Tag

neuropsychology and education services for children and adolescents

Yoga Therapy for Children and Adolescents

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

As a pediatric neuropsychologist, I often recommend yoga therapy for children with anxiety, impulse control, and/or motor/coordination/sensory issues, as well as issues that alienate them from their body (e.g., eating disorders and trauma). Another group for which a body-focused therapy like yoga would be helpful is children with language challenges who are not equipped to manage the challenge of “talking” therapy.

Yoga is a 4,000-year-old practice that originated in what is now known as India. The word means “yoke” or “union,” and the practice of yoga aims to quiet the mind in order to find the unity within ourselves and with the world around us. This ancient practice was developed to facilitate development and integration of the human body, mind, and breath to produce a strong and flexible body free of pain, a balanced autonomic nervous system with all physiological systems functioning optimally, and a calm, clear, and tranquil mind (1). As we make this transformation in ourselves, we hope to affect the larger world. This is done through a variety of elements, but the western world tends to focus on movement (asanas), breathwork (pranayamas), and meditation (dhyanas).

Yoga was introduced to the west in the 19th century and has become a popular form of physical fitness and injury rehabilitation. More recently, we have begun to investigate its impact on physiological function, specifically the autonomic nervous system which controls vital life functions and regulates our stress response and return to equilibrium. Research has shown that chronic activation of the stress response (“fight/flight/freeze”) is strongly associated with increased risk of cardiovascular problems and autoimmune disorders (including diabetes), as well as psychiatric conditions, such as anxiety and depression. Yoga has been found to be effective in damping the stress response and allowing the body to return to equilibrium (“rest and digest”), resulting in lower heart rate and blood pressure, improved hormone regulation and gastrointestinal processes, lowered levels of anxiety, and better emotional and behavioral control. It is now included in cardiac rehabilitation programs, chronic pain programs, and psychotherapeutic treatment modalities.

Recently, I became curious with what exactly happens in yoga therapy and decided to talk with the new yoga therapist at NESCA, Danielle Sugrue, M.S. An athlete throughout high school and college, Danielle became involved with yoga about 15 years ago because she was looking for something that “would get me back into movement.” She quickly fell in love with yoga and completed her 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training. In the meantime, she also completed her master’s degree in Marriage and Family Studies at Salem State University. With this combination of expertise, she is able to help children and adolescents become more in touch with their bodies and find their words through movement, breathing, and relaxation.

I asked Danielle what a yoga therapy session with a child would look like. She quickly assured me that interventions with young children hold little resemblance to adult yoga classes. Danielle described her sessions with children as a playful movement exercise to learn to come to their breathing when things get challenging. If a child becomes dysregulated, she helps them tap into their senses to ground them and begin to put words on the feelings. A session may start by spreading cards with animals doing various poses out on the floor and asking the child to pick the card that looks like how s/he is feeling. Based on the cards selected, Danielle may develop a flow of postures based on those selections. The poses and concepts are taught through stories and games using mythical characters, like Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god who clears obstacles and paves the way for us to move forward in life.

The sessions for adolescents tend to take a more direct approach to the issues of concern as described by the teenager. Learning breathing techniques tends to be a key element; because of body issues, many teenage girls don’t breathe deeply (belly breathing) because it makes their stomach stick out. This kind of shallow breathing activates the stress response, making the person feel more anxious, while deep breathing “turns on” the rest and relax function. Moving freely without self-consciousness is another big challenge for teens—and developing a flow that allows them to feel themselves moving with ease but also makes them feel capable of holding a pose just a little longer than they thought they could—helps with developing self-confidence. Directly addressing mindset (self-love and self-compassion) also tends to be an important focus of work with teens and may involve activities such as a mirror challenge of looking at oneself and identifying what s/he likes about themselves.

Yoga therapy usually involves purchasing a 10-session package of once weekly meetings of an hour’s length. If you are interested in having your child work with Danielle, please contact her directly at: dsugrue@nesca-newton.com or complete an online Intake Form at: https://hipaa.jotform.com/220393954666062.

In addition to her work at NESCA, Danielle also teaches yoga at Power Yoga Evolution in North Andover. Dr. Monaghan-Blout is in the process of completing her own 200-hour yoga teacher training.

  1. Kayley-Isley, L., Peterson , J, Fischer, C, and Peterson, E. Yoga as a Complementary Therapy for Children and Adolescents, Psychiatry 2010; 7(8): 20-32.
  2. Nourollahimoghadam, E., Gorji, S., Ghadiri M., Therapeutic Role of Yoga in Neuropsychological Disorders., World Journal of Psychiatry 2021, October 19; 11 (10): 754-773
  3. Permission to Unplug: the Health Benefits of Yoga for Kids. https://www.healthychildren.org, the American Academy of Pediatrics
  4. Barkataki, Susanna. Embrace Yoga’s Roots; Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice 2020, Orlando, FLA, Ignite Yoga and Wellness Institute

 

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 one of our many 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.

