NESCA is currently booking for in-person Real-life Skills and Executive Function Coaching in the Newton, MA office! Our experienced occupational therapists work alongside individuals to achieve their personalized goals, which often address functional life skills that allow them to thrive in their homes, schools, and communities. For those not local to Newton, MA, remote services are also offered. Click here for more information. To inquire about our coaching services, complete our Intake Form.

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NESCA Welcomes Back Carly Edelstein, MSW, LCSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Executive Function Coach

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach, NESCA

NESCA welcomes Ms. Carly Edelstein, MSW, LCSW, back to its coaching and psychotherapy services teams. She previously interned with NESCA, and we are thrilled to have her back on board as both a Psychotherapist and Executive Function Coach. Read more about Ms. Edelstein’s career journey and her return to NESCA in the following Q&A interview.

 

This is your second time working with NESCA. Tell us what you did with NESCA previously.
Yes, and I am elated to be back! During my graduate studies at Simmons University, I interned at NESCA as a psychotherapist. In addition to providing individual psychotherapy to children, adolescents, and young adults, I worked with a few high school and college students as an executive function (EF) coach. I also provided psychotherapy to clients from India and the Philippines, which was an incredible and unique experience. I have yet to find a practice as dynamic and integrative as NESCA and look forward to rejoining as a seasoned clinician!

You will be splitting your time and talents in two roles here at NESCA. Fill us in on your dual role and what your previous experiences bring to both.
At NESCA, I’ll be providing psychotherapy and executive function coaching. Both of these roles have been a consistent focus of mine simultaneously throughout my professional life. After obtaining a B.S. in education at the University of Vermont, I worked in special education as a paraprofessional, supporting students with special needs in the classroom. In this role, I helped students learn new strategies to maintain their focus, self-regulate, and improve their organization. Additionally, throughout graduate school, I worked part-time as an EF coach at Engaging Minds, helping elementary, middle, and high schoolers with their homework and school assignments by finding ways to improve their task initiation, organization, time management, and planning skills.

My interest in social work/mental health counseling was sparked by my experience as a student teacher at UVM. During the entirety of my practicum, I found myself  gravitating towards students who struggled academically, mentally, socially, and emotionally. I was determined to help these students navigate their challenges by building meaningful connections, providing additional academic support, and increasing their self-confidence by focusing on their strengths.

My counseling experience officially started in graduate school with two full-year-long internships. My first internship took place in the counseling department at Boston Green Academy, a public charter school for grades 6-12, and my second was at NESCA. After graduate school, I worked as a school adjustment counselor at Newton South High School and also took on clients part-time at a private practice. In these roles, I supported the social and emotional wellbeing of students with special needs, as well as their families. After working in corporate wellness for the last year and a half, I am excited to return to the clinical setting, working for a practice that was a major part of my social work journey.

Having worked as a high school adjustment counselor, you must have seen many of the challenges students have with executive function. What are your biggest takeaways from that experience? How do you think that prepared you to be an EF coach?
The majority of my students struggled with executive function, therefore providing support in this area was part of my day-to-day routine. My biggest takeaways are:

  1. Identifying a “why” helps individuals become more motivated to be proactive in their EF journey. For example, I tend to ask people how improving these skills will affect their academic goals, mental health, social relationships, etc., so that there is significant meaning to the work being done.
  2. There is a system that works for everyone! Whether it’s electronic or physical, once someone identifies an organization system that increases their independence, it’s important that they stick to it and are consistent with it. Having a set system will allow them to easily locate their assignments, know when they are due, and how they’ll go about completing them. It’s always helpful for parents and teachers to be made aware of this system as well so that everyone is on the same page.
  3. Creating a regular homework routine is key to increasing productivity and limiting distractions. This includes having an identified start time, location, and plan. I always recommend structured breaks being part of this plan as well.
  4. I always advise folks to not compare themselves to others when it comes to their EF skills! We all have natural strengths. A skill that comes easy to you may be the most challenging task for someone else.

