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Executive Function Tasks – Medication Management

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

Medication management is an extremely complex executive function task that many of our students will have to master before they are able to tackle living alone. While there are many executive function tools available to help organize and remind individuals about their medication, there are also some long-term teaching strategies and opportunities for habit building throughout a students’ middle and high school career that parents may want to capitalize on before their children leave the home. Today we will explore some of the commonly used tools to help with medication adherence and touch on a few tips and suggestions to help adolescents develop a base of knowledge around their own health status and need for medication.

Tools

Seven Day Pillbox – The most ubiquitous tool to help individuals keep track of medication is a weekly pillbox. This may seem like a simple tool, but pillboxes are hugely varied and have many different additional features. Make sure to consider how many boxes there are per day (morning, afternoon, evening, etc.), whether there is a need for different colors to help with visual discrimination, and whether an audible or vibrating alarm could be beneficial. All of these are potential options that are built into the different pillbox options provided below:

Automatic Pill Dispenser – Some individuals may benefit from having the added support of a pill dispenser that automatically dispenses the correct prescriptions at the time they should be taken. Here is one example of this tool:

The Calendar – Those who have read my previous blog regarding the wonders of a functional digital calendar are likely unsurprised by this suggestion, but make use of this fabulous tool! Adding in an appointment to refill pillboxes, marking down anticipated dates to refill prescriptions, and setting notifications or alarms to go off when it is time to take medication each day can help students remember each step of the process.

Tips

Involve children in filling their pillboxes as early as possible. Many children will enjoy sitting down with a parent to place the pills in each little box and feel special when they are given some responsibility. When this is normalized as a typical part of a week, it becomes an expected activity of daily living for children. Make sure to point out the things that you notice as you fill the box. For example, stating, “Oh! I only count five pills left, that means I need to call and refill the prescription today,” each month will help your child to associate a nearly empty bottle with the need to problem solve.

Set a specific time or day of the week to refill pillboxes. Many children will continue to stick to routines and habits that they built up through childhood once they venture out of the home. Consider designating a specific time of the week to fill a pillbox together. For example, if Sunday after dinner works consistently, make this part of the family routine.

Pair medication with a daily task. Some individuals enjoy using alarms as reminders; however, others feel much more empowered by simply building medication into their routine. Pairing medication with an activity that happens daily anyways, such as brushing teeth in the morning, makes it easier to remember without direct prompting.

Help your child or adolescent put together a medication chart. Many of our children do not know the reasons for their medication. They are unaware of the intent, potential side effects, exact dosage, or name of the medication itself. The more our children and adolescents understand, the better they are able to advocate for themselves to doctors or other health professionals. Putting together a one-page medication chart that outlines all of this important information – in terms that can be easily understood and communicated to others by the child – can help children feel empowered in their conversation about their health. Consider adding a picture of each pill or capsule if they routinely appear the same. At times, pharmacies may unexpectedly need to fill generic prescriptions from different manufacturers, based on availability or other factors, therefore lending to a different appearance of the same generic prescription. This medication chart can also be a helpful tool to reference when adolescents start to independently fill their pillboxes.

Refill prescriptions together. While refilling prescriptions at the pharmacy is often a task that needs to be led and managed by adults, it’s still possible to include adolescents so that they start to learn the process. A great first step is to call the pharmacy on speaker phone and allow your child to listen in for a few months in a row.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Learning to Ride a Bike: A Rite of Passage

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

If there is one positive takeaway from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the ever-growing love for being outdoors. It’s spring, the flowers are blooming, the sun is out, and the air is light. Everything in our body is telling us to go outside and play.

For many kids with and without disabilities, bike riding is meaningful, liberating, and a rite of passage. Close your eyes and try to remember the first time you rode a two-wheel bike. Can you remember the color of your bike? The smell in the air? The complete joy it brought you? That was the day we all felt a bit more confident and like we grew a bit taller.

So how do we help our children achieve this meaningful occupation? The days of running behind our children while holding onto their bike seat, telling them to pedal, not to stop, and hoping for the best and that they will forgive us when we let go (when we clearly promised we would not let go!) should be far behind us. But are they?

A lot goes into learning how to ride a bike, so do not let your child give up so soon when it takes more than a couple of days, weeks, or months to get it right. Consider the following skills that are addressed in learning to ride a bike:

  • Attention and concentration
  • Bilateral coordination
  • Balance
  • Body awareness
  • Core strength
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Motor planning
  • Postural stability
  • Sensory processing
  • Upper and lower extremity strength
  • Visual scanning

Children as young as five years of age will begin to acquire and develop the skills needed to ride a two-wheel bike, and still others may not feel ready until they are pre-teens or even into adulthood.

