Tag

Neuropsychological Evaluation

Executive Function Skills in the Outdoors

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Renée Marchant, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Executive functioning skills are a “family” of skills that operate in a “top-down” process, controlling and regulating brain regions associated with attention, impulse control, emotion regulation, and meta-cognition or “thinking about thinking.” For more information about executive function skills, please refer to my previous NESCA blog “Teenage Stress and Executive Functioning.” As an evaluator, I often emphasize two key points about executive function skills: (1) Developing executive function skills is a combination of brain development and life experience; and (2) These skills are built through interactions (with others and our world) and practice.

Now with more access to New England summer weather, there are plenty of opportunities for children and teens to grow executive function skills in interaction with the natural world. I recommend a “must-download” if you want to review practical, science-based activities and games for children from the ages of six months old through adolescence, “Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence.” This is a wonderful resource that provides a clear list and description of practical activities to strengthen executive function skills based on a child’s age. This resource was developed by The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, a multidisciplinary team supporting research, policy, and practice for childhood development. Their website also provides excellent free resources for parents, clinicians, and educators related to topics such as stress, resiliency, play, and brain structure/development.

Here is a short list of outdoor summer executive function activities based on your child’s developmental age:

  1. 6-18 months-old: Peekaboo and Patty-Cake on the grass and other textures, such as dirt, mud, water, or wood (a multi-sensory experience), encourage joint attention and object focus by naming, pointing, and sustaining focus on natural objects at the beach or in the woods.
  2. 18-36 months-old: Match/sort natural objects, such as placing rocks in one bucket and flowers in another bucket, blow bubbles with a variety of wand shapes, pretend play as fishermen, construction workers, or farmers/gardeners.
  3. 3-5 years-old: Pretend to be an outdoor superhero in an obstacle course or race (e.g., running through Hula Hoops or around traffic cones), assist with cooking/preparing an outdoor picnic, or make a nature bracelet.
  4. 5-7 years-old: Play the I-Spy game and participate in scavenger hunts, use strategy board games (e.g., Uno, Concentration) on land or maybe even in the water, go on a sensory walk (name something you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch).
  5. 7-12 years-old: Star-gaze and find/name constellations, create a bird house or other wood structure through woodworking activities, garden one or more plants, play with a super soaker toy or laser/flashlight tag.
  6. Adolescents: Maintain a summer sketching and drawing journal of natural objects, participate in sunrise or sunset yoga or dance classes, outdoor animal-assistant yoga (e.g., Goat Yoga), or sports-oriented camps and activities.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Renée Marchant provides neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments for youth who present with a variety of complex, inter-related needs, with a particular emphasis on identifying co-occurring neurodevelopmental and psychiatric challenges. She specializes in the evaluation of developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorder and social-emotional difficulties stemming from mood, anxiety, attachment and trauma-related diagnoses. She often assesses children who have “unique learning styles” that can underlie deficits in problem-solving, emotion regulation, social skills and self-esteem.

Dr. Marchant’s assessments prioritize the “whole picture,” particularly how systemic factors, such as culture, family life, school climate and broader systems impact diagnoses and treatment needs. She frequently observes children at school and participates in IEP meetings.

Dr. Marchant brings a wealth of clinical experience to her evaluations. In addition to her expertise in assessment, she has extensive experience providing evidence-based therapy to children in individual (TF-CBT, insight-oriented), group (DBT) and family (solution-focused, structural) modalities. Her school, home and treatment recommendations integrate practice-informed interventions that are tailored to the child’s unique needs.

Dr. Marchant received her B.A. from Boston College with a major in Clinical Psychology and her Psy.D. from William James College in Massachusetts. She completed her internship at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute and her postdoctoral fellowship at Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, where she deepened her expertise in providing therapy and conducting assessments for children with neurodevelopmental disorders as well as youth who present with high-risk behaviors (e.g. psychosis, self-injury, aggression, suicidal ideation).

Dr. Marchant provides workshops and consultations to parents, school personnel and treatment professionals on ways to cultivate resilience and self-efficacy in the face of adversity, trauma, interpersonal violence and bullying. She is an expert on the interpretation of the Rorschach Inkblot Test and provides teaching and supervision on the usefulness of projective/performance-based measures in assessment. Dr. Marchant is also a member of the American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA) and continues to conduct research on the effectiveness of family therapy for high-risk, hospitalized patients.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Marchant 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 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.

