NESCA is Now Open in Hingham, MA! Currently scheduling neuropsychological evaluations and projective testing. NESCA’s Hingham clinicians specialize in elementary-, middle school-, and high school-aged children and young adults, including those who show signs of: autism spectrum disorders, being psychologically complex, mental health or mood disorders, and emotional, behavioral, and attentional challenges. To book an appointment, please start by filling out our intake form.

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Neuropsychological Evaluation

Loving Individuals with Executive Function Challenges: Real-world Examples of Flexibility and Adaptability

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By Jasmine Badamo, MA
Educational Counselor; Executive Function Tutor

Last week I discussed how being flexible and adaptable is a great way to support individuals with executive function struggles. Today I’d like to give you a few examples of how that would look in real life!

Scenario #1
You are the parent from the nighttime routine debacle from last week. Instead of bedtime being relaxing, it fills you with anticipatory dread. Bedtime is in 15 minutes, and you are scrambling to get your child ready. After prompting your child for the 27th time to pick a pair of pajamas and put them on – something they have to do literally every night and should come as no surprise to them, you walk into your child’s room to see the contents of their backpack strewn all over the floor as they look for their favorite plushie to pack for school tomorrow. Pajamas are not on, teeth are not brushed, and now there is a room to clean. You feel your frustration boil over as you realize that it will be yet another night of everyone going to bed late and stressed out. You think to yourself, “This shouldn’t be this difficult! My kid should be able to do a simple nighttime routine and get to bed on time!”

→ Examples of Flexibility and Adaptability: You stop constantly prompting (or as your child calls it, “nagging”) and start providing external supports that help them foster more independence. After sitting down together and learning that visual reminders are helpful, you posted a nighttime routine checklist on the wall. In your discussion, you also realized that your little one runs out of steam about 15 minutes in, so you simplified the nighttime routine to the bare minimum. You even started shuffling some of the nighttime tasks to earlier in the day when everyone has more energy. It’s a little unconventional to put on pajamas before dinner, but it’s one less task to do later, and it makes dinner fun.

Scenario #2
You love your partner dearly, but for the life of them, they are incapable of arriving to any family event even remotely on time. The lead-up to walking out the door and into the car is always filled with shouting and frustration, and while you arrive together, you arrive late and grumpy.

→ Examples of Flexibility and Adaptability: You started traveling separately to family events. Yeah, it confuses some of your relatives, you’re using double the gas, and your partner shows up way later than they would if you drove together, BUT you both arrive at the family gathering in great moods and enjoy your time with everyone, which is your actual priority. It’s also helped your relationship because it’s removed a lot of the push-pull dynamic that was created by rushing to get somewhere together on time. You also notice how it has opened the door to more conversations around your spouse’s neurodiversity and ways to support them. But really, the best part of this new flexible arrangement is that you can get there on time before all the tasty food runs out, and when you’re feeling generous, you even save your partner a plate!

Scenario #3
No matter how hard you try, your fridge is a warzone. Vegetables rot before you can cook them; you have multiple bottles of hot sauce because you keep forgetting you already have some; and a pack of mushrooms stares judgingly at you every time you pass over it because you still haven’t bought the other ingredients for the mushroom soup you plan(ned) to make.

→ Examples of Flexibility and Adaptability: You let go of how you thought a fridge needed to look, and organized it in a way that makes sense for your brain and eating habits. Vegetables now go in the fridge door where you’ll have a visual reminder to eat them before they go bad. Condiments are on a lazy Susan so you can quickly check what you have and don’t have. You also started shopping for only 1-2 dishes at a time, and now keep all the ingredients needed for a dish together in bins so they’re ready to go when you cook. Yes, you know pasta doesn’t need to be in the fridge, but you know what, this is your life, and this makes sense for you. And while it’s true that this new organization system is suboptimal in terms of space usage, you’ve noticed that you’re actually using more of what you do have in the fridge, which is your priority.

Want to explore this topic more?
Here are a few social media accounts that are modeling a more flexible and adaptable approach to executive function demands:
@thecenteredlifeco
@strugglecare (along with her Podcast “Struggle Care”)
@divergentcoachkelly
@adriabarich

And, if you would like to explore additional solutions to executive function challenges, NESCA’s team of expert executive function coaches is available to work with you and/or your family. We have coaches who can work in-person or remotely. Let us know how we can support you.

 

About the Author

Jasmine Badamo, MA, is an educational counselor and executive function coach who works full-time at NESCA supporting students ranging from elementary school through young adulthood. In addition to direct client work, Ms. Badamo provides consultation and support to parents and families in order to help change dynamics within the household and/or support the special education processes for students struggling with executive dysfunction. She also provides expert consultation to educators, special educators and related professionals.