Executive Function and Goal Setting

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

Personal, professional, and academic goals are a large part of what drives us as we transition from one stage of life to the next. They also provide direction as we choose and maintain the habits and routines that we feel are important to daily life. Determining what our goals are is a big step, one that students are often working on with their families, school supports, and friends as they start to figure out their next steps in life. But once these goals are solidified, what’s next? How  do we get there? As an executive function coach working with high school and college students, I can attest that this can unexpectedly be the most difficult step in the process. Let’s talk about some ways that we can support students in these endeavors.

  1. Break down goals into manageable chunks. Many goals tend to be large or long-term and can feel daunting and amorphous. For example, a common goal for high school seniors might be, “I will apply to five colleges by their application deadlines.” We can help students by breaking a goal like this down and creating step by step lists, such as: put together a list of preferences for my ideal school, research schools that fit these preferences, meet with guidance counselor to review my research, finalize list of five schools, ask teachers for letters of recommendations, fill out each section of the Common App, write personal essay, have English teacher or other support person review personal essay and give feedback, etc. This list is not comprehensive, but it does show how much goes into the seemingly simple initial goal.
  2. Help them prioritize. Once students have created a comprehensive list of steps, help them to understand what steps need to be attended to right away and which can wait. Continuing with the example of applying to college, figure out what steps need to happen before the Thanksgiving or winter break! It may also be helpful to figure out which steps seem difficult for your specific student. For some, this may be writing the personal essay; for others, it may be building up the courage to ask a favorite teacher to write them a recommendation. Busy students who are already taking multiple classes may have trouble figuring out how to add the steps needed to reach another goal into their schedule.
  3. Put together a plan. Set a timeline. Put internal deadlines into a calendar. Figure out specific times to work towards the goal. Find people who can be solid supports and help to make things happen.
  4. Check in on them. Offer to check in along the way. Some students will love having a partner to track their progress with, while others simply need help setting the foundation.

While this example is very concrete and includes working towards a specific predetermined deadline, not all goals need to be. Whether your student’s goal is to find a summer job they enjoy, get an average of a B in all of their classes, or find a new hobby that makes them happy, using these strategies can help to make a goal feel more manageable.

Finally, you might notice that these steps are quite similar to some of the strategies for completing specific academic tasks, and you would be right! Take, for example, writing a research paper. We want students to break that task down into smaller pieces, such as finding sources, creating an outline, writing a rough draft, and developing a final draft. We then help them to prioritize which steps will need more time to complete and eventually put together a plan so they dedicate sufficient time to each section and submit a final draft on time. Many of the academic executive function tasks that we learn in school create processes and roadmaps for how to tackle life skills that require similar executive function skills. However, not all students can transfer these skills to setting goals without some direct support or help seeing the similarities in the process.

 

To learn more about Executive Function from Dr. Bellenis, join her along with Dan Levine from Engaging Minds, for a free webinar, “Executive Function in the Covid Era: Managing School and Life (Kindergarten through High School),” on March 8 at 7:00PM ET.

Register now: https://engagingmindsonline.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_vWNlilZkS36imBqvr4IMZQ

 

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.

 

Ready for Summer?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

It may seem an odd time to start thinking about summer plans with so much snow on the ground, but spring is less than 45 days away, and summer will be here before we know it! NESCA offers various coaching and counseling services, from executive function and real-life skills coaching to transition counseling and career counseling for high school students and young adults who are looking for support in determining their next steps. This summer, NESCA will also be offering two transition programs from July 11th-August 11th. Each program will meet for two hours twice a week.

 

It can be challenging for many of our teens and young adults to fit transition skills into their school day schedule. Additionally, most students benefit and require repeated opportunities to build skill mastery and generalize the skills across settings. NESCA’s summer transition programs are designed to fulfill that need. Program participants will be guided through interactive and engaging lessons with 3-8 peers to develop a detailed postsecondary vision plan that incorporates all aspects of adult life (i.e., education/training; employment; independent living; social, recreation, and leisure; and community engagement).

 

The College Transition: How, When, and What to Prepare program focuses on connecting strengths and interests to college majors and potential post-college careers. This program is an excellent fit for high school students who plan to attend a 2-year or 4-year program immediately after finishing 12th grade.

 

The Postsecondary Options Leading to Adulthood program focuses on exploring various postsecondary options and is an ideal fit for students who plan to attend non-traditional college programing, post-12th grade transition programs, or are still exploring/undecided about their next steps.

