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Understanding Empathy

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By:  Stephanie Monaghan-Blout, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Our children are growing up in a social environment that is too often flavored by fear; fear of inexplicable violence, fear of people who look different than us, whose politics are contrary to what we hold dear, people who seem to despise us as much as we discount them. At the same time, we are realizing that in order to help our children learn, we must pay attention to their emotional and social states as well as their intellectual development.

In the context of these paradoxes, the concept of empathy has become a topic of considerable interest. The fact of the matter is that empathy may be at play in the divisiveness of our communities as well as in the efforts to include all children in our schools. Empathy is critical in forming close and supportive relationships, but at the same time, it is also responsible for a built-in bias toward people with whom one feels a connection. Further, being empathetic towards others does not ensure that one will follow that feeling of concern with acts of kindness. Finally, too much empathy for those in pain is very painful and can cause the empathizer to pull back or avoid the situation or person  in order to protect themselves. The research of the past 15 years has deepened our understanding of empathy and has helped to explain some of these contradictions. In an article in the Scientific American (December 13, 2017), Science Writer Lydia Denworth summarized the general consensus of the scientific community to describe three different but interactive aspects of empathy:

  • Emotional empathy refers to the experience of sharing one’s feelings and matching that person’s behavioral states; for example, feeling afraid when watching a movie in which someone is being attacked by a lion. This form of empathy is a biological response that is seen in a variety of animals as well as children as young as one year old.
  • Cognitive empathy is the capacity to think about and understand other people’s feelings. It is often referred to as perspective taking or theory of mind. While aspects of this ability can be seen in very young children, it is not fully developed until adulthood.
  • Empathetic concern, or compassion is the feeling of concern that motivates one to help in some way. This capacity can also be seen in young children.

True empathy requires the engagement of all three capacities. Consider, for instance, the experience of many people on the Autism Spectrum. They may be fully capable of feeling emotional empathy; in fact, they are often overwhelmed by the sharing of pain. However, they struggle with the cognitive task of  perspective taking, or appreciating that the other person may not see things in the same way that they do. On the other hand, people with antisocial tendencies may be very good at understanding how someone feels, but do not have any interest in helping them. Finally, it is extremely difficult for people who live in a homogeneous cultural area to be able to extend the same kind of care and consideration to others who look and sound different and whose views may run counter to their own.

Gwen DeWar is a biological anthropologist who edits the Parenting Science website. In one of her articles, she describes 10 steps parents can take to encourage the development of empathy in their children. These include tasks such as, providing the support needed to develop strong self-regulation skills, the modeling of empathic behavior, the avoidance of reward or punishment in favor of thinking through the impact of one’s actions on others, the fostering of cognitive empathy through literature and role-playing, and the education of children to avoid the “empathy gap” that occurs when people forget what it is like to be in the grip of pain, discomfort or fear. It is worth reading.

About the Author:

Formerly an adolescent and family therapist, Dr. Stephanie Monaghan-Blout is a senior clinician who joined NESCA at its inception in 2007. Dr. Monaghan-Blout specializes in the assessment of clients with complex learning and emotional issues. She is proficient in the administration of psychological (projective) tests, as well as in neuropsychological testing. Her responsibilities at NESCA also include acting as Clinical Coordinator, overseeing psycho-educational and therapeutic services. She has a particular interest in working with adopted children and their families, as well as those impacted by traumatic experiences. She is a member of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI) associated with Massachusetts Advocates for Children and the Harvard Law Clinic, and is working with that group on an interdisciplinary guide to trauma sensitive evaluations.

To book an evaluation with Dr. Monaghan-Blout or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists and transition specialists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.

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

Giftedness – What does it mean, and how do I know if my child is gifted?