 

Student Involvement in IEPs: Ten Tips to Help Middle School Students Get Started – Part 1

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

Federal law requires that students with Individual Education Programs (IEPs) be invited to attend their transition IEP meetings. In Massachusetts, this means that students approaching the age of 14, often 8th graders, should be invited to attend their IEP meetings to start the process of transition planning if this has not already begun. For many, the idea of a middle school student attending an IEP meeting, an activity that can often be intimidating and upsetting for parents, can initially be overwhelming. And historically research has indicated that when students do attend team meetings, they have the lowest level of satisfaction about their IEP meeting of any team member and they feel the least comfortable sharing their thoughts and suggestions in the meeting.[i] However, research across the country has also shown that students can learn skills to actively participate in their IEP meetings, especially when they are directly taught terminology, roles, and how to participate, and when team members expect student participation.[ii] Student participation in IEPs is not only important because it is federally mandated, it is also essential because the IEP is supposed to be based on the student’s strengths, interests, preferences, and needs as well as the student’s post-high school goals—and because it’s the student’s life! For those reasons, I am choosing to focus this blog (and some future blogs) on tips for helping middle school students to become involved in their IEP processes.

  1. Explicitly learn about the IEP document and process—There are clear rules and vocabulary used to govern the IEP process. However, these are wholly unfamiliar and strange to anyone who has not participated in the process before (and even perplexing for those of us who have a lot of experience at team meetings). Therefore, one of the most critical ways to prepare a student to attend transition IEP meetings and to be a self-directed member of their IEP team is to equip them with knowledge of the vocabulary and rules that govern the process. One organization that has created useful materials for helping to teach students about the IEP process is imdetermined.org which has documents designed to assist students in understanding the IEP (https://imdetermined.org/resource/understanding-my-iep-differentiated/) and preparing for the IEP (https://imdetermined.org/resource/understanding-my-iep-differentiated/), but it may also be important to reference and simplify certain sections of the IEP Process Guide (https://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/iep/proguide.pdf). If students are not ready to review their entire IEP (which many students are not), it may be helpful just to think about the present levels of performance, strengths, or accommodations.
  2. Talk about strengths—While it’s critical that students be able to talk about their strengths and challenges, sometimes it’s easiest to start with strengths. People can have all kinds of strengths, such as character strengths, social strengths, language strengths, academic strengths, technical strengths, extracurricular strengths, and more. For kids who have a hard time with open-ended questions, there are checklists that can be found or completed online, such as character strengths inventories, transferable skills checklists, and strengths worksheets. There are also activities that can be useful for documenting strengths over time, such as this Strengths Chain activity (https://www.understood.org/articles/en/strengths-chain-for-kids), keeping a running list or journal of strengths and accomplishments, or building a deck of strength cards. All students need help learning to describe their strengths, especially the first time. Some students may have a hard time identifying the strengths they see in themselves, but may have an easy time sharing what other people say about them or compliment them on. Talking about strengths is not a one-time activity. Make sure that you are talking about and referring to the student’s strengths often while also highlighting how various members of the household or students in the class have different strengths and skills.
  3. Talk about challenges!—While transition planning is a strengths-based process, an IEP is based on a student needing specialized instruction and related services because the student has a disability and would struggle to make effective progress in school or the general education curriculum without special education. If we are going to ask students to be actively involved in a process of goal-setting based principally on their having a disability and related challenges, it is critical that the student has the opportunity to talk about what is hard for them and what they want to get better at… in their own words. At the same time, it is important to normalize the fact that all people have challenges, learn different information at different rates, and need help (and tools) to function successfully. Ultimately, being able to use a diagnostic label and understand the impact of a diagnosis on functioning is important, but what is more important is being able to describe what is hard on a daily basis and what makes those difficult activities easier. For some students, it is helpful to read a book or watch a television show or movie with characters who face similar struggles and to label similarities between the youth and the character. Some of the same checklists mentioned for documenting strengths can be helpful for identifying areas of challenge or undeveloped skills. It may also be helpful to start filling in a worksheet similar to this one-pager (https://imdetermined.org/resource/one-pager/) or this self-awareness worksheet (https://www.understood.org/articles/en/download-self-awareness-worksheet-for-kids). Just as with strengths, it is important to talk about and refer to specific challenges that each person in the household or class faces.
  4.  Complete interest and preference inventories—Learning to engage in self-assessments and talk about those self-assessments is an important part of transition planning and IEP participation. There are so many fun interest and personality quizzes online that can be taken in minutes. Some examples include these personality tests from National Geographic Kids (https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/games/personality-quizzes), this free personality type explorer (https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test), or even the O*Net Career Interest Profiler (https://www.mynextmove.org/explore/ip). Have the student take the test—and take these tests yourself—and talk about how your results are similar or different and how well the student thinks the results of the assessment capture them. Think about whether there are strengths or challenges to add to their running lists or worksheets based on their experience taking these inventories.
  5. Talk about the student’s goals for after high school—Students have the right to input as much as possible into their postsecondary vision statement, no matter how realistic or unrealistic their input is. The only way that they can be prepared to provide input at a team meeting is if they have spent some time thinking and talking about their post-high school goals and learning about their choices and options. Just recently, my colleague Becki Lauzon wrote a blog with important discussion points for talking about post-high school goals with students, which can be found here. A robust transition planning process should include helping a student to have detailed goals for their future education or training, employment, independent living, and community engagement; however, initial discussions might just include ruling in or out things like obtaining a high school diploma, continuing learning after high school, having a paid job, driving a car, and living with other people. In middle school, the goal of talking with a student about their postsecondary vision is just to help the student learn to comfortably engage in those discussions and to find out where future work needs to be done in order to help the student build a more complete picture of their adult postsecondary life.

