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Adapting Academic Accommodations for Return to Learning

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

As students with disabilities return to learning, the accommodations provided through their 504 Plan or Individualized Education Program (IEP) may no longer meet their needs within the structure and limitations of remote learning and/or return to school protocols. For example, when remote learning, teachers are not as readily available to provide “in the moment” redirection, check-ins for understanding or modifications to the presentation or length of assignments. When at school, many students are at the same desk all day, for academics, “specials,” snack and lunch, meaning teachers have to identify new ways to provide movement and sensory breaks while maintaining social distancing. For hybrid learners, teachers have to consider how to provide structure and predictability in the face of frequent transition and increased demands on independent work.

Within all return to learning plans, parents and school teams are having to be more creative than ever before, working to quickly and flexibly identify and implement new accommodations to address a range of new challenges. While this is new territory for all, there is fortunately an increasing number of online resources to aid this process, some of which are listed below. Foundational to the success of any COVID-era accommodations plan will be the team’s ability to regularly assess its feasibility and effectiveness, engage in open communication between home and school, and steadfastly and flexibly adapt the accommodation plan as individual needs and/or school instructional plans change.

See the following websites for information about how to implement accommodations during COVID-19:

In IEP Accommodations During Distance Learning, Amanda Morin of www.understood.org presents a list of many standard accommodations for presentation of information, assignment completion and daily management/organization, with ways to adapt each for remote instruction, giving specific consideration of available tools within Microsoft and Google suites.

Socially Distant Sensory and Movement Break Ideas by Katie McKenna, M.S., ORT/L, of The Autism Helper provides a range of creative solutions for meeting regulation needs for a wide range of students.

The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) eLearning Coalition website provides webinars and a host of information regarding the development and implementation of accessible educational materials during remote learning.

 

About the Author:

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

 

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

 

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

“Can I Hug You?” – Why the pandemic has us craving closeness

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

At the end of a testing session last week, my young client and I stood looking at each other through the large glass window of our contactless, adjoined testing rooms. Our hands were newly washed; the fresh scent of antibacterial wipes emitted from the tables; and our face coverings were in place. And while looking at one another from our respective bubbles, inside this necessarily sterile setting, my client looked me in the eye and asked: “Can I hug you?”

The question hung in the air for a moment. In the 15 years that I have worked with children, I have rarely hesitated when a child asks me this. But there we were, mid-pandemic, in this brief, perhaps imperceptible, moment of uncertainty.

One thing I have become keenly aware of since starting to see family and friends for socially distanced visits is how much I, and my children, have to consciously fight the physical urge to embrace the people we love. The urge is palpable. But where does this come from?

There is a great body of research demonstrating the importance of physical touch, particularly hugging. Hugs are not just a simply a way of demonstrating your love or support for someone, but hugging actually causes physiological changes within the body. Stress hormones, such as cortisol, reduce, and the nervous system slows down. Oxytocin – a hormone integral to bonding – is released, increasing closeness and affection. Over time, close physical contact results in improved brain development, heart health, emotional health, relationship patterns and immune function.

In many ways, physical touch is a basic human need that must be met. Individuals who are deprived of these experiences, particularly early in life, can experience detrimental effects. Fortunately, some of these effects can be mitigated once opportunities for closeness are offered. As such, our bodies and brains never fully give up on the urge for closeness, even after long durations of it being unmet. And this urge has a name – skin hunger.

Most people have felt skin hunger at some point – a driving urge for human contact and connection. This may come after a particularly stressful day at work, an argument with a friend or just a general feeling of loneliness. In times of uncertainty, distress or instability, the human need for closeness increases. And yet, for so many who are enduring the COVID-19 pandemic, closeness is the exact thing that they are being deprived of. Even when we are lucky enough to still have access to our families, or perhaps a small group of close friends, our emotional needs are high. Physiologically, psychologically, we need more hugs.

The good news is, there are things that you can do to meet this need:

  • Consciously make an effort to hug those you can, and do it more often than typical.
  • Snuggle up with your dog, your cat or other pet of choice.
  • For those who live alone and do not have pets, a weighted blanket, warm bath or hugging a pillow can simulate the effects of human touch.
  • Maintain social connection through video chat, phone calls and socially distanced visits. Interpersonal contact without hugging is better than no contact.
  • Be careful to not accidentally over-associate hugs or touch with danger. Coronavirus will eventually be managed, but training our children to fear closeness could have enduring, negative effects. Choose words wisely, teaching pragmatic, unemotional caution, not fear.