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Alissa Talamo, PhD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

All children have learning strengths and weaknesses, and as parents we are proud of all our children. However, there are some children who are precocious and seem to learn many skills early and with ease. According to the National Association of Gifted Children, there are certain characteristics that parents will often notice and wonder if their child is gifted. Some of these characteristics include:

  • Unusual alertness, even in infancy
  • advanced vocabulary
  • heightened sensitivity
  • remarkable memory
  • rapid and constant learning from their environment
  • seeming to know things without the effort required to learn it
  • longer attention spans and intense concentration skills; yet at the same time they can become preoccupied with their own thoughts, often being labeled as “daydreamers”
  • demonstrate a wide range of interests
  • display a highly developed level of curiosity and ask probing questions
  • vivid imaginations (often including imaginary playmates during pre-school years)

However, there are also some challenges for gifted children as they tend to be highly sensitive, and they feel things deeply and respond with intense feelings and reactions. When a child demonstrates advanced cognitive abilities, that does not mean that they are emotionally mature enough to manage the information they are able to access. For example, a young child who can read at an advanced level is not necessarily mature enough to read books intended for older children, as the content is beyond their ability to process emotionally. This discrepancy is referred to as asynchronous development. Often highly gifted children will be advanced in many academic areas but may lag behind their peers in their development of social skills. They can also demonstrate perfectionism and anxiety, often as a result of their asynchronous development.

Unfortunately, at this time, Massachusetts does not have a definition of giftedness and does not collect data on gifted students. However, if you believe that your child is gifted, there are many things you can do to support them. For example,

  • allow them to dive deeply into subjects of interest to them
  • encourage them to take risks and make mistakes, as this will allow them to develop coping strategies as well as improved problem-solving skills
  • provide opportunities outside of school, such as enrichment programs in their areas of interest
  • consider participating in opportunities for activities that occur with like-minded peers, that teach in depth, encourage creative problem-solving and are fun (e.g., those provided by the Massachusetts Association for Gifted Education, MAGE)

Finally, early identification improves the likelihood that a child’s gifts will develop into talents. If you suspect that your child is gifted, consider both objective testing (e.g., IQ testing, academic achievement tests) as well as collecting subjective information (e.g., teacher observation and rating forms, parent reports, examples of child’s work).

NESCA’s comprehensive neuropsychological evaluations provide a highly-detailed description of an individual’s developmental status, thinking patterns and learning style based upon a very careful integration of findings from developmental history, observations by parents, teachers and clinician(s), and data from NESCA’s own testing. These evaluations, which seek to paint a recognizable portrait of the whole person, assess the underlying reasons they may be struggling academically, socially or emotionally and offer parents and teachers a set of tools for supporting the individual’s development.

If you are interested in learning more about NESCA’s Neuropsychological Evaluations, email: info@nesca-newton.com or complete our online intake form.

 

SOURCES

Davidson Institute – (www.davidsongifted.org/)
National Association for Gifted Children (www.nagc.org)

 

About the Author

With NESCA since its inception in 2007, Dr. Talamo had previously practiced for many years as a child and adolescent clinical psychologist before completing postdoctoral re-training in pediatric neuropsychology at the Children’s Evaluation Center.

After receiving her undergraduate degree from Columbia University, Dr. Talamo earned her doctorate in clinical health psychology from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University.

She has given a number of presentations, most recently on “How to Recognize a Struggling Reader,” “Supporting Students with Working Memory Limitations,” (with Bonnie Singer, Ph.D., CCC-SLP of Architects for Learning), and “Executive Function in Elementary and Middle School Students.”

Dr. Talamo specializes in working with children and adolescents with language-based learning disabilities including dyslexia, attentional disorders, and emotional issues. She is also interested in working with highly gifted children.

Her professional memberships include MAGE (Massachusetts Association for Gifted Education), IDA (International Dyslexia Association), MABIDA (the Massachusetts division of IDA) and MNS (the Massachusetts Neuropsychological Society).

She is the mother of one teenage girl.

To book a consultation with Dr. Talamo or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.

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

I Can Tell You a Story…I Just Can’t Write It

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Alissa Talamo, PhD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

According to understood.org, “Written expression disorder is a learning disability that results in a person having trouble expressing their thoughts in writing… They might have the greatest ideas, but their writing is disorganized and full of grammar and punctuation mistakes.” Experts believe that between 8 and 15 percent of people have a written expression disorder and it often co-occurs with other learning challenges, with two of the most common being dyslexia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD).