Ms. Badamo is a New York State Certified ENL and Special Education teacher. She has more than 10 years of teaching experience across three countries and has worked with students and clients ranging in age from 7 to adulthood. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from Cornell University and her master’s degree in TESOL from CUNY Hunter College. She has also participated in graduate coursework focusing on academic strategies and executive function supports for students with LD, ADHD, and autism as part of the Learning Differences and Neurodiversity (LDN) certification at Landmark College’s Institute for Research and Training. In addition to being a native English speaker, Ms. Badamo is also conversationally fluent in verbal and written Spanish.

Having worked in three different New York City public schools, Ms. Badamo has seen firsthand the importance of executive function skills in facilitating student confidence and success. Her coaching and consultation work focuses on creating individualized supports based on the specific needs and strengths of each client and supporting the development of metacognition (thinking about one’s own thought processes and patterns), executive function skills, and independence. She will guide clients to generate their own goals, identify the barriers to their goals, brainstorm potential strategies, advocate for support when needed, and reflect on the effectiveness of their applied strategies.

Ms. Badamo is a highly relational coach. Building an authentic connection with each client is a top priority and allows her to provide the best support possible. Additionally, as a teacher and coach, Ms. Badamo believes in fostering strong collaborations with anyone who supports her clients including service providers, classroom teachers, parents, administrators, and community providers.

To book executive function coaching with Jasmine Badamo or another EF or Real-life Skills Coach at NESCA, complete NESCA’s online intake form

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

Reduce Your Frustrations: How Being Flexible and Adaptable Helps You and Your Loved One with Executive Function Challenges

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By Jasmine Badamo, MA
Educational Counselor; Executive Function Tutor

The Dreaded Nighttime Routine
Hey parents, tell me if this rings a bell. Instead of bedtime being relaxing, it fills you with anticipatory dread. Bedtime is in 15 minutes, and you are scrambling to get your child ready. After prompting your child for the 27th time to pick a pair of pajamas and put them on – something they have to do literally every night and should come as no surprise to them – you walk into your child’s room to see the contents of their toy bin strewn all over the floor as they look for their favorite plushie to pack for school tomorrow. Pajamas are not on, teeth are not brushed, and now there is a room to clean. You feel your frustration boil over as you realize that it will be yet another night of everyone going to bed late and stressed out. You think to yourself, “This shouldn’t be this difficult! My kid should be able to do a simple nighttime routine and get to bed on time!”

In my experience, so many of us have found ourselves in a similar situation with a child, a partner, or even ourselves. While you might like for me to launch into tips and tricks for achieving a seamless nighttime routine for your family (does that exist?!), instead I’d like to explore the idea of challenging our “shoulds,” and discuss how being more flexible with ourselves and others can help reduce our frustrations.

Yep, I’m Talking about Letting Go!…Again!
If you or a loved one struggle with executive function demands, it’s important to get more comfortable letting go of how things “should” be, and start being flexible around how things could be. I really love Dr. Russell Barkley’s shepherd analogy for parenting a child with ADHD, as it can be applied to a wide range of relationships and situations involving individuals with executive functioning challenges. He tells us that parents are not engineers, and they do not get to design their children to be the way they’d like them to be. Instead, he pushes parents to accept that they are “a shepherd to a unique individual,” and while “no shepherd is gonna turn a sheep into a dog,” parents do have the power to “pick the pastures in which the sheep will graze and develop and grow.”

Whether you are shepherding a child, a loved one, or yourself, this approach helps us let go of who a person should be, how the routines of daily life should go, or what tasks should be easy. Trying to turn a sheep into a dog (aka trying to shove a round peg into a square hole) only leads to frustration, and worse yet, often sets neurodivergent people – and those who love them – up to fail. Instead, start focusing on how daily life could be, and channel your efforts into shaping your environment and tasks accordingly.

Flexibility and Adaptability are the Tools for Letting Go
The best way to start shaping the environment to better suit the needs of an individual with executive function struggles is to be flexible and adaptive. Below is a list of strategies for being more flexible and adaptive:

Adaptivity Killers Adaptivity Enhancers
-All-or-nothing thinking

-100% optimization and productivity

-Shaming in order to motivate action

-Rejection or deprivation of needs

-Growth mindset (progress over perfection)

-Selective effort and investment

-Positive self-talk and celebrating small successes

-Self-reflection and compassion

Notice how the Adaptivity Enhancers above align with practices that will dissipate frustrations or at least help you weather them with more ease. Take a look at how each would play out in real life:

  • “I may not be the most athletic human in the world, but I’m really interested in doing more physical movement. I bet if I practiced, I could increase my athletic ability and start to enjoy physical activity more.” (growth mindset).
  • “I know I can’t go from 0 to 100, and that I only have so much expendable energy in the day. I’m going to focus my efforts on lifting weights: starting with small weights and lifting just twice a week.” (selective effort & investment).
  • “Today I lifted for less than my target time, but I’m really proud of myself for coming all the way to the gym after I had such a crummy day at work. I’m also proud that I lifted weights for as long as I did.” (positive self-talk; celebrating small successes).
  • “I notice that I’m usually cranky on Wednesdays after work, and it’s a drag to get myself to the gym – which is totally understandable. Maybe I can better support myself by going on Tuesdays when I tend to have more energy.” (self-reflection and compassion).