 

About the Author:

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

 

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

 

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

Why “Find something to do” Doesn’t Work – Teaching Independent Play Skills during Quarantine

By | NESCA Notes 2020

 

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

Nowadays, children’s schedules tend to be highly regimented. For many, free play has been replaced by extracurricular activities, sports and planned playdates. Recess hours have also been reduced in favor of structured learning activities. The reduction in free play throughout the day can delay or interfere with the development of independent play and time management skills. Unfortunately, with schools and childcare centers now closed, our children may not know how to use all of the extra time they now have.

I have two young children – a preschooler who is generally an expert at independent play, and a first grader who needs a lot of structure, support and attention to fill his time. Unfortunately, with much of our attention turning toward working from home and remote learning, even my formerly-skilled independent player is now overwhelmed with the amount of unstructured time he has, resulting in some new and not-so-fun attention-seeking behaviors.

Sound familiar? I am guessing this is the experience many families are facing. Both parents and children are trying to navigate life without any clear time boundaries (What day is it, anyway??), and this is stressful. When kids are stressed, they look to their caregiver to help them regulate – “attention seeking” behavior is their way of saying “I’m stressed out and don’t know what to do with myself – help!” The question is, how do we help them play independently (buying us time to get things done) while still supporting their emotional needs?

The experience of navigating the stress of unstructured time and teaching independent play is addressed in Kate Rope’s recent New York Times article titled “Now’s a Good Time to Teach Your Kids to Play on Their Own.” In the article, Rope discusses ways to embrace this new opportunity to teach independent play – a skill that encourages time management, executive function and self-regulation skills. Some of the strategies she outlines are similar to those that we have attempted at my house in the past few weeks. Here are some that have worked for us:

  • Get outside: My kids’ capacity to play on their own is markedly better when outdoors. Allow them to dig in the dirt, explore the woods (with supervision), build a fort and roll down the hill. This will not only keep them occupied, but the physical activity and fresh air will make them better-focused once inside.
  • Make an activities menu: Kids often have so many toys that they do not know what to pick. Slightly structure “free choice” by making a single-page picture “menu” of activities, reducing the amount of time they aimlessly roam around looking for something to do.
  • Start in their play: Children often do not know how to get started. After they pick an activity, say “I have 15 minutes to play,” set a timer, and give them your undivided attention. Comment on what they do and encourage their imagination, rather than making up the play for them. When the timer beeps, say you had fun playing but need to go do something. Hopefully, your child will continue their play without you.
  • Show your interest: Saying “find something to do” is way too vague and not particularly helpful (I’m very guilty of this). Instead, give a “challenge” and convey your interest in it. For example, say “Why don’t you go get the blocks and build the tallest tower you can. Come get me when you’re ready for me to see it. I can’t wait!”
  • Set up new ways to use toys: The same old toys can get boring, so mix things up a bit. Find a spare storage bin, bucket or large container. Each day create a new, multisensory “set-up” for some toys. For example, construction trucks can dig in dried beans; baby dolls can take a bath in soapy water; dinosaurs can play in water beads; or kids can build fine motor skills by just cutting up a bin of scrap paper.
  • Be patient and loosen up: Let your kids guide the play, take some risks and make mistakes. The more you guide them, the more they will need you later. Also, messy kids are happy kids. Use messy activities as a way to teach daily living and self-care skills (e.g. how to use the broom to sweep up beans; how to get mud out of your finger nails; etc.).
  • Make remote learning fun: The more fun your child has with you during instruction, the less attention they will seek from you later. Find way to use your child’s interests to aid teaching. For example, we used my son’s love of hockey to reinforce long A spelling skills – hit the puck into one net if the word was spelled with /ai/ and another for those with /ay/. Because he viewed this as special one-on-one time, he was able to continue playing hockey by himself afterward.

Finding the balance between providing support and teaching independence is not an easy one, but these are some ways to start. If you need guidance on how to create structure and manage your child’s needs at home, NESCA has providers available for remote consultations. Email info@nesca-newton.com for more information.

 

About the Author:

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

 

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

 

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

Growing in a Fog: The Impact of Sleep Loss on Children’s Development

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

A recent study conducted at the University of Warwick, in the United Kingdom, supported the long-held belief that reduced sleep in children has a significant negative effect on their cognitive and emotional functioning. Findings were recently published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, in an article, titled “Sleep duration, brain structure, and psychiatric and cognitive problems in children.”