Writing is difficult because it depends upon many separate components that need to be integrated into a complex whole. For example, to write well, a person needs to have acquired knowledge about the topic, retrieve needed vocabulary and express the information in a way that can be followed by the reader. At the same time, the writer needs to be able to self-monitor their progress, including switching between the main idea and writing mechanics, such as spelling, punctuation and grammar. People with written expression disorder might be able to tell an organized and interesting story, but struggle when asked to recreate that information in written form. Receiving a formal diagnosis can help a child receive extra help at school or even specialized instruction. Also, a diagnosis can possibly lead to accommodations at college.

There are also several methods of instruction that can help a student organize their writing. These programs help a student visualize or represent abstract ideas by using visually-based templates. While many of these methods are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced in this blog, some examples are programs such as Thinking maps by David Hyerle, Ed.D. or “Brain Frames.” These programs have developed specific graphic organizers to help a student with a variety of writing assignments (e.g., comparing and contrasting, ordering and sequencing) and provide specialized instruction that can help a student greatly improve their ability to express their ideas in writing.

If you believe that your child may be experiencing difficulties in the area of writing, one step is to determine the root of the difficulty. For example, does the student have an underlying learning disability or reduced self-regulation that may be negatively impacting their progress? Receiving a neuropsychological evaluation could be a useful tool in determining the appropriate supports and services to best help your child.

Sources:

https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences

http://www.ldonline.org/article/33079/

http://www.thinkingmaps.com

http://www.architectsforlearning.com

 

About the Author:

With NESCA since its inception in 2007, Dr. Talamo had previously practiced for many years as a child and adolescent clinical psychologist before completing postdoctoral re-training in pediatric neuropsychology at the Children’s Evaluation Center.

After receiving her undergraduate degree from Columbia University, Dr. Talamo earned her doctorate in clinical health psychology from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University.

She has given a number of presentations, most recently on “How to Recognize a Struggling Reader,” “Supporting Students with Working Memory Limitations,” (with Bonnie Singer, Ph.D., CCC-SLP of Architects for Learning), and “Executive Function in Elementary and Middle School Students.”

Dr. Talamo specializes in working with children and adolescents with language-based learning disabilities including dyslexia, attentional disorders, and emotional issues. She is also interested in working with highly gifted children.

Her professional memberships include MAGE (Massachusetts Association for Gifted Education), IDA (International Dyslexia Association), MABIDA (the Massachusetts division of IDA) and MNS (the Massachusetts Neuropsychological Society).

She is the mother of one teenage girl.

 

To book a consultation with Dr. Talamo or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.

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

Supporting Your Child’s Reading Development – Even During a Pandemic

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Alissa Talamo, PhD
Clinical Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Aside from allowing children to access school instruction, the ability to read provides a child with the opportunity to read for pleasure. Reading for pleasure has been shown to support a child’s cognitive development, improve concentration, increase a child’s vocabulary, expand a child’s level of creativity and imagination, improve empathy and provide the child with a deeper understanding of the world around them.

Here are some ideas to support reading for children of all ages:

Pre-school Years:

  • Develop awareness of different sounds
    • For example, have your child look for things around the home that start with a certain letter sound.
    • Play rhyming games.
    • Sing songs.
  • Read the same book to them daily for several days
    • Point out and talk about different vocabulary words each time.
    • Repetition helps build vocabulary and comprehension.

Early School Years:

  • Practice rhyming
    • Say a word and have your child see how many real or made-up words they can say that rhyme with that word.
  • Practice reading
    • Have your child read a page of a “just right” book aloud. Be sure it’s a page they can read with fewer than two or three reading mistakes.
    • Have your student use their finger to ensure they stop and look at every word rather than guess or skip words.
    • Another goal may be to pause whenever they see a period, since many struggling readers miss punctuation.

For All School Grades/Ages:

  • Read books of interest aloud to your child that they may not yet be able to read independently. This will allow your child to enjoy more sophisticated stories and increase their exposure to complex syntax and new vocabulary.
  • Continue to introduce a wide range of books.
  • Let your child’s areas of interest(s) help determine the books you choose.
  • Provide your child with experiences that help increase their background knowledge before reading about a topic, as this will then help with reading comprehension.
  • Ask your child questions about what you’re reading as you go. For younger children, this may involve them retelling the story. Ask older students to identify the key points in the text.

Finally, here is a list of apps and websites that can provide activities and books for you to enjoy as a family.

 

If you suspect your child may have reading challenges, join Dr. Talamo for a webinar on how to spot those early signs on October 15, 2020, from 2:00-3:00 PM ET.