For questions, more information, or to obtain the Intake Form for either of the Summer Transition Planning Programs, please contact:

Crystal Jean

cjean@nesca-newton.com

617-658-9818

About NESCA’s Summer Transition Planning Programs

NESCA’s Postsecondary Transition Specialist and Counselor Tabitha Monahan, MA, CAGS, CRC, will be leading both summer transition courses.

College Transition: How, When and What to Prepare

Who: Students who are considering going directly to a 2-year or 4-year college after leaving public education

When: Mondays and Wednesdays from 2:00 to 4:00PM ET between July 11 and August 10, 2022

Where: NESCA’s offices @ 55 Chapel Street, Newton, MA

Participants Will:

    • Learn how to connect skills to college majors and potential post-college careers
    • Understand the differences between high school and college accommodations
    • Understand their current accommodations, explore those they use most and identify the most beneficial ones for success in college
    • Create a list of priorities when researching colleges; create a document to help conduct college research and when attending college tours

Postsecondary Options Leading to Adulthood


Who: Students who plan to attend non-traditional college programming, training programs, or receive employment/day service supports after leaving public education or are still exploring/undecided about their next steps after completing 12th grade

When: Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:00 to 4:00PM ET between July 12 and August 11, 2022

Where: NESCA’s offices @ 55 Chapel Street, Newton, MA

Participants Will:

    • Explore postsecondary options other than college (i.e., MAICEI, Job Corps, certificate programs, MRC and DDS programs, other resources, etc.)
    • Work through strengths and challenges with more emphasis on general job skills and independent living skills
    • Learn about transferable skills and how skill-building at school, home, and in the community connects with success
    • Discuss resume development and learn about different resume formats
    • Understand why contacts are important
    • Learn about reasonable accommodations in the workplace and rights to request accommodations
    • Talk through how and when to disclose a diagnosis(es)

 

About the Author

Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CAGS, 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.

 

When the Struggle with Writing is Real

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Alissa Talamo, PhD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Many students struggle to effectively express their ideas in writing at a level equivalent to their understanding of the concepts or information they are writing about… Why?

There are many reasons a student may struggle with academic (expository) writing. Such writing requires a student to evaluate evidence, expand upon ideas, and demonstrate knowledge in a clear and concise way. In order to write effectively, a student must access and implement several higher order processes simultaneously, including but not limited to:

  • thinking
  • organization of ideas
  • retrieval of needed information
  • being able to remember an idea long enough to write it down…

while at the same time, the student also needs to think about writing mechanics (e.g., handwriting, spelling, punctuation).

All of these sub-components need to be pulled together for a student to create a well-written product. As a result, students often avoid writing or write only the minimal amount necessary.

Students with both language-based learning disabilities (LBLD) and AD/HD are at particular risk to struggle, as student with LBLD often have difficulty with word retrieval, syntax, and spelling to name a few, while students diagnosed with AD/HD inherently struggle with task initiation, planning, distractibility, and are vulnerable to reduced handwriting skills and careless errors.

In order to support all students, we need to help them develop more efficient skills. Research has shown that students can be taught to organize their language and ideas. Graphic organizers are an example of an organizational strategy. Some well-researched and effective programs include “Brain Frames,” a set of six graphical patterns that students draw to organize their language and ideas (www.architectsforlearning.com) and “Thinking Maps,” a set of eight visual patterns that correlate to specific cognitive processes (www.thinkingmaps.com). Another benefit of the graphic organizers is that the skills learned can be applied to more than just writing, but as writing is a critical skill necessary for school success as well as in the workforce, it is important that we help our students develop these skills and recognize that they do have the ability to demonstrate their knowledge in written form.

If your child is having difficulty with writing, let us know by completing our online Intake Form.

Resources used for this blog include:

  • Architectsforlearning.com
  • Thinkingmaps.com
  • PBS.org
  • adlit.org

 

About the Author

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

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

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

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

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

She is the mother of one teenage girl.

 

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

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

Ring in the New Year with SMART Goals

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

Happy New Year! 2021 was another chaotic and challenging year. Many folks have big plans to start the year strong and make hefty goals for their new year resolutions. French writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, wrote: “a goal without a plan is just a wish.” This is true for resolutions, just as it is for any goal. How can we help our young people change their wishes, visions, and dreams into goals? We teach them (and maybe ourselves while we’re at it) how to plan. One of my favorite strategies for both teaching and reaching goals is by creating SMART Goals. What is a Smart Goal?

Specific – The goal should be specific. I’ll increase the distance I run is vague. Will you increase the distance by 20 feet, 2 miles? Are you planning for a marathon? Instead, let’s take a look at step 2, making it measurable.

Measurable – There’s a good chance that if your goal is not specific enough, it will be hard to measure if you have succeeded in that goal. So, let’s make our exercise goal both specific and measurable. I’ll increase the distance I run from 1mile to 3.2 miles (5k).