Before getting started, here are a couple things to consider regarding the equipment involved in learning how to ride a bike:

  • Bike – The height of the bike is a crucial element to success when learning how to ride. When seated on the bike, your child’s feet should be firmly planted on the ground. The bike seat may appear too low and the bike too small; however, this technique enables movement security, engages proper core and postural stability, and increases confidence.
  • Braking System – Be sure to learn the difference between hand brakes vs. coaster brakes (using feet to backpedal). Both braking systems have pros and cons. Hand brakes are a personal favorite. They are more flexible to position, offer better control, but require adequate hand strength and coordination to manipulate. Coaster brakes (using your feet to pedal backward to brake) use an intuitive motor planning motion for children. When you pedal forward, you go; when pedaling backward, you stop. They are helpful for children who lack the hand strength skills to wrap and squeeze their hands around a hand brake; however, they provide awkward foot positioning and the constant tendency to backpedal.
  • Helmet – Safety, Safety, Safety! When handling a bike for any occasion (i.e., walking a bike, doing balance drills on a bike, or riding a bike), it should become an automatic habit to wear a helmet. Your child should be in charge of putting on and taking off their helmet independently. There is nothing more important than wearing a helmet that fits correctly with fasteners that can be easily manipulated. When choosing a helmet, be cognizant of the type of fastener/clasp it comes with and if your child has the fine motor skills to adjust it (this skill could take time to learn).If you are unsure if your child’s helmet is a good fit, any cycling store will be more than pleased to assist in finding your child the most appropriate size. 
  • Pedals – When learning to ride for the first time, the removal of pedals should be highly considered. It provides the opportunity to address balance, core, and postural stability for both younger and older children while also increasing movement security.
  • Training Bike – Which is best…balance bikes vs. training wheels? Balance bikes are light in weight and can be introduced to children at a much younger age than a pedal bike. They promote core strength and increase motor planning, sequencing, and balance training skills, making the transition from a balance bike to a two-wheel pedal bike more fluid and easier to manage. Training wheels promote ease in learning motor planning techniques to push on pedals while providing assisted balance. It’s important to note that removing the balance component can be disadvantageous when transitioning from training wheels to a two-wheel pedal bike.

Overall, the literature supports the observation that, for children with and without disabilities, learning to ride a bike is a popular activity that increases confidence, provides opportunities for shared recreation with families and peers, and promotes social inclusion (Dunford, Bannigan, Rathmell (2016).

Several of the many clinical diagnoses of children who can ride a bike follow here; however, this list is certainly not inclusive of the many other diagnoses that do not preclude children from bike riding:

  • ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Developmental Coordination Disorder
  • General learning disability
  • Hearing impairment
  • No diagnosis

The art of bike riding can be broken down into various steps, from learning how to use the kickstand to the act of pedaling. Each step deserves attention, because through repetition and practice, confidence is achieved.

If using these tips feels difficult or is not helping your child with the level of focus and skill they need to successfully achieve their goal to use a bike, we recommend reaching out to your occupational therapist or getting an occupational therapy evaluation. If in-person direct services continue to be a concern, biking riding skills can be offered via telehealth from the comfort of  your home. Jessica offers successful biking riding drills and adaptive home exercise plans through telehealth that address the skills required to learn to ride a bike. Contact NESCA’s Director of Clinical Services Julie Robinson, OT, to learn more at: jrobinson@nesca-newton.com.

 

References
Dunford, Bannigan, Rathmell (2016) Learning to ride a bike: Developing a therapeutic intervention. Children Young People & Families Occupational Therapy Journal 20(1) 10-18

 

About the Author

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

 

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

 

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

 

Executive Function Tools: Natural Consequences

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

In my last blog that focused on executive function tools, I delved into the benefits of using and committing to a digital calendar. The calendar is a concrete tool that can be directly taught to students using traditional methods. Less concrete, but in many ways equally useful, is this next executive function tool – the natural consequence.

When most people think of natural consequences, they think of younger children refusing to do things like eat a meal that their caregiver prepared or put on a coat when it is cold outside. If a child refuses their dinner, the natural consequence is hunger. If a child refuses to wear their coat, the natural consequence is feeling cold. These are consequences that will happen without parents or caregivers explicitly providing a consequence. When it comes to executive function mishaps, the natural consequence is often the need to independently deal with the fallout.