Register in advance for this webinar: https://nesca-newton.zoom.us/…/WN_4XOoaw4IS-e8xEkHt6ev_A

References

https://www.childrensmn.org/2020/05/13/help-kids-keep-reading-stay-home-order-distance-learning/

https://www.eschoolnews.com/2020/06/30/how-to-effectively-support-struggling-readers-during-distance-learning

https://hr.uw.edu/coronavirus/caring-for-self-and-family/child-care/at-home-learning-resources/

www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/reading-apps-games-and-websites

 

About the Author:

With NESCA since its inception in 2007, Dr. Talamo had previously practiced for many years as a child and adolescent clinical psychologist before completing postdoctoral re-training in pediatric neuropsychology at the Children’s Evaluation Center.

After receiving her undergraduate degree from Columbia University, Dr. Talamo earned her doctorate in clinical health psychology from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University.

She has given a number of presentations, most recently on “How to Recognize a Struggling Reader,” “Supporting Students with Working Memory Limitations,” (with Bonnie Singer, Ph.D., CCC-SLP of Architects for Learning), and “Executive Function in Elementary and Middle School Students.”

Dr. Talamo specializes in working with children and adolescents with language-based learning disabilities including dyslexia, attentional disorders, and emotional issues. She is also interested in working with highly gifted children.

Her professional memberships include MAGE (Massachusetts Association for Gifted Education), IDA (International Dyslexia Association), MABIDA (the Massachusetts division of IDA) and MNS (the Massachusetts Neuropsychological Society).

She is the mother of one teenage girl.

 

To book a consultation with Dr. Talamo or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.

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

Encouraging Your Child to Read

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Alissa Talamo, PhD
Clinical Neuropsychologist, NESCA

According to Sally Shaywitz M.D., (Audrey G. Ratner Professor of Pediatrics-Neurology; Co-Director, Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity), dyslexia is highly prevalent, affecting one in five people, and it represents over 80% of all learning disabilities.

Even when a child does not meet the criteria for dyslexia, they may be a reluctant reader. Children who do not practice reading perform poorly on reading tests relative to children who do read on a regular basis. In addition, reduced reading time results in exposure to fewer words. In general, people use limited vocabulary during conversation compared to the language one is exposed to while reading. As such, a reluctant reader is at risk to have poorly developed vocabulary knowledge compared to same-age peers. They are also less likely to improve their reading skills over time. In her book, Overcoming Dyslexia (2003), Dr. Shaywitz shared the following information:

Through reading, a child is introduced to new concepts and information. In addition, the more a child is exposed to literature, the more likely reading will become an integral part of their daily life. However, how does a parent encourage a reluctant reader? Here are some ideas:

1.  Read a story to your child. Then ask them to talk about their favorite parts of the story.

2. Be ready to read or listen to books over and over again – this is how children learn. FYI – Did you know you can listen to the audio version of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (a series of children’s books by Betty MacDonald originally published in 1947) four times in a row on a drive from Boston to Maryland and four times in a row on the way back? I did this with my daughter when she was 4-years-old (she is now 16) and I do believe that, to this day, I can still quote parts of the book!

3.  Surround your children with reading material – this can be comprised of books, graphic novels, or magazines, anything that is of interest to your child.

4.  Let your child take out their own library card and go with you to the library to pick out their own reading material. Allowing a child to read for pleasure is the best way to create a more engaged reader. However, it is also important to make sure the child is choosing an age-appropriate book. A librarian can be very helpful in providing recommendations based on a child’s age and areas of interest.

 5.  Have your children practice reading whenever possible. Baking a cake? Ask them to help you read the instructions (perhaps your hands are too messy to turn the page!). Ordering food? Let them read the menu aloud to a younger sibling.

6. Use technology to your advantage. For example, I worked with a 14-year old boy with dyslexia who was intimidated by the size of the first Harry Potter book. However, I mentioned to him that, on the iPad, the book is no bigger than the iPad itself. He was more willing to carry an I-pad around and read at his own pace. Another advantage is that with an e-reader the child can place as much or as little text on a page as they wish, another way to reduce reading stress.

