The Ideal Remote Learning Workspace

By | NESCA Notes 2020

Co-authored by: Sophie Bellenis OTD, OTR/L and Jessica Hanna MSOT, OTR/L

Designated Space for Schoolwork – Make sure to set up a workspace with intention. While it may be easy to have children hop on the couch or sit at the kitchen table, having a space that is specifically used for academics will help them to compartmentalize and associate the space with focus and learning. There should be a concrete difference between a place to work and a place of rest. Ensure that this space is distraction-free and set away from the hustle and bustle of the home. Give your child some autonomy by allowing them to decorate their space and take ownership. A small desk, a card table in a quiet corner or a small bedside table set up in a private space are all options for workstations that children can make their own.

Remove Distractions – Take a moment to sit down at your child’s workstation and note any potential distractions. Some will jump right out, such as a TV or box of enticing toys within their line of sight, but some may be less obvious. Are they near a window facing a busy street or a dog park? Is there a substantial amount of visual clutter around their desk, such as busy posters or a family photo collage? Is their desk covered in mail, knickknacks, or arts and crafts supplies? If removing items is not an option, consider creating a physical barrier between your child and any environmental distractions by using a desktop study carrel/shield. Taking these distractions away will help a student to focus their energy on attending to school, as opposed to ignoring it and resisting distractions.

Organize Materials – Depending on your child’s age, they may need help organizing their workspace to be prepared for the day. For our young students, consider using toolboxes or tabletop organizers to hold their materials. A toolbox may have crayons, markers, scissors, pencils, erasers and glue sticks. If your child benefits from sensory supports, consider a toolbox with manipulatives, as appropriate per occupational therapy (OT) recommendations. Children are often very visual learners and may benefit from color-coded or designated folders for each subject or class they are taking. If a workspace is shared, keep your child’s personal materials all in one location, such as a personalized storage container that is easily portable, accessible and organized. Finally, remember to consider digital organization. Students are often told how to label and save documents by teachers at school. With the move to remote learning, children may need assistance organizing documents, folders and classwork on their computer so that they can easily find everything in the moment.

Adequate Lighting – Assess the lighting in your student’s workspace by checking to see whether there is any glare from the sun on the screen, whether they could benefit from a desk lamp to better illuminate their paper and determine whether there is a specific location with good natural light. If natural light is preferred, it’s best practice to position your electronic at a right angle to the light so the light is neither in front nor behind the screen. Avoid fluorescent light bulbs whenever possible. One more thing to consider is the fact since this past March, students and professionals alike have noticed an increase in headaches and visual fatigue due to spending substantial portions of the day in front of a screen. Technology is visually straining. Consider investing in a pair of blue light-reducing glasses, a newly popular solution to this problem that has shown promise for improving adolescent sleep, mood and activity levels (Algorta et al., 2018).

The Rule of 90 Degrees – When sitting at a table, children’s hips, knees and elbows should all be positioned at 90 degrees. Feet must be firmly planted on the floor. This helps to create a solid foundation. When children have a strong foundation and postural stability, they are set up to freely and accurately use their fine motor skills. Being grounded allows for easier writing, typing, cutting and manipulation of all the tools necessary for learning.

Appropriate Furniture – To meet the Rule of 90, it is important to consider the furniture that your student is using. Furniture needs to be the correct size or be modified to help children fit comfortably. If a desk/table is positioned too high, it will cause extra strain and fatigue. If your child’s feet do not reach the floor, consider using a step stool or fortified box for their feet. With regard to the chair itself, avoid options that spin and slide around as they are often distracting and make it difficult for children to pay attention.





Perez Algorta, G., Van Meter, A., Dubicka, B. et al. Blue blocking glasses worn at night in first year higher education students with sleep complaints: a feasibility study. Pilot Feasibility Stud 4, 166 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40814-018-0360-y


About the Co-authors:

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


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


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


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


Simple Executive Functioning Strategies When The World Is Anything But Simple

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Moira Creedon, Ph.D. 
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Whether your children have returned to school full-time, on a hybrid model or fully virtual learning, we are all juggling. Juggling work demands, family demands, household demands and educational demands in a time of remarkable uncertainty. The start of the school year typically brings the smell of fresh school supplies and our best organizational efforts, but many of us may feel hesitant to use organizing strategies to manage our lives. Why? Because our lives are unpredictable and anything but typical these days. If you’re hesitating to use pen on a calendar, I hear you!