Many of the students I serve directly need scaffolded executive function support with direct instruction and specific opportunities for practice. I am not advocating for removing these services or throwing these students to the proverbial wolves. What I am advocating for is using mistakes or lapses in executive function skill as learning opportunities, as opposed to absolving our students from all responsibility and continuously jumping in to save the day. To demonstrate this difference, here are a few examples of ways I have seen parents successfully use natural consequences as a tool to teach executive function.

Case Studies

  1. Amber is a student who has had consistent difficulty organizing her time after school. While she attends many different afterschool activities, such as recycling club and track, she is often late to practice or misses important changes to the schedule. To help Amber, her parents set up a calendar with notifications and reminders that appear on her phone and her computer directly after school. Recently, Amber started driving lessons with the local driving school. A few weeks ago, Amber had a conversation with her mother in the morning about the fact that she would be picked up for a lesson 10 minutes after the end of the school day. Amber’s notification on her phone went off 15 minutes before the lesson, and she received a pop-up on her computer screen 30 minutes before the end of the school day. Despite these reminders, Amber hopped onto the bus at the end of the day. While this was an honest mistake, Amber was not using her tools or the time management strategies that she has been taught and is expected to use. Amber’s parents decided that as a natural consequence, Amber would need to deal with fixing her mistake. They were there to support her as she called the driving school, apologized to the instructor, and rescheduled her appointment. If she was not willing to take these steps, another natural consequence would have been a delay in getting her license. This caused some heightened anxiety for Amber, but with encouragement from her parents, she practiced the phone call out loud and looked through her calendar to see where she had availability for a make-up appointment. Amber’s parents could have easily called the driving school and fixed these problems for her; however, Amber would have missed out on an opportunity to practice problem solving.
  2. Another student who benefited from natural consequences is Albert. Albert’s parents hired a tutor to meet with him over Zoom twice per week to prepare for the SATs. He was expected to meet with his tutor, Barry, two times per week to start building up his skills. Unfortunately, despite frequent reminders and systems being put in place, Albert often missed or was late to these meetings as he was distracted by playing video games. When Albert’s parents started to receive charges for missed appointments from Barry’s company, they thought carefully about how to impress on Albert the importance of using his strategies and making it to his appointments. Eventually, Albert’s parents informed him that if he missed another session, he would be responsible for the late fee, as the charge was an inevitable consequence. When Albert eventually missed another session, his father drove him to the bank and helped him withdraw the money from his own savings account to pay his parents for the missed session. Unsurprisingly, this was hugely frustrating to Albert in the moment; however, his meetings with Barry became a priority and Albert quickly started making it to tutoring on time. After experiencing the natural consequence himself, Albert began to change his actions.

Both of these examples led to increased buy-in from the adolescents who were actively working on building up their executive functioning skills. As they started to participate in problem solving after they made a mistake, they were more aware of the work that their parents had typically been doing for them. Some language that can be productive includes:

  • “I know it was a mistake and now we just need to figure out how to fix it. What do you think we should do?”
  • “What are the next steps you need to take to solve this problem?”
  • “I can tell you what I think we should do, but I would love to hear your ideas first. Where would you start?”

As adolescents forge toward young adulthood, they will inevitably make mistakes, miss appointments, arrive late, and misplace some of their belongings. If we are constantly picking up the pieces, then they are missing out on the opportunity to learn how to solve their own problems and build an understanding of the consequences.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Mind the Gap: Why You Should Consider Summer OT and Speech Services at NESCA

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Julie Robinson, OT
Director of Clinical Services; Occupational Therapist, NESCA

It has been a challenging school year, with ever-changing schedules, routines, and unfortunately with a good deal of inconsistency in the provision of therapeutic services through the schools, due to the many impacts of COVID. Parents, caregivers and students have all experienced differing levels of anxiety about what progress has been and is being made, with many children experiencing some level of regression with regard to behavior, self-regulation, motor skills or language development. In anticipation of many of our children returning to school in-person in April, parents have expressed concerns that their children may be lagging behind or that they have not had ample support throughout the earlier parts of their school year to ensure they can keep up with the other children in their class. Over the months of April, May and June, we will all get to see firsthand where the gaps might arise. And then when school is over, many of us might be concerned that the gains of just a few short months will be lost again over summer. This is why those of us at NESCA perceive that the benefits of summer services will be an important part of ensuring progress and the ability to jump right back into learning – as we hope all school will be in-person again in the fall.