When examining children ages nine to 11, reduced sleep was associated with higher levels of depression, anxiety and impulsive behavior, as well as poorer cognitive performance. Findings showed that, on average, behavior problems were 53% higher in children who got less than seven hours of sleep, compared to those who got nine to 11 hours. Additionally, on average, total cognitive scores were 7.8% lower in the children with reduced sleep.

Negative effects of sleep loss were not only observed through children’s behavior and task performance, but there were table differences within brain structure as well. Shorter sleep duration was related to lower volume in brain structures that are responsible for decision making, learning, emotion regulation, memory, executive function, sensory regulation, language function and spatial perception, among other skills. Because sleep is a highly active process, during which children’s brain circuitry reorganizes, it is thought that sleep loss can interfere with actual physical brain maturation, not just emotional, behavioral and cognitive functioning.

This study conducted by the University of Warwick is not the first to demonstrate how a lack of sleep negatively impacts children’s and adolescent’s functioning. In addition to better emotional and cognitive health, adequate sleep is also related to better physical health, including reduced injuries, heart disease and obesity (www.aap.org).

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that preschoolers get 10 to 13 hours of sleep per day; grade school children get 9 to 12 hours of sleep; and teenagers get eight to 10 hours of sleep. While this is so, children are often chronically sleep deprived due to excessive school, social and extracurricular demands. Increasing screen time and access to social media is also problematic, not only because these distract children and teens from sleeping, but technology use interferes with the release of melatonin, reduces REM sleep and activates the wake center of the brain. It is thus not surprising that a 2015 analysis of data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveys found that approximately 57.8% of middle schoolers and 72.7% percent of high schoolers are not getting enough sleep. In spite of this, school start times remain early, expectations for extracurricular involvement remain high, and blue-light-filled technology is increasingly necessary for the completion of late-night homework assignments. This occurs alongside a steady rise of stress and anxiety within pediatric populations, pointing to the importance of re-evaluating the demands and conditions under which our children are expected to grow and learn.

Sleep is a foundational necessity on which cognition, emotion regulation, attention and learning build. The negative effects of sleep loss can be felt at any age, but they are particularly concerning in childhood, a time when the brain is rapidly developing. The American Academy of Pediatrics has provided some tips on how to support healthy sleep in a child of any age. These can be accessed at www.healthychildren.org, at the below link.

References

University of Warwick. (2020, February 4). Children’s mental health is affected by sleep duration. Retrieved on February 24, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200204094726.htm

Wheaton AG, Jones SE, Cooper AC, Croft JB 2018, ‘Short Sleep Duration Among Middle School and High School Students — United States, 2015’, MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep., vol. 67, pp. 85–90.

American Academy of Pediatrics (2016). American Academy of Pediatrics Supports Childhood Sleep Guidelines, June 13, 2016. Retrieved on February 24, 2020 from https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/American-Academy-of-Pediatrics-Supports-Childhood-Sleep-Guidelines.aspx

American Academy of Pediatrics (2018). Healthy Sleep Habits: How Many Hours Does Your Child Need? Retrieved on February 24, 2020 from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/sleep/Pages/Healthy-Sleep-Habits-How-Many-Hours-Does-Your-Child-Need.aspx

 

About the Author:

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

 

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

 

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

How to Help Children Grieve

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

and

Cynthia Hess, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow, NESCA

Oftentimes, the loss of a celebrity may be a child or adolescent’s first experience with loss or grief. Many this week who grew up admiring the talents of Kobe Bryant are unfortunately finding themselves in this group. Even when a child has never met the celebrity who perishes, they may feel as though they just lost a good friend.

If you are looking for guidance on how to help manage your child’s grief as it relates to the loss of a “hero,” we have some pointers to share with you. Most of these tips are also appropriate for the loss of a family member or close friend.

