neuropsychology and education services for children and adolescents

Don’t Let Summertime Chores Deflate Your Vibe

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

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

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

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

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

 Water play chores

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

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

Chores that work on visual perceptual skills

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

Chores that promote regulation

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

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

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


About the Author

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


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


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


Is It Sensory? Or Is It Behavior?

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Julie Robinson, OT
Director of Clinical Services; Occupational Therapist, NESCA

As parents or other caregivers of children with special needs, we can often find ourselves confused between what is a sensory response and what is behavior. Although this is often a complex question, and one without a straightforward answer, there are some tools of the trade that OTs use to help us determine just what is going on with these children. What makes this so complex is that each child is an individual, with their own unique ways of responding to sensory stimuli, to social interactions, and when out in varied settings in their community or with family. Children may also present differently from minute to minute or day to day, depending on sleep, hunger, and fluctuations in mood. But we can often look closely for patterns that may help to guide us in finding the answers.

When working with a child who seems to be in a meltdown, one of the best things you can do is take a quick scan of the environment. Is there a loud or distracting sound in the background? Did someone touch the child unexpectedly? Is the overall environment too busy and overstimulating, such as at party or a restaurant? Sometimes just naming or removing the stimuli, if possible, is enough to help get things back under control. If you know a triggering situation might arise that provokes a meltdown, see if you can give the child a warning and a plan of where to go for comfort. “We will be having a fire drill in 10 minutes, so when it happens you can hold _____’s hand, or we can get you some headphones to cover your ears to make you more comfortable” is one example. Find something soothing from a sensory perspective to help the child settle: a quiet corner with books, some tactile play or fidgets, calming music, a tight squeeze ( but only if tolerated and given permission to do so ). If you know you are entering a highly stimulating environment, it may be best to go in for short periods, with frequent breaks built in for your child every 10 minutes or so to take a walk, use the bathroom, or get a drink.

If you do not see something sensory in your environment creating the discomfort or the meltdown, then behavior and emotions are more likely at play. You child may feel confused about a social interaction, about expectations, or what may be coming next in a transition. Your child may feel a lack of confidence or anxiety in a situation, that although may be seemingly simple and straight forward to you, may not to him or to her. An academic task may feel misunderstood, and not knowing how to start can result in a meltdown for many of our children.

When you see that the child you are caring for is beginning to ramp up, that is the best time to intervene. Once a meltdown has begun, language processing will be limited, and the child may not be reachable for a period of time in order to settle down. The best thing you can do in those moments, is to help the child to stop. I often use a stop sign to hold up in my therapy sessions, that cues the child to take a quick break from interacting with me when I see things starting to spin out of control. I limit my language, provide a calming sensory activity, then we can talk about the upset once I have the child back in my court.

Here are some things to think about and questions you might ask yourself to help guide your interactions and expectations when you, as the adult, are confused about whether this is sensory or behavior:

  1. What are the undesirable behaviors that my child observes when he or she is upset or uncomfortable? Are they different when there is sensory discomfort, in comparison to when he or she is upset with a person or a demand? Notice quality of voice, bodily tension, inability to stay still or focused, aggression, flight or an attempt to get away, shutdown or inability to interact. You may start to see patterns in behavior when you look at them in relation to a sensory event or something that is more emotionally-laden.
  2. What occurred just before this behavior appeared? Was there a sensory distraction or discomfort or was he or she upset with a person or a demand?
  3. How did the child behave during this episode?
  4. How did adults or peers interact with my child during the episode? Did it calm the child, or make him or her more agitated?
  5. List sensations that may have triggered a meltdown: tactile, auditory, visual, smell, taste, movement. Were they loud, distracting, uncomfortable? Was the child in a space that may have been too small or too large? Was the child able to get away from the uncomfortable stimuli, or did he or she feel stuck in the moment?

It will be beneficial for team members to share information and write these things down, perhaps in a format of a journal, so that the team can work together to uncover the patterns, find strategies that are successful, and provide consistency across the board. We all know consistency for these children is one of the most effective tools for learning, and although it may take some extra work up front for caregivers, the pay off on the other side is often so rewarding that it is worth the effort.