 7. Take advantage of audiobooks. This technology is a huge benefit for students who struggle to access books that are written for children their age but beyond their current independent reading level. The child can simply listen along, or they can hold the book and follow along with the text while listening. There are several ways to access audiobooks, including downloading them from your library for free!

8. Finally, model good reading habits. If your child never sees you reading, but you insist that they read, they will see reading as a chore rather than a pleasure. If you are not a strong reader, that is ok, you, too, can listen to audiobooks!

While these recommendations will hopefully help your child experience increased reading pleasure and exposure to literature, it is still important to find out the reason why your child is struggling to read. If your child has not had a thorough reading evaluation, you can ask your child’s school to complete such an assessment. In addition, you may wish to have your child evaluated by an independent evaluator.

 

This blog was previously published in NESCA Notes. 

 

About the Author:

With NESCA since its inception in 2007, Dr. Talamo had previously practiced for many years as a child and adolescent clinical psychologist before completing postdoctoral re-training in pediatric neuropsychology at the Children’s Evaluation Center.

After receiving her undergraduate degree from Columbia University, Dr. Talamo earned her doctorate in clinical health psychology from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University.

She has given a number of presentations, most recently on “How to Recognize a Struggling Reader,” “Supporting Students with Working Memory Limitations,” (with Bonnie Singer, Ph.D., CCC-SLP of Architects for Learning), and “Executive Function in Elementary and Middle School Students.”

Dr. Talamo specializes in working with children and adolescents with language-based learning disabilities including dyslexia, attentional disorders, and emotional issues. She is also interested in working with highly gifted children.

Her professional memberships include MAGE (Massachusetts Association for Gifted Education), IDA (International Dyslexia Association), MABIDA (the Massachusetts division of IDA) and MNS (the Massachusetts Neuropsychological Society).

She is the mother of one teenage girl.

 

To book a consultation with Dr. Talamo or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.

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

There Is No Wrong Decision

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By:  Alissa Talamo, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

We are living in an unprecedented time. As such, parents are faced with decisions that they have never faced before. For example, families are facing the challenging decision about whether or not to send their children back to school for in-person classes in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents have to wrestle with the idea that, on the one hand, sending children to school could increase the risk of COVID-19 among children and family members; while on the other hand, children who don’t return to in-person school may experience disruptions in their education and may miss out on the social interaction and community feeling within the school building. In addition, some families simply don’t have a choice because they need to go to work or a family member at home is immunocompromised.

What is most important is to recognize is that whether or not to send a child to school in the fall means something different to everybody. It is imperative that, as parents, you give yourself permission to feel whatever it is that you are feeling, and that you do what feels right for you and your family. It may be difficult to accept, but we have little control over much of what is happening around us right now. While it is important to acknowledge how you are feeling, it is equally important to remember that, in fact, any reactions are normal under the current circumstances.

How you respond to stress during the COVID-19 pandemic can depend on your background, your financial situation, your health and emotional background, your social support system, the community you live in and many other factors. When it comes to parenting, every day can be a challenge, and the coronavirus has made an already scary world feel even more menacing.  Remember to “ignore the noise” and give yourself credit for taking care of yourself and your family.

 

 

About the Author:

With NESCA since its inception in 2007, Dr. Talamo had previously practiced for many years as a child and adolescent clinical psychologist before completing postdoctoral re-training in pediatric neuropsychology at the Children’s Evaluation Center.

After receiving her undergraduate degree from Columbia University, Dr. Talamo earned her doctorate in clinical health psychology from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University.

She has given a number of presentations, most recently on “How to Recognize a Struggling Reader,” “Supporting Students with Working Memory Limitations,” (with Bonnie Singer, Ph.D., CCC-SLP of Architects for Learning), and “Executive Function in Elementary and Middle School Students.”

Dr. Talamo specializes in working with children and adolescents with language-based learning disabilities including dyslexia, attentional disorders, and emotional issues. She is also interested in working with highly gifted children.

Her professional memberships include MAGE (Massachusetts Association for Gifted Education), IDA (International Dyslexia Association), MABIDA (the Massachusetts division of IDA) and MNS (the Massachusetts Neuropsychological Society).

She is the mother of one teenage girl.

To book a consultation with Dr. Talamo or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.

