While school may be wrapping up, Summer is an ideal time to embark on transition assessment and services to ensure that your child’s IEP process is preparing them for learning, living, and working after their public education. The ultimate goal of transition assessment is to identify the necessary skills and services to ready a student age 13-21 for transitioning from high school to the next phase of life. To book an intake and consultation appointment, visit: www.nesca-newton.com/intake. Not sure if you need an assessment? You can schedule a one-hour parent/caregiver intake and consultation.



Learning with Executive Dysfunction—How Graphic Organizers Can Help

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By Olivia Rogers, MA, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist, NESCA

When it comes to executive dysfunction, we often see students struggle with the organization of language. This presents differently in each student, but may be seen as difficulty comprehending information, and getting ideas out of their heads and organized into words or on paper. They might recognize the words when listening or reading, but they hit a wall when it comes to making sense of the message or describing it. This often results in students feeling lost, confused, and overwhelmed.

When students struggle to organize language and grasp concepts independently in the classroom, we need to break it down and teach it differently. Graphic organizers help us to do so.

What is a graphic organizer?

Graphic organizers are tools that use visual symbols to express knowledge, concepts, thoughts, or ideas, and the relationships between them. The main purpose of a graphic organizer is to provide a visual aid to facilitate learning and instruction. They help students see visually what is expected of them, what they should focus on, and break complex tasks down for them.

What does the evidence show?

There is plenty of evidence demonstrating the benefits of using graphic organizers. The results of most studies have voiced the positive effects of graphic organizers in mainly comprehension and writing, in addition to remembering course content. One such study recommended the use of graphic organizers for teaching expository text structures with students to improve reading comprehension. A popular strategy to help students understand expository texts is to teach the various types of text structures: cause-and-effect, compare/contrast, problem/solution, etc. When students know the underlying organization of the information, it helps them create a working model of it in their minds, resulting in a better understanding and ability to recall. (Pyle et al., 2017). Another study sought to investigate how pre-writing activities based on graphic organizers, such as webs, and beginning, middle and end charts, affect the overall quality of student writing. The results of the study indicate that using appropriate pre-writing strategies based on graphic organizers and giving enough time for the students lead to better quality writing (Servati, 2012).

How are Graphic Organizers Used in Speech Language Therapy?

1. Graphic Organizers Help Students Focus

Many students exhibit disorganized thinking processes, poor initiation skills, word recall difficulties, poor attention, and decreased task endurance. These weaknesses can impact a student’s ability to get started on a project, organize a writing assignment, or even complete a math task. Graphic organizers help students access prior knowledge and get them actively engaged in learning.

2. Graphic Organizers Provide a Visual Map and Help Clarify Abstract Concepts

Have you ever had so much information that you couldn’t hold onto it all? Graphic organizers bring together large pieces of information and tie the relationships together. The concepts and linguistic relationships flow better and make sense to students.

3. Graphic Organizers Help Build Vocabulary

Students benefit from graphic organizers as they expand their word knowledge and make connections. Graphic organizers are great for teaching concepts like descriptive adjectives, antonyms/synonyms, items in a category, part/whole relationships, and definitions.

4. Graphic Organizers Improve Expressive Language

Graphic organizers support oral and written language in all areas of academic learning. Some students have difficulty creating pictures in their head, retrieving words to verbalize their ideas, and putting their thoughts in order. Utilizing a graphic organizer can help students when they need to present information orally or develop a draft for writing.



Architects For Learning. (2022, May 18). Helping students manage what’s hard about school and thrive as life-long learners. Retrieved June 21, 2022, from https://www.architectsforlearning.com/students-parents/about-us/

Erwin, L. (2017, May 26). 5 reasons to use graphic organizers in speech therapy. My Speech Tools. Retrieved June 21, 2022, from https://myspeechtools.blogspot.com/2017/05/5-reasons-you-should-use-graphic-organizers-speech-therapy-sessions.html

Servati, Katrina, “Prewriting Strategies and their Effect on Student Writing” (2012). Education Masters. Paper 242. https://fisherpub.sjfc.edu/education_ETD_masters/242

Sherman, H. (2017, December 23). Using Graphic Organizers is Essential in Speech Therapy. Speech Time Fun Speech and Language Activities. Retrieved June 21, 2022, from https://speechtimefun.com/using-graphic-organizers-is-essential-in-speech-therapy/

