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Transition Assessment: How to Prepare for the Team Meeting

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

Every child who receives special education services in the United States is entitled to transition services—a coordinated set of activities that will facilitate the student’s preparation for postsecondary education and/or training, competitive employment, independent living, and community participation.[1] In order to provide these services, an IEP team has to first conduct “age-appropriate transition assessment.”[2] I have written about transition assessment in previous blogs, including Transition Assessment: What is it anyway? How is it different from neuropsychological evaluation? and Vocational Assessment and Transition Planning.

A challenge for students and families who are participating in transition assessment for the first time, is knowing how to prepare for team meetings where transition planning and services will be discussed. When you attend a team meeting after an occupational therapy evaluation or academic evaluation, you know that you are going to be discussing what occupational therapy services or academic instruction your child may need as part of their IEP process. However, when a student has participated in transition assessment, the team will be discussing a whole variety of activities (e.g., regular and specialized instruction, related services, community experiences, linkage to adult human service agencies) that the student will need to participate in as the student is preparing for adulthood. Some transition assessment reports contain dozens of recommendations for comprehensive planning. Recommendations may include activities that you are used to discussing with your team, such as instruction and services for a current IEP period, but recommendations may also include other activities that should occur outside of school with support from a parent or community member or actions that may need to occur at a later date. To make the most of your team meeting, it is helpful to do a little bit of homework and preparation after you receive your transition assessment report.

As discussed in previous blogs, if the student is going to be part of the team meeting (which they should be), then the student should have the opportunity to discuss the assessment results with the evaluator or another trusted adult. If your school district conducted the transition assessment, ask when and how they are going to review the results with the student prior to the meeting. If you obtained an independent or private evaluation, ask if you can schedule a student feedback meeting with that evaluator prior to the student’s team meeting. Students need to be aware of the findings and the recommendations that are being made, and they need to be prepared to actively participate in discussion about the results. Whether a student supports or disagrees with recommendations from a transition assessment can have a large impact on changes that are made, or not made, to the IEP.

In addition to student preparation, all team members should be prepared to discuss the assessment recommendations in a planful and organized manner. As a parent, it is helpful to read each recommendation in the report and consider the following questions:

  • Is this a skill or activity that you can reasonably tackle at home this year or in coming years? Do you need any training or consultation to be able to support the student?
  • Is this a skill or activity that would be best supported by a community provider rather than a parent, family member, or school staff?
  • Is this a skill or piece of knowledge that the student must attain this academic year in order to make progress toward their long-term goals? Do they need specialized instruction or related services to learn the skills or gain this knowledge?
  • Is this a skill, piece of knowledge, or service that needs to be focused on at a later time, but documented somewhere so that the team does not forget the recommendation?

It can be helpful to put together an abbreviated list of the goals, objectives, or services that you know your child will need this school year based on the assessment. Alternatively, some families find it useful to create a table or grid to organize transition planning activities. Here is one possible presentation that a family might use to prepare for a team meeting.

 

  Parent Community Providers School/IEP
Education/Training ·   Tour three colleges

·   Attend summer program on college campus

·   Counseling on enrollment process for postsecondary educational programs with Pre-Employment Transition Service (Pre-ETS) provider ·   Update postsecondary goals

·   Instruction of Study Skills, including notetaking

·   Assistive technology consultation

·   Personal Finance course

·   Sexual Health Instruction

Employment ·   Create first student resume

·   Set up informational interview with family friend who works as an accountant

·   Self-advocacy counseling with Pre-ETS provider ·   Help student obtain work permit

·   Support student in applying for paid part-time work

Independent Living ·   Review family health history

·   Teach student to complete medical history paperwork

·   Prepare questions with student ahead of medical appointments

·   Assist student in opening checking account

·   Include student in home maintenance activities

·   Individual counseling

 

 

·   Instruction in tracking sleep hygiene, diet, and exercise activities

·   Assistive technology consultation for health habits

Community Engagement ·   Support student in learning to carry out personal shopping activities ·   Social skills group with insurance-based provider

·   Study for driver’s permit test with Transition to Adulthood Program (TAP) provider

·   Travel orientation with local public transit authority

·   Make referral to Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) service provider

·   Invite VR service provider to team meeting with parent & student consent

 

 

It is also helpful to consider how the information from the transition assessment can flow through the IEP document. Information learned about the student’s postsecondary goals (i.e., the student’s goals for their life after high school) must be documented in the IEP and used to guide IEP development. Portions of the assessment may also be included as key evaluation results and current performance data, may inform how the team considers various federal and state special factors such as the students need for assistive technology or more functional means of communication, may suggest linkages that are needed with state resources and adult human service agencies, and may inform other aspects of the IEP. It is important to think about each section of your child’s IEP and how the assessment results might impact the team’s discussion of that section.

Many schools and families are familiar with transition assessment services at NESCA but do not realize that our transition specialists will consult with students, parents, and teams to plan for transition assessments, review assessments that have been conducted by other clinicians, or support the team meeting process. For more information about transition planning, consultation, and assessment services at NESCA, visit our transition services page and our transition FAQs.