If you would like to explore this topic further with NESCA OT Julie Robinson, join us for a free webinar on this topic on September 13, 2021 at 10:30 am ET. Register in advance for this webinar at:



About the Author

Julie Robinson is an occupational therapist with over 25 years of experience as a clinician. The work Julie does is integral to human development, wellness and a solid family unit. She particularly enjoys supporting families through the process of adoption and in working with children who are victims of trauma. Julie has extensive experience working with children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or who have learning or emotional disabilities. She provides services that address Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and self-regulation challenges, as well as development of motor and executive functioning skills.

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


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


Vision Statements

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC
Transition Specialist and Consultant

Having been a transition specialist, evaluator and consultant, as well as having worked different roles within the special education system for many years, I have come to learn that the “Post-Secondary Vision Statement” for a student is one of the most overlooked pieces of the transition and IEP process. To me, this is one of the MOST important parts of the transition planning process for students, their families, and their Team members. The vision statement is a key part of a student’s IEP, as well as their Transition Planning Form (TPF), once a student turns 14. Prior to a student turning 14, the vision statement should be completed collaboratively by the Team. Once a student turns 14, I encourage the student to have as much input as possible, no matter how realistic or unrealistic the vision is. There have been times when I have seen two vision statements on an IEP, one for the student and one for the parents and/or Team, depending on the situation. Many times, parents or school staff will ask for guidance on what information should be gathered and how to get that information from a student.

Below are some of the tips that I have learned and shared along the way:

  • The vision will most likely change from year to year.
  • The vision is what should be driving the development of the IEP.
  • Starting at age 14, the vision statement that is in the IEP needs to correspond with the vision statement on the TPF.
  • From age 14 on, the vision statement (as well as the TPF) should be read at the beginning of the IEP meeting to make sure the Team is focusing on the areas needed to assist a student in reaching their vision.
  • If a student is unable to write their own vision, it is important that the Team incorporates what they know about the students’ strengths, interests, etc.

A vision statement can be long or short. It is not the length of it that matters, but the content. With the summer now starting, it is a good time to sit down with your student and start to discuss some of the below areas to be prepared for the upcoming school year.

  • Education
    • Do you want to pass MCAS?
    • Do you want to earn a high school diploma?
    • Do you want to stay in school until the age of 22?
    • Do you want to go to a 2- or 4-year college?
    • Do you want to take classes towards a certificate program/trade?
    • Do you want to attend a community-based day program?
  • Employment
    • Do you want to have a part-time job while you are still in school?
    • What do you want to be when you are older (even if it is unrealistic)?
    • Do you want to participate in volunteer work?
    • Do you want to work part-time or full-time?
    • If you are unsure about what job you might like, what tasks/activities do you enjoy doing?
  • Independent Living
    • Do you want to live on your own, in a shared living setting or stay living with family?
    • Would you like to live alone or with a roommate?
    • Do you want to live in the same area?
    • How will you access the community (i.e., public transportation, driver’s license, family, etc.)?
    • Do you want to work on developing your independent living skills, such as money management/budgeting, domestic skills, cooking, shopping, first aid, etc.?
    • What do you want to do for fun (i.e., community events, sports, acting, working out, etc.)?

There are many resources available to families regarding what to do and not to do when it comes to writing a strong vision statement for a student of any age. Below are a few examples of resources that I have found helpful:





About the Author

Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC, works with teens, young adults and their families out of the Newton, MA and Plainville, MA offices. Lauzon has unparalleled experience as a Transition Specialist, Transition Consultant and Vocational Program Coordinator. Lauzon will be providing transition assessment (including testing, functional evaluations and observations) consultation, case management, training and professional development for schools; and transition planning, consultation and coaching for transition-aged students and their parents.


