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postsecondary life

October is Gap Year Exploration Month – Why Should Teens on IEPs Care?

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services, NESCA

On September 12th, I received an email from a colleague with the title May I nominate you? The body of the email described that October is Gap Year Exploration Month (GYEM) and asked if I would be willing to be a GYEM Amplifier, meaning would I be willing to share information with my personal and professional network to create awareness about gap years and increase student consideration of gap years as one of their post-secondary options. This was an easy “YES!” for me because I have spent the majority of my career trying to help students and families who I work with to understand that there are many other options besides college, or before college, for students to pursue after high school. Just last week, I was in an IEP meeting for a 10th grade student recommending that the student have an IEP goal and objectives that would help to enhance his understanding of a variety of post-12th grade options so that he could make an informed and active choice about his post-high school activities.

In the United States, every student who is on an IEP has the right to postsecondary transition planning. This is a process by which a young person is supported in the setting of goals and expectations for themselves and in building the skills and resources that will enable them to reach those goals. This should be a completely individualized process. However, in working with a large number of clients in Massachusetts and other Northeast states, I have observed that most middle and high school students have the same postsecondary vision: College. There is a strong consensus that college is the only goal to reach after high school, rather than an important step that leads to gainful employment in an area of strength, interest, or aptitude. Students with and without disabilities often know that they want to go to college (or that they are expected to go to college), but they have no career goals or sense about whether a college degree will actually benefit them in finding employment related to their aptitudes. Despite the data, most young people (and their parents) simply take as fact that college is what you do after high school. So how do we empower students to better manage the transition process? First and foremost, we need to start discussing career development, and to help our youth to understand the wide range of postsecondary options available to them, at earlier ages. A bachelor’s degree is one academic pursuit that has a place for many students, but for a great number of students, it is not the best immediate option available after high school. There are many other options worth exploring, such as two-year college programs, vocational or certificate programs, apprenticeships, military, employment, and gap year programs. So today, let’s talk about those gap year programs!

What is a gap year? A gap year is a deliberate period of personal growth typically taken by students after high school and before post-secondary education or career. During a gap year, individuals engage in various activities that foster personal growth, skill development, and exploration of different paths before committing to further education or career choices. These activities may include volunteering, interning, traveling, working, learning new skills, or pursuing other forms of experiential learning. The purpose of a gap year is to gain valuable life experiences, expand one’s perspective, and make informed decisions about future educational and career endeavors.

What can you do on a gap year? The options are endless! Gappers can choose from structured programs like service learning or volunteer projects, or pursue independent activities, such as interning, hiking, or working on organic farms. There are opportunities both within the US and abroad.

Is a gap year expensive? A meaningful gap year can be planned on various budgets. Students can offset costs through work, fundraising, scholarships, and financial aid. Some gap year programs accept funds from 529 Plans. Moreover, gap year students often graduate from college in less time, potentially saving families money in the long run. Explore a comprehensive list of scholarships here.

What are the evidence-based benefits of taking a gap year?

  • Academic Success: Recent studies show that gap year students outperform traditional students academically when they enter college.
  • Employability Boost: 88% of gap year graduates report that their experience significantly enhances their employability.
  • Personal Development: 98% of gap year graduates claim that their gap year helped them grow as a person.
  • Career Exploration: 60% of gap year graduates credit their experience with either confirming their choice of career or setting them on their current path.

References for these statistics can be found here.

Can you still attend college after a gap year? According to the best data on this question, 90% of gap year students who intended to go to college enroll within a year of graduating high school.

How can I learn more about planning a gap year?

Seek guidance from your school counselor.

Attend local USA Gap Year Fairs or online events to meet with programs and gather more information.

Check out some of the following Articles/Videos:

Visit the web sites below:

Listen to a Podcast

Read a Book

Is a transition program the same thing as a gap year program? Not exactly. Postsecondary transition programs are typically programs for young adults with disabilities that target skill development in one or more transition planning areas: life skill development, vocational skill development, and/or readiness for college. Often, developing executive function and social skills is a strong emphasis of these programs. Some of these programs are therapeutic and target the mental health needs of the young adult while supporting skill development in transition planning areas. While some students will participate in transition programs or transitional living programs as gap experiences, transition programs are typically a different category of program. At NESCA, we specialize in helping families determine whether transition programming is needed beyond 12th grade and support families to find – or create –

postsecondary transition programs. We also coordinate with local specialists – Gap Year Consultants, College Consultants, and Therapeutic Educational Consultants—when students may need special expert support in any of those areas.