Attainable – Attainable is the hard one for many students who are still building awareness of their strengths and challenges. Let’s say a person who has never run wants to run in the Boston Marathon. This is likely not an attainable goal, even if it is specific and measurable. While Couch to 5k training exists, I have not personally seen the couch to marathon training program. Having measurable steps also helps break down the goal into smaller pieces, which will be further discussed later.

Relevant – If I am trying to increase my social circle and group leisure skills, running is unlikely to get me there. However, if, like many people, we’re trying to improve our health in 2021 (or take off some of those quarantine pounds), increasing the distance we run certainly will help get us there. Many young adults may need to bounce ideas off someone to ensure the goal is relevant to the area at hand.

Time-bound – Attainable and time-based work tightly together. If you do not give yourself a deadline, the goal may still be there come December 2022. Humans work best with deadlines. We need the motivation to complete a plan, and often motivation needs a sense of urgency.

When students begin working on developing SMART goals, the hardest area for students to understand and develop is creating an ATTAINABLE goal. The goals are often too hefty and need to be broken into much smaller pieces. My clients who are meeting with me in person are greeted by a quote in my office from Dr. Glenn Doyle, offering my favorite way of looking at creating that attainable goal.

When in doubt, set the goal small.

Then chop it in half (½)

Then take the first part of that goal….

Figure out just what you’d need to do

to GET STARTED on it.

THAT’s your NEW GOAL.

~Dr. Glenn Doyle~

(emphasis mine)

Okay, so what does our SMART goal look like for increased health and wellness? I will increase the distance I run from 1 mile to 3.2 miles (5k) in ¼ mile increments by June 30, 2022.

We have all the pieces. It is specific, and we know precisely what the end goal will be and how we will get there. It’s measurable; there is something we can check off as complete, like a to-do list. It’s attainable and seems realistic. We are not trying to run the Boston Marathon course after only running a mile. We will start as a beginning runner and work towards a 5k, and we are not trying to do it tomorrow with no steps in between. It’s relevant; we are working on bettering our health in 2022. And it is time-based. We want to meet our goal by the end of June.

Now that we’ve refreshed our minds on SMART goals, how do we build these skills in transition-aged youth? Ask them. Ask your child, your students, your clients what they want for themselves in education, employment, and independent living. We already have the starting points. We have their vision. We have the IEP TEAM’s goals and objectives.

The youth may have a far-reaching (and maybe seemingly unattainable) goal. Help them break that big goal down into smaller parts and work backward. Do they want to be an engineer? Engineers need a college degree. What does the student need to do to graduate college? They need to get into college. How do they get into college? They need to apply and graduate from high school. What do they need to do to graduate high school? They need to pass their science class. That seems like a reasonable starting place, and it is still related to the vision. What might a SMART goal look like for that student? I will receive a passing grade on my final exam by answering the end of chapter questions each week and asking for clarification from my teacher for any questions I got wrong by the end of the spring semester.

But how do we support them when they aren’t making progress? Many people have a hard time adjusting once they have made a plan. Whenever we set a goal, we need to look at our progress periodically. We need to check that the goal is still attainable by the deadline we gave ourselves. Are we making progress? If we are still running only a mile and it’s March, what adjustments do we need to make? Suppose a student is not finding answering the end of chapter questions helpful in confirming their knowledge of the material. What changes can they make to increase their understanding of the material? Maybe the student asks the teacher if they can work one on one twice a week to increase understanding? Frustration, when the plan doesn’t work, makes many give up on the goal. Learning how to adapt is just as essential as learning how to make a goal.

A person who has practiced SMART goals is a person who will have an increased understanding of the objectives and smaller steps they need to reach their vision. They will have more confidence in their abilities and more awareness of their challenges. A person who has goal-setting skills is a person who has control of their own life. What are your SMART goals for 2022?

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.

 

Bringing OT Activities Home for the Holidays

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Sarah Attanasio OT/s and Lauren Zeitler, MSOT, OTR/L
NESCA Occupational Therapist; Feeding Specialist

With the holiday season in full swing, families will soon be faced with the significant routine change that comes with school vacation. During this time, it is important to continue working on skills gained and techniques learned during school and therapy. Occupational therapy (OT) sessions often include activities to promote different skills, including visual perception, sequencing problem solving, and more! OTs also utilize movement activities to target sensory modulation, bilateral coordination, and force modulation to name a few. Here are some functional activities to do with your children at home to continue promoting skills learned in school and therapy while still getting into the holiday spirit.