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


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


ADHD: Setting Up A Successful Environment

By | NESCA Notes 2020

Co-authored by: Lauren Zeitler, MSOT, OTR/L, NESCA Occupational Therapist; Feeding Specialist, and Lindsay Delling, OTS, Occupational Therapy Graduate Student

Before any assessments, treatment planning, or suggestions of adaptations take place, we must first understand what attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in childhood means, and how it may present and affect each individual child. The American Psychiatric Association defines ADHD as one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders affecting children, with symptoms including, “inattention (not being able to keep focus), hyperactivity (excess movement that is not fitting to the setting) and impulsivity (hasty acts that occur in the moment without thought)” (2017). There are three different types of ADHD: inattentive type, hyperactive/impulsive type, or combined type, that come with specific criteria within each to provide a diagnosis. While some symptoms of ADHD are common amongst young children, such as difficulty sitting still or limited attention spans, the difference in children with ADHD is the inability to control it without external forces providing regulation for them. This blog post will outline the sensory systems and will provide environmental suggestions and adaptations for children with ADHD to help them succeed and increase focus!

It is estimated that 8.4% of children have ADHD; so, that being said, what can we as occupational therapists recommend to enhance attention and regulatory strategies in children with ADHD using the sensory systems as a guide?

  1. Touch – Children with ADHD may actually scientifically benefit from utilizing fidget toys to increase their attention to a task. This thought process comes from the fact that using a fidget toy, such as a fidget spinner or some putty, allows children to exert some energy while also keeping their hands busy. This then makes them more likely to attend to another task, such as listening to a teacher speak, because they have sustained alertness while working with the fidget toy and can therefore sustain attention to the overarching task. We have seen this in most people on a smaller scale as they twirl their hair or tap a pen while attending to a task; they are essentially using these items as fidget toys to enhance their alertness and sustain attention to the task at hand (CHADD, 2021). The same can be said for a wiggle seat cushion or chair to promote seated movement so the child can gain that sensory input of movement, while staying seated and attending to the task.
  2. Sight – Because children with ADHD exhibit hyperactive tendencies, this means that they are likely hypersensitive to lighting and types of lighting within environments, such as fluorescent lighting which is prevalent in many school systems. Providing children with ADHD breaks from this harsh light and allowing time for their eyes to relax is a great way to promote improved attention throughout the school day. Hypersensitivity in sight is also important to be aware of regarding any schoolwork a child may be doing. If there is a lot going on within the page, a child with ADHD can become easily overwhelmed and may be quick to abandon the activity due to overstimulation. Covering portions of the page so that the child can only see one activity at time may be helpful in keeping them focused and on track and will likely decrease frustration.
  3. Hearing – Due to the hypersensitive nature of children with ADHD, sounds can be very distracting for them when they are trying to focus on a task. One solution would, of course, be to find a quiet space for them to complete schoolwork and other activities. This, however, may not always be readily available or even an option. In that case, providing these children with other adaptations, such as noise cancelling headphones, while they complete their work or even just frequent noise breaks and allowing them to take a walk or play with a preferred item can be great alternatives in promoting sustained attention in a noisy environment!
  4. Smell – Just like the other senses, certain smells can also become overwhelming and even distracting for some children with ADHD. This can happen for many reasons, such as smells of food reminding them how hungry they are at school, smells that make them think of a certain memory that promotes daydreaming, or even simply gross smells that the child cannot seem to get their mind off of. To promote sustained attention and a calming effect with children with ADHD, essential oils can be a good option to trial! While they are not scientifically proven to directly help with symptoms of ADHD, they are proven to ease anxiety and stress, which can occur with ADHD. Scents such as lavender, vetiver, and chamomile are known for their stress-relieving abilities that promote relaxation and serenity within the body.
  5. Taste – Snacks…a fun way to wrap up this post! Similar to fidget toys, crunchy snacks can also provide attention-enhancing qualities when eaten during a time where sustained attention is necessary. The child will be focused on the task of chewing the crunchy item, such as carrot sticks, an apple, or some chips, and will therefore be present in the moment and better able to attend to the task going on around them. This strategy can be used in a variety of settings where eating is appropriate – school, home, tutoring, etc. And, it’s a fun contribution to the repertoire of strategies to enhance attention and self-regulation strategies!

As always, we recommend reaching out to your occupational therapist or getting an occupational therapy evaluation. Contact NESCA’s Director of Clinical Services Julie Robinson, OT, to learn more at: jrobinson@nesca-newton.com.





Lauren Zeitler is a licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in pediatric occupational and feeding therapy. Ms. Zeitler joined NESCA full-time in the fall of 2020 to offer occupational therapy assessment and treatment for children of all ages, as well as to work in conjunction with Abigael Gray, MS, CCC-SLP, on the feeding team.


