By: Ann Helmus, Ph.D.
So many wonderful things have happened at NESCA in the past year including our recruitment of many talented interns, post-doctoral fellows, and staff members, the opening of an office in the Foxborough/Plainville Area, and the promotion of several staff. As Founder and Director, I continue to be both proud and humbled by the incredibly talented staff I go to work with each day and the community of families and professionals who allow us the privilege of being part of their lives.
As the New Year often brings about health resolutions, including the desire to increase one’s physical and mental fitness, I am taking this opportunity to spotlight one of our most exciting new staff and services at NESCA: Certified Personal Trainer and Autism Fit Instructor Billy Demiri who leads our Personal and Social Coaching (PSC) Program.
When I arrived to check on how things were going with his first training session, I heard Liam (not his real name) say, “I make muscular dystrophy look easy!” This proclamation from a 10 year old boy who had, just hours before, during his evaluation, protested loudly that he would “never work with a coach, no matter what!” Following his diagnosis of muscular dystrophy, a progressive, degenerative disorder, Liam had become clinically depressed. Over the past few years, he was often irritable, oppositional, volatile, and completely sedentary. While a specialized school placement, psychopharmacological intervention and therapy had all been helpful, Liam was still struggling. His mother and I both viewed physical activity as being an important intervention for him, for medical and psychological reasons.
They were scheduled to have their intake session with Billy Demiri, who heads NESCA’s PSC program, after lunch on the day of Liam’s testing. Clearly, getting Liam to “sign on” was going to be a challenge. So, I hatched a plan that I explained to Billy and to Liam’s mother. Liam’s mother was to tell him that he didn’t have to work with the coach but that she herself wanted to talk with him. I suggested that Billy focus only on talking with Liam’s mother and not give any attention to Liam. While Billy and Liam’s mother chatted, Liam was reading a book but regularly glancing over at them, clearly interested. Eventually, he couldn’t resist joining the conversation. Billy invited Liam’s mother to look at the exercise room and Liam indicated that he wanted to go too. Liam succumbed to Billy’s gentle encouragement and was soon navigating an obstacle course and doing hurdle steps…with a huge smile on his face, a smile that I had not seen in the course of our evaluation. His mother’s smile was even wider.
Liam came back eagerly the following week for his training session. When he and Billy took a break, Liam told Billy, “I like this! I can use the stuff that we’re doing, like when I’m feeling mad or upset, to make me feel better.” He then shared with Billy how hard it’s been for him to know that he has muscular dystrophy and to be depressed.
Billy is not a psychotherapist but he is warm and an empathic listener, a young man who children and adolescents like, respect and trust. He has done a remarkable job forging a strong connection with each of his clients and skillfully uses that relationship as the basis for getting them to take risks, move out of their comfort zone, and persist in the face of challenge, which are all ingredients in developing “grit.” Billy’s clients make impressive progress not only physically but also emotionally. Many of Billy’s clients struggle with self-esteem and the concrete, measurable improvements that they see on a regular basis in their physical capabilities is a huge self-esteem booster. In addition, through the Physical and Social Coaching program, his clients reduce their level of anxiety, increase coping skills and learn about setting and achieving goals.
NESCA takes a highly integrative approach to the delivery of therapeutic services. In the case of PSC, Billy coordinates care with the neuropsychologists who have evaluated his clients or the psychotherapists who are treating them so that he understands the underlying social-emotional concerns to be addressed in his sessions. After an initial assessment of movement patterns, he develops an individualized physical training program that will result in improved physical well-being and serve as a vehicle for social-emotional growth for the client. As NESCA’s Founder and Director (and also a client of Billy’s!), I am tremendously proud to be able to offer this unique and ground-breaking service to our clients.
About the Author:
NESCA Founder/Director Ann Helmus, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical neuropsychologist who has been practicing for almost 20 years. In 1996, she jointly founded the Children’s Evaluation Center (CEC) in Newton, Massachusetts, serving as co-director there for almost ten years. During that time, CEC emerged as a leading regional center for the diagnosis and remediation of both learning disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders.
In September of 2007, Dr. Helmus established NESCA (Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents), a client and family-centered group of seasoned neuropsychologists and allied staff, many of whom she trained, striving to create and refine innovative clinical protocols and dedicated to setting new standards of care in the field.
Dr. Helmus specializes in the evaluation of children with learning disabilities, attention and executive function deficits and primary neurological disorders. In addition to assessing children, she also provides consultation and training to both public and private school systems. She frequently makes presentations to groups of parents, particularly on the topics of non-verbal learning disability and executive functioning.
Want to learn more about PSC? PSC will initially available for clients who are part of the NESCA family and have already participated in testing, consultation, or therapy at one of our Massachusetts or New Hampshire offices. To learn more about services, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, to book an intake with Billy, please complete NESCA’s Intake Form at https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/ and select “Personal and Social Coaching (PSC)” as your reason for referral.
To book an evaluation with Dr. Helmus, NESCA Founder and Director, or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville/Foxbourough, Massachusetts as well as Londonderry, New Hampshire. NESCA serves clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email email@example.com or call 617-658-9800.