Every student is different and is able to engage in the process in different ways and at different times, but I hope that there is at least one tip in these blogs that is useful for you. Next month, I will be writing a second blog with more tips for engaging middle school students in the IEP process.

If you are interested in having your child work with Kelley Challen or another NESCA transition specialist to plan and prepare to be part of their IEP meeting, please fill out an intake for our transition consultation and planning services or our student coaching services today!

[i] http://www2.ku.edu/~tccop/files/Martins_Perspective.pdf

[ii] http://www2.ku.edu/~tccop/files/Martins_Perspective.pdf

 

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

 

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

Summer is Here, but There are Still Chores to Do – The Importance of Chores in a Child’s Development

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS
Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

What a year it’s been! Hopefully with the pandemic restrictions lifted and the start of summer, we are all breathing a sigh of relief. I’m certainly looking forward to traveling, seeing relatives and getting out without masks. The pandemic upturned our lives in so many ways, but now that there is a “sense of normalcy” returning, we may be tempted to kick back and really relax this summer. However, I would caution that in kicking back and relaxing, there are still chores that need to be done. So, why not include your children in taking ownership and helping out around the house? There is research that states that toddlers who are taught to “help out” around the house continue to help out as they age. Many children in indigenous communities grow up asking to help or just help out because it is needed. Wouldn’t it be nice if that were the case in the United States?

Jim Fay, co-founder of the Love and Logic parenting website, says that all of us need to feel needed and know we are making a contribution to those around us or to our world at large – even kids. In many families, chores are a tradition, but in others they have fallen by the wayside. Many upper and middle class families have hired household help, so the need to do chores isn’t as great, and fighting with children to do chores doesn’t seem worth it. Let’s face it, no one likes to do chores, but they have to get done. Psychologist Roger McIntire, author of Raising Good Kids in Tough Times, says, “A child has to have some responsibilities.” The family is a community, and everyone should chip in and help out. Helping out with family responsibilities and doing one’s own personal responsibilities are useful and necessary skills for a child’s development. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry states that, “there are benefits to including chores in a child’s routine as early as age 3. Children who do chores may exhibit higher self-esteem, be more responsible, and be better equipped to deal with frustration, adversity, and delayed gratification. These skills can lead to greater success in school, work, and relationships.” Research also shows that children who grow up contributing to the family responsibilities grow up to be adults who work well in collaborative groups and have a “can-do” attitude.

Helping kids learn that they have to do chores and that they are a part of life teaches them that it’s not just about me and what I need at this moment, but that I’m part of a system. I’m part of a family (I set the table). I’m part of my class at school (I clean up after an art project). I’m part of my sports team (I carry the bat/ball bag). I’m part of the workplace (I do my part). Humans crave a sense of belonging and connection, and helping others out and doing work for the good of the whole helps us understand why connection is important. The more we can do to foster this in our kids, the better off they will be as adults. Chores are a form of selflessness and help children develop a sense of responsibility and awareness of the needs of others. They begin to recognize that when they pick up, they can find their toys and they are grateful for the small things. Parents show gratitude when children do chores. Praise is good! Children feel appreciated and connected, and gratitude helps wire our brains to notice more things to feel thankful for, leading us to feel better overall.