[1] https://sites.ed.gov/idea/regs/b/a/300.43

[2] https://sites.ed.gov/idea/regs/b/d/300.320/b

 

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

 

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

Pediatric Neuropsychologist Maggie Rodriguez, Psy.D., Joins NESCA

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach

In today’s blog, I have the pleasure of introducing you to NESCA Pediatric Neuropsychologist Maggie Rodriguez, Psy.D., who recently joined our team of expert clinicians.

How did you discover your interest in neuropsychology?

It was a long and winding road! I went into college, interested in a wide range of subject areas, including medicine. Eventually, I realized my area of interest was truly in psychology. I discovered that I really enjoyed neuropsychological evaluations, since they combined my interests in psychology, neuroscience, working with medical providers, educators, as well as writing and the creativity involved in making a child come alive in a report.

In graduate school, I was fortunate to learn from a number of extremely talented neuropsychologists in a variety of settings. While completing a placement at Children’s Hospital Boston, I remember hearing my very wise supervisor say that, “one year in the correct school placement is worth two years of therapy.” As I continued on with my coursework and clinical training, I repeatedly saw the truth in that statement. I witnessed the value of nuanced neuropsychological assessment in allowing students to receive accurate diagnoses and, in turn, the correct academic accommodations and interventions. I wanted to be part of that, not only to help children and teens succeed academically but to prevent the secondary effects that undiagnosed and untreated learning disorders, neurodevelopmental disorders, and cognitive challenges can have on emotional health, self-esteem, and social functioning.

On the personal side, my interest in neuropsychology was sparked again when I had my own child evaluated. It was surprisingly powerful to go through the process on the parent side, and after taking some time off to have a family, I knew that I wanted to get back into neuropsychology again!

Why did you choose to come to NESCA when re-entering your professional career?

There were several reasons that I looked into NESCA and ultimately opted to join its team. I learned about NESCA while researching neuropsychologists for my child’s evaluation and was impressed with what I saw. Additionally, one of my former testing supervisors told me NESCA is among the best in the business. Having that kind of endorsement from such a trusted source provided me with great confidence being part of NESCA.

I also was really drawn in by NESCA’s emphasis on the continued growth and learning for its clinicians. It was obvious that NESCA is comprised of a highly invested and collaborative team. Every one of us has a lot to learn still, and I valued the opportunity for not just a job, but the continued learning.

NESCA also offers a great work/life balance. Having a family of my own and parents who are approaching the stage where they also require care is a lot to balance. NESCA’s emphasis on supporting its staff in balancing work and life has made it very rewarding. I’ve seen several examples of how the culture of understanding is very much active.

On a very practical level, having clear protocols for handling day-to-day Covid strategies, like masking, cleaning, etc., has been comforting. Returning to clinical work in the midst of a pandemic has been a big transition, and knowing NESCA has put in place measures for keeping staff and clients safe is tremendously important to me. Seeing the creativity and agility in the way the team here tackled the larger challenges—evaluating clients safely and in-person—during Covid was inspiring and told me a lot about the team and culture. Learning that NESCA adapted its methods of testing via the two-office model demonstrated to me that they, as a practice, they are able to roll with those kinds of challenges. That was also very reassuring.

Finally, the interview process provided me with the chance to speak with a number of NESCA’s clinical staff. I was able to get a great feel for the culture and high standards the practice has, which made me confident that this was the right fit for me.

What kinds of concerns do you evaluate or enjoy the most?

I really enjoy working with kids of varying ages, but I do have a keen interest in working with families and children who are just hitting the adolescent years. I get the opportunity to help them understand how all the, sometimes confusing, pieces fit together.

I really enjoy working with kids who may be deemed as “complicated,” where things may have previously been overlooked. Maybe things were going fine for them until they hit a wall academically. Perhaps they got to middle school or high school or even college and began to wonder why things seemed to be falling apart for them. I enjoy the challenge of working with kids who are experiencing executive function deficits, social communication issues, kids whose disability or disabilities are not as straightforward. I like to tease apart whether there are executive function (EF) issues, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or sensory integration challenges…or perhaps explore whether it could be something else altogether. Is a child’s rigidity due to anxiety, an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), cognitive issues or a combination of overlapping challenges? I love teasing all of these things apart. I also work with children whose families have concerns about potential language-based learning disabilities (LBLD), communication issues and challenges with social pragmatics.

It’s incredibly rewarding when you are able to help families understand answers to these kinds of questions that they may have been grappling with for a long time.

 

About Pediatric Neuropsychologist Maggie Rodriguez, Psy.D. 

Maggie Rodriguez, Psy.D., provides comprehensive evaluation services for children, adolescents, and young adults with often complex presentations. She particularly enjoys working with individuals who have concerns about attention and executive functioning, language-based learning disorders, and those with overlapping cognitive and social/emotional difficulties.