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

Why We Should Weed Out Lawnmower Parenting

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By:  Alissa Talamo, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

There are many parenting styles and trends…helicopter parents, attachment parents, free range parents, and now…the lawnmower parent. All of these parenting styles come from loving, well-meaning parents who want to do what is best for their children and protect them from harm. However, the lawnmower parent, the newest iteration of such approaches, often prevents a child from gaining necessary lifelong skills.

If a helicopter parent is a parent who hovers over their child and jumps in to solve a problem that a child could actually resolve on their own, a lawnmower parent (also referred to as a snowplow parent or bulldozing parent) is a parent who goes out of their way to remove every obstacle for their child; trying to anticipate their child’s every need and solve the problem before the child even experiences it. Lawnmower parent behaviors include everything from choosing a young child’s activities to directly calling a child’s college professor to ask for an extension on an assignment, and—as recently seen play out in the news—the college admissions scandal. One college professor (as shared on the Pittsburgh Moms blog) described lawnmower parenting as ‘Curling Parents,’ “given the similarity to the Olympic athletes who scurry ahead of the gently thrown stone, frantically brushing a smooth path and guiding the stone towards an exact pre-determined location.”

A negative side effect of the lawnmower parent approach is that it suggests to the child they are not able to handle any situation on their own, and possibly the idea that their parents believe they will fail rather than succeed unless the parent clears the way. How can a child develop a sense of self, and confidence to know they can make mistakes and still be ok, unless they are allowed to experience both success and failure? Children need to develop their own problem-solving skills, at a developmentally appropriate level, to know they can solve bigger problems. While it is ok to help your child (or friend, spouse, sibling) out of a difficult situation at times, everyone needs to learn to self-advocate, develop problem-solving skills and feel that sense of accomplishment that doing so yields.

References:

https://grownandflown.com/college-professor-warns-lawnmower-parent/

https://pittsburgh.citymomsblog.com/

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/parenting

About the Author:

With NESCA since its inception in 2007, Dr. Talamo had previously practiced for many years as a child and adolescent clinical psychologist before completing postdoctoral re-training in pediatric neuropsychology at the Children’s Evaluation Center.

After receiving her undergraduate degree from Columbia University, Dr. Talamo earned her doctorate in clinical health psychology from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University.

She has given a number of presentations, most recently on “How to Recognize a Struggling Reader,” “Supporting Students with Working Memory Limitations,” (with Bonnie Singer, Ph.D., CCC-SLP of Architects for Learning), and “Executive Function in Elementary and Middle School Students.”

Dr. Talamo specializes in working with children and adolescents with language-based learning disabilities including dyslexia, attentional disorders, and emotional issues. She is also interested in working with highly gifted children.

Her professional memberships include MAGE (Massachusetts Association for Gifted Education), IDA (International Dyslexia Association), MABIDA (the Massachusetts division of IDA) and MNS (the Massachusetts Neuropsychological Society).

She is the mother of one teenage girl.

To book a consultation with Dr. Talamo or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.

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

Understanding Empathy

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By:  Stephanie Monaghan-Blout, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Our children are growing up in a social environment that is too often flavored by fear; fear of inexplicable violence, fear of people who look different than us, whose politics are contrary to what we hold dear, people who seem to despise us as much as we discount them. At the same time, we are realizing that in order to help our children learn, we must pay attention to their emotional and social states as well as their intellectual development.

In the context of these paradoxes, the concept of empathy has become a topic of considerable interest. The fact of the matter is that empathy may be at play in the divisiveness of our communities as well as in the efforts to include all children in our schools. Empathy is critical in forming close and supportive relationships, but at the same time, it is also responsible for a built-in bias toward people with whom one feels a connection. Further, being empathetic towards others does not ensure that one will follow that feeling of concern with acts of kindness. Finally, too much empathy for those in pain is very painful and can cause the empathizer to pull back or avoid the situation or person  in order to protect themselves. The research of the past 15 years has deepened our understanding of empathy and has helped to explain some of these contradictions. In an article in the Scientific American (December 13, 2017), Science Writer Lydia Denworth summarized the general consensus of the scientific community to describe three different but interactive aspects of empathy:

  • Emotional empathy refers to the experience of sharing one’s feelings and matching that person’s behavioral states; for example, feeling afraid when watching a movie in which someone is being attacked by a lion. This form of empathy is a biological response that is seen in a variety of animals as well as children as young as one year old.
  • Cognitive empathy is the capacity to think about and understand other people’s feelings. It is often referred to as perspective taking or theory of mind. While aspects of this ability can be seen in very young children, it is not fully developed until adulthood.
  • Empathetic concern, or compassion is the feeling of concern that motivates one to help in some way. This capacity can also be seen in young children.