Stay tuned for next week’s blog for more real-life examples of how being flexible and adaptable can help you navigate everyday executive function demands.

 

About the Author

Jasmine Badamo, MA, is an educational counselor and executive function coach who works full-time at NESCA supporting students ranging from elementary school through young adulthood. In addition to direct client work, Ms. Badamo provides consultation and support to parents and families in order to help change dynamics within the household and/or support the special education processes for students struggling with executive dysfunction. She also provides expert consultation to educators, special educators and related professionals.

Ms. Badamo is a New York State Certified ENL and Special Education teacher. She has more than 10 years of teaching experience across three countries and has worked with students and clients ranging in age from 7 to adulthood. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from Cornell University and her master’s degree in TESOL from CUNY Hunter College. She has also participated in graduate coursework focusing on academic strategies and executive function supports for students with LD, ADHD, and autism as part of the Learning Differences and Neurodiversity (LDN) certification at Landmark College’s Institute for Research and Training. In addition to being a native English speaker, Ms. Badamo is also conversationally fluent in verbal and written Spanish.

Having worked in three different New York City public schools, Ms. Badamo has seen firsthand the importance of executive function skills in facilitating student confidence and success. Her coaching and consultation work focuses on creating individualized supports based on the specific needs and strengths of each client and supporting the development of metacognition (thinking about one’s own thought processes and patterns), executive function skills, and independence. She will guide clients to generate their own goals, identify the barriers to their goals, brainstorm potential strategies, advocate for support when needed, and reflect on the effectiveness of their applied strategies.

Ms. Badamo is a highly relational coach. Building an authentic connection with each client is a top priority and allows her to provide the best support possible. Additionally, as a teacher and coach, Ms. Badamo believes in fostering strong collaborations with anyone who supports her clients including service providers, classroom teachers, parents, administrators, and community providers.

To book executive function coaching with Jasmine Badamo or another EF or Real-life Skills Coach at NESCA, complete NESCA’s online intake form

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

Neurodevelopmental Evaluations for Children under Age 5

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

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

Why Would a Young Child Need an Evaluation?

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

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

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

What Does a Neurodevelopmental Evaluation Entail?

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

Where to Go

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

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

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

Related resources and links to help track developmental milestones:

 

About Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.

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

 

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

 

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

Registering for Spring Classes: Tips and Tricks

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By Jasmine Badamo, MA
Educational Counselor; Executive Function Tutor

I previously wrote a blog, “Why a task is never just a simple task,” in which we broke down all the demands involved in a seemingly simple writing assignment. As the holidays begin to approach and the fall semester starts to wind down at colleges across the country, students face another seemingly simple task: spring registration. I cannot count the times recently I’ve asked a client, “Is everything set up for class registration?” For a majority of college students, the topic sparks an anxious flutter in their chest, and for students who experience the additional hurdle of executive function challenges, it can be even more daunting.

So to all you college students out there, I dedicate this blog to you. Here are five tips for surviving the class registration process:

  1. Know your important dates and requirements.
  • Look through your school’s academic calendar and make note of important dates: advising appointments, class registration window, add/drop deadline, etc. Some of these deadlines can coincide with busy academic times of the semester, and if you don’t set a reminder for yourself ahead of time, they can be easy to miss.
    • **Fun Fact** your personal registration date is likely based on how many credits you’ve completed so far.
    • **Even more of a Fun Fact** you may have to go on a virtual “wild goose chase” to track down said date. Don’t give up until you find it!
  • Be clear on your credit and course requirements for both graduation and the major you have declared. Depending on your college and major, you may have more or less wiggle room with the number of credits you take each semester, or with the order in which you take certain classes. It’s becoming common for student portals to have a “DegreeWorks” section that clearly lays out the specific requirements that apply to you and shows your progress towards meeting those requirements. This also helps students get a better sense of the big picture, which can demystify the class registration process, and help them make more informed class choices for next semester.
  1. Plan ahead.
  • The class registration process is heavily multi-step, and therefore virtually impossible to complete in one day, so please don’t do that to yourself. Make sure you start planning at least two weeks in advance. Some of the things you need to prepare for include:
    • Knowing which website or portal to go to for class registration and making sure you are familiar with how to log in and navigate it.
    • Having a class wish list prepared, ranked in order of priority so you know which classes to try to snag first. It’s helpful to create this list with an academic advisor.
    • Clearing any financial or academic holds on your account (e.g., some colleges require you to meet with an advisor to be eligible to register for classes). You don’t want to be trying to clear holds on the actual registration day.
    • Knowing who to reach out to if things go awry on registration day…say the internet crashes; you spill a Starbucks iced soy milk latte on your laptop; you mix up the dates and miss your registration window…want me to keep going? 
  1. After you plan, make a backup plan…but be chill about it.
  • You can clear every hold, prepare an airtight class list, wake up at the crack of dawn, and click the “register” button the millisecond your registration window opens…and still not get all the classes you wanted (the universe is awesome like that sometimes).
  • This isn’t to say that thought, care, and planning are not needed, BUT it’s helpful to remind yourself that it’s OK if things don’t go exactly according to plan.
    • Although your class registration window marks the start of when you can register for classes, the add/drop window typically goes into the first or second week of the semester. And leading up to the semester, many students will be shifting their schedules around, so the classes you need may open up. AKA, there’s time to tweak things; it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have your schedule fully set by the end of your class registration window.
  • So what I’m saying is: make a backup plan, but it doesn’t have to be an entire 50-step tactical plan for world domination. Instead, focus on making a list of a few alternative courses that would still fulfill some of your general or major requirements. If it’s too stressful to do that, your backup plan can simply be, “I am going to check back with the portal every couple of days to see if any classes opened up,” or “I am going to nag my advisor to help me get this sorted,” or “I am going to vent to my executive function coach about this, then figure it out together.”
  1. Ask for help, and don’t be shy.
  • Most incoming first-year students are guided through their first semester’s class registration at some point during their orientation process. However, once you become a full-fledged college student, you’re expected to manage your own tasks and proactively advocate for yourself. Just because no one reaches out to tell you about a requirement or deadline does not mean that you will not be held to it.
    • No, you are not the only one struggling with this. No, everyone else does NOT have it all figured out. No, people will not think you’re silly for asking for clarity or help with this stuff. Do not hesitate to ask. for. help.
  • Depending on the college and major, academic advising can be your best friend, or a source of frustration and confusion. If you’re not getting the clarity and support you need from advising, don’t hesitate to reach out to anyone and everyone who may be of help, including:
    • Student Accessibility Services
    • Student Portal / DegreeWorks
    • A favorite professor
    • Friends in your same college / major
    • Slightly older family members who have gone through this
    • Your executive function coach (hint, hint, hiiiiiiint)
  1. Honor yourself and your needs.
  • There is more than one way to do college. More and more, the 4-year college goalpost is becoming a thing of the past. Think outside the box for ways to get your credits. Fall and Spring are not the only semesters (there’s summer I, summer II, and even winter break semesters), and your primary college is not the only place you can take classes.
  • Think about how you learn best and honor that. If you do better spreading out those heavy pre-med classes rather than taking them all at once, do that! If you struggle with big lecture-style courses, balance them out with smaller discussion-based classes. If you know getting out of your head and into your body helps your mental stamina, sign up for a one-credit pass/fail dance class…or a badminton club since badminton is the greatest sport of all time, and no, I will not explain myself! There is no right or wrong way to do this. Be flexible, honor yourself and your needs, and do what best helps you reach your goals.

 

About the Author

Jasmine Badamo, MA, is an educational counselor and executive function coach who works full-time at NESCA supporting students ranging from elementary school through young adulthood. In addition to direct client work, Ms. Badamo provides consultation and support to parents and families in order to help change dynamics within the household and/or support the special education processes for students struggling with executive dysfunction. She also provides expert consultation to educators, special educators and related professionals.

Ms. Badamo is a New York State Certified ENL and Special Education teacher. She has more than 10 years of teaching experience across three countries and has worked with students and clients ranging in age from 7 to adulthood. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from Cornell University and her master’s degree in TESOL from CUNY Hunter College. She has also participated in graduate coursework focusing on academic strategies and executive function supports for students with LD, ADHD, and autism as part of the Learning Differences and Neurodiversity (LDN) certification at Landmark College’s Institute for Research and Training. In addition to being a native English speaker, Ms. Badamo is also conversationally fluent in verbal and written Spanish.

Having worked in three different New York City public schools, Ms. Badamo has seen firsthand the importance of executive function skills in facilitating student confidence and success. Her coaching and consultation work focuses on creating individualized supports based on the specific needs and strengths of each client and supporting the development of metacognition (thinking about one’s own thought processes and patterns), executive function skills, and independence. She will guide clients to generate their own goals, identify the barriers to their goals, brainstorm potential strategies, advocate for support when needed, and reflect on the effectiveness of their applied strategies.

Ms. Badamo is a highly relational coach. Building an authentic connection with each client is a top priority and allows her to provide the best support possible. Additionally, as a teacher and coach, Ms. Badamo believes in fostering strong collaborations with anyone who supports her clients including service providers, classroom teachers, parents, administrators, and community providers.