Lindsay Delling is a graduate student at Regis College working toward obtaining her master’s degree in occupational therapy. She previously completed fieldwork at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown and many school-based settings before coming to finish her fieldwork with NESCA. Prior to graduate school, Lindsay worked with children with disabilities in the Boston Public School system, as well as in a special education preschool setting in her hometown. Lindsay is open to working with many different populations once she completes her degree.


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


The Joys of Career Counseling

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC
NESCA Transition Specialist/Counselor

One of my favorite parts of being a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor is career counseling. In an ideal world, work is not just a paycheck. It’s another way for people to find joy and connect to the world and their community in a way that makes sense for them. Whether it is being a young person creating a lemonade stand, going around town to shovel people’s driveways, or getting that first real feel of a work environment and learning the social dynamics of having coworkers and a boss, those early jobs can help a person figure out what they don’t want to do and bring them closer to finding that right job. There is nothing more rewarding than when I get that email from one of my career counseling clients that they rocked their interview and were offered the job.

I’m looking forward to spending the next few months talking about career counseling and the career search process for individuals with disabilities. Career counseling and exploration are a vital part of every teenager and young adult’s life. This is especially true for students with disabilities who are struggling to figure out their next steps. As NESCA’s Director of Transition Services Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, wrote in her last blog, employment in the high school years is an evidence-based method of having better postsecondary outcomes in both college and the workforce.

Career exploration is nothing new. But exploration starts a lot earlier than we think. We have all seen pictures of the first and last day of school that include a board with the student’s favorite color and what they want to do when they grow up. The answers to those questions change over time. If I had the job that I wanted when I was in 5th grade, I would be a zoologist right now! My future dislike of biology notwithstanding, I love the career that I ended up choosing. Still, it is not a career I ever would have thought of when I went off to college.

As we go back to a different world than before the pandemic, we will have to relook at what career exploration means. By the nature of the pandemic, there were lost opportunities for students and young adults to have looked at and tried different careers. So, what can we do instead? One of the best silver linings to come out of the pandemic is the number of YouTube videos and free resources that became available. If a student has never heard of or seen a career, how can they know if they like it or not? So, whether your child is 10, 18, or 25, if they are looking for a new job or a new area to find joy, the first place to start is exploration.

Throughout my summer blog series, I look forward to sharing more about career exploration with the following topics:

  • Career Counseling Services at NESCA
  • Interest Inventories and the benefit of informal career assessments
  • The benefit of informational and practice interviews


About the Author

Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC, is an experienced transition evaluator and vocational counselor. While she is well-versed in supporting a wide range of transition-aged youth, she is especially passionate and knowledgeable in helping clients and their families navigate the complex systems of adult services and benefits as well as medical and mental health systems. She is further adept in working individually with students of all abilities to empower self-advocacy and goal achievement.


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


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


Put Me In, Coach!

By | NESCA Notes 2021


Coaching Services at NESCA

For students and young adults with social, emotional, organizational and/or learning differences, hands-on instruction in real-world environments is a critical means of developing skills for postsecondary living, learning and working. NESCA is pleased to offer individualized home-, community-,and office-based coaching services as well as remote coaching services, delivered by a team of seasoned Occupational Therapists (OTs), Vocational Counselors and Transition Specialists to support the needs of transition-age youth.


Meet the Coaches


Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in pediatrics and occupational therapy, including school-based service delivery. Dr. Bellenis has expertise in working with tweens, teens, and young adults with a wide range of social, emotional, and developmental needs. She joined NESCA full-time in the fall of 2019 in order to oversee the Real-life Skills Coaching program as well as to carry out transition assessment, occupational therapy assessment and treatment services. One of the keys to Dr. Bellenis’ success coaching students and young adults is her ability to form a meaningful relationship with each client and use that relationship to motivate lasting change.