True empathy requires the engagement of all three capacities. Consider, for instance, the experience of many people on the Autism Spectrum. They may be fully capable of feeling emotional empathy; in fact, they are often overwhelmed by the sharing of pain. However, they struggle with the cognitive task of  perspective taking, or appreciating that the other person may not see things in the same way that they do. On the other hand, people with antisocial tendencies may be very good at understanding how someone feels, but do not have any interest in helping them. Finally, it is extremely difficult for people who live in a homogeneous cultural area to be able to extend the same kind of care and consideration to others who look and sound different and whose views may run counter to their own.

Gwen DeWar is a biological anthropologist who edits the Parenting Science website. In one of her articles, she describes 10 steps parents can take to encourage the development of empathy in their children. These include tasks such as, providing the support needed to develop strong self-regulation skills, the modeling of empathic behavior, the avoidance of reward or punishment in favor of thinking through the impact of one’s actions on others, the fostering of cognitive empathy through literature and role-playing, and the education of children to avoid the “empathy gap” that occurs when people forget what it is like to be in the grip of pain, discomfort or fear. It is worth reading.

About the Author:

Formerly an adolescent and family therapist, Dr. Stephanie Monaghan-Blout is a senior clinician who joined NESCA at its inception in 2007. Dr. Monaghan-Blout specializes in the assessment of clients with complex learning and emotional issues. She is proficient in the administration of psychological (projective) tests, as well as in neuropsychological testing. Her responsibilities at NESCA also include acting as Clinical Coordinator, overseeing psycho-educational and therapeutic services. She has a particular interest in working with adopted children and their families, as well as those impacted by traumatic experiences. She is a member of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI) associated with Massachusetts Advocates for Children and the Harvard Law Clinic, and is working with that group on an interdisciplinary guide to trauma sensitive evaluations.

To book an evaluation with Dr. Monaghan-Blout or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists and transition specialists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.

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

A Halloween for Everyone

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Community-based Skills Coach

As Halloween evening approaches, it’s important to take a moment to consider the small steps we can take to be inclusive and promote a successful experience for all children and adolescents. While Halloween is a holiday meant to bring communities closer together, trick or treating can sometimes be overwhelming, wrought with difficulty, or just a bit too spooky.

Over the past few years, significant efforts have been made to ensure that we are being inclusive of all children. Leading the charge is Food Allergy Research & Education, or FARE, a non-profit organization focused on providing education about childhood food allergies. In 2012, FARE started the Teal Pumpkin Project, which encourages families to put a teal pumpkin on their doorstep and offer non-food alternatives, such as small toys or puzzles. A newer movement among families is to carry a blue pumpkin trick-or-treat basket to signify that they are on the autism spectrum. As a nation, we are starting to understand the need to make Halloween enjoyable for everyone.

While these clues may prompt those handing out treats to be a bit more patient or understanding of a child’s actions on their doorstep, I hope this year we can approach Halloween with the goal of being understanding and patient with all the children in our communities. One way is to refrain from saying things, such as:

  • “Oh no! Why aren’t you wearing a costume? You need a costume to get some candy!”
  • “You look pretty old to be dressing up! Are you sure you should still be trick-or-treating?”
  • “Only take one! Put those back!”

The child without a costume may have sensory defensiveness that makes it too difficult to put on a costume without feeling physically uncomfortable. The adolescent who is dressed up may have been looking forward to Halloween for months. The holiday could even be a special interest. Let’s let these adolescents have their day, too. And the five-year-old grabbing four pieces of candy in his little fist may have fine motor delays making it difficult for him to pick up just one small piece at a time.

Simply put, let’s have a fun AND compassionate Halloween by allowing each child or adolescent to be unique and being more sensitive to everyone’s needs.