NESCA is available to provide summer services, as we do consistently for our weekly patients. In addition, we are offering short-term services to those children who may not qualify for them through their school systems, or for those families who would simply like to supplement what their children are receiving in-district to give them a boost before school begins again in the fall.

Our occupational therapists (OTs) can work on the following areas of focus with your child:

  • self-regulation and coping skills
  • how best to transition from the quiet of home to the multiple stimuli of a classroom full of children
  • how to cope with longer hours of wearing a mask
  • how to follow social distancing requirements, when they long for a closer physical connection with their peers

We can also help to ease the anxiety some children may have about becoming sick or how NOT to feel fearful of getting back into the classroom when sensory processing issues push them to feel uneasy. Our OTs can continue work on handwriting and motor development work started throughout the school year to ensure there is no regression or to improve the speed and automaticity of written expression and legibility. We can teach organizational and executive functioning skills to encourage kids to be independent, prioritize assignments and manage their time. OTs can address self-care skills of dressing, shoe tying, feeding and hygiene, which are likely to require more independence with social distancing requirements. While it’s summer, we help build outdoor skills, such as bike riding and greater self-confidence on the playground to elicit more social connections with peers. Our OTs are providing services in-person in our Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts clinics, by teletherapy or outdoors in the community as appropriate.

Our speech therapists at NESCA can also help to continue and supplement the hard work children have been putting in throughout the school year. They can work on social pragmatics and help with the skills needed to transition from so much time alone, to being in groups with their peers once again. NESCA’s speech therapists can support children on how to:

  • initiate play
  • find shared interests
  • be flexible thinkers
  • communicate with kindness and an appropriate level of voice
  • read gestures and non-verbal communication (especially while wearing masks, which can impede the ability to properly read another person’s mood, reactions or emotions)

We can continue to work on the established goals from school, regarding both expressive and receptive communication, language articulation and language as it pertains to written communication. Our speech therapists are currently providing all services via teletherapy while we work on a transition back to in-person therapy.

If you are interested in seeking out summer services at NESCA, or any of our assessments and services, please contact NESCA’s Director of Clinical Services Julie A. Robinson. She can be reached at jrobinson@nesca-newton.org and will conduct a phone intake with you to help you best determine your needs.

 

About the Author

Julie Robinson is an occupational therapist with over 25 years of experience as a clinician. The work Julie does is integral to human development, wellness and a solid family unit. She particularly enjoys supporting families through the process of adoption and in working with children who are victims of trauma. Julie has extensive experience working with children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or who have learning or emotional disabilities. She provides services that address Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and self-regulation challenges, as well as development of motor and executive functioning skills.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services or other clinical therapies, 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.

 

A Feeding Therapist’s Guide to Cups, Bowls, and Utensils – Part 1

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Lauren Zeitler, MSOT, OTR/L
NESCA Occupational Therapist; Feeding Specialist

As an important area of development, feeding and eating time is a special opportunity for children to not only grow, but also interact with their environment. This includes transitioning from breast and bottle feeding to cups, bowls, and utensils. With so many options available on the market, it can be hard to decide what to buy. If you are unsure where to start, this blog will introduce different tools to help promote a more independent eater in your child.

In this week’s OT Tuesday blog, we provide suggestions on utensils and bowls for new eaters, toddlers, and more. In our Part 2 of the blog, we will focus on different styles of cups for all stages of child drinkers.

Recommended Utensils throughout Developmental Ages and Stages

Vital Baby Soft Tip ‘n’ Grip Feeding Spoons

Designed with a flexible, spatula-like tip, this spoon is great for scooping food out of the bowl – and off a little one’s cheek! Great for first-time feeders, this spoon holds the perfect amount of food and fits comfortably in their mouths. It is easy to wash and BPA- free.

Soft Tip Infant Spoon by Munchkin

When introducing solids to a baby, it is important to have a smaller spoon belly to fit comfortably in their mouth. The soft tips and rounded shapes of this spoon are gentle on their gums as they adjust to utensil eating. This spoon also has a long, ergonomic handle which makes it easy for caregivers to hold.

Nuby Fun Feeding Spoons & Forks

Lightweight and easy to grasp, this set of cutlery provides a traditional spoon as well as a spork (fork and spoon combination). Compared to other brands, the belly of this spoon appears deeper and has more success holding foods, such as soup. This set is recommended for children ages 12 months and up, encouraging independent eating.

NUK First Essentials Kiddy Cutlery

Made with rubber handles and stainless steel tips, this set is made to fit right in a toddler’s hands. Dishwasher-safe and BPA-free, it comes in a variety of colors and is best for children ages 18 months and up. This is a great starter set to later introduce children to adult utensils.