There have been countless reports and studies related to the negative impact COVID had on kids. As a psychotherapist to teens and young adults, what challenges are you seeing most in youth post-pandemic?
There’s no doubt that the impact of COVID on our youth has presented serious and complex challenges. The loss of structure, social opportunities, and extracurriculars (to name a few) is a shock to the system and very traumatic. The biggest challenges I’ve seen post-pandemic have been an increase in digital dependence, cyberbullying, school-based anxiety/refusal, and regression in social skills. That being said, as important as it is to identify post-pandemic challenges, there is value in pointing out gained strengths as well. A lot of students who I worked with learned new coping skills, acquired a deeper understanding of their needs, and discovered exciting new hobbies that they now get to share with others.

 

About Carly Edelstein, MSW, LCSW
Carly Edelstein is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker practicing in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Having worked both in private practice and schools, she has extensive experience supporting students, families and educational teams to make positive changes. Ms. Edelstein provides executive function coaching and psychotherapy to clients ranging from middle school through adulthood. She also offers consultation to schools and families in order to support her clients across home and community environments.

 

To schedule an appointment with Ms. Edelstein for psychotherapy or EF coaching, please complete our online intake form

 

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

 

College Freshman and Executive Function: The Often Unexpected Demands

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

It is no surprise that the experience of a high school student is vastly different than that of a college student. This transition is seen as a pivotal step towards independence as we send students off to learn, grow, and explore in an often substantially less supported and less controlled environment. The hope is that after 13 years of K-12 education, our students have developed the academic, communication, and organization skills needed for success in school. They know the tricks of the trade. They have systems to employ and even more systems to fall back on if needed. They have become experts at learning, and they know the drill. But what happens when students get to college and everything, from the style of instruction, to the flow of coursework, all the way to the demands outside of learning are just…a little bit different? For some students, this is a welcome opportunity to rise to the challenge, but for others, this is a daunting, overwhelming, and seemingly impossible ask. As an occupational therapist specializing in executive function, I have spent the last few years directly supporting those college freshman – the ones who look at the new demands and think, “I was never prepared for this, I don’t know if I can do this.” And I don’t blame them for feeling that way! The demands and expectations truly change. Here are a few that stand out:

  • Time management – High school schedules are rigid. Students are expected to arrive at a specific time, follow a block schedule, and make it to each of their classes (generally all in one building). If they forget what period it is, they can ask a friend, teacher, or almost anyone in the hallway. Conversely, every student in college has their own schedule that they are expected to track and manage. On Monday, they may be in class from 10am-2pm, while on Tuesday they are in class from 3pm-5pm on the other side of campus. There is no one to quickly ask or check in with regarding when and where they are supposed to be and consistency is rare. This trouble is further compounded by the fact that college coursework requires a substantial amount of work to be done outside of the classroom that must be planned for and built into the weekly schedule.
  • Reading a syllabus – While “reading a syllabus” may sound simple, these documents are often over 20 pages long, providing information about course content, course expectations, professor’s preferred method of communication, grading systems, and a full schedule of what is due and when. Additionally, each of these documents uses a different format and is frequently amended during the semester. High school students are used to an online portal that is consistently used by their teachers and provides built-in reminders and updates. Syllabi are tricky, and many students skim them without absorbing.
  • Assignment tracking – As mentioned above, college portals are nowhere near as comprehensive, up-to-date, or accurate as most ex-high school students expect. Professors may change a due date in class without updating a syllabus or expect students to keep track of a paper that is due more than a month away. Many college students need support putting a system in place to quickly consolidate due dates, set internal deadlines, and track what they need to hand in. This is especially important when breaking down large assignments into manageable chunks or learning to prepare in advance to for busy times in the semester, such as midterms or finals week.
  • Communicating with instructors – Many college students need support in pushing themselves to attend office hours, reach out early and often via email if they have questions about classwork or assignments, and even introduce themselves to their professors.
  • Developing healthy habits and routines – On top of academic executive function demands, college students are dealing with an increase in life-based executive function demands. They are managing their own eating habits, morning routines, evening routines, and organizing all of their personal belongings in their own space. Completing all of this while maintaining life balance can be tricky, and may require some support.
  • Accessing accommodations – The accommodation process at a college level is vastly different from the IEP or 504 process in high school. While this topic could be a blog on its own, the biggest takeaway for me is the level of responsibility that falls on the students. They are in charge of letting each professor, at the beginning of every semester, know about their accommodations for sitting in classes, taking exams, or turning in assignments. This requires a level of self-advocacy and functional communication that they may not have had to demonstrate in high school. This demand does not disappear throughout the semester, as they often need to remind professors a week before an exam about their needs or independently book a room to take their test.