The ability to plan and employ organizational strategies is a key task of our executive functioning system. It’s what allows us to coordinate multiple schedules, dance and sports practices, projects at work, PTO bake sale reminders, and get out the door each day on time. I have been hesitant to adopt routines because I recall vividly how all those plans imploded in March when the world stood still. I hear the buzz about how school will end up fully remote so “put it all down in pencil before it all changes.”  Maybe that will prove true, but in the meantime, let’s consider the ways that we can rally our executive systems to do what they do best: plan, organize and regulate. Some suggestions for how to do this now while the world is unpredictable:

  1. Adopt the Sunday Game Plan. Put information in a family or personal calendar once a week. Spend a few moments on Sunday night catching up on plans for the coming week. Even if we end up transitioning from “hybrid” to “remote” (or all remote), this planning routine can still be adopted. Conclude your Sunday Game Plan by previewing what may be coming the week after in the event of long-term projects. While the content of your game plan may change, the structure can remain consistent.
  2. Keep a consistent schedule for sleep for the family. When we were all in school and work, we had set times to wake up in the morning. We should adopt more consistent bed times at least from Sunday through Thursday nights. Engage kids and teens in a conversation about the plan for sleep. If there are days when children are not waking up to physically attend school, try to keep wake up times no more than an hour off to allow for more consistency in our overall sleep regulation.
  3. As part of your weekly plan, set aside time for exercise. This is particularly important for children who will have reduced physical education activities. Research about the positive impact of exercise on mood, anxiety and attention underscores how important movement is in the day.
  4. Work together with your child to identify a consistent work space. Needing a work space at home is not suddenly and dramatically forced on all of us like it was in the spring. Take the time to arrange a space that is as distraction-free as you can make it. It’s not necessary to run out and buy things as minimal distractions can allow your child to focus on their school work. Keep the supplies nearby in their own bin, basket or box top.
  5. Help your child to create visual schedules or checklists for the day. Include times for virtual school, times for completing assignments and steps to submit the work either electronically or packed for the next day in school. Keep checklists consistent throughout the week when possible.
  6. Plan and schedule breaks. For young kids, try to plan breaks from tasks for every 15-20 minutes. Incorporate movement or stretching when possible to improve focus. For older students, try to plan breaks every 30 minutes of sustained effort. Try to take a full break from screens rather than replacing a tablet/computer screen with a phone or video game.

Children and teens develop their executive functioning skills over time. Keep this in mind as you set up routines and expectations for your whole family as what is expected for a second grader should and will differ from a seventh grader. Again, the content can differ but the structure of using a checklist, planning a break, or working at a desk or table is the same.

Please remember: the pandemic has depleted our executive functioning systems, so it’s important that we are gentle and kind to ourselves. Think about simple and reasonable systems to organize yourself and your family.  And be flexible when we have to go back to the drawing board.



Positive impact of exercise:


Executive Functioning tips and sample schedules:



About the Author: 

Dr. Creedon has expertise in evaluating children and teens with a variety of presenting issues. She is interested in uncovering an individual’s unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses to best formulate a plan for intervention and success. With experiences providing therapy and assessments, Dr. Creedon bridges the gap between testing data and therapeutic services to develop a clear roadmap for change and deeper of understanding of individual needs.


If you are interested in booking an evaluation with Dr. Creedon or another NESCA neuropsychologist, please fill out and submit our online intake form


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

There’s an App for That!

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS

Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

In this time of “telehealth” and “remote learning” adults, teens and children are being bombarded with virtual platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts/Meets and more.  Some teachers and students are being asked to use Google Classroom, Blackboard and other classroom-based platforms for the first time. I am of the mindset that this virtual learning and health management approach will be with us even when this pandemic subsides and we “go back to normal.” I’m also afraid that the normal we knew won’t be the normal of the future.

With this in mind I began to think that with all the time some of us have on our hands, wouldn’t it be interesting to “assess” or evaluate the variety of apps that are out there now (and there are tons!)? A middle schooler could do the research with some guidance from parents, teachers, IT professionals or others from their schools. In many middle schools, students are being taught how to critically analyze social media and news reports; why not extend this critical eye to apps? For instance, have your middle schooler research apps that address a variety of topics, such as executive functioning areas (i.e. time management, distraction, organization, etc.), social-emotional well-being and so on. With some guiding questions, help from adults and a way to tally or track data, they could decide which app they think would help them best and why. A sample list of questions may include:

  • What problem am I trying to solve?
  • What need am I trying to fill?
  • When was the app created?
  • Who created it?
  • Who was it created for?
  • How many positive reviews?
  • How many negative reviews?
  • What platform does it use?
  • How much does it cost?
  • What features does it have? Do they solve my problem?
  • How easy is it to operate initially and once I get it set up?
  • Will it work with the other programs I have running?

There are many other questions that one could ask to “evaluate” an app to help solve a specific problem. Your child and you can generate your own questions to add to this list then download and try your top choice. Try it for at least a couple of weeks and create a rating scale to evaluate its helpfulness in solving the problem. If you are satisfied, then no need to try another one. If not, download another one and repeat the procedure.

Here’s a list of various apps that address EF needs. There are many more, and these are in no particular order.