  • Talk about your child’s feelings openly, but try to let them approach you first. Normalize their feelings and validate them.
  • They will have questions about what took place, so be prepared to answer them and provide information to a developmentally appropriate degree.
  • Answer questions directly and truthfully, trying not to overly soften the information, as this can be confusing for children (e.g. “gone to heaven” is abstract, “died” is clear and concrete).
  • When it comes to celebrities or public figures who die, set limits around how much information your child is accessing within the media (i.e. keep access to television news limited, monitor internet use, etc.). An important aim is to not only control the influx of information, but also control the visuals that they are exposed to – preventing exposure to video clips and images that may be scary and difficult to let go of. With today’s 24-hour news cycle and on-demand access, there is just too much available to watch, so stay on top of what they see.
  • Be sure to pay tribute to the person who has died. It is important to share memories of that person. Let your child know that it is okay to talk about them.
  • While a death or tragedy is thankfully not a common occurrence, try to maintain the typical schedule that your child is accustomed to. Adhering to a “normal” routine will help them feel a sense of stability while learning to cope with loss.

Resources:

Talking With Children About Loss; Words, Strategies, and Wisdom to help Children Cope with Death Divorce and Other Difficult Times by Maria Trozzi

For loss of pets: All Dogs Go To Heaven by Lu Pierro and The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst

https://www.nypl.org/blog/2017/07/21/childrens-books-about-loss-and-grieving

https://www.scholastic.com/parents/books-and-reading/raise-a-reader-blog/7-touching-books-to-help-kids-understand-death-and-grief.html

https://childmind.org/article/helping-children-deal-grief/

https://childmind.org/guide/helping-children-cope-grief/

 

About the Authors:

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

 

 

 

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a Psy.D. 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. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie and Dr. Jessica Geragosian.

 

 

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

 

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

What is a Nonverbal Learning Disability?

By | NESCA Notes 2019

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

There is often lack of awareness or confusion about what a Nonverbal Learning Disability (NLD or NVLD) is. While NLD has been long-discussed in the neuropsychological and educational world, it has not been formally recognized by the medical field due to variability within individual profiles and lack of clarity on its causal factors. While this is so, there is a very clear pattern that is noted through the neuropsychological evaluation process. And most importantly, there is a breadth of interventions and supports to address NLD-related challenges, highlighting the importance of identifying and understanding this profile in children.

By definition, NLD is a relative strength in left-brain skills, which are largely verbal, and weakness in right-brain nonverbal skills. As such, to understand NLD, it is important to understand the right hemisphere of the brain.

The right side of the brain is responsible for the collection and integration of multiple sources of information, particularly sensory information, lending to an organized “big picture” understanding of events or information. The right brain is thus not only important for basic visual processing and reasoning, but it is also responsible for the organization and coordination of information and skills across a wide range of domains, including learning, motor coordination, self-regulation (e.g. sensory regulation and attention), social thinking, and task management.  As such, the word learning within the “Nonverbal Learning Disability” title is somewhat of a misnomer, as NLD can impact functioning across most any domain.

It is important to understand that NLD is a relative deficit, meaning that it is a personal weakness. Some individuals with NLD may have nonverbal skills that are all technically “average or better,” but they are still discrepant from that person’s strong verbal skills, causing variability within the profile.

Because many students with NLD have strong verbal reasoning, processing, and memory skills, they are often able to compensate and fly under the radar for some time. However, their over-reliance on verbal skills and rote learning tend to become less effective once they are tasked with the abstract demands of middle and high school. As such, while some individuals with NLD may be identified at a young age, others may not be flagged until much later.

As already stated, although NLD profiles can vary significantly, there are fairly predictable patterns that allow for its accurate identification, namely within the following areas:

Visual Reasoning. On structured intellectual assessment, individuals with NLD demonstrate a significant difference between their verbal and visually-based reasoning, with verbal being better. The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, which is currently in its fifth edition and is the most commonly used intellectual test for children, contains two domains of visually-based reasoning. One is the Visual Spatial index, which contains more concrete puzzle-like tasks, and the Fluid Reasoning index, which assesses abstract pattern recognition. At times individuals with NLD struggle with both domains, while other times they may only demonstrate impairment within one. Because there are many factors that can contribute to challenges within either one of these visual domains, a proper NLD diagnosis can only be made through collection of a thorough history, direction observation, and the assessment of other associated challenges, detailed below.

Visual Processing and Perception. In spite of having perfectly fine vision, individuals with NLD have difficulty managing visual input. This may include problems with tracking lines while reading, difficulty discerning visual details (e.g. differentiating math or letter symbols, recognizing errors when editing their writing, misreading graphs and charts, etc.), or difficulty creating mental imagery (i.e. “seeing” and holding information in one’s head).