Pyle, N., Vasquez, A. C., Lignugaris, K., & B., Gillam, S.L., Reutzel, D.R., Olszewski, A., Segura, H., Hartzheim, D., Laing, W., and Pyle, D. (2017). Effects of expository text structure interventions on comprehension: A meta-analysis. Reading Research Quarterly, 52(5), 1–33. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1002/ rrq. 179


About the Author

Olivia Rogers received her Master of Arts in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Maine, after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Sciences and Disorders and concentrations in Childhood Development and Disability Studies. She holds a Certificate of Clinical Competence in speech-language pathology from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, as well as a professional license in speech-language pathology from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Ms. Rogers has experience working both in the pediatric clinic setting as well as in public schools, evaluating and treating children 2-18 years of age presenting with a wide range of diagnoses (e.g., language delays and disorders, speech sound disorders, childhood apraxia of speech, autism spectrum disorder, social communication disorder, and Down syndrome). Ms. Rogers enjoys making sure therapy is fun and tailored to each client’s interests.

In her free time, she enjoys listening to podcasts and spending times with friends and families.


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.


To book an appointment with Olivia Rogers, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.


Executive Function and Goal Setting

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

Personal, professional, and academic goals are a large part of what drives us as we transition from one stage of life to the next. They also provide direction as we choose and maintain the habits and routines that we feel are important to daily life. Determining what our goals are is a big step, one that students are often working on with their families, school supports, and friends as they start to figure out their next steps in life. But once these goals are solidified, what’s next? How  do we get there? As an executive function coach working with high school and college students, I can attest that this can unexpectedly be the most difficult step in the process. Let’s talk about some ways that we can support students in these endeavors.

  1. Break down goals into manageable chunks. Many goals tend to be large or long-term and can feel daunting and amorphous. For example, a common goal for high school seniors might be, “I will apply to five colleges by their application deadlines.” We can help students by breaking a goal like this down and creating step by step lists, such as: put together a list of preferences for my ideal school, research schools that fit these preferences, meet with guidance counselor to review my research, finalize list of five schools, ask teachers for letters of recommendations, fill out each section of the Common App, write personal essay, have English teacher or other support person review personal essay and give feedback, etc. This list is not comprehensive, but it does show how much goes into the seemingly simple initial goal.
  2. Help them prioritize. Once students have created a comprehensive list of steps, help them to understand what steps need to be attended to right away and which can wait. Continuing with the example of applying to college, figure out what steps need to happen before the Thanksgiving or winter break! It may also be helpful to figure out which steps seem difficult for your specific student. For some, this may be writing the personal essay; for others, it may be building up the courage to ask a favorite teacher to write them a recommendation. Busy students who are already taking multiple classes may have trouble figuring out how to add the steps needed to reach another goal into their schedule.
  3. Put together a plan. Set a timeline. Put internal deadlines into a calendar. Figure out specific times to work towards the goal. Find people who can be solid supports and help to make things happen.
  4. Check in on them. Offer to check in along the way. Some students will love having a partner to track their progress with, while others simply need help setting the foundation.

While this example is very concrete and includes working towards a specific predetermined deadline, not all goals need to be. Whether your student’s goal is to find a summer job they enjoy, get an average of a B in all of their classes, or find a new hobby that makes them happy, using these strategies can help to make a goal feel more manageable.

Finally, you might notice that these steps are quite similar to some of the strategies for completing specific academic tasks, and you would be right! Take, for example, writing a research paper. We want students to break that task down into smaller pieces, such as finding sources, creating an outline, writing a rough draft, and developing a final draft. We then help them to prioritize which steps will need more time to complete and eventually put together a plan so they dedicate sufficient time to each section and submit a final draft on time. Many of the academic executive function tasks that we learn in school create processes and roadmaps for how to tackle life skills that require similar executive function skills. However, not all students can transfer these skills to setting goals without some direct support or help seeing the similarities in the process.


To learn more about Executive Function from Dr. Bellenis, join her along with Dan Levine from Engaging Minds, for a free webinar, “Executive Function in the Covid Era: Managing School and Life (Kindergarten through High School),” on March 8 at 7:00PM ET.

Register now: https://engagingmindsonline.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_vWNlilZkS36imBqvr4IMZQ


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.