 

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in pediatrics and occupational therapy in the developing world. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as well as social skills coaching as part of NESCA’s transition 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. In addition to her work at NESCA, Dr. Bellenis works as a school-based occupational therapist for the city of Salem Public Schools and believes that individual sensory needs, and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.
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.

 

Accommodations for Computer-based Testing

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Community-based Skills Coach

As a school-based occupational therapist, I found myself beginning each academic year by focusing on what my students needed to learn, the skills they needed to develop, and how I could best use my time to help them be successful in the classroom. Despite it being September, every year this inevitably led me to consider standardized testing – one of the many academic themes of springtime.

My third graders not only needed to know the foundational mathematics skills being assessed, but how to navigate the computer screen in front of them. They needed to practice the fine motor precision to move a mouse and click on small boxes or multiple-choice bubbles. My sixth graders not only needed to understand how to plot points on the x and y axes, but they needed to have the visual perceptual skills to plot these points on a computer screen that scrolls up and down.

This demand for computer literacy skills within testing was noted as early as 2003, when Thompson et. al noted the inherent disadvantage for students who lack access to computers. However, as we continue to move further and further into the digital age, it is clear that computer-based testing has become our nation’s go-to method for assessing its students’ grasp of academic content and subject mastery. Computer-based testing allows for more efficient administration, quicker result times, built-in accommodations, and other positive benefits that make commitment to this practice worthwhile. For many students, computer-based testing is hugely preferred, and the option to type an essay is far less daunting than writing pages and pages by hand.

However, the National Center on Educational Outcomes claims that, “Despite the fairly dramatic increase in attention to CBT (computer-based testing), accessibility challenges continue to have the potential to reduce the validity of the assessment results and to exclude some groups of students from assessment participation” (Thurlow, Lazarus, Albus, & Hodgson, 2010).

So, what happens when this manner of assessment is more difficult for our students with disabilities? How can we help? What can we do?

As is often noted by test creators and administrators, most computer-based tests have relatively comprehensive built-in accommodations. Options such as enlarged font, speech-to-text, and line masking are often built into the platform. Despite this, computer-based accommodations may not be enough. When it comes to being truly accessible, the assessment of skill areas, individualized accommodation, and significant practice of testing systems are all necessary to arrive at an accurate assessment of academic skills.

Consider Charles, a fourth-grade student who has been receiving occupational therapy for decreased fine motor precision, visual perception, and low visual and fine motor endurance. He has difficulty with visual memory and gets easily overwhelmed by visual clutter. As a student in the general education setting, it is initially assumed that Charles will take his standardized tests in the computer format. At his team meeting, Charles’ mother raises her concern that he will fatigue quickly due to the visual demands of staring at a computer screen for the testing period. The team offers to provide Charles with a paper-based version of the test so he can avoid having to look at a computer screen. But Charles has decreased fine motor precision and endurance! How do we accommodate his needs?

This one case displays the importance of considering the whole child, trialing different options, and working collaboratively. Charles could potentially be allowed to take the assessment on the computer with access to a paper copy. He could use a scribe to help him type or write while he takes a computer or paper version. Maybe Charles feels confident using the computer-based test and his mother’s concerns about visual fatigue were unwarranted. Realistically, the team does not know what is best for Charles until they try a few distinct options and get his input.

Computer-based testing tools are here to stay, and fortunately our children are becoming more and more comfortable with digital methods. As we continue to make this transition, it is important to maintain the commitment to be individualized. Each student has different needs, and I urge teams, related service providers, educators, and parents to consider these needs early in the school year and early in the student’s academic career.

References:

Thompson, S., Thurlow, M., & Moore, M. (2003). Using computer-based tests with students with disabilities (Policy Directions No. 15). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes. Retrieved [9/09/2019], from the World Wide Web: https://nceo.info/Resources/publications/OnlinePubs/Policy15.htm

Thurlow, M., Lazarus, S. S., Albus, D., & Hodgson, J. (2010). Computer-based testing: Practices and considerations (Synthesis Report 78). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in pediatrics and occupational therapy in the developing world. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as well as social skills coaching as part of NESCA’s transition 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. In addition to her work at NESCA, Dr. Bellenis works as a school-based occupational therapist for the city of Salem Public Schools and believes that individual sensory needs, and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.
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.