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Creating a Kinder, Gentler New Year

By | NESCA Notes 2024

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS
Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Counseling Services, NESCA

We use the start of every new year as motivation to set goals for ourselves, and we often ask children to do the same thing. A New Year’s Resolution is a tradition, in which we set our mind, heart, and spirit to change an undesired trait or behavior, accomplish a personal goal, or otherwise improve ourselves in some tangible way. We may set a goal to lose weigh, exercise more, eat less sugar, meditate daily for five minutes, do homework without a fuss, help out with chores around the house, or walk the dog when my parents ask, etc. Often, we make New Year’s Resolutions, but we don’t usually accomplish them. Within a month or so, we start slipping back into our old ways. Habits are hard to change, and we are resistant to change – it is partly due to our wiring. So, if you are one of these people who has good intentions and sets New Year’s Resolutions then fails, know you are not alone. Hopefully, this fact can help you feel less shame and guilt when you “fail” at keeping them.

I’d like to suggest that if you decide to set a New Year’s Resolution, you do it with yourself and other people in mind. There is so much angst and strife in the world right now that if we resolve to be kinder, gentler, and more patient with ourselves and each other, the world would be a better place.

One idea is to make group resolutions that impact the functioning of the collective. For instance, we could consider Family New Year’s Resolutions or Classroom New Year’s Resolutions. With this in mind, here are some sample suggestions for New Year’s Resolutions for families, classrooms, parents, teachers, and children. Keep your resolution(s) manageable – i.e., only pick one that you are truly committed to working on and putting the energy into changing, as your brain is partly “against you” changing! As they say, “May the Force Be With You!”

General New Year’s Resolutions

  • Sleep – It’s important for everyone, so try to set bedtimes for everyone and stick to them (parents included). Bedtimes should be different depending upon the ages of each child. Getting more sleep may afford us the ability to be more patient with others.
  • Unplug – Take time to unplug from your devices for an hour or more every day. Go for a walk, talk to each other, get the kids involved in preparing the dinner, play a board game. (i.e., take part in old fashioned “family time”). Unplugging affords us the opportunity to be more connected with each other, and being with others (Social Engagement) has been proven to improve one’s quality of life.

For All of Us:

  • Develop patience and compassion when you mess up, as you will mess up.
  • Develop patience and compassion with others because they, too, will mess up.
  • Develop a calming practice if you do not currently have one. Stress happens and is a “silent killer” (i.e., higher blood pressure, poor eating habits, etc.). We have smart watches that can remind us to take a breath…set it to remind yourself. Come back to your breath in moments of stress. Just a few minutes a day mindfully breathing can lower your heart rate and, over time, lower your blood pressure and reduce cortisol (a stress hormone) in your body.
  • Listen more/Talk less.

For Classrooms:

  • Encourage each student to identify one area related to Personal Growth (i.e., ask more questions in class, volunteer to help another classmate, remain calm when challenged academically, etc.). I will ___Settle Down___ when asked by the teacher by the end of the count; show ___Kindness___ to others in my class by___; Ask more questions; volunteer to ___.

For Teachers:

  • Start the New Year off with renewed energy and reimagine equity in your classroom.
  • Talk about fairness – Fair doesn’t mean equal; it means everyone gets what they need to succeed.
  • Talk about school-based stressors/triggers for students (i.e., a certain subject/activity type, tests/quizzes, speaking in front of the class, etc.). Teach them that stress is a normal part of life, then teach them simple stress-reduction techniques (i.e., mindfulness, deep breathing, yoga poses, etc.) they can weave into their day.
  • Teach students about perseverance, grit, and effort and how they are all entwined. Involve students in identifying when they are using them.

For Parents:

  • Self-care – Priority #1 for parents. Just like the airlines say, “Put your own oxygen mask on first.” Define what this means for you and make a plan to stick with it. One small step at a time.
  • “Be Present” with your kids. Often, we are “with” our kids a lot, but are we truly present in mind and body? Usually not; we are doing something else when they are talking to us (i.e., cooking, paying attention to our phones, packing lunches, etc.), so our attention is split. Try taking 10 minutes every day with each of your kids to be truly present in mind and body with your attention solely on them in the moment.
  • Talk with your children about home/life stressors/triggers (i.e., not getting to do what they want, having to do something they don’t want to do, moving from a preferred to non-preferred activity, etc.). Teach them that stress is a normal part of life, then teach them simple stress-reduction techniques (see above) and work together to weave them into the day. Model practicing them yourself!
  • Show gratitude for their words and actions.

Here’s to hoping we are blessed in 2024 with more peace in our hearts and a kinder, gentler, and more compassionate family, classroom, and world!

Resources on these topics:

Keeping Resolutions

Family Resolutions

Stress & the Body

Awesome Year by Kid President

 

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 clinicians, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician/consultant/service in the referral line.

 

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; and the greater Burlington, Vermont region, serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

On-the-Ground Parent & School Consultation in Honduras

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS
Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Counseling Services, NESCA

NESCA’s International Work
NESCA is well regarded as an expert in providing neuropsychological evaluations for children and teens from around the globe as part of its International Evaluation program. To date, NESCA has provided evaluations to clients from more than 20 countries across Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and North America.