Chores are powerful teachers. They help a child develop a greater sense of responsibility and awareness of the needs of others, and they also contribute to a child’s social and emotional well-being. Chores help children believe that they are competent and capable and help them develop greater self-esteem. Doing chores can also help children learn problem solving skills as well as the consequences of not doing their chores (i.e., not putting your baseball shirt in the laundry so it’s dirty for the next game). Chores are an excellent teacher of life skills. Knowing how to set the table, walk the dog, pick up toys, do laundry, prepare a meal, sweep/vacuum the floor, change a vacuum cleaner bag, etc., all help prepare a child for the responsibilities of adulthood. More involved tasks (i.e., cleaning out the garage) can be used in the development a child’s executive functioning skills, prompting them (perhaps with parent assistance) to figure out how to tackle the task in the most efficient, most systematic manner. And they learn about solutions that may be applied to a host of other life responsibilities.

Being a part of a family and taking responsibility for oneself and contributing to the family by doing chores is a powerful gift to give to children, even if they may not do the chores perfectly, may need to be reminded to do them, or grumble while they are doing them. It’s okay. Over time, these will lessen. Stay with it and help your child recognize and understand that life is work, and they have to be a part of the work of life.

If you aren’t having your child do chores now, consider it while the summer is here. It will help them out in many ways in the long run, helping them to be better functioning and more capable adults. If you need help figuring out which chores are age-appropriate, there are many lists online offering ideas and ways to assist in helping children do chores without too much complaining!

References

https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Chores_and_Children-125.aspx

https://www.loveandlogic.com

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/18/opinion/sunday/children-chores-parenting.html

 

About the Author

NESCA’s Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services Dot Lucci has been active in the fields of education, psychology, research and academia for over 30 years. She is a national consultant and speaker on program design and the inclusion of children and adolescents with special needs, especially those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Lucci was the Principal of the Partners Program/EDCO Collaborative and previously the Program Director and Director of Consultation at MGH/Aspire for 13 years, where she built child, teen and young adult programs and established the 3-Ss (self-awareness, social competency and stress management) as the programming backbone. She also served as director of the Autism Support Center. Ms. Lucci was previously an elementary classroom teacher, special educator, researcher, school psychologist, college professor and director of public schools, a private special education school and an education collaborative.

Ms. Lucci directs NESCA’s consultation services to public and private schools, colleges and universities, businesses and community agencies. She also provides psychoeducational counseling directly to students and parents. Ms. Lucci’s clinical interests include mind-body practices, positive psychology, and the use of technology and biofeedback devices in the instruction of social and emotional learning, especially as they apply to neurodiverse individuals.

 

To book a consultation with Ms. Lucci or one of our many expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician/consultant in the referral line.

 

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.

 

Dealing with End of the School Year Uncertainty

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
Director of Training and New Hampshire Operations

The end of the school year can bring a lot of emotions, such as excitement for summer activities, sadness about closing relationships, and anxiety related to change. Often, children are experiencing these mixed emotions without truly understanding them. The end of this particular school year may bring some unique emotions, as it is the second consecutive ending that “looks different,” be it because students were remote for all or some of the year, class parties and field days are not happening, or children cannot give their teacher an end of the year hug. The loss of such traditions may cause kids to feel a lack of closure. Further, this transition is happening at a time when the world is starting to change again. While the loosening of restrictions and return to a semblance of “normal” may be positive for most, children may not know how to cope with all of this simultaneous change.

Here are some tips for things that adults can do to help children cope with what may be a difficult or uncertain end to the current school year:

  • Watch for signs that your child may be struggling with this transition. This may include new sleep difficulties, low frustration tolerance, heightened emotions, meltdowns, reduced appetite, loss of interest, etc.
  • Talk about their feelings related to the end of the year in an open and responsive manner, validating their emotions (e.g., “I can see why that would make you feel sad,” rather than accidentally dismissing them (e.g., “Don’t worry.”).
  • Help provide some closure with their teacher, such as writing a card or letter about what they enjoyed, learned, or overcame together this year.
  • Using artwork or journaling, help your child reflect on their development, accomplishments, and experiences this past year.
  • Create a plan for how they can stay in touch with friends over the summer and schedule some specific playdates or events to reduce worry about losing touch.
  • Maintain your basic schedule, such as morning and bedtime routines.
  • To reduce worry related to uncertainty, provide some age-appropriate opportunities to feel a sense of control, such as allowing your child to design a new daily schedule for “home days,” choose individual or family activities, etc.