Setting the table

OT skills addressed: visual perceptual skills, bilateral coordination, task sequencing, problem solving, force modulation, attention

Setting the table is an easy and functional way to promote the above  essential life skills in the home environment. First, this task requires children to problem solve and decide what items they need to set the table. Children then  scan their environment to locate and gather all necessary items. Next, children must safely carry all items to the table, which typically requires them to use both hands together. While doing this, they also scan their environment to make sure there are no obstacles in the way. Finally, children have to use an appropriate amount of force when placing items onto the table to ensure that these items do not break. They have to pay attention to the task at hand and problem solve where the correct spot on the table is for these items. To make this easier for children, try focusing on fewer skills, such as providing them with a picture of the proper place setting or laying items out on the counter already. To make this harder for children, have them carry heavy items to the table, such as a full pitcher of water or create obstacles for them to avoid on their way to the table.

Baking cookies

OT skills addressed: meal prep skills, task sequencing, direction following, tool usage, bilateral coordination, force modulation, sensory integration

Baking cookies is not only an entertaining activity for children, but it also promotes many important life skills! Making cookies requires children to follow the directions of a recipe. It also requires children to pay attention and appropriately measure the correct amounts of ingredients. They also have to explore how to appropriately and safely utilize various tools, such as a measuring cup, whisk, spatula, cookie cutters, a hot baking tray, etc. Cookie dough may be an unpleasant texture for some children since it is gooey or sticky. This activity gives children the opportunity to explore an unpleasant texture and trial strategies, such as wearing gloves, taking deep breaths, taking turns manipulating dough, etc., to better tolerate interacting with various unpleasant textures. Rolling the dough using both hands together and utilizing cookie cutters are two great ways to encourage bilateral coordination and increase hand strength. To incorporate more skills into this activity, such as visual perceptual skills, have your child decorate the cookies with icing and/or sprinkles making sure they stay within the boundaries of the cookie.

Decorating with paper snowflakes

OT skills addressed: task sequencing, visual perceptual/motor skills, bilateral coordination, scissor skills, coloring skills, hand eye coordination, hand strengthening

Paper snowflakes are a holiday decoration staple, and the process of making them promotes various  life skills. First, this task requires children to problem solve what kind of design they want their snowflake to be and fold the paper accordingly. They then are required  to use their hands together to cut out their desired design while holding the paper in one hand and the scissors properly in the other hand. Try having your child draw a pattern on the snowflake for them to follow while cutting or coloring in their snowflake within the boundaries. This can be done once it is cut out to further promote visual perceptual/motor skills and hand eye coordination.

Writing cards 

OT skills addressed: handwriting skills (grasp, letter formation/line placement/sizing/spacing/legibility, writing utensil usage, handwriting posture)

A handwritten note is a simple gesture that is always appreciated by all. Writing cards allows children to practice their handwriting skills in a functional way at home. First, it is important to maintain proper posture when doing any handwriting activity. Proper handwriting posture follows the 90-90-90 rule: feet are flat on the floor with ankles forming a 90-degree angle with the floor. Knees are bent at a 90-degree angle, and the hips and torso form a 90-degree angle. Using an elevated/slanted surface is also helpful in placing children in the optimal 15 degrees of wrist extension for handwriting activities. To promote proper grasp, have your child use broken crayons or a grip on their writing utensil. Provide your child with lined paper so they have a visual of where to place letters. The addition of a “worm line” underneath the bottom line is sometimes helpful for placing letters, such as g, j, p, q, and y. If handwriting is too high of a skill for your child, have them draw a picture including shapes, such as squares, triangles, and circles as these are necessary pre-writing skills to master.

Playing family games

OT skills addressed: rule following, turn taking, cooperative play

What better way to bond as a family than a family game night?! Games are great for children as they require rule following, tolerating an occasional change of rules, tolerating winning/losing, and turn taking. Many games also incorporate essential fine motor skills in terms of functional grasp, such as hi ho cherry-o, candy land, mancala, etc. and gross motor skills, including   balance and coordination with games like twister, yoga games, ring tosses, etc.

Play in the snow

OT skills addressed: sensory modulation, force modulation, gross motor skills, proprioceptive input for body awareness

If we are lucky enough to get snow this holiday season, playing in the snow is a great, versatile activity for children. Have children engage in a friendly snowball fight or throw snowballs at targets. This will promote hand eye coordination and force modulation ensuring that they aren’t throwing snowballs too hard to the point where they hurt someone or break something. Have children make snow angels to promote bilateral coordination and body awareness. Ask them questions like: Does the snow feel cold or hot on your body? Where do you feel the snow on your body? Is the snow wet or dry? Does the snow smell/taste/sound like anything? This line of questioning promotes body awareness and sensory modulation. Shoveling snow is also a great functional (and helpful!) heavy work activity that provides children with proprioceptive input (pressure on their joints) to help them better understand where their body is in space and promote overall body/spatial awareness. Another great heavy work activity is making a snowman, as it requires children to use both of their arms together to push large, heavy balls of snow along the snow-covered ground. The possibilities of functional activities involving snow are endless!