Many families bring their child/children to our offices in New England to be evaluated, and NESCA’s founder and director Ann Helmus, Ph.D., has traveled to many countries to provide evaluations overseas. She also has a long-standing history training neuropsychologists in the Philippines. Our Transition and Coaching Services teams also conduct transition assessments for international clients as well as virtual executive function coaching to many young adults overseas.

Based on a neuropsychological evaluation conducted by NESCA this past year, I began providing consultation with a 5th grade boy from Honduras who is a student at a non-profit, bilingual, independent, private PK-12 college preparatory school there. Because of my work with this student, his family recommended NESCA’s services to another Honduran family and their child’s school. As a provider, knowing that a family trusts us and finds what we do so beneficial that they recommend us to another family is extremely rewarding.

Setting the Stage: The Special Education Landscape in Honduras
The special education system in Honduras is very different than in the U.S. in that they do not have the variety of resources we are accustomed to in the U.S., and there are not many evaluators in Honduras in any discipline (i.e., neuropsychologists, speech/language, OT, etc.). For instance, there are only six neuropsychologists in the entire country. Another major difference is that it is the parents’ responsibility – not the school’s – to hire a 1:1 paraprofessional or aide if needed for their child. Paraprofessionals function similarly to their U.S. counterparts, but since they are not employed by the school, they are separate from the school.

The special education teachers and counselors also function similarly to those in the U.S.; however, there are unfortunately not enough of them, limiting treatment services. They work from documents similar to IEPs but that are qualitatively are very different from our IEPs.

There are only a couple of special education models used for students: 3 times a week for general special education support or 5 times a week for pull-out reading or math instruction. The 5 times a week options ends at 6th grade. Some of the teachers we worked with reportedly had training in Wilson and Orton-Gillingham, but there are no SLPs or OTs at the schools, and families pay for these services to be provided at the school or after school. Since there are so few professional service providers in the country, these interventions are extremely limited.

Parent & School Consultation in Honduras
As these consulting engagements progressed, both families asked for NESCA to consult to staff at each of the student’s schools in-person in Honduras, and the schools welcomed this support. The families were hoping that my expertise as an educational consultant focusing on inclusion, program design, and autism could greatly benefit the educators and service providers at the schools – ultimately having a positive influence on the students and their classmates.

Both schools are international, bilingual, non-profit, tuition-based college preparatory schools, and are accredited by the Honduran National Ministry of Education, AdvancED, and the International Baccalaureate Organization. One is a Christian faith-based school. Both serve students from nursery through high school and use N-12 American standards of Core Curriculum. They are similar to American schools in that they have a wide choice of classes/electives as students move up in the grades, as well as sports and after school clubs and activities. Upon completion of their high school careers, students at these schools have the opportunity to earn three diplomas: each school’s typical high school diploma, the Honduran Bachillerato, and the International Baccalaureate diploma. A high percentage of graduates go on to higher education in the United States and abroad. They accept students with a variety of “moderate” special needs and have special education teachers and mental health counselors to support them.

For these in-person school consults, I teamed up with another professional who was also already consulting at these schools. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and speaks Spanish – a welcomed addition, as I do not. She is very skilled at providing behavioral support and is not overly rigid in her approach with students. Together, we presented Professional Development trainings for the two schools on the ground in Honduras. We brought a combined, well-rounded knowledge base to our work with the families and schools, offering lessons in a variety of topics, such as Universal Design in Learning (UDL), Differentiated Instruction (DI), Social Skills training/approaches, Mindset and Mindfulness, Sensory Integration, and Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS), along with the ABCs (antecedent-behavior-consequence) and functions of behavior (EATS: escape-attention-tangible-sensory). In this first engagement, we provided a broad overview of these topics, giving the staff much to think about regarding their instructional practices, behavior management, classroom design, and teaching styles. We will continue to provide both virtual and in-person consults this coming school year so their learning can continue to grow and deepen.

This is an ongoing training/learning process for the staff at these schools. As mentioned, we will continue providing ongoing training to help the staff implement Universal Design principles in developing their lessons. We will continue our discussion about viewing student aberrant behavior through multiple lenses – not just as “breaking the rules and needing consequences” (i.e., neurology-sensory, cognitive disconnect, attention, etc.), instead thinking about what the student is trying to communicate through their behavior. This education helps them to think differently about prevention and antecedents, thus impacting behavior management and discipline practices.

The Experience
Staff at both schools were willing to learn and collaborate, and welcomed our input, with one school attending the training the week before their school year started, because we were scheduled to be in-person! The Honduran teachers we worked with throughout the year, prior to our in-person visit, were so open to instruction, feedback, and learning more, often reaching out to us between our scheduled virtual meetings preceding our visit. They were eager to figure out how to support their neurodiverse (a new word for them) learners and allowed me to join their classes remotely so I could model different techniques and practices. They were willing to share their successes, questions, and challenges, making consultation both productive and powerful. They were open to the many “homework assignments” (i.e., articles/books to read, videos to watch, visuals to make, etc.) given to them and the recommendations provided. They implemented new class-wide and individual behavior plans (self-awareness plans) and benefited from the modeling of strategies I demonastrated.

It was a wonderful experience for them and us, and I am happy that our relationship is continuing and will deepen well into this new school year. I am looking forward to watching their continued growth – directly impacting the two students who started it all, as well as their classmates and those to come in future years.

If you are interested in learning more about NESCA’s international evaluation, transition, consultation, and coaching services, complete our online Intake Form.

 

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 clinicians, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician/consultant/service in the referral line.

 

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