The end of any school year provides a great opportunity to teach children about transition and change. We can teach them that it is okay to celebrate their accomplishment while also simultaneously feeling discomfort about what is to come and sadness about saying goodbye. Particularly during a year that has been marked by adversity, learning how to recognize, “sit with,” and manage these mixed emotions will help to build resiliency for the future.

 

About the Author

Dr. Angela Currie is a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. She conducts neuropsychological and psychological evaluations out of our Londonderry, NH office. She specializes in the evaluation of anxious children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors lending to their stress, such as underlying learning, attentional, or emotional challenges. She particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child, as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Currie or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician in the referral line.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Londonderry, NH, Plainville, MA, and Newton, MA serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call (603) 818-8526.

Why Work Matters for Teens

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

“The share of teens participating in the labor force peaked 40 years ago and has declined ever since.”[1] There are many reasons why employment rates among teens ages 16-19 have declined, such as increased schoolwork and graduations requirements, summer program and extracurricular opportunities, and work competition. Now, roughly only one-third of youth in this age range are part of the workforce. But research tells us that teens who work during high school, whether during the school year or summer months, are more likely to persevere in college (if they choose this academic route) and also more likely to be hired in adulthood. For teenagers with disabilities, a population of young people who face a high risk for unemployment in adulthood, work experience in high school is even more critical.

Some of the benefits of paid employment for all students include:

  1. A new sense of identity—as a worker
  2. Learning workplace norms and expectations
  3. Developing important executive functioning skills, like time and task management
  4. Building social skills by collaborating and negotiating with other workers and/or customers
  5. Improving self-awareness through receiving coworker and employer feedback
  6. Reading a paycheck and learning to manage earned money
  7. Starting to identify learning and career goals (“I never want to do this again, so I am going to need to get a degree or some training.”) and/or gaining experience in a field of interest

Even failed work experiences—and failed application processes—are extremely valuable tools for learning the above skills as well as building coping and problem-solving skills.

And since it is almost summer and teenagers are finishing, or have finished, their classes for the school year, this is a great time to make a plan for summer employment. Teens can look in traditional places such as grocery stores, retailers, and fast-food restaurants, or may want to pursue something non-traditional like doing yard work, dog walking/pet sitting, cleaning/detailing, or odd jobs for family friends and neighbors. Those 18 and over with driver’s licenses may enjoy the flexibility of working with a delivery service like Instacart or Uber Eats.

Because work—whether a summer, part-time, traditional or non-traditional job—is such a critical aspect of transition planning, my colleague here at NESCA, Transition Specialist Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC, will be authoring a series of blogs focusing on career planning and counseling beginning this summer and continuing into the fall. Be on the lookout for her blogs. In the meantime, get out there and work!

Reference:

[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/06/why-so-few-teenagers-have-jobs-anymore.html

 

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

 

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

Why Kids Need to Outdoor Free Play

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
Director of Training and New Hampshire Operations

One of the best ways to make the most of your summer is to get outside and engage in lots of outdoor play. We live in a society where we tend to over-schedule ourselves and our children. Particularly during the school year, this makes it very difficult for children to get the amount of free play that they require. With this, I’m going to tell you five great reasons why you should throw away your schedule, put down the tablet, and get outside.

The first reason is probably the most obvious. Outdoor play provides great benefits to physical development. It improves motor coordination, strength, and balance, and it puts kids in an overall healthier position.

The next reason to play outside is that there are benefits for internal regulation. Not only does it make kids sleep better at night, but there is research to show that it aids attentional control and stress reduction. Being outdoors also provides kids with different sensory experiences – such as feeling the texture of sand and mud, or feeling the wind blow on your face – which will help to build children’s sensory tolerance.

The next reason to get outside is to improve cognitive development. Being outdoors provides a lot of opportunities to make observations, draw conclusions about things, see cause and effect, and be imaginative.

Next, playing outside aids emotional development. When we are over-scheduled, children do not have the opportunity to feel confident in their ability to step outside of their comfort zone or take risks. Experimenting and taking risks during outdoor play can help children understand that they have some control over what they can do within their environment, as well as begin to recognize boundaries.

Finally, the last reason to get outside is that it really bolsters social development. When there is no structure or there are no rules to follow, kids have to learn how to initiate their interactions, engage in conversation with each other, communicate, problem solve, and find ways to along, even when others have different ideas.