To book executive function coaching with Jasmine Badamo or another EF or Real-life Skills Coach at NESCA, complete NESCA’s online intake form

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

NESCA Goes to Brain Camp – Exploring the Connections among Brain Anatomy, Emotional Health, and Neuropsychology

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist; NH Director, NESCA

For three days every July, students, clinicians, and researchers from around the country descend upon Milwaukee for Marquette University’s Neuroanatomical Dissection Course. This Marquette course is the only one in the world that provides a continuing education opportunity to learn about advances in neuroscience research while also engaging in hands-on brain dissection within the university’s gross anatomy lab. This past July, my NESCA colleague, Dr. Erin Gibbons, and I had the pleasure of being two of the participants.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, the lab components of the course were insightful and impactful. This included watching 3-D computer-aided brain maps within the visualization lab at the engineering school, as well as hands-on brain dissection of donor specimens, some of which presented with unique pathologies that had never been seen first-hand within the lab. Across the three days of the seminar, lectures covered a range of topics, such as neuroanatomy, how emotions function in the brain, and functional and neurological presentation of brain pathology. We also had the opportunity to select from a range of presentations that provided a “deep dive” into more specific topics. There was a host of information that directly speaks to our practice as pediatric neuropsychologists. That said, as someone who often works with clients who face depression, anxiety, and trauma, certain information stood out as most relevant to my daily practice.

First, there is an increasing amount of research indicating that early-onset (onset in childhood or adolescence), prolonged depression can significantly reduce the growth and volume of particular brain areas related to learning and memory; however, this negative impact can be ameliorated with antidepressant medication.1,2 Often times, when working with clients, families are understandably reticent about giving medication to their developing child. While individual response to treatment cannot be predicted, this research shows that, when appropriate to the client’s needs, medication can actually protect brain development, and thereby better support learning and memory over the lifespan.

Another topic that was covered was the impact of trauma on brain development and later self-regulation challenges and treatment response. As a clinician who often sees children with developmental, complex trauma, I am often in the position of explaining to families how trauma affects brain development. There is research to suggest that ongoing adversity early in childhood inhibits development in areas of the brain that manage inhibition, emotions, and processing, and this may contribute to later difficulties understanding emotion and modulating stress.3 While trauma may affect brain development in any child, there are also some children who appear to persist through adversity with lesser effect. There is research to suggest that this “resiliency” may not just be a personality characteristic, but may be a result of a larger, better-developed area of the brain that is thought to integrate emotional and cognitive information, allowing them to better manage emotional responses.4 Stronger development in this area can also predict better response to cognitive behavior therapy in older individuals with PTSD. 5 While it is not always clear what allowed those individuals to have stronger brain development, research shows that early treatment and access to social supports results in improved emotion processing and brain function in children with trauma, emphasizing neuroplasticity within the brain.6,7

The message that can be extracted from the above research is that the brain is highly vulnerable, but it can also be very resilient and adaptable. While our experiences and genetic vulnerabilities may present their challenges to neurological development, proper therapies, social supports, and medications can change a person’s developmental course and support long-term gains. Actually measuring brain volume and conducting imaging is not necessary for understanding how these factors present within an individual person. Instead, comprehensive assessment of their neurocognitive functioning, processing, learning, and social/emotional functioning can elucidate their resiliency factors, as well as targets for intervention. This is what we have always strived to do at NESCA, and now with the advantage of the Marquette Neuroanatomical Dissection Course, we can demonstrate how our clinical process, values, and goals are supported by current brain research.

 

References

  1. Schmaal, L., Veltman, D., van Erp, T. et al.(2016). Subcortical brain alterations in major depressive disorder: findings from the ENIGMA Major Depressive Disorder working group. Molecular Psychiatry, 21: 806–812. https://doi.org/10.1038/mp.2015.69
  2. Sheline YI, Gado MH, Kraemer HC. (2003). Untreated depression and hippocampal volume loss. American Journal of Psychiatry,160(8):1516-1518. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.160.8.1516.
  3. Zhai ZW, Yip SW, Lacadie CM, Sinha R, Mayes LC, Potenza MN. (2019). Childhood trauma moderates inhibitory control and anterior cingulate cortex activation during stress. Neuroimage, 185:111-118. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.10.049.
  4. Stevens, JS, Ely, E.D., Sawamura, T., et al. (2013). Childhood maltreatment predicts inhibition-related activity in the rostral anterior cingulate in PTSD, but not trauma-exposed control. Depression and Anxiety, 33(7): 614-622. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.22506
  5. Bryant RA, Felmingham K, Whitford TJ, et al. (2008). Rostral anterior cingulate volume predicts treatment response to cognitive-behavioural therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, 2008, 33(2):142-6. PMID: 18330460.
  6. Wymbs, NF, Orr, C, Albaugh, MD, et al. (2020). Social supports moderate the effects of child adversity on neural correlates of threat processing. Child Abuse & Neglect, 102: 104413. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2020.104413.
  7. Garrett A, Cohen JA, Zack S, C, et al. (2019). Longitudinal changes in brain function associated with symptom improvement in youth with PTSD. Journal of Psychiatric Research,114:161-169. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2019.04.021.

 

About the Author

Dr. Currie specializes in evaluating children, teens, and young adults with complex profiles, working to tease apart the various factors lending to their challenges, such as underlying learning, attentional, social, or emotional difficulties. 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.

 

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

October is Gap Year Exploration Month – Why Should Teens on IEPs Care?