Aubrey Matthews, OTD, OTR/L

Aubrey Matthews, OTD, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist who has focused most of her career on mental health and skill building for adolescents and young adults. She currently works full-time at a behavioral health hospital, splitting her time between the inpatient adolescent unit and the young adult intensive outpatient program. Aubrey tends to focus on building emotional regulation, executive function, and social skills through occupation-based strategies. Aubrey’s doctoral research at the MGH Institute of Health Professions focused on using LEGO therapy to build social skills at a pro-bono pediatric program, and she uses many of these creative strategies to increase client motivation and success.





Jasmine Badamo, MA

Jasmine is an executive function coach, and a New York State Certified ENL and Special Education teacher. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from Cornell University and her masters degree in TESOL from CUNY Hunter College. She has over 10 years of teaching experience across three countries, and has worked with students ranging in age from 7 years to adults.
Her work focuses on creating individualized supports based on the specific needs and strengths of each client, and supporting the development of metacognition, executive function skills, and independence. Building an authentic connection with clients is a top priority, as this allows her to provide the best supports possible.





Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L

Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L, 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 and related social, emotional and executive functioning challenges. 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 completing 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 to the client’s goals and interests.




Visit our website for more information about NESCA’s Coaching Services or complete our online Intake Form

Executive Function Tips: The Google Drive

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach, NESCA

As we slowly start to emerge from lockdown measures, social distancing guidelines, and living life through the screen, there are few lessons that we have learned that still hold importance and should maintain their place in our lives. When it comes to executive function, a lesson that sticks with me is the need for digital organization and functional systems that help us stay in control. One tool that students often use every day, but very rarely receive direct instruction in, is the Google Drive. I have found that students often do not fully understand the concept of an online drive, including how this differs from saving a document to a hard drive, or why it is important to have folders and systems in place.

Now that students often have email address that they set up early (some parents reserve email addresses long before their children can use them!), and stay with them long-term, there is a risk of Google Drive quickly becoming unmanageable or filled with unnecessary documents. Once the drive becomes cluttered, many students are unable to reign it back in and put systems into place. Below, find some tips for how to help students use the Google Drive as a tool to promote digital organization, as opposed to a landing spot for any new download, file, or assignment.


  • Set up folders. Through high school and often beyond, our students live their lives on a September through August calendar. They see September as the beginning of a year and often think of time in terms of grade level, as opposed to biological age or calendar year. Starting in either kindergarten or first grade, students should have a folder for any academic work from each grade. By setting up this system early, students start to build the habit of saving documents to the correct place. It can also be helpful to have folders for extracurricular activities, such as Boy Scouts, Math Tutoring, Club Soccer, or simply Personal Work.
  • Set up subfolders. Once students start taking multiple classes at a time, there is a need to further organize. Starting in fourth or fifth grade, many students switch classrooms to see different teachers for their core subjects. As soon as this starts, add folders for each subject, such as Math, Science, History, and ELA.
  • Name documents purposefully. Some of the students I work with spend longer trying to find their assignments than they do working on the assignment itself. This is often because folders are not set up, but also because students often do not remember what they named an assignment. Teach your children to name their files in a fashion that they can quickly find again. Examples include: year_subject_assignment (20/21_math_knowledge check1), teacher name_year_assignment (Smith_20/21_WWII Article), or teacher name_assignment (Jones_Mockingbird Essay).
  • Set up an end of year clean out. At the end of each school year, take the time to sit with your student and clear their drive of clutter. Many students will only want to save a few important assignments or essays from each school year. That being said, make sure they do not delete important resources! This sets them up for success when they jump back into school in the fall.
  • Review the hard drive. Teaching our students which documents should be saved to a hard drive or printed out and saved as a hard copy is hugely helpful. Even reviewing the difference between a hard drive and an online drive helps provide valuable information. Many of us were introduced to computers when saving to the hard drive was the only option. Once an online drive was introduced, we naturally knew the difference. This is not the case for current students. For most of their academic lives, there have been two options or places to save their assignments, and it can be hard to define the differences between the two.


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


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


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


Understanding Empathy

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author:

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

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

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

The Importance of Play in Speech-Language Therapy

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Abigael Gray, MS, CCC-SLP
NESCA Speech-Language Pathologist

As a speech-language pathologist, I immediately think about toys and games when planning my therapy sessions. Parents may wonder why speech-language therapy often looks like “just playing.” Children learn about their world through play. It facilitates their cognitive, emotional, physical, and social development. As young children develop, they begin understanding, learning how to communicate, and socializing within the context of play.