With all of the above benefits, outdoor free play is one of the best things you can give to your child. So as the weather is getting nicer and summer is fast approaching, if you are looking for something to do, sometimes it is best to just put down your schedule, get outside, and get dirty.

 

About the Author

Dr. Angela Currie is a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. She conducts neuropsychological and psychological evaluations out of our Londonderry, NH office. She specializes in the evaluation of anxious children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors lending to their stress, such as underlying learning, attentional, or emotional challenges. She particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child, as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Currie or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician in the referral line.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Londonderry, NH, Plainville, MA, and Newton, MA serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call (603) 818-8526.

When the Worry Bug Makes You Mad: Understanding the Importance of Positive Behavior Plans for Anxious Kids

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Renée Marchant, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

“Don’t Feed the Worry Bug,” by Andi Green is a wonderful book for children who are anxious or experience a lot of worrisome thoughts. The story is about a monster who constantly feeds his WorryBug, only to find that as he worries more and more, the WorryBug continues to grow until the monster is totally overwhelmed by the emotion. Eventually, he learns to control it. In my practice, I evaluate a number of children with lots of worries…but they don’t actually look worried. Instead, children may appear defiant, hyperactive and aggressive. Why do children overwhelmed with anxiety sometimes become frustrated and angry or have poor behavioral control at home and in the classroom?

Children with anxiety “on the surface” may appear angry, oppositional and defiant to adults. However, these behaviors oftentimes reflect secondary responses to an underlying cause: anxiety. Responses to anxiety can be categorized as “fight, flight or freeze.” As a classic example, if you run into a grizzly bear on a hike, your body’s natural physiological response is to fight, flee or freeze. Your anxiety about the demands of a situation send your body and brain into a state of “threat alert.” Similarly, when a child is worrying about something, is socially anxious, or is feeling nervous about their ability to handle a task, this “threat alert” system is activated and the child’s ability to make well-thought out decisions is impaired. The child may be labeled a “behavior problem” because of the impulsivity, defiance, disruptiveness or aggression (fight mode). Or the child may appear distractible, silly and immature, or avoidant of challenging tasks (flight mode). An anxious child may also show difficulties shifting gears/transitioning, problems letting go of events, or seem unmotivated or apathetic (freeze mode). It is also not uncommon for children with anxiety to have challenges demonstrating appropriate social skills, such as problems with insight into how their behaviors may affect others. They may also experience challenges reading the nonverbal and verbal cues in their environment because their brain is “soaked” with high arousal, immobilizing their capacity to apply logic to everyday situations. How do we help children manage their anxiety and the resulting behavioral challenges from that anxiety?

A neuropsychological evaluation can provide insights into your child’s behavioral challenges to determine if there may be an “underlying cause,” such as anxiety, (or other causes such as learning disabilities, depression or poor information processing) which are driving weak emotional and behavior control. Once identified, a neuropsychologist can provide guidance on the most effective interventions for a child at school and at home.

In my experience, one of the most important interventions for a child who experiences anxiety and secondary behavioral challenges is the development of a Positive Behavior Plan at school, which can then be included in a child’s IEP. However, many children with anxiety do not respond well to traditional behavioral reward systems that solely focus on increasing or decreasing behaviors (e.g. follow directions, sit calmly, keep your body safe, etc.), as these systems do not teach the child the self-regulation skills necessary for controlling emotional and behavioral responses. Instead, an effective Positive Behavior Plan for a child with anxiety includes behavioral targets or “goals” that focus on the attempt at coping strategy application. Importantly, a child with anxiety should be rewarded for trying to use a coping strategy, as it will take time, practice and reinforcement before a child develops the capacity to apply coping strategies consistently and successfully.

Sample coping strategies that a child should be taught by a special educator, counselor or other specialist include “taking deep breaths, jumping jacks, taking a break, using words to say how I feel,” or other self-regulation tools. When the goals of a Positive Behavior Plan focus on using a coping strategy before or during moments of distress rather than a plan that is tied to increasing or decreasing specific behaviors after they occur, a child builds independent capacity to appraise and react appropriately to physical and emotional responses in the classroom and the community. Children learn the signs (e.g. in their body, mind and in their environment) that the WorryBug is approaching, and feel better equipped, confident and more in control of their emotions and behaviors. For more information on how to appropriately develop Positive Behavior Plans for children with anxiety, “The Behavior Code” by Jessica Minahan and Nancy Rappaport is an excellent resource for parents and educators.