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

On September 12th, I received an email from a colleague with the title May I nominate you? The body of the email described that October is Gap Year Exploration Month (GYEM) and asked if I would be willing to be a GYEM Amplifier, meaning would I be willing to share information with my personal and professional network to create awareness about gap years and increase student consideration of gap years as one of their post-secondary options. This was an easy “YES!” for me because I have spent the majority of my career trying to help students and families who I work with to understand that there are many other options besides college, or before college, for students to pursue after high school. Just last week, I was in an IEP meeting for a 10th grade student recommending that the student have an IEP goal and objectives that would help to enhance his understanding of a variety of post-12th grade options so that he could make an informed and active choice about his post-high school activities.

In the United States, every student who is on an IEP has the right to postsecondary transition planning. This is a process by which a young person is supported in the setting of goals and expectations for themselves and in building the skills and resources that will enable them to reach those goals. This should be a completely individualized process. However, in working with a large number of clients in Massachusetts and other Northeast states, I have observed that most middle and high school students have the same postsecondary vision: College. There is a strong consensus that college is the only goal to reach after high school, rather than an important step that leads to gainful employment in an area of strength, interest, or aptitude. Students with and without disabilities often know that they want to go to college (or that they are expected to go to college), but they have no career goals or sense about whether a college degree will actually benefit them in finding employment related to their aptitudes. Despite the data, most young people (and their parents) simply take as fact that college is what you do after high school. So how do we empower students to better manage the transition process? First and foremost, we need to start discussing career development, and to help our youth to understand the wide range of postsecondary options available to them, at earlier ages. A bachelor’s degree is one academic pursuit that has a place for many students, but for a great number of students, it is not the best immediate option available after high school. There are many other options worth exploring, such as two-year college programs, vocational or certificate programs, apprenticeships, military, employment, and gap year programs. So today, let’s talk about those gap year programs!

What is a gap year? A gap year is a deliberate period of personal growth typically taken by students after high school and before post-secondary education or career. During a gap year, individuals engage in various activities that foster personal growth, skill development, and exploration of different paths before committing to further education or career choices. These activities may include volunteering, interning, traveling, working, learning new skills, or pursuing other forms of experiential learning. The purpose of a gap year is to gain valuable life experiences, expand one’s perspective, and make informed decisions about future educational and career endeavors.

What can you do on a gap year? The options are endless! Gappers can choose from structured programs like service learning or volunteer projects, or pursue independent activities, such as interning, hiking, or working on organic farms. There are opportunities both within the US and abroad.

Is a gap year expensive? A meaningful gap year can be planned on various budgets. Students can offset costs through work, fundraising, scholarships, and financial aid. Some gap year programs accept funds from 529 Plans. Moreover, gap year students often graduate from college in less time, potentially saving families money in the long run. Explore a comprehensive list of scholarships here.

What are the evidence-based benefits of taking a gap year?

  • Academic Success: Recent studies show that gap year students outperform traditional students academically when they enter college.
  • Employability Boost: 88% of gap year graduates report that their experience significantly enhances their employability.
  • Personal Development: 98% of gap year graduates claim that their gap year helped them grow as a person.
  • Career Exploration: 60% of gap year graduates credit their experience with either confirming their choice of career or setting them on their current path.

References for these statistics can be found here.

Can you still attend college after a gap year? According to the best data on this question, 90% of gap year students who intended to go to college enroll within a year of graduating high school.

How can I learn more about planning a gap year?

Seek guidance from your school counselor.

Attend local USA Gap Year Fairs or online events to meet with programs and gather more information.

Check out some of the following Articles/Videos:

Visit the web sites below:

Listen to a Podcast

Read a Book

Is a transition program the same thing as a gap year program? Not exactly. Postsecondary transition programs are typically programs for young adults with disabilities that target skill development in one or more transition planning areas: life skill development, vocational skill development, and/or readiness for college. Often, developing executive function and social skills is a strong emphasis of these programs. Some of these programs are therapeutic and target the mental health needs of the young adult while supporting skill development in transition planning areas. While some students will participate in transition programs or transitional living programs as gap experiences, transition programs are typically a different category of program. At NESCA, we specialize in helping families determine whether transition programming is needed beyond 12th grade and support families to find – or create –

postsecondary transition programs. We also coordinate with local specialists – Gap Year Consultants, College Consultants, and Therapeutic Educational Consultants—when students may need special expert support in any of those areas.

REFERENCE: Several of the FAQs in this blog are copied directly from GYEM: Digital Dispatch materials created by the Gap Year Association of America and distributed to Gap Year Exploration Month Amplifiers throughout the world.

 

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.

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s transition specialists, please complete our online intake form

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

Falling through the Cracks

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Yvonne Asher, Ph.D.
NESCA Pediatric Neuropsychologist

“You’re going to have a tough conversation on your hands,” I said. The parent sighed and nodded in response. “That’s what her ABA provider said, too,” she responded.