Nuby 9 Piece Mealtime Travel Set Spoon

Made for developed self-feeders, this set makes eating out a little easier. Pop this travel set into lunch boxes, purses, etc. This is BPA-free and dishwasher-safe.

 

Recommended Bowls and Plates throughout Developmental Ages and Stages

Baby B Suction Baby Bowls

BPA-free, this bowl set suctions to the table to firmly stay in place and decrease floor clean-up time. With built in handles, this bowl is easier for babies to grasp while learning to scoop and self-feed. It also comes with snap-on lids to quickly throw the leftovers in the refrigerator!

MUNCHKIN Stay Put Suction Bowls

Dishwasher- and microwave-safe, this bowl suctions to the table with a modern look. This bowl works well with new feeders, because the suction remains in place while children are learning to use a spoon.

EZPZ Happy Bowl

Built with a 12 ounce bowl, this product serves as an all in one style device. Great for toddlers and preschoolers, it suctions to the table to reduce throwing and has a placemat surrounding the bowl. It is easy to wash both in the sink and dishwasher.

EZPZ Happy Mat with sections

Made with the same great suction material, this mat provides sections to place different food items. This tool can be used this with eaters who do not like their foods to touch. It is also a fun way to teach about food groups and portion control.

Re-Play Divided Plates for Toddlers

Designed to easily stack in the cabinet or drawer, these plates are deep and durable. Each plate has three sections: two 3oz. sections and one 8 oz. section ready for a well balanced meal. Ready to graduate to an older plate, this option is recommended for children who do not need the throw-proof suction. This plate is dishwasher- and microwave-safe.

If you have any concerns about your child’s feeding or questions about feeding or occupational therapy, please complete our online intake form, or email NESCA’s Director of Clinical Services Julie Robinson at jrobinson@nesca-newton.com.

 

Reference:
Elliott, C. & Clawson, E. (2018). Mealtime Miseries: Management of Complex Feeding Disorders. All workshop materials © Pediatric Feeding Institute, Inc

The product information in this blog is provided for educational purposes only. NESCA, nor Lauren Zeitler, accepts any incentives or payments from the manufacturers. The recommendations made come only from the professional experiences of NESCA’s occupational and feeding therapists and the personal experiences of clients.

 

About the Author

Lauren Zeitler is a licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in pediatric occupational and feeding therapy. Ms. Zeitler joined NESCA full-time in the fall of 2020 to offer occupational therapy assessment and treatment for children of all ages, as well as to work in conjunction with Abigael Gray, MS, CCC-SLP, on the feeding team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Executive Function Tools: The Calendar

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

When working with young adults and adolescents to build up executive function skills, my main goal is to find systems and strategies that are truly helpful, easily accessed and that will eventually be used independently. While there are many fabulous apps that have been developed to target specific organizational skills, such as medication management, creating to-do lists and taking notes, I would argue that the number one, most important tool is an accurate, up-to-date calendar. The format of a digital calendar provides three hugely important supports.

  1. Visual Map of Time – Time management is tricky, and for many of our students, the concept of time itself is quite abstract. A calendar that has chunks of time visually blocked out helps to concretize an abstract concept. Additionally, having a calendar can help students plan their work. If a student has five different assignments to work on in a given week, looking at a calendar to find available segments of time will often help them realize that leaving everything until the last minute will not be possible. Notably, this requires guidance at first. Asking students questions, such as, “how long does an assignment like this generally take you?” or “would that available hour on Tuesday give you enough time for your problem set?” will help them start to internally ask themselves the right questions.
  2. Built-in Notification Systems – Some students use the alarms on their phone as reminders that they need to complete academic or daily living tasks. For example, they may have an alarm at 7:00pm every evening as a prompt to take their medication. Digital calendar apps allow for notifications to be linked to an event or task. Sometimes a simple reminder 10 minutes before a meeting or class is plenty, and our students can arrive on time with that quick prompt. For other appointments, I have students set two separate notifications, one in the morning and one at the time they would need to start getting ready or prepared for an appointment. For example, if a student has a doctor’s appointment two months in the future, a student could benefit from setting a notification eight hours and 1 hour before the appointment. This way, they start their morning with an acute awareness of their responsibility that afternoon and are reminded again when they need to start getting ready to leave.
  3. Constant Access when Synced across Devices – Calendars, such as the Google Calendar, sync seamlessly across digital devices. The same calendar can be accessed from a phone, a tablet, a laptop or a desktop quickly and easily. Students can refer to their phone when they are out and about or their computer if they are focused in class.