Prior to joining NESCA, Dr. Rodriguez worked in private practice, where she completed assessments with high-functioning students presenting with complex cognitive profiles whose areas of weakness may have gone previously undiagnosed. Dr. Rodriguez’s experience also includes pre- and post-doctoral training in the Learning Disability Clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Neurodevelopmental Center at MassGeneral for Children/North Shore Medical Center. Dr. Rodriguez has spent significant time working with students in academic settings, including k-12 public and charter school systems and private academic programs, such as the Threshold Program at Lesley University.

Dr. Rodriguez earned her Psy.D. from William James College in 2012, where her coursework and practicum training focused on clinical work with children and adolescents and on assessment. Her doctoral thesis centered on cultural issues related to evaluation.

To book a neuropsychological evaluation with Dr. Rodriguez or another expert neuropsychologist at NESCA, complete NESCA’s online intake form

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

Transition Planning: The Important Difference Between Postsecondary Goals and Annual Goals

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

One of the most important aspects of transition planning for students with individual education programs (IEPs)—and for every student—is development of postsecondary goals. These goals are often described synonymously as the student’s postsecondary vision: the outcomes that the student and their IEP team expects the student to achieve after exiting public education. Legally, every IEP in the country needs to include explicit postsecondary goals in the areas of education or training, employment, and independent living, when appropriate. In Massachusetts, students need to have goals for Independent Living as well as Community Engagement. Because this topic is so important, I previously wrote a blog describing the importance of measurable postsecondary goals including a formula for writing such goals.

But, two years later, I am still finding that this is a misunderstood aspect of the IEP process, particularly here in Massachusetts. This is in some ways because our state IEP was not designed with transition planning or student-centered planning at the foundation. Currently, when you read an IEP from Massachusetts, there is only one section of the IEP used for describing the Vision Statement for the student. For students under the age of 14, this section is typically used to describe what the parents and team hope and dream for the student over the next 1-to-5-year period. But then, no later than when the student turns 14, we use the same section of the IEP to write out the student’s vision statement for after high school, and that statement legally needs to reflect the student’s preferences and interests and the student’s desired outcomes (i.e., postsecondary goals) for adult independent living and community engagement, work, and learning or training environments. For reference, this is the language currently in the Massachusetts IEP.

This shift is confusing! Parents are used to coming to IEP meetings ready to share their visions for their children, and students are often unprepared to share their goals for life after high school. But this shift is also absolutely critical for ensuring that students receive appropriate transition services. This is because every student on an IEP is legally entitled to participate in a coordinated set of activities that promotes their movement toward their postsecondary goals (i.e., their vision). These activities can include instruction, related services, community experiences, development of employment and post-school living objectives, and acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation.[1] The only way a student can receive appropriate transition services, and an appropriately calibrated and coordinated set of transition activities, is if we clearly identify and define appropriate postsecondary (i.e., post-high school) goals for the student. And, these need to be listed out at the start of the IEP. In Massachusetts, these need to be listed in the vision statement.

Nevertheless, once we have done the important work of defining the student’s postsecondary goals or vision (which always involves transition assessment), then we have more important work to do. We have to make sure that the IEP that is developed includes necessary annual IEP goals, and related services, that will effectively support the student in making progress toward their postsecondary goals. We need to carefully crosswalk between each of the postsecondary goals set for the student and the annual goals we are developing. It is vital to make sure that there is at least one annual goal (or objective/benchmark within an annual goal) that addresses each of the student’s measurable postsecondary goals. We are very good at making sure that each of the services a student receives relates to the annual goals a student is working on. But we rarely pay attention to whether each of the student’s measurable postsecondary goals (i.e., each of the goals listed in the student’s vision statements) is supported by an annual goal. Annual goals for transition-aged students need to be determined from two sources: the student’s disability-related needs AND the student’s measurable postsecondary goals. Annual goals and coursework for a student with autism and language-based issues should be different depending on whether the student intends to be an artist or a veterinarian technician. Goals should be different for a student who intends to be a licensed driver and a student who intends to use door-to-door van transportation. In all cases, the team needs to annually discuss what skills the student needs to build this year in order to be able to attain their postsecondary goals in the future. The team needs to make sure that each postsecondary goal that the student has is supported by the student’s annual goals. If this is not explicitly discussed at the team meeting, we are not effectively planning for the student—and we are not effectively supporting students in being able to plan for themselves.

For more information about postsecondary goals and annual IEP goals in Massachusetts, check out Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2013-1: Postsecondary Goals and Annual IEP Goals in the Transition Planning Process from MA DESE: http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/advisories/13_1ta.html

 

[1] https://sites.ed.gov/idea/regs/b/a/300.43

 

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

 

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

Anxiety-based Procrastination: Tips for Getting over the Hurdle

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L
NESCA Transition Specialist & Occupational Therapist

Despite our best efforts, procrastination happens. There are many reasons that you may be putting off that large paper, important phone call or those dishes that are stacking up. You may not have the motivation, you may be tired, you may have more fun plans, or maybe it makes you feel anxious. In fact, one of the top reasons people procrastinate is anxiety. Anxiety rates have increased since the start of the COVID pandemic in 2020, and tasks that previously felt easy can now be daunting to think about. It is important to both treat yourself with kindness AND build up your toolbox so that you can tackle the day ahead. Below is a list of nine tips on getting over the procrastination hurdle when anxiety is taking over.