As I discussed in my last blog post, Five Ways to Facilitate Language Growth at Home, motivation and interest are key in language development, and play is highly motivating and interesting for children. When children learn in the context of play, these new concepts, sounds, and words became relevant and meaningful to the child. This promotes retention and generalization, which both increase learning.

Symbolic play is especially important in the development of language. Symbolic play is the use of objects to represent other objects (e.g., using a block as a phone). Language itself is symbolic since signs, gestures, and words represent ideas, objects, or relationships. Early symbolic play helps children understand that objects can be used to represent another object. Development of symbolic play often correlates with development of language: children often start to use single words when they begin using one object to represent another, and they may begin combining words when they combine two symbolic play actions.

Speech-language pathologists may even use play within assessment. Play in evaluations “is a nonthreatening way to gather information about general symbolic skills, linguistic skills, behaviors skills (i.e., attention and organization), and task persistence in a child-friendly setting” (Fewell & Rich, 1987; Short et al., 2011). I also use play to take language samples, which allows me to look at language understanding and use in a naturalistic environment.

For my older elementary- or middle school-aged clients, play often looks like playing games in therapy. The turn taking of games mimics the social reciprocity that we see in conversation and social communication. This facilitates older children’s understanding of taking the lead when it is their turn and waiting, listening, and watching when it is the other person’s turn. I also find more willingness to participate in therapy when it is fun and centered around specific interests.

In my opinion, we are never too old to play! I’ve found that most people learn and retain information better within the context of fun and enjoyable activities, which is why play is such an important aspect of speech-language therapy.


Jarrold C, Boucher J, Smith P. Symbolic play in autism: a review. J Autism Dev Disord. 1993 Jun;23(2):281-307. doi: 10.1007/BF01046221. PMID: 7687245.

Short EJ, Schindler RC, Obeid R, Noeder MM, Hlavaty LE, Gross SI, Lewis B, Russ S, Manos MM. Examining the Role of Language in Play Among Children With and Without Developmental Disabilities. Lang Speech Hear Serv Sch. 2020 Jul 15;51(3):795-806. doi: 10.1044/2020_LSHSS-19-00084. Epub 2020 May 13. PMID: 32402229.

Terrell, B. Y., Schwartz, R. G., Prelock, P. A., & Messick, C. K. (1984). Symbolic play in normal and language-impaired children. Journal of Speech & Hearing Research, 27(3), 424–429. https://doi.org/10.1044/jshr.2703.424


About the Author

Abigael Gray has over six years of experience in assessment and treatment of a variety of disorders, including dysphagia, childhood apraxia of speech, speech sound disorder, receptive and expressive language disorder, autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. She has a special interest and experience in working with children with feeding and swallowing disorders, including transitioning infants to solid foods, weaning from tube feeding, improving sensory tolerance, developing chewing skills, increasing variety and volume of nutritional intake and reducing avoidance behaviors during mealtimes.


To book an appointment with or to learn more about NESCA’s Speech & Language Therapy, please fill out our online Intake Form, email NESCA’s Director of Clinical Services Julie Robinson or call 617-658-9800.


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


Playgrounds & Their Role in Child Development

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist, NESCA

Growing up, I remember spending hours and hours at playgrounds with friends and family. Running around, scraping our knees, and swinging from one structure to the next. While we all know that playgrounds can be loads of fun, the therapeutic benefit children can gain from these unique environments is often overlooked. Playgrounds allow children to explore the environment around them, develop important social/emotional skills, and build the necessary motor abilities to be successful in life.

