obsessive compulsive disorder

The Enemy of the Good

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Jason McCormick, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

As a neuropsychologist who has primarily focused on assessment of middle school, high school and college students, I have worked with many children, adolescents and young adults plagued with perfectionism. On the surface level, perfectionism is defined as a refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. Digging deeper, at the roots of perfection are fears of making mistakes, fears of being judged, and, ultimately, fears of being inadequate.

By definition, students with perfectionism hold impossibly high standards, which can severely undermine productivity and can lead to high levels of emotional distress. The adage, perfection is the enemy of the good, “perfectly” describes these students’ challenges. Students with perfectionism often run into “blank-screen syndrome,” presenting with such a harsh self-censor that they shoot down their own good ideas before they have a chance to develop them. Further, with the additional time needed to “gild the lily,” students often end up blowing past paper deadlines, thus undermining their grades.

Complicating treatment, many students – even those with recognition of their impossibly high standards – view a call to work on ameliorating their perfectionism as an intolerable directive to lower their standards or even as an affront to their intelligence and ability levels. Thus, despite the emotional distress and work production challenges perfectionism causes, many students with perfectionism present with insufficient motivation to change.

In response, treatment needs to begin with helping these students appreciate the negative impact perfectionism can have on their mental health, and, from a more mercenary standpoint, on their grades. Further, it will be important for these students to be able to broaden their definition of success beyond mere quality to include a balance of quality and efficiency. An A paper turned in two weeks late might earn a B, C or even (depending on the philosophy of the teacher or professor) a failing grade, due to its tardiness.

After securing some buy-in, work with a therapist or therapeutic tutor, with background in cognitive-behavioral therapy, is often needed to move the needle on perfectionism. More specifically, the use of exposure and response prevention (ERP) can be effective. Typically used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and phobias, ERP involves exposing an individual to their feared stimulus (e.g., heights, snakes and in this case sub-perfect work) and not allowing for the avoidant response (in this case, over-reviewing/over-thinking behaviors that are used to avoid the possibility of mistakes). For instance, an ERP assignment might involve a student setting a reasonable time limit to complete a given task and having the student pass in that work, no matter what final state it is in. Over time, such work can help a student progress toward their ultimate goal of producing “the good enough paper.”

To be clear, this progress does not happen overnight, and it can feel difficult and mentally painful. However, it is important work, as learning to strike a reasonable balance between quality and efficiency is a critical element of the “hidden curriculum,” needed for success in college and the workforce.


About the Author:

Dr. Jason McCormick is a senior clinician at NESCA, sees children, adolescents and young adults with a variety of presenting issues, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), dyslexia and non-verbal learning disability. He has expertise in Asperger’s Disorder and has volunteered at the Asperger’s Association of New England (AANE). Dr. McCormick mainly sees individuals ranging from age 10 through the college years, and he has a particular interest in the often difficult transition between high school and college. As part of his work with older students, Dr. McCormick is very familiar with the documentation requirements of standardized testing boards. He also holds an advisory and consultative role with a prestigious local university, assisting in the provision of appropriate academic accommodations to their students with learning disabilities and other issues complicating their education.


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


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


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.

Intensive Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Anxiety

By | NESCA Notes 2018


By: Ryan Ruth Conway, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, NESCA

Deciding to enroll your child in mental health treatment is a big step in and of itself. Before initiating the process, there is often a trial and error period of interventions to improve the situation, whether at home or in school, and then coming to terms with the fact that they might not be enough to sufficiently address your child’s needs. Finding the right therapy and therapist match for your child can also prove challenging. Not only are there numerous therapeutic approaches available, but there are also varying levels of care depending on the severity of your child’s symptoms and amount of support he or she requires. This ranges from once weekly outpatient therapy to day treatment programs to inpatient hospitalizations for more acute psychiatric issues that may require crisis stabilization (i.e., suicidality, self-harm, etc.)