Research shows us that building executive function skills requires direct instruction and the opportunity to practice (Semenov & Zelazo, 2019). While using a calendar may seem like a simple skill, many of the systems provided in high schools take away the opportunity for students to practice setting up and maintaining their own calendar. Online portals have calendars that are immediately synced to the teacher’s schedule with assignments and due dates already entered. Additionally, many of our students rely on their parents to keep track of any and all appointments (medical or otherwise), meetings and other scheduled activities. This means that when starting a more independent schedule – whether at a university, vocational program or first job – these students often find themselves overwhelmed by the deadlines and the number of responsibilities that they must track. I urge parents to slowly increase the number of appointment and activities that students are in charge of remembering on their own. Helping a student enter doctor or dentist appointments, vacation details, such as flight or bus times, and deadlines into their personal calendar helps them start to build this habit and provides opportunity for practice. We have the tools to help students make this transition more easily, and with small, intentional changes to expectations of responsibility and independence, we can provide students with tools in their back pockets so they are ready to support (and schedule) themselves!

References

Semenov A, D, Zelazo P, D: Mindful Family Routines and the Cultivation of Executive Function Skills in Childhood. Human Development 2019;63:112-131. doi: 10.1159/000503822

 

About the Author

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Benefits of Sensory-based Play

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist, NESCA

The importance of play for child development

Play is considered an essential aspect of child development as it contributes to cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being. As a pediatric occupational therapist, play is an integral part of my job. When children have opportunities to play, this allows them to build their creativity and imagination, resolve conflicts and learn self-advocacy skills. Through play, children develop new abilities that lead to enhanced confidence and resiliency, skills crucial for navigating day to day challenges. Play allows kids to practice decision-making skills, discover areas of interest and engage in passions. (Ginsburg, 2007).

 What is sensory-based play?

Sensory play can be described as any play activity that stimulates an individual’s sensory system. The sensory system includes touch (tactile), smell (olfactory), taste (gustatory), sight (visual), hearing (auditory), balance (vestibular) and movement (proprioception). Common examples include sensory bin or sandbox play, play with shaving cream, finger paint and/or food, use of a balance beam, ball pit, and/or swings, sound tubes, and so much more!

Why is sensory play beneficial?

While we know that play is a critical part of child development, incorporating a multi-sensory approach into play activities can be particularly beneficial. When activities are fun and meaningful – our senses are engaged – we learn best!

  • Promotes learning – children who engage multiple senses to accomplish a task are better able to remember and recall learned information.
  • Facilitates exploration, creativity and curiosity in children who may be seeking, or avoiding, certain types of stimuli.
  • Allows for strengthening of the brain pathways and connections that allow for efficient sensory integration.
  • Promotes self-regulation by allowing for interaction with different mediums that may be calming for the child (Educational Playcare, 2016).

What kinds of OT skills can be targeted through sensory play?

  • Sensory processing skills
  • Fine motor skills
  • Gross motor skills
  • Feeding skills
  • Body awareness
  • Motor planning
  • Visual perceptual skills
  • Communication and play skills
  • Self-regulation and coping skills

References:

Educational Playcare. (2016, October 27). Why Sensory Play is Important for Development.
https://www.educationalplaycare.com/blog/sensory-play-important-development/#:~:text=Sensory%20play%20includes%20any%20activity,%2C%20create%2C%20investigate%20and%20explore

Ginsburg, K. R. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and
maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics119(1), 182-191.

To learn more about Maddie Girardi, watch this video interview between NESCA Occupational Therapists Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L, and Maddie Girardi, OTD, OTR/L.

About the Author
Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts with experience in both school-based and outpatient pediatric settings. Maddie received her undergraduate degree in Exercise Science/Kinesiology at The College of Charleston in South Carolina and  earned her Doctorate degree in Occupational Therapy from The MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston.

Maddie is a passionate therapist with professional interest in working with young children with neurodevelopmental disorders, fine and gross motor delays and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

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.

 

Teletherapy at NESCA – Benefits and How It Works

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Julie Robinson, OT

Director of Clinical Services; Occupational Therapist, NESCA

Now that the second  COVID-19 surge is upon us, many families are again opting to receive occupational, speech-language and feeding therapy services through teletherapy. While COVID-19 is interrupting so many things in our lives, it does not have to interrupt important therapy services. Our clinicians at NESCA encourage teletherapy as a powerful tool to impact progress for your children and foster a smooth family dynamic.