This list offers just  a few ideas of the many activities you can do with your children over school vacation. Many activities and games can be therapeutic and easily graded to any child. The trick is to find the just-right challenge to work on the skill area desired through fun and motivating means. We recommend reaching out to your occupational therapist for more activity ideas to motivate your child over break!

 

About the Author

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Boredom: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow and Therapist

According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, boredom is defined as:

A state of weariness or ennui resulting from a lack of engagement with stimuli in the environment. It is generally considered to be one of the least desirable conditions of daily life and is often identified by individuals as a cause of feeling depressed. It can be seen as the opposite of interest and surprise

In an APA podcast called Speaking of Psychology, Erin Westgate, PhD, a psychologist who studies boredom, suggests that boredom is an unpleasant emotion similar to anger, sadness, fear, and pain. In her efforts to understand and define boredom, Dr. Westgate explored the ways in which attention and meaning affect emotions and explain boredom. She opines that boredom may result from one’s inability to sustain attention, which may occur either when a task is too easy or too hard. It may help to understand why students describe a less preferred subject (e.g., math) as boring. Boredom may also be due to a sense that what we are doing lacks meaning. In both instances, the mind wanders and we are faced with that sense of being alone with our thoughts. Dr. Westgate notes that some thoughts are more engaging than others, and there are certain conditions under which people enjoy or do not enjoy their own thoughts. It has become increasingly difficult for people to sit and think, and consequently they search for ways to escape or avoid the boredom that results. However, boredom is not all bad. Like many things in life, it depends on how we manage it.

Similar to other negative emotions, boredom alerts us that something is wrong in our body, and it is human nature to want to escape or avoid it. When escape and avoidance become the only method to cope with boredom, individuals may begin experiencing chronic boredom, which can be detrimental to emotional and physical wellbeing. When boredom becomes chronic, it no longer works as a useful signal. Boredom can be more impactful than loneliness and is often mistaken for loneliness. When boredom is not well managed, it can lead to depression and self-destructive behaviors, such as self-harm and addiction. As alluded to above, the ability to sit with our thoughts and feelings without trying to avoid or escape them has become increasingly difficult. Perhaps related to the ease with which they can be avoided; for example, when our body sends out the first signal of discomfort, we can distract ourselves by reaching for our phone. An article in TIME magazine stated:

We’re trying to swipe and scroll the boredom away, but in doing that, we’re actually making ourselves more prone to boredom, because every time we get our phone out we’re not allowing our mind to wander and to solve our own boredom problems, Mann says, adding that people can become addicted to the constant dopamine hit of new and novel content that phones provide. Our tolerance for boredom just changes completely, and we need more and more to stop being bored.

Relying on electronics is only one example of a way to avoid and escape the discomfort of boredom. It is highly reinforcing because, in the short-term, it works. However, when it is one’s only tool in the toolbox, it may quickly undermine their ability for learning to manage uncomfortable thoughts and feelings and use them for creating positive change. Therefore, it is necessary to find a positive, opposite behavior to replace the maladaptive behavior. This often leads to an increased sense of purpose and agency, and improved self-esteem and self-concept.

Children and adolescents often complain about being bored, and while boredom is uncomfortable, it can also help to develop skills, creativity, and boost self-esteem. Once boredom sets in, it can be difficult for children to shift their attention to find meaning when confronted with the discomfort of boredom. According to an article published by the Child Mind Institute, boredom can be a great way to teach children how to manage frustration and regulate emotions when things are boring or not going their way. It is not that boredom teaches the skills, but rather it is what they do when faced with boredom. There are many strategies outlined in the article to help parents nurture skills when their children are bored. In general, be aware that behaviors may be attention-seeking, and therefore, should not be reinforced. Otherwise, boredom offers an opportunity for children to do something meaningful that benefits them and those around them. When properly managed, it spurs creativity and innovation. Along the way, it is important to be realistic and recognize that there will be failure, and learning to manage the discomfort of failure is an added bonus.

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert 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.

 

Occupational Therapists and Transition Assessment, A Natural Fit!

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

Being an occupational therapist (OT) often means working in a profession that many people do not have extensive experience with or knowledge about. It can be hard to give one definition of this profession when OTs are at hospitals and schools, working on advocacy in DC, running mental health groups, and in some cases even responding to natural disasters. We are all around! Despite the broad range of settings, OTs are all guided by the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain and Process (AOTA, 2020), an ever-evolving framework that describes the central concepts, foundational views, and basic tenets of the profession. As an occupational therapist who has worked in schools with a huge focus on access to the curriculum, functional skill building, and increasing students’ overall participation, I frequently reference the document to ensure I am staying true to my profession and using my lens to help support clients’ goals in the most effective ways possible. As a member of the transition team here at NESCA, I have been fascinated by the natural fit between occupational therapy and transition assessment. Both of these require a holistic lens, consideration for the client as well as their environment, and an ability to focus on multiple different aspects of a person’s life simultaneously.