  1. Five minute max – For this strategy, set a five-minute timer and start the activity you have been putting off. Tell yourself that you can stop the activity after five minutes. More than likely, once you start, you will be able to keep going, but you have the option to stop after just five minutes. This strategy helps with perfectionism and all-or-none thinking that can stop you from starting your tasks.
  2. Task breakdown – Big tasks can often feel overwhelming, so breaking your big project, chore, etc., into small steps can help you get going. Tell yourself you will complete step one today and move on to step two tomorrow.
  3. Seek help – Take a step back. Do you have the skills to complete this task? Is there someone you could ask for help if needed? Do not be afraid to seek the help of others to get started!
  4. Reduce the standard – Identify one task that you would be less likely to avoid if you make it easier. For example, have you been putting off exercise because you are worried about going to the gym? Start with a 10-minute walk and build up to a longer exercise period once you are ready. This method is especially helpful to combat an all-or-none mindset.
  5. Notice negative predictions – Be aware of your thoughts and how they can impact, or even control, your actions. Are you making a negative predication about the outcome? If so, it can be helpful to go through the following questions in your mind to reframe your thinking:
    1. What is the worst outcome?
    2. What is the best outcome?
    3. What is the most realistic outcome?
    4. What might I learn if I am willing to take a risk?
  6. Recognize your strengths and challenges – If you find initiating, planning or sequencing tasks difficult when compared to your other skills, don’t misattribute procrastination to laziness or poor motivation. Mislabeling yourself as lazy can lead to further procrastination and decrease self-confidence. You may instead decide to seek extra support or tools to develop your executive function skills.
  7. Visualize – Visualize the finished product AND the feeling associated with completing the task. It is easier to start a task if you feel like you have already succeeded at it.
  8. Accomplishment journal – Keep a running list of accomplishments (even small ones) and check back in to boost your self-confidence for the tasks ahead. It is much easier to start a task when you are in a positive head space and see that you are capable of meeting your goals.
  9. Treat yourself with small rewards – Sometimes a small reward can help you get over a big scary hump. Perhaps after scheduling all of the health care appointments you have been putting off, you sit down and watch the movie you have been wanting to see.

There is no perfect strategy that works for everyone in every situation, but add these strategies to your toolbox and test them out. See if you can find just one tool to help you in those moments when anxiety is impacting your ability to get moving. You’ve got this!

 

About Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L

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

 

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

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

Meet NESCA Transition Specialist & Occupational Therapist Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach

NESCA is thrilled to have welcomed a new Occupational Therapist who is serving as a Transition Specialist on the Transition Services Team. Learn more about Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L, in my interview with her below.

How did you become interested in Occupational Therapy, specifically for transition-aged students?

Right after college, I worked in an assisted living center in an administrative role. I got to know the Occupational Therapist (OT) there, who was amazing at what she did. She helped people with the skills they needed to do on a daily basis. I asked to shadow her so I could learn more about the profession and what kind of skills she was teaching the residents to do. Energized by what I learned, I then became a Teaching Assistant (TA) in the CASE Collaborative’s high school program. This is where I started to learn about the needs of transition-aged students and how Occupational Therapy played a role in that area. Again, I was fortunate to learn so much from another talented OT, particularly around the importance of transition, with our students who are often underserved on that front. Moving into adulthood is so challenging, and it’s even harder when coupled with a disability. I found that the environments these students encountered every day just aren’t set up for them to succeed. I was able to help them move into adulthood and practice skills they would need to achieve their goals within these environments.

What made you realize that you wanted to work as a Transition Specialist?

I had already developed a passion for working with transition-aged students in the school setting both during my time as a TA and as an occupational therapist at The League School of Greater Boston. I loved working with the students on life skills, emotional regulation, and executive functioning. I found that I most enjoyed working with the students on hands-on, real-life learning. It seemed to be the most important and most effective way that, as an OT, I could help young adults and teens become more self-determined and thrive. They were able to see what they were able to do, and that was exciting!

Why did you join NESCA?

I loved working with students, but I wanted the opportunity to work with transition-aged youth out in the community. It’s often really difficult for this group to generalize what they learn in the school setting to the experiences they face in the community or even at home. I wanted to help them do just that.

I was thrilled to learn that NESCA offers Transition and Coaching services since I didn’t know anything like that existed outside of an academic setting. I initially joined NESCA as an Occupational Therapist; Executive Function and Real-life Skills Coach on a per diem basis during the summer of 2021. I got to take the skills our teens and young adults learn in school and tailor them to be put into place in the community in a hands-on way. We’re able to teach clients skills like grocery shopping, using the subway or Uber to get to where they need to go, making a deposit at the bank and any other skills they may need to succeed in real life. Having recently moved into a full-time Occupational Therapist; Transition Specialist position here, I look forward to doing much more of these kinds of activities!