While this may seem like a lot, the good news is that our students have learned how to learn. Their systems may need updating, and their strategies may need fine tuning, but with guidance I have found college success to be a truly achievable goal. I often find that once provided with a foundation and tips for how to be successful, my college freshmen do rise to the challenge and eventually build the ability to do all of this independently. If you feel that your student could benefit from some executive function support as they embark on their college journey, please reach out about NESCA’s EF Coaching Program!

 

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 Executive Function Coaching 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: Skill Building and Maintenance over the Summer

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

With summer right around the corner, many students are thinking of warm evenings outside, days at the beach, pool or park, summer camps, and summer jobs. For parents, summer can sometimes feel like both a time of fun and a time of struggling to keep up with skills mastered and learned throughout the past school year, all while acclimating to a completely new summer routine. While some students receive summer services to keep up with important academic and executive function skills, there are absolutely ways for us to help support children and adolescents at home. Consider these three ways to incorporate executive function skill building into your child’s summer.

  1. Plan and Complete a Project – Work with your child to brainstorm a project that they would like to complete this summer. Some examples include having a lemonade stand, building a tree fort, doing a full bedroom makeover, or raising money for a cause they care about. Help your child figure out how to put together a plan to complete their goal. This will likely include a timeline complete with a comprehensive “To Do List,” a list of materials or supplies, and a list of people they may need to ask for help. The more intentional the planning of these steps is, the more a child will internalize the level of planning and prioritization that goes into accomplishing such a goal. You may need to jump in to help, but take every opportunity to defer to them and let them actively think things through before making suggestions or solving problems for them. Planning and executing a personal summer project helps to build organization, planning and prioritizing, flexible thinking, working memory, and task initiation.
  2. Organize a Family Outing – Summer can absolutely be a whirlwind, but reserve a day in the calendar for your child to plan a family outing or activity. This could be as big as a full day at the beach or as simple as a trip to lunch at their favorite restaurant. Help them think through everything that will be needed. What time will we leave? How long will it take to get there? How can you find that information? Should we check Google Maps together? How will we pay for the meal? By guiding your child through all of the steps before these activities, you help them recognize the level of planning and forethought that is necessary. For older children or adolescents, consider giving them a budget and asking them to plan a family outing independently, taking into account each family member’s preferences and schedules.
  3. Add a Weekly Task – During the school year, parents often do not have time to add chores or anything new at all to their child’s calendar. Dinners are often prepared and eaten on the fly between rehearsals, appointments, practices, and homework, and laundry gets done when someone has a free moment. Summer can be a great time of the year to add in an expectation for students who have been a bit overloaded with homework or other distractions. Consider adding a weekly task that student both need to complete and figuring out a way to remember (often a digital reminder!). One of my favorite options is to have a student cook a meal for the family one night per week. Have them set an alarm for 12pm that day, or even the day before, that prompts them to “figure out the plan for dinner.” This may look drastically different at various ages. An eight-year-old may be very proud of themselves for serving boxed macaroni and cheese (made with supervision), while a high school student may be up for trying to recreate a family recipe. The goal is not a gourmet Tuesday night meal, but practice with prior planning, sequencing, following directions, and building time management skills.

Incorporating children and adolescents into the planning, hard work, and many executive function tasks that go in to making a summer run smoothly allows them to build skills naturally. By handing down responsibility and increasing expectations bit by bit, we can allow our students to build their skills slowly and confidently. It’s important that students realize all of these many steps before they are expected to do everything on their own. Often, allowing children to feel this level of control and responsibility leads them to feel quite accomplished and proud of themselves! If you feel that facilitating this may be tricky, consider reaching out about executive function coaching, as all of these strategies can be practiced one-on-one with a coach!

 

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 Executive Function Coaching 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.

 

Music and the Mind – Musicianship Impacting Executive Functions

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By: Zachary Cottrell, Psy.D., LMHC

Pediatric Neuropsychology Fellow, NESCA

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Book:

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

Articles:

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

References:

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

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

 

About the Author: 

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

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

 

To book an evaluation with Zachary Cottrell one of our expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form

 

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