This conversation would not be difficult because her child was acting out, engaging in challenging behaviors, or taking up a great deal of adult time. In fact, she was exactly the opposite. Quiet, calm, gentle, and well-regulated were some of the words I used during our feedback session. And this, we discussed, is a huge part of the problem.

Despite their best efforts, teachers simply cannot be with every child that needs help, each time they need help. School providers do not have infinite caseloads, time, or capacity. There are real-world limitations to providing support and services for children at school. And yet, the children who suffer from these very real constraints are so often the quietest and least disruptive. This is extremely unfortunate when the child has real, diagnosed, observable deficits that absolutely require special attention and intervention at school.

Our brains often develop schema in order to reduce the brain’s workload (these occur entirely outside of our conscious awareness). Many social psychology studies have characterized the harm that schema can do. One such harm often comes to children for whom teachers have either strong positive or strong negative schema about. The effects of negative schema are likely obvious, but the positive schema can be just as challenging to manage. When teachers view a child very positively, they may be more likely to “write off” concerns (e.g., “she was just tired today,” “he really does know, he’s just having a bad day”), over-emphasize the child’s effort and diligence (rather than their actual skill level or mastery), and focus on positive attributes of the child in place of focusing on their weaknesses.

It can be challenging for parents to hear such positive feedback, particularly when it does not correlate with their perception of the child’s difficulties. Although neuropsychology attempts to be a strength-based field as much as possible, fully exploring and adequately characterizing deficits is often an invaluable part of what we do. This can help us to bring objective, data-driven recommendations to school teams for all students, hopefully preventing those quiet, hard-working youngsters from “falling through the cracks.”

 

About the Author

Dr. Yvonne M. Asher enjoys working with a wide range of children and teens, including those with autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays, learning disabilities, attention difficulties and executive functioning challenges. She often works with children whose complex profiles are not easily captured by a single label or diagnosis. She particularly enjoys working with young children and helping parents through their “first touch” with mental health care or developmental concerns.

Dr. Asher’s approach to assessment is gentle and supportive, and recognizes the importance of building rapport and trust. When working with young children, Dr. Asher incorporates play and “games” that allow children to complete standardized assessments in a fun and engaging environment.

Dr. Asher has extensive experience working in public, charter and religious schools, both as a classroom teacher and psychologist. She holds a master’s degree in education and continues to love working with educators. As a psychologist working in public schools, she gained invaluable experience with the IEP process from start to finish. She incorporates both her educational and psychological training when formulating recommendations to school teams.

Dr. Asher attended Swarthmore College and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She completed her doctoral degree at Suffolk University, where her dissertation looked at the impact of starting middle school on children’s social and emotional wellbeing. After graduating, she completed an intensive fellowship at the MGH Lurie Center for Autism, where she worked with a wide range of children, adolescents and young adults with autism and related disorders.

 

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

 

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

 

Going South: NESCA Announces New Hingham, MA Location

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach, NESCA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

About the Author

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

 

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

 

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

6 Technology Tools to Boost Your Productivity and Organization for the New School Year

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L
NESCA Executive Function and Real-life Skills Program Manager

As the new school year unfolds, many of us struggle to transition from the carefree days of summer into the rigorous routines of being a productive and organized student. If you find yourself grappling with low energy, an overwhelming list of tasks, scattered notes, forgotten homework, and neglected chores, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. The beginning of a school year can be a challenging adjustment. Fortunately, modern technology offers a number of solutions to help ease the cognitive load that comes with academic responsibilities. Below are six technology tools that can help you reclaim control over your productivity and organization.

  1. Goblin Tools: The first tool on the list, Goblin Tools, is a versatile platform designed to empower folks to independently manage their lives and it was specifically designed for the neurodiverse community. The tool can be used on a desktop or can be downloaded as an app. Goblin Tools has a number of features, including the “Magic To-Do List,” that breaks down simple to complex tasks into manageable steps, a time estimator for effective planning, and a writing formalizer to polish communication. It even includes a tone judge to assist with interpreting the tone of written messages, a brain dump compiler to organize your thoughts into a to-do list, and a “chef” which can recommend recipes based on the ingredients you have in your house.
  2. Google Calendar: Google Calendar is an extremely popular tool when it comes to staying organized. It allows you to keep track of events, create tasks, set reminders, and collaborate with others on the platform. Google Calendar syncs across all devices, which allows individuals to ensure they are not missing important appointments or assignments. The integration with Gmail and other Google services further streamlines productivity by centralizing your tasks and appointments.
  3. Reminders App (iPhone): If you’re an iPhone user, the built-in Reminders app is a hidden gem for boosting productivity. It offers a straightforward way to create to-do lists, set time-based and location-based reminders, and categorize tasks. The app integrates with Siri, allowing you to add tasks with voice commands.
  4. Habitica: Habitica gamifies the process of staying organized and forming good habits. This unique tool transforms your daily tasks and goals into a role-playing game, where you earn rewards and level up by completing your to-do list and adhering to your habits. Habitica also allows you to join parties with friends, creating a supportive community of accountability. By turning productivity into an enjoyable game, Habitica makes the journey toward organization and productivity both fun and motivating!
  5. Livescribe: Livescribe is a note-taking tool that bridges the gap between traditional pen-and-paper note-taking and digital organization. This smart pen not only records your handwritten notes but also synchronizes them with an app on your device. As you write, it captures audio recordings of lectures or discussions, making it an invaluable resource for reviewing class materials. You can even tap on your written notes to hear the corresponding audio, allowing you to revisit important moments and enhance your understanding of complex topics.
  6. Rocketbook: Rocketbook is a digital notebook designed to bring together the ease of handwritten notes with the organization of a digital storage system. Using special erasable pens, you can take notes on Rocketbook’s pages and then use a companion app to scan and store your notes in the cloud. The pages are reusable and can be wiped clean with a damp cloth. This solution ensures your notes are organized, accessible, and eco-conscious. You will no longer be scrambling to find where you scribbled down the information about an upcoming test. All of your notes will be stored in the same place.