It’s important to note that teletherapy IS covered by insurance, so just because you cannot or may not want to come into the office to be seen in-person, you do not need to put your services on hold.

While some people may not think teletherapy packs the same punch as in-person therapy, we’ve seen some unexpected and valuable benefits stem from this shift in how we deliver services remotely.

Some of the benefits of teletherapy that we’ve observed are:

  • There’s less travel time and more efficiency of service delivery with teletherapy. There’s also more flexibility and scheduling convenience for both the parents and clinicians. We see so many families trying to juggle the responsibilities of remote learning, working from home and managing the needs of multiple kids. Teletherapy can offer the supports that are necessary in an easily accessible way to help families establish consistent and organized routines.
  • Teletherapy allows parents to be more involved in sessions with their child, also allowing the opportunity for clinicians to educate them about activities that can be done at home to facilitate progress. On top of the child receiving therapy, parents get 1:1 real-time training and consultation with a clinician. If parents cannot be involved in sessions, sitters, nannies and other caretakers can participate.
  • For parents who feel that their child is struggling with their experience in school since COVID-19, teletherapy can also be a way to supplement IEP services. Teletherapy as a modality provides more individualized attention to goals that have been established or can fill in gaps in services you feel your child may not be accessing as easily.
  • Clinicians are able to see your children at home—in their natural environment—and to even see some of the daily challenges experienced at home, right in the moment. This allows us to actively problem solve with parents around behavioral challenges and the difficulty their children are having in staying focused during remote learning. Via teletherapy, we can model responses and approaches right in the midst of real-life situations as they are unfolding.
  • Teletherapy allows our occupational therapists to do a virtual house tour with you to suggest modifications or accommodations to your physical environment/space to support sensory needs or motor development with items and areas you already have. Building a home program with our guidance helps to reinforce the work we do with them.
  • In all teletherapy sessions, the child must be present for at least a brief period. But in moments where a child is not able to stay engaged in the process, the clinician is able to stay in the session to provide parent consultation and problem solve.
  • When appropriate and agreed upon by all parties, your clinician can engage other children in the household into teletherapy sessions to incorporate social teaching and positive sibling interactions, as well as structured activity for the family unit.
  • Teletherapy has been a huge plus for our feeding therapists and their clients, as we can work with children in their own kitchens and with food that is typically available and prepared. We can also see how a child behaves throughout the mealtime process in their natural environment as they interact with family members. Therapists report that some of their feeding therapy clients have made more progress via virtual sessions than in their in-clinic sessions.
  • Because teletherapy gives occupational therapists a window into the home setting, we can work with our clients on self-care and hygiene tasks, support learning of chores and other daily household activities in a more natural setting to them.

How a teletherapy session works

Teletherapy is a little different than just showing up for a session in the office and does require some advanced preparation for both the client and the clinician.

  • Initially, your clinician will talk with you to gather information about your home environment, the setting for remote work, and what tools or equipment you may have around at home to incorporate into your sessions.
  • Each week, your clinician will send you an email with a list of items to get ready for your virtual visit, possibly a specific schedule or plan for the session, if needed. This will include a link to access your teletherapy session.
  • In most cases, parents need to be present to facilitate the process, or at the very least accessible to assist with any technology glitches that may arise during the session. We encourage participation from caregivers to ensure that they are educated about our goals as well as the things that can be done at home throughout the week to encourage progress.
  • We try to keep therapy sessions as play-based as possible, often engaging with visual supports or other tools that may help your child to focus and have fun.
  • There may be times when your child is overloaded with remote learning, before our session even begins, or there may be distracting factors in the household at any given moment that can limit their focus on therapeutic tasks. Therapists are able to maintain a flexible approach to end a session early, to give the child a break and talk to a caregiver instead, or to provide parent consultation instead of direct therapy activity. All are benefits to the child and family unit.

To learn more about NESCA’s new clinical therapy services, watch this video interview between NESCA’s Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L, and Julie Robinson, OT, who oversees the new clinical therapy offerings.

About the Author

Julie Robinson is an occupational therapist with over 25 years of experience as a clinician. The work Julie does is integral to human development, wellness and a solid family unit. She particularly enjoys supporting families through the process of adoption and in working with children who are victims of trauma. Julie has extensive experience working with children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or who have learning or emotional disabilities. She provides services that address Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and self-regulation challenges, as well as development of motor and executive functioning skills.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services or other clinical therapies, 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.