While occupation is sometimes considered a synonym for “job,” OTs focus on the broader definition of occupations as, “the everyday activities that people do as individuals, in families, and with communities to occupy time and bring meaning and purpose to life. Occupations include things people need to, want to, and are expected to do” (WFOT, 2012). We consider nine separate “areas of occupation,” which include: Activities of Daily Living (bathing, showering toileting, etc.), Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (driving, financial management, meal preparation, etc.), Health Management (medication management, social and emotional health promotion, physical activity, etc.), Rest and Sleep, Education, Work, Play, Leisure, and Social Participation. We want to make sure that individuals have balance, are meeting their personal goals, and feel fulfilled by the activities of life. OTs both assess and provide direct intervention around all of these areas.

Similar to occupational therapy, transition assessment is complex and broad, and it is best thought of as an ongoing process incorporating a wide range of formal and informal assessment of a student’s strengths, interests, and preferences. When developing recommendations for transition assessments, we work in accordance with the federal law (as well as the Massachusetts Student-Driven Transition Model core areas of transition planning) to relate our findings to the demands of transition planning areas: Education/Training, Employment, Independent Living, and Community Participation. Each of these areas needs to be considered as a part of the transition planning process and plays a substantial role in putting together a comprehensive vision for a student.

As I compare the areas of occupation with the core areas of transition planning, I am struck by the similarities and constant overlap. There is an emphasis on functional independence, especially in daily living skills. There is the belief that connection and community are integral parts of life. There is also a need for purposeful activity, whether that be through work, continuing education, play, or all of the above. Each of the areas that OTs so passionately feel guide our work are areas that should be assessed and considered during transition assessment and planning. The lens through which OTs are taught to assess and evaluate clients lends itself perfectly to assessing students as they plan for their futures and transition out of high school. While there are many different ways that I could have applied my OT training, I am glad to be able to apply my expertise to transition assessment at NESCA as one of the ways we help youth and young adults achieve their goals and carry out fulfilling lives.

References

American Occupational Therapy Association. (2020). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process (4th ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy74(Suppl. 2), Article 7412410010. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2020.74S2001

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2021). Massachusetts student-driven transition model. Retrieved from https://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/secondary-transition/resources-materials.html.

World Federation of Occupational Therapy. (2012) Definition of occupational therapy. Retrieved from https://wfot.org/about/about-occupational-therapy

 

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.

 

Building Skills over the Holidays

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

The holidays tend to come with more time off for students and families wondering what they can do to keep up with skills and activities. On the plus side, the holidays also lend themselves to activities that typically don’t occur year-round. Below are some helpful suggestions for students and their families to fight boredom and work on building skills:

Learning about different cultures and traditions

Giving back to the community

  • Building a sense of community has always been a big part of transition work with my students. Many communities offer opportunities to give back during the holiday season, such as giving gifts to those who are less fortunate, helping out at a food pantry, serving meals, etc. Using the internet to search for opportunities within your community can be very rewarding during this time of year.

Seasonal work

  • Many places are hiring seasonal employees this time of year. For individuals who are unsure of making a long-term commitment to a job or want to sample something, this can be the perfect time of year for that!

Plan and prepare a meal

Giving gifts

  • If your child needs to purchase gifts for friends or family members, this can be a great opportunity to turn it into a learning opportunity. Start by having them identify the person they are buying for and a few things that the person likes. Next, give your child a budget for the gift and spend some time searching online to identify items they may want to purchase. By preparing in advance, it allows for an easier shopping experience in the store!

Holiday cards/thank you notes

 

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.

 

Therapeutic Toy Guide to Promote Skill-building

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

It’s that time of year when parents and loved ones are looking for the perfect gift. As pediatric occupational therapists, we are often asked about our recommendations for the best toys and activities that encourage learning and the development of specific skills. During an occupational therapy session, toys and games are used with people across the life span for many reasons. The biggest reason is to bring joy and develop confidence while simultaneously working on skill-building in areas that require getting and maintaining attention in an effort to improve and develop independence in functional tasks.

Play and exploration of games and toys are for those of all ages. The right toy and game can be used to develop new skills and strengthen and refine learned skills.