When the “WorryBug” or anxiety makes kids mad, mean and aggressive, a comprehensive and thorough neuropsychological evaluation can determine how to best tackle the anxiety “beneath the surface” through therapeutic and educational interventions. A neuropsychological evaluation can also direct the development of strategic Positive Behavior Plans that are individualized and appropriate for the child’s home and school environment.

About the Author:

Dr. Renée Marchant provides neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments for youth who present with a variety of complex, inter-related needs, with a particular emphasis on identifying co-occurring neurodevelopmental and psychiatric challenges. She specializes in the evaluation of developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorder and social-emotional difficulties stemming from mood, anxiety, attachment and trauma-related diagnoses. She often assesses children who have “unique learning styles” that can underlie deficits in problem-solving, emotion regulation, social skills and self-esteem.

Dr. Marchant’s assessments prioritize the “whole picture,” particularly how systemic factors, such as culture, family life, school climate and broader systems impact diagnoses and treatment needs. She frequently observes children at school and participates in IEP meetings.

Dr. Marchant brings a wealth of clinical experience to her evaluations. In addition to her expertise in assessment, she has extensive experience providing evidence-based therapy to children in individual (TF-CBT, insight-oriented), group (DBT) and family (solution-focused, structural) modalities. Her school, home and treatment recommendations integrate practice-informed interventions that are tailored to the child’s unique needs.

Dr. Marchant received her B.A. from Boston College with a major in Clinical Psychology and her Psy.D. from William James College in Massachusetts. She completed her internship at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute and her postdoctoral fellowship at Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, where she deepened her expertise in providing therapy and conducting assessments for children with neurodevelopmental disorders as well as youth who present with high-risk behaviors (e.g. psychosis, self-injury, aggression, suicidal ideation).

Dr. Marchant provides workshops and consultations to parents, school personnel and treatment professionals on ways to cultivate resilience and self-efficacy in the face of adversity, trauma, interpersonal violence and bullying. She is an expert on the interpretation of the Rorschach Inkblot Test and provides teaching and supervision on the usefulness of projective/performance-based measures in assessment. Dr. Marchant is also a member of the American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA) and continues to conduct research on the effectiveness of family therapy for high-risk, hospitalized patients.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Marchant 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 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.

 

Why Taking Competency Tests, like the MCAS, can be Critical for Transition and College Planning

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

Most states require some form of competency testing for students, particularly students who will graduate with a state standard diploma. But in the past year, standardized competency testing has become more complicated, if not impossible, to carry out.

In Massachusetts, graduation requirements have been altered for several grades of students. Students graduating in 2021-2023 are being offered alternative options for meeting state competency determination in one or more of the required subject areas (e.g., science and technology/engineering, mathematics, English Language Arts). For more details about those alternatives, see MA Graduation Requirements and Related Guidance on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) website.

The opportunity for students in the Class of 2022 to graduate without ever sitting for 10th grade MCAS is something that many students, parents, and teachers are excited about. While I understand, and even agree with, criticisms of standardized testing, there are also many reasons that I am disappointed for the students who are missing out on the opportunity to sit for this testing. These students, especially those with disabilities, are missing out on a vital transition planning activity.

Preparing for, and sitting for, (and coping with,) high stakes tests is an important part of life. Whether you pass or fail, being able to show up and perform your best in a high-pressure situation is a valuable life skill. Moreover, being able to demonstrate competency in a test situation is a reasonable and necessary college and career skill.

Additionally, standardized tests like MCAS provide objective feedback regarding the student’s level of achievement with high school material. Grades can be tremendously subjective, and are highly dependent on the teachers and types of classes that the student is exposed to during high school. In contrast, students participating in honors, college prep, and functional math classes all sit for the same standardized math tests. This is especially important when students in all three of those classes are interested in heading off to college after high school, and when we want to get a sense of their readiness for handling college coursework. Generally, students who do not earn passing scores (i.e., students who score in the “Needs Improvement” or “Partially Meeting Expectations” categories) on the MCAS, especially by 12th grade, will struggle with college placement exams, such as the Accuplacer, and may end up needing to take remedial coursework at the start of college. Students have a right to know how ready they are for the academic rigors of college as they are making their college plans, and standardized testing results can be helpful information (although they are by no means the whole picture).