Motor Integration. Individuals with NLD demonstrate some level of motor integration or coordination difficulties. This may involve fine motor skills (e.g. poor handwriting and spacing on the page, difficulty tying shoes and using utensils, etc.), gross motor skills (e.g. clumsiness, awkwardness when running, poor hand-eye coordination, etc.), or both. Most often, individuals with NLD have appropriate motor strength, but they struggle to appropriately integrate and manage their movements within space and present demands. This may also correspond to difficulties with directionality and finding their way around, causing them to get lost easily.

Social Skills. Individuals with NLD most often meet early social milestones without any concern. In fact, some individuals with NLD may demonstrate early verbal precociousness that gives the appearance of advanced social engagement, which is aided by the fact that individuals with NLD generally possess appropriate foundational pragmatic skills, particularly when one-on-one or with adults. However, as these children grow older, they continue to over-rely on verbal language and miss out on nonverbal language (e.g. body signals) and context clues. As such, children with NLD may misperceive or misinterpret situations or interactions, or they may become overwhelmed by the complexity of typical peer interactions, causing them to withdraw. Often times, individuals with NLD know what they “should do” socially, but they struggle to actually generalize those skills to interactions.

Executive Functioning. Executive functioning refers to a complex set of skills that are responsible for an individual’s ability to engage in goal-directed behavior. This includes skills necessary for self-regulation, such as impulse control, attentional management, and emotional control, as well as skills for task management and cognitive regulation, such as organizing materials, creating a plan, starting a task and sustaining effort, prioritizing and organizing ideas, holding information in memory, etc. Individuals with NLD likely have some executive function strengths, particularly when they can rely on their verbal strengths; however, they are likely to demonstrate significant challenges with the executive function skills that rely on “big picture awareness,” such as organization, integration, planning, prioritizing, time management, and self-monitoring. Individuals with NLD are detail-focused – they often miss the forest for the trees. For some, they compensate by redoing work and over-exerting their efforts, eventually achieving a semblance of desired outcomes at the cost of time and energy; others may produce work that misses the main point of the task or demonstrates a lack of understanding; and others may just become overwhelmed and give up, appearing to lack “motivation.”

Learning. With the above profile, individuals with NLD tend to rely on rote learning, as they do well with concrete repetition of verbal information. However, they may have difficulty flexibly applying this knowledge, and they are likely to struggle with tasks that require more abstract, “big picture” thinking. Parents and teachers of individuals with NLD often report frustration because problems with information retrieval, pattern recognition, and generalization of skills can result in these individuals making the same mistakes over and over again, not seeming to learn from their errors.

Due to the above learning challenges, children with NLD often struggle with math reasoning, doing best with rote calculations than application of knowledge. Challenges with reading comprehension and written expression are also common, as they not only struggle to see the main idea and integrate information, but they also struggle to “see” the images or story in their head. For younger children with NLD, problems with mental imagery may be mistaken for a reading disability, such as dyslexia, due to difficulties holding, appreciating, and learning letters, numbers, and sight words.

Other Associated Challenges. Because the right hemisphere of the brain coordinates and manages sensory input and complexity, individuals with NLD are at higher risk for challenges with self-regulation. This may include sensory sensitivities, variable attention, or difficulties with emotion regulation. As such, those with NLD may demonstrate heightened anxiety or emotional reactivity that is only further-challenged by the complexity of their learning profile. Because of this, individuals with NLD often rely on a rigid, predictable routine. There is a high rate of comorbid, or co-occurring, diagnoses in individuals with NLD, including things such as ADHD, anxiety disorders, specific learning disabilities, and potentially autism spectrum disorder. Because of this, it is important to have a comprehensive understanding of each individual’s profile before devising their intervention plan.

What do we do to support individuals with NLD? The supports set into place can be widely variable depending on the individual child’s profile. Some of the most common recommendations include social skills interventions that target “higher level” skills, such as social perspective taking and problem solving; executive function instruction that aims to teach task management skills, develop “big picture” thinking, and generalize skills across tasks and settings; academic remediation for any specific domain of impairment, potentially including math reasoning, reading comprehension, or written expression; and occupational therapy services to develop skills, such as handwriting and/or keyboarding, visual processing, and motor coordination.

It is important to understand that individuals with NLD struggle with abstraction, so concrete, explicit instruction, with frequent repetition, is often key. This not only applies to academic instruction, but also therapy or instruction in daily living skills at home. Things need to be rehearsed “in real time,” as there needs to be a plan for how to ensure skills translate to life.