Think of your average playground and consider the range of equipment that is present. Each type of equipment offers its own benefits in helping a child to build skills in different areas. Some common examples of playground equipment include:

  • Slides
  • Swings
  • Spinning equipment (e.g., tire swing, Sit N’ Spin, merry go round)
  • See-saw
  • Zipline, Static trapeze
  • Climbing structures
    • Ladders, monkey bars, stepping stones, vertical/fireman’s pole, coil climber, rock wall, rope structures
  • Imaginative play/Sensory-based equipment
    • Sandboxes, ball pits, splash pads, water tables, playhouse/kitchen set-ups

Gross Motor Skills

Playgrounds are great places for children to gain exposure and practice using gross motor skills. Some of the gross motor skills that can be targeted include upper and lower extremity strength, core strength and postural control, balance, shoulder/elbow/wrist stability, and bilateral coordination. Gross motor skills are important because they allow us to perform everyday functions, navigate and interact with our environment, and engage in leisure activities like sports! They also lay the foundation for our body to develop more refined motor skills in the hands. In other words, the child must have proximal stability before achieving distal mobility (Miss Jamie O.T, 2021). As our bodies develop these gross motor skills, this sets the groundwork for fine motor control. The more opportunities we give children to practice and explore, the better!

Image Credit: (Miss Jamie O.T, 2021)

Fine Motor Skills

Traditionally, we think of seated activities, such as coloring, writing, puzzles, or beads, as targeting our fine motor –  or hand –  skills. While this may be true, engagement in playground activities is also a great way to build hand strength, dexterity, grasp patterns, upper extremity coordination, and more. Think of a child climbing on a ladder, up a slide, or across a monkey bar structure. Our hands play a vital role in these activities. While engaging with playground environment, a child has ample opportunity to develop and use what is known as the “power grasp.” This is the grip needed to stabilize an object with the pinky side of the hand, while the thumb side of the hand wraps around the object (Miss Jamie O.T, 2021). This grasp is used in everyday life, such as when holding a cup, turning a doorknob, or opening a jar. Many skills established in this environment can then be transferred to the functional tasks performed in our daily routines. The playground is the perfect place to learn them!

Sensory Processing and Integration

In addition to motor skill practice, a playground environment can provide children with a plethora of sensory experiences that benefit overall regulation. When we think of playgrounds, many times swinging, spinning, and sliding activities come to mind. These activities provide a child with important vestibular information that allow for understanding of head/body position in space. This input can be crucial for regulation, social interaction, and successful navigation of the environment. Additionally, playground activities give our bodies ample proprioceptive, tactile, and visual input. Consider a child swinging on the monkey bars. While suspended, a child receives pulling/pushing input to the joints, which allows for increased body awareness and accurate grading of movements through space. Furthermore, a child is interacting with his or her environment, constantly taking in tactile, auditory, and visual information. For many children, exposure to these sensory-rich experiences can positively impact regulation, arousal, and social and emotional development.

Social/Emotional, Play Skills

Playground environments also provide abundant social interaction for children as they are often shared, public spaces utilized by mixed ages, genders, and abilities. We know that many children are highly motivated by peers and benefit from the opportunity to observe and learn from the actions of others. Consider the different components of a playground; each promotes different patterns of play, and therefore, reinforces different developmental skills. For example, overhead structures, such as monkey bars, tend to attract older children and facilitate independent, gross motor play. This kind of activity promotes problem-solving and persistence. See-saws and swings tend to promote collaboration between children, as they require turn-taking skills, communication, and teamwork. An area such as a sandbox or water table may facilitate imagination skills, as children use their creativity and explore tool use. While we know a playground allows for progression of development in various areas, the actual type of equipment being used may influence which specific skills are being targeted (Landscape Structures Incorporated, 2021).


  1. Landscape Structures Incorporated. (2021). Developmental Benefits of Playground Equipment. Benefits of Playground Equipment. https://www.playlsi.com/en/playground-planning-tools/education/playground-equipment-benefits/#:~:text=Stimulate%20Development%20through%20Playground%20Equipment&text=The%20movements%20children%20perform%20on,and%20develops%20better%20body%20awareness.
  2. Miss Jaime O.T. (2021). Promoting Fine Motor Skills on the Playground. Developing Fine Motor Skills at the Playground. https://www.missjaimeot.com/promoting-fine-motor-skills-playground/


About the Author
Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts with experience in both school-based and outpatient pediatric settings. Maddie received her undergraduate degree in Exercise Science/Kinesiology at The College of Charleston in South Carolina and  earned her Doctorate degree in Occupational Therapy from The MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston.

Maddie is a passionate therapist with professional interest in working with young children with neurodevelopmental disorders, fine and gross motor delays and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

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


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