With the new competency determination options, many students in Massachusetts view sitting for MCAS as something that is only worth doing if they are possible candidates for the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship (a merit-based state scholarship program). However, I hope students will also consider the other positive reasons I have listed above when deciding whether to sit for the test. For college-bound students who do choose not to sit for MCAS, I strongly recommend sitting for other standardized exams during high school, such as SAT, ACT, Accuplacer, etc. These experiences are important opportunities to build confidence in high stakes situations, to assess college readiness skills, and to identify skill gaps that may need shoring up.

Certainly, there are many legitimate concerns about standardized test contents and validity, including significant equity issues. I also believe that competency tests and college placement tests provide important information for many college-bound students. They are one metric, among many, that are worth having for transition and college planning.

 

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

 

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

Daily Journaling While Social Distancing

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS
Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

*This post was originally published almost a year ago. While we slowly start to emerge from our quarantine and begin to safely re-engage in some of the activities and duties from our pre-pandemic lives, it is important to remember to participate in activities to better ourselves and others on a daily basis.

This is such a unique time that we are living in, but one day it will be a distant memory. Get a special journal book, make it from scratch or create one online. It will give you something to look back on and remember how you achieved something every day, smiled and made it through a very surreal time in history. Keep your journal to share with future generations. While we are practicing social distancing or being asked to stay home, challenge yourself to do something out of every category below on a daily basis. Do something for your brain, your mental health, your body, your home, your community, your creativity, your family, the environment and your friends/neighbors. Adults and kids can do this.

 

While Physically Distancing, Do Something For:

Your Brain

❏     Do a puzzle

❏     Listen to a podcast

❏     Tour a Virtual Museum

❏     READ

❏     Challenge yourself with a game, crossword puzzle, Sudoku, etc.

Your Mental Health

❏     Try a meditation app, like “stop, breathe, think” or www.calm.com

❏     Find an example of someone giving back or helping others

❏     Laugh out loud at least twice a day, tell a joke, watch a funny movie

❏     Turn off the news

❏     Record how you are feeling using the Yale Mood Meter

Your Body

❏     Take a walk, go for a run, ride a bike

❏     Create a dance play list and dance, dance, dance – We Are Family!

❏     GoNoodle Indoor Recess

❏     YouTube: workouts, yoga or dance

Your Home

❏     Do a chore – vacuum, dishes, laundry

❏     Clean your room

❏     Put your things away

Your Creativity

❏     Learn something new

❏     Draw/paint

❏     Build with LEGO

❏     Learn Calligraphy or Hand Lettering

❏     Play an instrument

❏     Search Pinterest for “DIY” or “upcycle”

Your Community

❏     Follow CDC Guidelines – stay home and wash your hands

❏     Go through clothing and toys to donate

❏     Check out your community website for what is needed

❏     Make cards to send to a local nursing home, nurses, doctors

The Earth

❏     Go for walks and enjoy nature

❏     Plant something

❏     Pick up litter – wear gloves

❏     Find another use for something before you recycle it

Family, Friends, Neighbors

❏     Stay in touch with each other

❏     Connect on FaceTime calls

❏     Have dinners together over FaceTime, Skype, Zoom

❏     Call people instead of text, write a letter, draw a picture

❏     Make a photo book of memories with a service like shutterfly

❏     Cook something for your family, neighbors

❏     Ask if someone needs help

 

About the Author

NESCA’s Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services Dot Lucci has been active in the fields of education, psychology, research and academia for over 30 years. She is a national consultant and speaker on program design and the inclusion of children and adolescents with special needs, especially those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Lucci was the Principal of the Partners Program/EDCO Collaborative and previously the Program Director and Director of Consultation at MGH/Aspire for 13 years, where she built child, teen and young adult programs and established the 3-Ss (self-awareness, social competency and stress management) as the programming backbone. She also served as director of the Autism Support Center. Ms. Lucci was previously an elementary classroom teacher, special educator, researcher, school psychologist, college professor and director of public schools, a private special education school and an education collaborative.

Ms. Lucci directs NESCA’s consultation services to public and private schools, colleges and universities, businesses and community agencies. She also provides psychoeducational counseling directly to students and parents. Ms. Lucci’s clinical interests include mind-body practices, positive psychology, and the use of technology and biofeedback devices in the instruction of social and emotional learning, especially as they apply to neurodiverse individuals.

 

To book a consultation with Ms. Lucci or one of our many expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician/consultant in the referral line.

 

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.