-vision/protecting-your-vision/ computer-vision-syndrome?sso=y

Chiemeke S.C., Akhahowa A.E., Ajayi O.B. (2007) Evaluation of vision-related problems amongst computer users: a case study of university of Benin, Nigeria. Proceedings of the World Congress on Engineering. London: International Association of Engineers.

 

About the Co-authors:

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

 

Jessica Hanna has over 10 years of pediatric OT experience in conducting assessments and providing treatment of children and adolescents with a broad range of challenges and disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders, sensory processing disorders, visual impairments, cerebral palsy, executive function deficits and developmental disorders of motor function. Prior to joining NESCA, Jessica trained and worked in a variety of settings, including inpatient and outpatient hospital settings, private practice, schools and homes. She has served on interdisciplinary treatment teams and worked closely with schools, medical staff and other service providers in coordinating care. In addition, Jessica provided occupational therapy services at Perkins School for the Blind and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital pediatric inpatient unit, where she conducted comprehensive evaluations and interventions for children with a broad range of presentations.

 

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

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.

 

The Ideal Remote Learning Workspace

By | NESCA Notes 2020

Co-authored by: Sophie Bellenis OTD, OTR/L and Jessica Hanna MSOT, OTR/L

Designated Space for Schoolwork – Make sure to set up a workspace with intention. While it may be easy to have children hop on the couch or sit at the kitchen table, having a space that is specifically used for academics will help them to compartmentalize and associate the space with focus and learning. There should be a concrete difference between a place to work and a place of rest. Ensure that this space is distraction-free and set away from the hustle and bustle of the home. Give your child some autonomy by allowing them to decorate their space and take ownership. A small desk, a card table in a quiet corner or a small bedside table set up in a private space are all options for workstations that children can make their own.

Remove Distractions – Take a moment to sit down at your child’s workstation and note any potential distractions. Some will jump right out, such as a TV or box of enticing toys within their line of sight, but some may be less obvious. Are they near a window facing a busy street or a dog park? Is there a substantial amount of visual clutter around their desk, such as busy posters or a family photo collage? Is their desk covered in mail, knickknacks, or arts and crafts supplies? If removing items is not an option, consider creating a physical barrier between your child and any environmental distractions by using a desktop study carrel/shield. Taking these distractions away will help a student to focus their energy on attending to school, as opposed to ignoring it and resisting distractions.

Organize Materials – Depending on your child’s age, they may need help organizing their workspace to be prepared for the day. For our young students, consider using toolboxes or tabletop organizers to hold their materials. A toolbox may have crayons, markers, scissors, pencils, erasers and glue sticks. If your child benefits from sensory supports, consider a toolbox with manipulatives, as appropriate per occupational therapy (OT) recommendations. Children are often very visual learners and may benefit from color-coded or designated folders for each subject or class they are taking. If a workspace is shared, keep your child’s personal materials all in one location, such as a personalized storage container that is easily portable, accessible and organized. Finally, remember to consider digital organization. Students are often told how to label and save documents by teachers at school. With the move to remote learning, children may need assistance organizing documents, folders and classwork on their computer so that they can easily find everything in the moment.

Adequate Lighting – Assess the lighting in your student’s workspace by checking to see whether there is any glare from the sun on the screen, whether they could benefit from a desk lamp to better illuminate their paper and determine whether there is a specific location with good natural light. If natural light is preferred, it’s best practice to position your electronic at a right angle to the light so the light is neither in front nor behind the screen. Avoid fluorescent light bulbs whenever possible. One more thing to consider is the fact since this past March, students and professionals alike have noticed an increase in headaches and visual fatigue due to spending substantial portions of the day in front of a screen. Technology is visually straining. Consider investing in a pair of blue light-reducing glasses, a newly popular solution to this problem that has shown promise for improving adolescent sleep, mood and activity levels (Algorta et al., 2018).

The Rule of 90 Degrees – When sitting at a table, children’s hips, knees and elbows should all be positioned at 90 degrees. Feet must be firmly planted on the floor. This helps to create a solid foundation. When children have a strong foundation and postural stability, they are set up to freely and accurately use their fine motor skills. Being grounded allows for easier writing, typing, cutting and manipulation of all the tools necessary for learning.

Appropriate Furniture – To meet the Rule of 90, it is important to consider the furniture that your student is using. Furniture needs to be the correct size or be modified to help children fit comfortably. If a desk/table is positioned too high, it will cause extra strain and fatigue. If your child’s feet do not reach the floor, consider using a step stool or fortified box for their feet. With regard to the chair itself, avoid options that spin and slide around as they are often distracting and make it difficult for children to pay attention.