What is the most rewarding part of what you do?

The most rewarding aspect of what I do is when I actually get to see the client perform the skill(s) that they have had a hard time with and that they have been working toward for so long. Watching them accomplish their goal is so gratifying. When you see that success, it’s a wonderful feeling!

I also love that I am able to do what I do – not only within the walls of a classroom or school – but in the outside world. I always wanted my students to practice the skills that we were working on in the school environment out in the real world so I knew they would be prepared for experiences they were likely to face in their daily lives. This could be anything from placing an order at Starbucks, riding the bus or refilling a prescription. I get to do that with them here at NESCA…and so much more.

What’s your specialty area? Who do you most enjoy working with?

My passion is working with those who are on their way to adulthood. I am definitely where I want to be with the transition-aged youth and young adults! When working with teens, you get to see them prosper and make monumental changes that can help them build a high quality of life, allowing them to be successful and happy for a greater portion of their lifespan.

I really enjoy working with a wide population of clients, including those with mental health challenges, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I especially find it rewarding to work with young adults with mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, to help manage those challenges and lead a fulfilling life.

Tell us a little about yourself. What do you like to do in your spare time?

I grew up in Acton, Massachusetts, and I’m a big outdoors person. I like to spend most weekends in Vermont or New Hampshire, exploring new places to hike. I also enjoy skiing, kayaking and most other outdoor activities. I also like to read, play weekly board games and dance when I get the chance!

 

About Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L

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

 

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

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

Assessing Work Motivation and Values

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

Over the past few months, my colleague Tabitha Monahan and I have dedicated several of our blog entries to vocational assessment as a critical tool for helping students learn about employment and set career goals for themselves. Previous blogs have provided an overview of vocational assessment as well as an in depth look at career interest inventories, vocational aptitude testing, and real-life experiences, such as informational interviews and job shadows. However, there is another type of vocational assessment that we have not yet discussed that can be an invaluable tool for helping students to learn about their “vocational selves” and ultimately choosing occupations that are a good fit—a work motivation or work value assessment.

Work motivations or values are the qualities, principles, or standards that really matter to a person as a worker. Essentially, if you are going to get out of bed every day and go to a job, what are the characteristics that your job needs to have in order for you to feel that going to work is worthwhile? Certainly, money can be an important characteristic of a job, but is that more important to you than helping others, creativity, or recognition? Each of us has a different set of values that will drive us to make choices and take action in our lives, and having an occupation that satisfies those values is just as important as having a job that aligns with our interests and skills.

Similar to career interest inventories, work motivation and value assessments come in many shapes and sizes, some formal (e.g., lengthy and standardized) and some informal (e.g., short checklists or rating scales). Also, similar to career interest inventories, it can be helpful to administer or self-administer more than one of these assessment tools to get a sense of how clear one’s work motivations and values are (i.e., how often an individual responds to assessments with a similar pattern of expressed values). Additionally, it is recommended that students not just take assessments, but that educators and career counselors engage students in qualitative conversations about their results so that students have the opportunity to clarify their values as well as more quantitative exercises, such as comparing work values with career interests.

While there are many different work motivation and value classification systems, I’m choosing to highlight the four work motive categories and eight value constructs from one of my favorite assessment tools, the Work Motivation Scale below.

Fulfillment Motives: The need for work that provides the individual with opportunities to reach their maximum potential. Creativity, curiosity, foresight, and competence are attributes that are often observed in individuals with high fulfillment motives. Fulfillment motives are comprised of the following work value constructs:

  • Success Orientation: Individuals scoring high on this construct are motivated toward accomplishing career goals and reaching their full potential through their work. Passionate about their work, they are willing to endure periods of hardship to be successful.
  • Mission Orientation: Individuals scoring high on this construct are oriented toward seeing the big picture and tend to be less concerned with details. Goal directed, they recognize how their current work fits into and contributes to the overall direction of the organization.

Self-Esteem Motives: The need for achievement, responsibility, and challenging and meaningful work tasks. Links between leadership and achievement are usually present for individuals with high self-esteem motives. Self-esteem motives are comprised of the following work value constructs:

  • Managing Others: Individuals scoring high on this construct value opportunities to direct and supervise the work of others. They willingly take responsibility for worker  performance and the productivity of a work unit, department, or work function.
  • Task Orientation: Individuals scoring high on this construct are oriented toward completing tasks. Planning their work, making the most of resources, and maintaining their focus are important to them. They may hesitate to perform functions outside of those tied to a specific job description.