Skills addressed through play and active exploration:

  • Attention and concentration
  • Balance
  • Coordination skills
  • Core strength
  • Executive functioning
  • Emotional regulation
  • Fine motor skills
  • Gross motor skills
  • Handwriting
  • Imaginative play
  • Motor planning
  • Sensory motor needs
  • Visual perceptual skills

How many times have you endlessly scrolled online looking for the best-fit gift, wondering if it will be one more item that ends up collecting dust on a shelf? How often do you wish a toy store existed like when we were kids, instead of walking down the same small toy aisle at the local department store and leaving with nothing? Or having to weed through page after page of online stores and catalogs?

Below is a helpful guide to therapeutic games and toys that focus on a couple of specific skill areas. Most of the games included can fall into more than one skill area, depending on how it’s used.

Coordination Skills – Skills that help develop body control and awareness. Bilateral coordination is the ability to use both sides of your body together in a coordinated way, and hand-eye coordination is when the eyes guide the hands in movement.

3 + years

  • EleFun (Hasbro)
  • Feed the Woozle
  • Kids Magnetic Fishing Games (iPlay, iLearn)
  • Instrument toys
  • Marble Run
  • Target activities
  • The Yoga Garden Game
  • Wooden Balance Board
  • Zoom Ball

6 + years

  • Bob it
  • BucketBall
  • Kan Jam
  • Klask
  • Rev balance board
  • Ring Toss
  • Simon
  • Spike Ball
  • Throw the Burrito
  • Twister

Executive Functioning Skills The ability to sustain attention, organize and plan, initiate and complete, problem solve and regulate emotions.

3 + years

  • Bee Genius (MUKIKIM)
  • Bunny Hop (Educational Insights)
  • Cootie
  • Create-A-Burger (Lakeshore)
  • Dino Escape
  • Don’t Break the Ice
  • Frankie’s Food Truck Fiasco Game
  • iPlay, iLearn Kids Magnetic Fishing Games
  • Hoot Owl Hoot
  • Movement Memory

 6+ years

  • Battleship
  • Checkers
  • Chess
  • DogPile
  • Distraction
  • Gravity Maze
  • Life Junior
  • Monopoly
  • Outfoxed
  • Rush Hour (Think Fun)

Fine Motor Skills – The ability to control the small muscles of the hands and fingers. Fine motor development contains many components. Some of those areas include pincer and pre-writing grasp development, hand strength, wrist stability, motor control, and separation of the sides of the hand.

3 + years

  • Alphabet Learning Locks
  • Bee Genius
  • Duplo Sets
  • Forest Friends Playset (Lakeshore)
  • Light table pegs and pegboard (Lakeshore)
  • Magnet Alphabet Maze
  • Noodle Knockout!
  • Pegcasso Build and Drill
  • Poke-a-Dot: Old MacDonald’s Farm
  • Pop the Pig
  • Woodpecker feeding game (iPlay, iLearn)
  • Snap Dinos (Lakeshore)

6+ years

  • Frankie’s Food Truck Fiasco Game
  • LEGOs
  • Light Brite
  • LiquiPen (Yoya Toys)
  • Mancala
  • Kanoodle
  • Operation
  • Perfection
  • Pictionary
  • Scratch Art
  • Shelby’s Snack Shack Game
  • Trouble

Sensory Play – The opportunity to receive sensory input through play. It can foster listening skills and body awareness, encourage tactile exploration and risk-taking, and promote a calming and alert state of being.

3+ years

  • Bean bags
  • Kinetic Sand
  • Monkey Noodle
  • What’s in Ned’s Head?
  • Playdoh
  • Pop Fidgets
  • Squishmellos
  • Scooter boards
  • Sit and Spin
  • Trampoline

6 + years

  • Aromatherapy
  • Bubble tubes
  • Color mix sensory tubes
  • Doorway Sensory Swing Kit (DreamGym Store)
  • Thinking Putty (scented/glow in the dark)
  • Tent
  • Tunnel
  • Water Beads
  • Weighted blanket
  • LiquiPen (Yoya Toys)

Visual Perception Skills – The ability to make sense of what is being seen. Skills are used to copy information from a board, manipulate items, identify, read, recall info, visually locate things, and write.

3 + years

  • Alphabet Bingo
  • CandyLand
  • Chutes and Ladders
  • Fox in the Box
  • Honeybee Tree
  • Magnatiles
  • Spot-it
  • Pete the Cat- I Love My Buttons Game
  • Puzzles
  • Zingo (Think Fun)

6+ years

  • Connect Four
  • DogPile
  • Guess Who
  • Jenga
  • Kanoodle
  • Klask
  • Let’s Go Code
  • Mancala
  • Perfection
  • Pixy Cubes

This list is just the tip of the iceberg of the many toys and games you will come across. Many toys and games can be therapeutically and easily graded to any individual, no matter the age. The trick is to find the just-right challenge to work on the skill area desired through fun and motivating means. We recommend reaching out to your occupational therapist if you require assistance with either new or older games and toys and how to create the just-right challenge for your child.

 

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.