One type of treatment that has garnered considerable empirical support for treating youth anxiety and depression (conditions we regularly treat at NESCA) is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT focuses on the intersection between our thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations and behaviors. The goal of CBT is to better manage overall emotional distress and reduce physiological symptoms by changing negative thoughts or unhelpful thinking patterns, ineffective coping strategies, and maladaptive behaviors that might be reinforcing uncomfortable feelings. CBT aims to teach children and their parents new, adaptive coping skills while providing opportunities both in and between sessions to practice these skills. CBT is a short-term, targeted treatment that promotes “approach” behaviors (as opposed to “avoidance”) through “exposures,” or exercises designed to practice facing fears gradually, in a safe environment. CBT might also include learning mindfulness, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance; techniques that have been shown to enhance treatment outcomes.

While some youth make progress in meeting with a therapist once per week, others benefit from a condensed, “intensive” format where they receive CBT treatment daily and over a shorter period of time. The accelerated nature of these types of programs, offered in both outpatient and hospital-based settings, allows for quicker acquisition of strategies, substantial exposure practice, and generalization of newly learned skills to other settings in a child’s life. Think of it as a crash-course in CBT.

You may want to consider an intensive therapy program for your child if: 

  • Your child’s symptoms are greatly interfering with his or her life, such as attending school or school performance, family life, and friendships.
  • Your child has tried different therapies in the past but there has been minimal carryover from session to session and/or you haven’t noticed much progress overall.
  • Your child is experiencing distress but other commitments during the school year have hindered attending therapy on a consistent basis, making school breaks or the summer an ideal time to work on it.

At NESCA, we are pleased to offer a highly specialized and immersive therapy experience through our 2-Week Summer Intensive CBT Program for anxiety. We work with children and adolescents who present with all types of anxiety, including generalized anxiety, separation anxiety, social anxiety, specific fears (e.g., dog phobia, vomit phobia, etc.) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

What does NESCA’s 2-Week Summer Intensive Program consist of? 

  • Intake evaluation – A meeting is held with the child and parents to gain a comprehensive understanding of the child, provide an assessment of symptoms and discuss goals for treatment, all of which will inform the treatment plan.
  • 1:1 therapy sessions – Individual CBT therapy sessions with the child or teen are conducted 5 days/week for 90 minutes. Homework will also be assigned between therapy sessions to reinforce skills learned.
  • Parent involvement – Parent participation is vital in treating childhood anxiety. Parent sessions are held 5 days/week for 30 minutes. During these meetings, parents will be educated about their child’s anxiety, receive progress updates and also acquire tools to better support their child. Parents might also be asked to help children practice the new skills they are learning.
  • Discharge planning – Families will be assisted in determining follow up support that will be helpful in order to maintain treatment gains.
  • Treatment summary – Following the conclusion of the program, families will receive a written summary that reviews the course of treatment, progress made and discharge recommendations.

There are circumstances in which the frequency, duration and/or structure of the program can be modified to best fit your child’s needs.

For more information about NESCA’s Summer Intensive CBT Program or to find out if the program is appropriate for your child, please contact Dr. Ryan Ruth Conway at (617) 658-9831 or rconway@nesca-newton.com.


About the Author:


Ryan Ruth Conway, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), behavioral interventions, and other evidence-based treatments for children, adolescents and young adults who struggle with mood and anxiety disorders as well as behavioral challenges. She also has extensive experience conducting parent training with caregivers of children who present with disruptive behaviors and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Dr. Conway has been trained in a variety of evidence-based treatments, including Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Exposure with Response Prevention (ERP). Dr. Conway conducts individual and group therapy at NESCA utilizing an individualized approach and tailoring treatments to meet each client’s unique needs and goals. Dr. Conway has a passion for working collaboratively with families and other professionals. She is available for school consultations and provides a collaborative approach for students who engage in school refusal.


If you are interested in working with Dr. Conway or have any additional questions about NESCA’s therapy services, please complete NESCA’s online intake form.




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