Affiliation Motives: The need for the acceptance and support of coworkers and supervisors. Cooperation and collaboration toward meeting work goals are sought by individuals with high affiliation motives. Affiliation motives are comprised of the following work value constructs:

  • Supervisor Relations: Individuals scoring high on this construct feel that cooperating with and relating to their supervisor are important. They strive to meet their supervisor’s expectations and highly appreciate their supervisor’s recognition and support.
  • Coworker Relations: Individuals scoring high on this construct feel that relating to peers is important. They prefer to be actively involved in employee related organizations at work and outside of work. They highly value collaboration and teamwork.

Survival and Safety Motives: The need for employment with an adequate livable wage and a safe and secure work environment. The need for favorable benefits packages is also valued by individuals with high survival and safety motives. Survival and safety motives are comprised of the following work value constructs:

  • Working Conditions: Individuals scoring high on this construct believe that a good work environment and creature comforts (climate control, privacy, adequate lighting) are important. They value having the materials, equipment, and resources to do their work effectively and efficiently.
  • Earnings and Benefits: Individuals scoring high on this construct value salary, raises, health insurance plans, pensions, and retirement planning. Vacation, sick leave, personal days, and family leave policy are important considerations in their employment choices as well.

Definitions provided by/taken from the Work Motivation Scale Administrator’s Guide.

Understanding which of these constructs and categories matter most to a student, and a student understanding this about themselves, can have a huge impact on helping a young person to find fulfilling work.

To read more about vocational assessment, check out the following blog entries:

For more information about vocation assessment and transition assessment at NESCA, visit our transition services page and our transition FAQs.

 

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

 

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

Vocational Aptitude Testing

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

Over the past month, my colleague Tabitha Monahan and I have been dedicating our blog entries to vocational assessment as a critical tool for helping students learn about employment and set career goals for themselves. Previous blogs have provided an overview of vocational assessment as well as an in depth look at career interest inventories and real-life experiences, such as informational interviews and job shadows. Many of these tools provide opportunities for students to learn more about the world of work and types of jobs that match with their interests and things that they know they like. Today, I am going to share information about a different type of assessment, vocational aptitude testing.

It is not uncommon for middle and high school students to have job aspirations that do not fully align with their physical and cognitive strengths or even their general preferences for daily work (e.g., being seated, indoors, casually dressed, etc.). When you have had very little exposure to employment and you spend most of your time in a structured educational environment, it is hard to picture yourself as a worker and fully appreciate the skills, knowledge, education, abilities, and experience needed for a particular job. Vocational aptitude testing is formal testing of a set of abilities known to impact an individual’s potential for success and satisfaction in a variety of occupations.

Similar to intelligence or cognitive assessment tools, vocational aptitude tests vary in format, activities, and the defined abilities or factors that are tested. For instance, at NESCA three of the most common vocational aptitude tests we use are quite different from one another—an online computer-based assessment tool that is designed for self-administration, a paper-based assessment tool that is formally administered in an office or classroom with both a test booklet and scantron answer sheets, and a functional hands-on set of performance activities that simulate actual work activities (e.g., sorting mail by zip code, alphabetizing post cards, assembling pipes, tightening screws, etc.). However, most vocational aptitude tests include tests designed to evaluate the following aptitude factors (i.e., abilities):

Verbal Aptitude – The ability to understand and use words effectively, to comprehend verbal concepts and language, and to express ideas clearly in words. People who score highly generally do well in school, particularly in subjects where verbal concepts are important.

Numerical Aptitude – The ability to do arithmetic and other numerical computations quickly and accurately. People who score highly on this aptitude may do well in such school subjects as math and physics.

Spatial Aptitude – The ability to visualize two-dimensional objects in three-dimensional space, and to mentally manipulate objects through different spatial orientations. People who get high scores have the aptitude to perform well in school subjects and work involving drafting, art, architecture, clothes designing, and so on.

Perceptual Aptitude – The ability to compare and discriminate words, numbers, symbols, or other graphic material to see if slight differences exist between them. People who score highly in this area should do well in proofreading, copyediting, and nonverbal tasks that require attention to detail and rapid visual discriminations.

Manual Dexterity – The ability to coordinate eye and hand movements and perform manual tasks rapidly and accurately. High scores indicate the ability to manipulate tools and objects with speed and precision.

General Ability – The ability to learn and achieve in training or academic situations. People who get high scores “catch on” quickly in new situations, and are proficient in making judgments and in grasping underlying principles and solving problems. (This is often computed through summing or averaging an individual’s verbal and numerical aptitudes.)

Definitions provided by/taken from the Occupational Aptitude Survey and Interest Schedule Aptitude Survey (OASIS-3: AS) Examiner’s Manual.

If a student has participated in other kinds of standardized testing over time, especially intelligence testing and occupational therapy testing, it is likely that quite a bit of information is already known regarding the students’ aptitudes for employment. However, there are many vocational aptitude tests that are bundled with interest inventory tests, enabling a quick and clear comparison of the student’s vocational aptitudes and interests. For example, the OASIS-3 Aptitude Survey mentioned above is part of a testing kit that includes the OASIS-3 Interest Schedule and an Interpretation Workbook for easily comparing jobs within a student’s interest areas with their current career abilities.