 

 

 

References

Perez Algorta, G., Van Meter, A., Dubicka, B. et al. Blue blocking glasses worn at night in first year higher education students with sleep complaints: a feasibility study. Pilot Feasibility Stud 4, 166 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40814-018-0360-y

 

About the Co-authors:

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

 

Jessica Hanna has over 10 years of pediatric OT experience in conducting assessments and providing treatment of children and adolescents with a broad range of challenges and disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders, sensory processing disorders, visual impairments, cerebral palsy, executive function deficits and developmental disorders of motor function. Prior to joining NESCA, Jessica trained and worked in a variety of settings, including inpatient and outpatient hospital settings, private practice, schools and homes. She has served on interdisciplinary treatment teams and worked closely with schools, medical staff and other service providers in coordinating care. In addition, Jessica provided occupational therapy services at Perkins School for the Blind and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital pediatric inpatient unit, where she conducted comprehensive evaluations and interventions for children with a broad range of presentations.

 

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

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.

 

How Do I Prepare My Child for a Neuropsychological Evaluation?

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

Parents often ask us what they should tell their child about their upcoming neuropsychological evaluation, especially when it is their first experience with testing. I advise parents to refer to the neuropsychologist using his or her first name, as the term “doctor” can be scary and raise fears about medical exams. I might also add that the visit will not involve any shots! In order to describe the evaluation itself; here is some helpful language:

  • They are going to ask you questions, and you just need to do your best to answer.
  • They might ask you to do some drawing or writing.
  • Some activities might feel like you’re in school; for example, reading stories or doing math problems.

It may also be helpful to create a simple social story prior to the evaluation to help preview what to expect for your child.

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 everybody learns differently.
  • We are going to be “brain detectives” and figure out how your brain works!
  • This will help us identify your strengths and areas that we need to work on. That way, we can help you with things that are harder for you.
  • This will help your teachers understand your learning style so they can help you better at school.
  • Just try your best!

Testing in the age of Covid-19 is different. It can be harder to help children feel at ease when everyone is wearing masks, and we can’t offer a high five for good work. But as we are all learning, children are often more resilient than adults. Prior to coming in for an evaluation, you might want to remind your child to wear their mask, wash their hands and not approach people too closely.

It is also important to understand that a neuropsychological evaluation is a lot of work for your child! Finding a way to reward them for their effort will go a long way in helping them stay motivated and positive. This could be as simple as swinging by the drive-thru for a donut or something more extravagant, like a new video game. Whatever you choose to do, create a plan with your child and let the neuropsychologist know. When I have a child in my office who is starting to fatigue, it’s always a great motivator to remind them of the special prize they’ll get at the end of the visit!

 

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 Dr. Gibbons 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.

Preparing our Kids to Reenter the Community

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

For many children, new experiences are frightening and anxiety-provoking. Children thrive on routine and predictability; when these get interrupted, it can be hard for them to understand what is happening. As we all know, the last few months have been fraught with unpredictability and change. Now, we are starting to go back to work, eat at restaurants and visit retail stores. As adults, we might have mixed feelings about this – relief to get out of the house but also fear about the ongoing pandemic. For our children, we are expecting them to reenter their communities with a new set of “rules” after months of being in the safety of their homes. This is going to be a difficult process, especially for children with special needs.

So how do we prepare children for all of the new experiences they are about to face?

One method that has been found to be effective is the use of Social Stories™. Social Stories were first developed in 1990 by Carol Gray, a special education teacher. In essence, Social Stories are used to explain situations and experiences to children at a developmentally appropriate level using pictures and simple text. In order to create materials that are considered a true Social Story, there are a set of criteria that must be used. More information can be found here: https://carolgraysocialstories.com/social-stories/what-is-it/.

While special educators or therapists are expected to use this high standard in their work, it is also relatively easy for parents to create modified versions of these stories to use at home. I was inspired by one of my clients recently who made a story for her son with Down syndrome to prepare him for the neuropsychological evaluation. During her parent intake, she took pictures of me and the office setting. At home, she created a short book that started with a picture of her son, a picture of their car, a picture of my office, a picture of me and so on. On each page, she wrote a simple sentence:

  • First we will get in the car
  • We will drive to Dr. Gibbons’ office
  • We will play some games with Dr. Gibbons
  • We will go pick a prize at Target
  • We will drive home

Throughout the evaluation, she referred to the book whenever her son became frustrated by the tests or needed a visual reminder of the day’s schedule. Something that probably only took a few minutes to create played an important role in helping her son feel comfortable and be able to complete the evaluation.