Self-advocacy most often needs to be directly taught by first increasing self-awareness, as it may be difficult for individuals with NLD to recognize the patterns within their challenges or self-monitor when support may be needed.

There are many useful resources for further understanding ways to support individuals with NLD. Some available options include Pamela Tanguay’s Nonverbal Learning Disabilities at Home: A Parent’s Guide and Nonverbal Learning Disabilities at School: Educating Students with NLD, Asperger Syndrome and Related Conditions, and Kathryn Stewart’s Helping a Child with Nonverbal Learning Disorder or Asperger’s Disorder: A Parent’s Guide.

Because NLD profiles can be variable, complex, and clouded by co-occurring challenges, a thorough neuropsychological evaluation can be a critical step toward fully understanding an individual child’s needs and thinking about how they will be best supported not just in school, but also in their day to day life. Should you require support in navigating such needs for a child, teen, or young adult in your life, more information about NESCA’s neuropsychological evaluations and team of evaluators is available at www.nesca-newton.com.

 

About the Author:

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

 

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

 

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

State Dyslexia Laws – What do they aim to do and how can we aid their success?

By | NESCA Notes 2019

 

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

While in 2013 there were only 22 states that had laws regarding dyslexia, as of March 2018, 42 states have dyslexia-specific laws, and as discussed in the article Dyslexia Laws in the USA: A 2018 Update by Martha Youman and Nancy Mather, 33 legislative bills related to dyslexia were introduced between January and March 2018 alone. These dyslexia laws address such things as dyslexia awareness, teacher training, early screening of risk factors, interventions and accommodations, and rights of individuals with dyslexia. In addition to identifying the need to address these matters, at least 10 states have developed dyslexia handbooks, and New Hampshire (where I practice as an evaluator and consultant) has developed a dyslexia resource guide. With Governor Charlie Baker’s signing of S2607 on October 19, 2018, Massachusetts now joins the list of states with dyslexia training, screening, and intervention mandates.

To see such progress in the identification and intervention of dyslexia is exciting for everyone who is connected to this community. As a pediatric neuropsychologist, I have worked with individuals with dyslexia and related disorders for many years, and in 2017 I had the pleasure of being one of the many professionals involved in the development of the NH dyslexia resource guide. Since that time, it has been encouraging to see a number of school districts embrace training opportunities and develop early screening efforts. While that is so, across the nation several states still do not have dyslexia-specific laws, and most states that do have them continue to experience uncertainty about how to implement said laws. Based on my personal experience and observations, there appear to be some basic steps or efforts that may improve the effectiveness of these efforts:

  • Use the term “Dyslexia.” Historically, the term “dyslexia” has been rejected or discouraged by most schools, instead preferring to label the associated learning profile as a Specific Learning Disability in reading; however, dyslexia specialists and advocates have long argued that this latter term is problematic because it fails to acknowledge the neurobiology of dyslexia and it does not inform interventions, accommodations, and related services with the level of specificity that is dictated by the defined diagnosed label. To address this concern, in 2015 the U.S. Department of Education issued a formal letter clarifying that “there is nothing in the IDEA or [the] implementing regulations that would prohibit IEP Teams from referencing or using dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia in a child’s IEP.” Until schools are willing to routinely use the term “dyslexia,” the potential success of dyslexia laws is significantly challenged.
  • Educate families about universal screening and differentiated instruction. The screening and intervention requirements outlined in most dyslexia laws fall within the purview of general education, aiming to identify children with risk factors for learning disabilities and support their needs through multi-tiered systems of support, such as Response to Intervention (RTI). As such, there are not as many defined requirements regarding progress monitoring and reporting, or the coordination of the child’s “team” (i.e. parents, teachers, and other pertinent school personnel), as there would be within special education procedures. Families need to be educated about these universal screening procedures and methods of differentiating instruction within the general education curriculum so that they can understand their child’s challenges and monitor progress in a more informed manner.
  • Coordinate general education and special education screening and evaluation procedures. While the screening and intervention procedures discussed in dyslexia laws are generally within general education, a child should be referred for special education consideration if he or she is not making progress with the increased levels of RTI support. To optimize the utility and impact of the early screenings and to ease the referral process, the criterion that is measured within the general education setting should map onto the criterion for special education eligibility as much as possible; however, should a child require referral for special education consideration, it will also be critical to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of why the child is not progressing, allowing for more individualized and appropriate interventions.
  • Ensure the dissemination of dyslexia handbooks or resource guides. While the dyslexia community is enthused by state dyslexia laws, many teachers and school personnel are not aware of these mandates or the associated resources. These resources are a treasure trove of information about how to delivery differentiated instruction and integrate instructional methods and accommodations that are likely to be helpful for all students.
  • Continue raising awareness. Parents, teachers, and school personnel should all be educated about learning profiles, early warning signs, screening procedures, and interventions. School districts should take advantage of the resources provided by their state, which often includes the availability of a state-appointed reading specialist who can provide training or aid the dissemination of information or development of screening and intervention procedures.