Scheduling/Calendar/To Do/Reminders

Pocket Informant


Built-in Calendar App on your smartphone

MemoCal Lite

Visual Schedule Planner

Choice Works

Pocket Picture Planner

Can Plan



Jot Free

My Homework



Time Timer

Giant Timer

Time Meter Time Tracker






Smiling Mind

The Social Express

Stop. Breathe. Think

Hidden Curriculum

Middle School Confidential

Model Me

Take A Chill



About the Author

NESCA’s Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services Dot Lucci has been active in the fields of education, psychology, research and academia for over 30 years. She is a national consultant and speaker on program design and the inclusion of children and adolescents with special needs, especially those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Lucci was the Principal of the Partners Program/EDCO Collaborative and previously the Program Director and Director of Consultation at MGH/Aspire for 13 years, where she built child, teen and young adult programs and established the 3-Ss (self-awareness, social competency and stress management) as the programming backbone. She also served as director of the Autism Support Center. Ms. Lucci was previously an elementary classroom teacher, special educator, researcher, school psychologist, college professor and director of public schools, a private special education school and an education collaborative.

Ms. Lucci directs NESCA’s consultation services to public and private schools, colleges and universities, businesses and community agencies. She also provides psychoeducational counseling directly to students and parents. Ms. Lucci’s clinical interests include mind-body practices, positive psychology, and the use of technology and biofeedback devices in the instruction of social and emotional learning, especially as they apply to neurodiverse individuals.


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


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.


Music and the Mind – Musicianship Impacting Executive Functions

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By: Zachary Cottrell, Psy.D., LMHC

Pediatric Neuropsychology Fellow, NESCA

At NESCA, we work with many children with ADHD and issues with executive functions. Fortunately, there is a wide variety of interventions that can be used to aid executive function development, such as martial arts, aerobics, yoga, mindfulness and cognitive-behavioral therapy. However, another option to keep in mind is learning a musical instrument. Most children are naturally drawn to music, and recent research suggests that musical training can positively influence the development of executive functions.

In 2014, Dr. Nadine Gaab at Boston Children’s Hospital found that adult musicians had stronger working memory, greater cognitive flexibility and verbal fluency than non-musicians. Child musicians showed better verbal fluency and faster processing speed than non-musicians. fMRI scans showed that child musicians have more activation in the frontal regions of the brain – the home of executive functions – than non-musicians. Dr. Gaab’s study concludes that children who study music have stronger executive function skills and that studying music may build those skills. For the full details and results of the study, a link is provided below.

In another 2014 study, Dr. James Hudziak at the University of Vermont found that playing a musical instrument was associated with more rapid cortical thickness maturation within the areas of motor planning and coordination, visuo-spatial ability, and emotion and impulse regulation, the latter being correlated with increased executive functions. For the full details and results of the study, a link is provided below.

So, what do these studies really show us? Basically, learning a musical instrument can improve and strengthen our executive functions, such as planning and organizing, working memory, processing speed, task management and initiation as a whole. Musical performance requires a high level of active engagement, which leads to less off-task behaviors. While engaging in music, the individual is more likely to be practicing such skills as attending, inhibiting and shifting. Additionally, musical training involves significant demands on working memory for processing auditory, visual and tactile cues simultaneously. Working memory is required for learning any complex activity, such as understanding language. There are plenty of research studies that show correlating executive skills in musicians and bilinguals.

In my experience as a therapist and when teaching music, these skills are highly translatable to other forms of learning. Music is not only rewarding and fun, but is also effective in developing and improving executive functions. Below are some links for further reading and exploration.




This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, by Daniel J. Levitin


Investigating the impact of a musical intervention on preschool children’s executive function (Bowmer, et al., 2018)


Behavioral and neural correlates of executive functioning in musicians and non-musicians (Dr. Nadine Gaad, et al., 2014)

Cortical thickness maturation and duration of music training: health-promoting activities shape brain development (Dr. James Hudziak, et al., 2014)


About the Author: 

Formerly a therapist, Dr. Cottrell has extensive experience working with children, adolescents and emerging adults as a therapist, behavioral health consultant and evaluator in community, college, private practice and hospital settings. At NESCA, he provides thorough and in-depth neuropsychological evaluations to support youth to not only develop, but also to maximize, their potential. Dr. Cottrell is a graduate of William James College, participating in the Doctorate of Psychology in Clinical Psychology Program. Dr. Cottrell also has 25 years of experience with the guitar, performing and teaching music. 

Dr. Cottrell recently completed a 2 year APA internship placement at North Shore Medical Center (Salem, Mass.) where he was immersed in the world of neuropsychological, personality, psychological and educational testing at the Neuropsychological Assessment Center at MassGeneral for Children. While there, Dr. Cottrell’s work predominantly involved providing evaluation and consultation to children, adolescents and adults with ADHD, ASD, learning disabilities and other neurocognitive developmental and behavioral concerns in addition to providing psychological evaluations to adult patients considering bariatric surgical procedures.


To book an evaluation with Zachary Cottrell one of our 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 and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.