Career aptitude testing can give a student a clear sense of their relative strengths and areas of challenge as well as a sense of how their current abilities compare with the abilities required for jobs of interest. However, it is important to caution that career aptitude testing does not predict the kind of work that a student should do. Results of career aptitude testing may differ considerably based on many factors, including new learning and work experiences. Results of testing should change as a student gains education and work exposure and can certainly be used to help us understand what skills might need remediation for a student to have a better chance of participating in certain kinds of employment.

One final thought regarding career aptitude testing is that while it can sometimes be an option to administer standardized testing with accommodations, I would encourage only providing accommodations that would reasonably be provided on a work site. For example, offering a student who has comprehension or processing speed difficulties the opportunity to take aptitude testing with unlimited time may not help the student to get a sense of how their aptitudes truly match up with the demands of a particular job. The reality is that most employers are not able to give employees unlimited time to do their jobs. Using text-to-speech during computer-based administration of a test may be far more relevant as long as test results are interpreted with the need for this accommodation in mind.

To read more about vocational assessment, check out the following blog entries:

For more information about vocation assessment and transition assessment at NESCA, visit our transition services page and our transition FAQs.

 

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

 

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

Vocational Assessment and Transition Planning

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

Transition planning is a complex process centered around helping students, typically who receive special education services, to set goals for their postsecondary adult lives and to engage in learning, services, and experiences that will help them to ultimately reach those goals. Assessment is a critical aspect of this process, both as a means for collecting baseline information about the student and measuring progress throughout the planning process. While transition planning focuses on outcomes in several key areas (e.g., further education and training, employment, independent living, community engagement, adult service involvement), many families who seek transition assessment and planning help are specifically concerned about employment. What can my child do? What career path is best for my daughter? Will my son be able to support himself? For these families, vocational assessment is a critical piece of the transition planning process. Yet, many families do not have a good understanding of what a vocational evaluation includes and the types of results and recommendations that can come from such evaluation.

Vocational assessment has a relatively simple definition. It is the process of gathering information about a student’s interests, abilities, and aptitudes as they relate to the student’s work potential.[i] However, there is not one universal test or process used to collect this information. In fact, any of the following types of tests might be part of vocational assessment:

  • Record review
  • Informal interview with the student
  • Informal interview with parents, teachers, or other professionals who know the student well
  • Observation of student in current familiar environments
  • Interest inventories (informal or formal)
  • Learning style inventories
  • Self-reported skill, ability and achievement inventories
  • Work preference and motivation assessments
  • Work-related behavior inventories
  • Employability/Life skills assessment
  • Formal aptitude assessment
  • Situational assessment of a student in a controlled work environment
  • Work samples
  • Functional assessment of simulated or real job tasks

Importantly, most students do not need to participate in all of the above types of assessments. In fact, a lot of the best information comes from the first few informal steps of the process, record review (which often includes rich data about a student’s cognitive skills, sensory and motor skills, perceptual skills, and learning style) and interviews with the student and adults familiar with the student. Ultimately, the purpose of vocational assessment is to develop a profile of the student’s interests, skills, and aptitudes and formulate measurable short- and long-term career goals. However, it is important to remember that participation in vocational assessment typically does not, and should not, result in identification of one specific career to pursue. That’s not how any of the tests, or the overall process, is designed. Instead, results of vocational assessment will suggest a variety of careers or career families that a student may be interested in exploring more in depth. It is an important starting point of career exploration, especially for students who are unsure about their career goals. Results can also be helpful for identifying where there is alignment in a student’s aptitudes and interests or where more exposure and instruction may be needed to support a student’s career development. The information that comes out of vocational assessment is an invaluable part of comprehensive transition assessment and planning for students with and without disabilities.

For more information about vocation assessment and transition assessment at NESCA, visit our transition services page and our transition FAQs.

Also, stay tuned for more blogs about vocational assessment this fall as my colleague Tabitha Monahan and I will be specifically breaking down some of the above types of testing in greater detail.

[i] Instructional Materials Laboratory. (1998).  Vocational assessment for students with special needs. Columbia, MO: Author.

 

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

 

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

Student Involvement in IEPs: Ten Tips to Help Middle School Students Get Started – Part 2

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

As discussed in my previous blog, federal law requires that students with Individual Education Programs (IEPs) be invited to attend their transition IEP meetings. In Massachusetts, this means that students approaching the age of 14, often 8th graders, should be invited to attend their IEP meetings to start the process of transition planning if this has not already begun. However, many students are not invited to their team meetings until high school, if at all. Additionally, research has indicated that when students do attend team meetings, they have the lowest level of satisfaction about their IEP meeting of any team member and they feel the least comfortable sharing their thoughts and suggestions in the meeting.[i] Nevertheless, studies across the country have shown that students can learn skills to actively participate in their IEP meetings, especially when they are directly taught terminology, roles, and how to participate, and when team members expect student participation.[ii] In the first part of this blog series, I provided five tips for helping students to become involved in their IEP process: Explicitly learn about the IEP document and process; Talk about strengths; Talk about challenges; Complete interest and preference inventories; and, Talk about the student’s goals for after high school. Today, I am adding five more tips aimed at truly helping the student to be an instrumental part of their team meeting. After all, the student’s voice and their vision are the most important aspects of transition planning and special education.