There has been great progress in the recognition, identification, and remediation of dyslexia within American schools; however, this work is only just beginning. At the core of this issue is the need to recognize dyslexia as a defined, neurologically-based learning disability that can be identified at an early age and can be effectively remediated through targeted, evidence-based interventions.

Through our evaluations with students in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, clinicians at NESCA aim to identify and define learning profiles such as these and provide recommendations for targeted instruction as well as systemic support and training. Please visit our website at www.nesca-newton.com for more information.

 

About the Author:

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

 

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

 

 

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

Lessons from My Children: Always Ask “Why?”

By | NESCA Notes 2018

 

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

There is a lot that we can learn from our children. They are not as burdened as we, and they approach life with more vigor, wonder, and confidence. With this, they do a lot of important things that we adults have forgotten to do.

Right now, both of my boys are at ages when they are constantly asking, “Why?” For my two year old, it may sound something like this:

Me: “It’s time to put on our shoes.”
Him: “Why?”
Me: “Because we have to go to school.”
Him: “Why?”
Me: “Because we leave at 7:45.”
Him: “Why?”
Me: “Because I have to be at work at 8:15.”
Him: “Why?”

I think you can see where that one is going…

For my five year old, the questioning is a little more sophisticated:

“Why can’t we feel the earth moving?”
“Why do the teens always start with number one?”
“Why is ‘W’ an upside down ‘M’?”

While sometimes the incessant questioning can make a parent’s head spin, asking “why” is how children learn about the world. Questioning is one of the primary tools aiding children’s cognitive development. But in spite of the importance of questioning early on, as we get older, we increasingly forget to make such inquiries. While this may be for understandable reasons – life is busy, we are set in our routines, we have learned to trust the expertise and opinions of others, etc. – such lack of questioning can often interfere with our ability to effectively solve life’s dilemmas, and effectively help our children.

At NESCA, families and caregivers seek out our evaluations for a range of concerns: reading interventions were tried, but they did not work; a child’s behavior is out of control, but they are not responding to the behavioral plan; a teenager is not motivated to do their schoolwork, and they are failing; or conversely, in spite of spending five hours per night on homework, the teen is still failing.

What is most often happening in these situations is that there is not a sufficient understanding of why the child is struggling, and so well-intentioned attempts at helping are rendered fruitless.

Things are not always as they seem. Behavior, be it academic difficulties or noncompliance, is a symptom of an underlying issue. So while some children struggle to read because they are delayed in the acquisition of phonological skills and other foundations of reading, other children may struggle to read because of deficits in things like visual scanning and processing, attention, and/or auditory processing. For the out of control child, if their noncompliance is based in underlying anxiety and their need to avoid anxiety triggers and feared situations, then behavioral plans that are not paired with anxiety-focused therapeutic interventions will be ineffective.

It is because of the need to know “why” that NESCA’s neuropsychologists always conduct the most comprehensive neuropsychological evaluations. Unless we know the underlying reasons for a client’s challenges, we cannot create the well-informed recommendations and roadmap for how to help them make progress. Through in-depth inquiry and investigation, we get a detailed understanding of a client’s strengths and challenges. We find the reason “why.”

So, while I may sometimes get tired of answering my children’s near-constant questioning, they may have this one right. It is only with ongoing contemplation and inquiry that we can be confident in our understanding of the world, and of our children.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Angela Currie conducts neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments out of NESCA’s Londonderry, NH and Newton, MA offices, seeing individuals with a wide range of concerns. She enjoys working with stressed-out children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors that may be lending to their stress, including assessment of possible underlying learning challenges (such as dyslexia or nonverbal learning disability), attentional deficit, or executive function weakness. She also often conducts evaluations with children confronting more primary emotional and anxiety-related challenges, such as generalized anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, or depression. Dr. Currie particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.

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