The options for creating similar types of stories are endless, giving parents a way to prepare their children for a scary experience.

Some examples of stories to create during the ongoing pandemic:

  • Wearing a mask when out of the house
  • Proper hand washing
  • Socially distant greetings (bubble hugs, elbow bumps, etc.)

Some examples of more general stories include:

  • Doctor’s visits
  • Going to the dentist
  • Getting a haircut
  • Riding in the car
  • First day of school

You can use stock photos from the internet or pictures of your child and the actual people/objects they will encounter. If you have a child who reads, you can include more text; if your child does not read, focus on pictures only. Read the story with the child several times in the days leading up to the event. For ongoing expectations (e.g., wearing a mask) – you can review the story as often as needed. Keep it short and simple. And have fun with it!

 

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 Dr. Gibbons 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.

Neurodevelopmental Evaluations – Where and When to Start

By | NESCA Notes 2018

**Creating Roadmaps for the Lifespan: Preschool Neurodevelopmental Evaluations to Life After High School**

NESCA Pediatric Neuropsychologist Dr. Erin Gibbons will be presenting on neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological evaluations in a free educational workshop at NESCA’s Plainville, MA office on Monday, March 9 from 6:30 – 8:00 PM. NESCA Transition Specialist Becki Lauzon will be co-presenting to address the transition process/how to start preparing for life after high school.

For more information, visit the event page. To register to attend the event, email Jane Hauser at jhauser@nesca-newton.com. As a preview to what attendees can expect to learn at the event, read Dr. Gibbon’s blog post.

 

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

Parenthood is a daunting task to say the least. Not only must we worry about keeping our children healthy and safe, but we are constantly bombarded with information about potentially harmful foods, chemicals, toys, etc. Many parents also have concerns about whether their children are meeting developmental milestones on time and/or whether they should worry about certain behaviors their children are displaying.

When concerns arise about older children, parents are often advised to seek a neuropsychological evaluation to rule out possible attention, learning, or developmental challenges. However, parents of children under 5 are often urged to “wait and see” or might be told it is “too early” to seek an evaluation. The truth of the matter is that it is never too early to have your child evaluated when you are worried about his or her development.

Where do I start?

If you have concerns about your child’s development, it is always a good idea to start with your pediatrician. Describe what you are seeing at home and any difficulties you have noticed. Your pediatrician might recommend that you seek a comprehensive neurodevelopmental evaluation to assess for any developmental delays.

What is a neurodevelopmental evaluation?

This is a comprehensive set of tests designed to assess all aspects of your child’s development, including cognition, language, motor, and social skills. This type of evaluation is conducted by a pediatric neuropsychologist. First, you will be asked to provide information about your child’s developmental and medical histories. Your child will then be asked to participate in a series of activities over the course of 2 or 3 hours. For example, he/she will have to solve simple puzzles, label pictures, or play with different types of toys.

Why is a neurodevelopmental evaluation useful?

After completing the evaluation, the neuropsychologist will analyze all of the information and develop a comprehensive picture of your child’s developmental profile. In addition to helping you understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses, the neuropsychologist will also identify any developmental delays that require intervention.

What happens next?

An evaluation will identify developmental delays that need to be treated in order to help your child catch up with peers. Some examples include speech/language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy or applied behavior analysis (ABA).

For children under 3, this means they can start receiving Early Intervention services right away. Early Intervention is a system of services for babies and toddlers who have developmental delays or disabilities and is available in every state in the US.

For children over 3, parents can seek services privately, or can work with their local school district to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for their child. Having an independent evaluation completed prior to your child’s transition to public education is extremely useful as it provides the district with the child’s type of disability and informs the process of developing necessary services.

Where can I go?

Neurodevelopmental evaluations are available at many local area hospitals as well as private neuropsychology clinics. Parents can also contact their insurance company for a list of providers or search through the Massachusetts Neuropsychological Society: https://www.massneuropsych.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageID=3309.

At NESCA, we are proud to offer neurodevelopmental evaluations for children ages 1-5 and will provide parents with a comprehensive report, extensive recommendations for services, and ongoing consultation through the years. Our clinicians are able to do observations of children in their natural environments (e.g., day care, preschool) to gain a full picture of the child and provide environmental recommendations that would be most supportive. Moreover, we are available to attend meetings with early intervention specialists and special educators to help a child’s team fully understand their individual learning and service needs.

If you are interested in scheduling a consultation or evaluation at NESCA, please complete our on-line intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

About the Author:

GibbonsErin 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.