 

Digital Literacy, Executive Function and Remote Learning

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L

Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach, NESCA

The experience of watching a small child who is only two or three years old pick up a smartphone, quickly type in a passcode (as they have memorized the pattern) and open up their favorite game can be jarring for adults who remember the days of dial-up internet and who learned to use technology as it staggeringly evolved. For many of today’s children, handheld electronics have always been a fundamental part of their world. Flipping between apps, using their pointer finger to manipulate games and opening a screen using facial recognition all feel like second nature to many in the current generation of school age children. We assume that children have higher digital literacy than we do and intrinsically understand technology in a way that many of us never will. But what do our children actually know? And, are they missing out on vastly important direct instruction when adults make an assumption that they are already tiny experts in the digital field?

Over the past six months, a time fraught with a monumental shift in education, I have worked one-on-one with a widely diverse group of learners. If I had to pinpoint one theme that comes up over and over, across ages, levels of ability and school systems, it is frustration, confusion and lack of problem-solving strategies as they relate to technology. Statements I have heard during this period of remote learning include:

  • “I don’t turn off my Chromebook. I lose everything, and I’m actually not quite sure that I know how to turn it back on.” – High school honors student
  • “I didn’t know that Google Slide and PowerPoint were different things. I lost so much trying to switch between them.” – High school senior
  • “Hardware or software? I didn’t realize there was a difference.” – Middle school student
  • “I just save my document with whatever my computer suggests as a title. I guess it does make it tricky to find things later.” – High school junior

As an occupational therapist focused on making sure our students can access their curriculum, comments like these teach me a few incredibly important lessons.

  1. Students are lacking information on the basics. The same student who is not sure how to turn off his Chromebook can quickly navigate Google Classroom without any support, both uploading files and opening modules with ease. We need to focus on teaching the fundamentals of technology. What are hardware and software and how to they interact? What options exist within the system preferences of a particular device? How is an iPad different from a Chromebook, a Windows laptop or a MacBook? Why do we need to power down devices sometimes? What are the downsides to never restarting a computer or updating an operating system?
  2. Successful digital organization does not come naturally. Students are typically taught specific systems for organizing physical space and materials, such as color-coded folders, binders and labels. Teaching students to organize their digital space and their digital materials is equally, if not even more, important. Learning to create folders for each class and systematic ways of labeling documents saves students time and energy, and this often decreases frustration in the moment.
  3. Academic and professional tools are not particularly intuitive (a stark contrast to entertainment tools). There are incredible programs designed to help students create presentations, synthesize data and put documents together. These include, but are not limited to, the Microsoft Suite and Google Workspace. These tools can be tricky to manipulate and many middle and high school students would benefit from taking an introductory course, watching online tutorials or working directly with teachers to explore their functionality before layering on assignments requiring competent use of the tools.
  4. Students are often completely unaware of their gaps in knowledge. This is potentially due to the fact that today’s students are so impressive when it comes to using technology for leisure purposes. They seamlessly transition from an iPad, to a Chromebook, to a Samsung phone and can access games or social media without difficulty on each device. Unfortunately, very few schools have programs focused on teaching computing skills or digital literacy in the academic context. Our students piece together enough information to get by for a short while, but often come up against challenges later. Students also may believe they have built competency because they have some exposure to a tool. For instance, I have worked with students who are building resumes and including claims such as, “Proficient in Excel, PowerPoint and Word” but score poorly when tested on these computer abilities.

So, what do can we do?

The first step towards ensuring that a child or adolescent has adequate digital literacy skills is to actually assess how much they already know. Some students do have these skills mastered and others will have unexpected deficits or gaps. This assessment can be done formally or informally. A starting point I often use is to sit down with a student at a computer and ask how they organize, how they navigate, how they save files, etc. I also like using online assessment resources, such as TypingClub.com and Northstar Digital Literacy.

Once the skills that a student needs to grow are identified, there are many opportunities available to teach them. A few options include:

  • Online courses in specific software programs. Sites, such as Coursera, LinkedIn and Udemy, have comprehensive courses focused on specific programs for all different levels of learners.
  • Free online videos. A quick search on YouTube often leads to short, accurate videos and tutorials filmed by teachers or professionals. If your student learns well through video format, these can be a great tool.
  • Ask your school for support. Often, students learn better with direct instruction. If a student’s team is aware of their lack of knowledge regarding technology, there are many professionals at school who may be able to teach these skills during a free period, study hall or meeting.

 

About the Author

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.

 

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.