  1. If testing is being discussed, make sure that an adult talks about the testing with the student BEFORE the IEP meeting—The ability to use assessment information to develop goals is one of the most important skills a student needs in order to be an active participant in their transition planning process. This means that students need to have access to, and an understanding of, assessment information just like every other member of the team. Professionals and parents all have the right to access evaluation results ahead of a team meeting and traditionally come to the meeting having read the evaluations, often more than once. Moreover, they have typically seen the same tests or similar tests beforehand and usually already have some sense of the student’s learning profile, strengths, and challenges. When the student has undergone evaluations that will inform IEP development, it is critical for the evaluator or another adult who understands the testing well to sit with the student and explain the findings and recommendations from the evaluations in a developmentally appropriate manner. The student needs to know what areas were evaluated, and to have a general sense of the strengths, challenges, interests, and preferences that were highlighted within the testing, in order to be able to participate in a meaningful discussion about their short- and long-term goals and the services that they need. Moreover, they need to have time to process this information, with support, before they are expected to participate in a discussion about what to do with the information.
  2. Give the student options as to how they would like to participate—Just like any other activity, an IEP meeting can be broken down through a task analysis process, and participation in the IEP meeting can be scaffolded, rather than taking an all or nothing approach. There are many actions and “micro-actions” that a student can take to be involved in their team meeting in a way that feels comfortable and satisfying to the student. Certainly, there are the preparatory activities described in my previous blog (e.g., participating in assessment, learning about the IEP, completing a one-pager, etc.). But there are also administrative tasks that the student can participate in, like photocopying materials or sending out invitations or reminders to participants. Students may also want to prepare a script, PowerPoint, video, work portfolio or other materials they can share with the team during the meeting. Also, they may want to share their experience at the meeting with peers afterward or present highlights of the meeting to a staff member or family member who could not attend. There are many examples of ways to participate before, during, and after the team meeting in this great brochure from the I’m Determined project (https://www.imdetermined.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/iep_participation_brochure.pdf). Some students may choose to take a more passive role, but it is important that the student has the opportunity to prepare and to make an informed choice regarding their participation. Over time, students should be building their skills for IEP participation so that they can ultimately lead one or more of their transition IEP meetings (http://www.ciclt.net/ul/mgresa/2.HowtoHelpStudentsLeadIEP.pdf).
  3. Practice!—This tip may seem obvious, but I am taking time to state it because it is often something that is forgotten. Participating in an IEP meeting, especially as the student, is not a normal activity. Sitting in tight quarters with your parents, general educators, special educators, therapists, counselors, and any number of other professionals, who are all talking about you and your challenges is inherently uncomfortable—especially if you have difficulties with language, social cues, anxiety, etc. One way to make the experience “less weird” is to practice. Generally, students will be asked questions about their concerns, strengths, accomplishments, challenges, and goals for the future. It helps to practice answering questions about these areas outside of the IEP meeting and to not be answering these types of questions for the first time in the meeting. An even more useful practice activity is to have a mock IEP meeting. There are plenty of scripts online that follow the typical format of an IEP meeting, such as introductions and attendance, questions and concerns, reports of current performance, transition planning, and IEP development. It is particularly important for the student to be aware of times in the meeting when they will be specifically asked for their contribution (e.g., introductions, student concerns, vision statement, etc.).
  4. Invite preferred staff—Scheduling team meetings is a logistical puzzle, and often not all staff can be present for the whole meeting, if at all. Ask the student who they feel knows them best and who they really want on their team. If you know which teachers are the most motivating for the student, make sure that they are invited. Moreover, when there is a choice related to staff participation, prioritize having the meeting at a time when staff who the student likes and feels comfortable with can be part of the meeting. For student’s who have 1:1 paraprofessional support, it is really important for the paraprofessional to be at the meeting so that the student can have the same level of assistance (and feel the same sense of safety and support) that they do throughout their school day. The student is the most important member of their IEP team, and they will feel most included if they look around the room and see familiar faces of people they know are on their side.
  5. Expect the student to participate!—The  most important thing that adults can do to assist students in participating in their IEP meetings is to make the time and space for the student to participate in the meeting. This may mean requesting a longer meeting than usual so that adults in the meeting can slow down or rephrase language in terms that are accessible for the student and so that the student has time to formulate their thoughts and language in order to participate in the meeting. Whatever accommodations a student needs to participate actively in a classroom discussion should be considered and put in place if they are needed for a student to participate actively in the team meeting discussion. Adults need to be respectful of the student’s voice and to not speak for the student, interrupt the student, talk over the student, or disregard the student’s input. The student’s participation needs to be expected, empowered, and applauded, because, after all, it is their IEP meeting, their education, and their life.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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