Transitioning into a new school year can be a daunting task, but with the right technology tools at your disposal, you can navigate the challenges of productivity and organization with confidence!

 

About Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L

Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L, Vermont-based Executive Function and Real-life Skills Program Manager, is an occupational therapist who focuses on helping students and young adults with disabilities to build meaningful skills in order to reach their goals. She has spent the majority of her career working in a private school for students with ASD. She has also spent some time working in an inpatient mental health setting. Lyndsay uses occupation-based interventions and strategies to develop life skills, executive functioning, and emotional regulation. While completely her doctoral degree at MGH Institute of Health Professions, Lyndsay worked with the Boston Center for Independent Living to evaluate transition age services. She uses the results from her research to deliver services in a way that is most beneficial for clients. Specifically, she focuses on hands-on, occupation-based learning that is tailored the client’s goals and interests.

Dr. Wood accepts Vermont- and Massachusetts-based transition and occupational therapy assessments. Her in-home and community-based coaching services are available in the greater Burlington, Vermont area. Dr. Wood can accept virtual coaching clients from both Massachusetts and Vermont.

 

To book coaching and transition services at NESCA, complete NESCA’s online intake form

 

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

Building Independence—How Independent Living Centers Can Help Youth with Disabilities

By | Nesca Notes 2023

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

Good transition planning is about building a “team” that can outlast special education and using resources wisely. There is often talk of “maximizing benefits” so that private funds can be reserved and made to last. In order to create an effective and individualized transition plan, you have to know what resources are available in your local community as well as on the state and federal levels. One resource that may be overlooked or underused is your local Center for Independent Living (CIL). In Massachusetts, and some other states, these are often named Independent Living Centers (ILC).

Across the United States, CILs are free community-based agencies that provide a range of services designed to help individuals with disabilities build skills for living more independently. The barrier to entry is typically very low as the intake process may sometimes just be a phone call and acknowledgement of having a disability.

At a minimum, each center is charged with providing the following core services:

  • Information and referral: Learning about services, providers, benefits, and programs within your local community that can help you achieve your goals (e.g., advocacy, daily living, housing, recreation, etc.). Also, learning about resources offered through state and national organizations.
  • Skills training: Explicit instruction of self-advocacy and/or life skills that can help you to live, learn, and work more independently. Examples areas for skill development include accommodations, personal care, housing and household management, managing finances, interview preparation, etc.
  • Peer counseling/mentoring: Talking with a peer by phone, video conference, or in person for mutual support, confidence building, and ultimately to make more independent and informed choices.
  • Advocacy: Learning to advocate on both individual and systems levels. Building skills to advocate for oneself, including filing complaints or taking legal action to remove barriers when needed.
  • Transition services: Services to facilitate transition to postsecondary adult life, services to facilitate transition from institutions to the community, and services to assist individuals at risk of needing to be in institutions.

Additionally, ILCs/CILs may have developed services that are specifically useful for consumers in their local community or state. And there is generally no age requirement for accessing services. For example, many ILCs in Massachusetts have specific youth programming or Transition to Adulthood Programs (TAPs) which offer advocacy, skills training, and peer counseling specifically tailored to students.

ILCs/CILs are awesome agencies run by, and for, individuals with disabilities. However, in my experience, they are not talked about or accessed nearly enough as part of transition planning. If you are reading the blog and interested in building independence at home and in the community for yourself, your child, or a youth you work with—I strongly recommend you look up your local Center for Independent Living and call to find out more about accessing services today.

Resources:

Administration for Community Living – What is Independent Living?  https://acl.gov/programs/aging-and-disability-networks/centers-independent-living

ILRU Directory of Centers for Independent Living and Associations – https://www.ilru.org/projects/cil-net/cil-center-and-association-directory

Massachusetts Independent Living Centers – https://www.mass.gov/independent-living-centers

 

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.

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s transition specialists, please complete our online intake form

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