REFERENCE: Several of the FAQs in this blog are copied directly from GYEM: Digital Dispatch materials created by the Gap Year Association of America and distributed to Gap Year Exploration Month Amplifiers throughout the world.

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s transition specialists, please complete our online intake form

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham (coming soon), 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.

Building Independence—How Independent Living Centers Can Help Youth with Disabilities

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services, NESCA

Good transition planning is about building a “team” that can outlast special education and using resources wisely. There is often talk of “maximizing benefits” so that private funds can be reserved and made to last. In order to create an effective and individualized transition plan, you have to know what resources are available in your local community as well as on the state and federal levels. One resource that may be overlooked or underused is your local Center for Independent Living (CIL). In Massachusetts, and some other states, these are often named Independent Living Centers (ILC).

Across the United States, CILs are free community-based agencies that provide a range of services designed to help individuals with disabilities build skills for living more independently. The barrier to entry is typically very low as the intake process may sometimes just be a phone call and acknowledgement of having a disability.

At a minimum, each center is charged with providing the following core services:

  • Information and referral: Learning about services, providers, benefits, and programs within your local community that can help you achieve your goals (e.g., advocacy, daily living, housing, recreation, etc.). Also, learning about resources offered through state and national organizations.
  • Skills training: Explicit instruction of self-advocacy and/or life skills that can help you to live, learn, and work more independently. Examples areas for skill development include accommodations, personal care, housing and household management, managing finances, interview preparation, etc.
  • Peer counseling/mentoring: Talking with a peer by phone, video conference, or in person for mutual support, confidence building, and ultimately to make more independent and informed choices.
  • Advocacy: Learning to advocate on both individual and systems levels. Building skills to advocate for oneself, including filing complaints or taking legal action to remove barriers when needed.
  • Transition services: Services to facilitate transition to postsecondary adult life, services to facilitate transition from institutions to the community, and services to assist individuals at risk of needing to be in institutions.

Additionally, ILCs/CILs may have developed services that are specifically useful for consumers in their local community or state. And there is generally no age requirement for accessing services. For example, many ILCs in Massachusetts have specific youth programming or Transition to Adulthood Programs (TAPs) which offer advocacy, skills training, and peer counseling specifically tailored to students.

ILCs/CILs are awesome agencies run by, and for, individuals with disabilities. However, in my experience, they are not talked about or accessed nearly enough as part of transition planning. If you are reading the blog and interested in building independence at home and in the community for yourself, your child, or a youth you work with—I strongly recommend you look up your local Center for Independent Living and call to find out more about accessing services today.

Resources:

Administration for Community Living – What is Independent Living?  https://acl.gov/programs/aging-and-disability-networks/centers-independent-living

ILRU Directory of Centers for Independent Living and Associations – https://www.ilru.org/projects/cil-net/cil-center-and-association-directory

Massachusetts Independent Living Centers – https://www.mass.gov/independent-living-centers

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s transition specialists, 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 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.

Transition Assessment: What Are You Testing that Hasn’t Already been Tested?

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services, NESCA

Transition planning is a complex process centered around helping students, typically who receive special education services, to set goals for their postsecondary adult lives and to engage in learning, services, and experiences that will help them to ultimately reach those goals. Assessment is a critical aspect of this process, both as a means for collecting baseline information about the student and measuring progress throughout the planning process. Transition planning is federally mandated for students at age 16. However, some states require schools to start the process earlier. For instance, transition planning is required as part of the IEP process for students turning age 14 in Massachusetts.

Transition assessment is therefore required in middle school or early high school for most students in the United States. By this point in time, students on IEPs have often participated in lots of testing. Students may have had academic testing, psychological evaluation, speech and language testing, occupational and physical therapy assessments, functional behavioral assessment, and even home or health assessments. They have participated in so much previous testing, that some parents or professionals may ask, “What could a transition specialist be testing that has not already been addressed through other evaluations?”

The answer is, “A lot!” There are many areas that can and should be evaluated as part of an informed transition planning process, but which are not frequently evaluated when creating earlier IEPs. This is because initial IEPs and early reevaluations focus on helping students to access education and school life, but transition planning is about helping students to develop necessary skills for accessing learning, living, community, and employment as an adult. The following tables are based on on the Transition Assessment Planning Form developed by the Transition Coalition at the University of Kansas in 2008. These highlight many areas of assessment that can and should be considered as part of a comprehensive transition assessment and planning process. These also indicate which areas have usually not been considered for evaluation prior to a thorough transition assessment process.

Please note that every student on an IEP is an individual with unique strengths and disability-related needs and so these tables are offered as a general picture of what has been observed at NESCA in the majority of cases. Additionally, while all of the areas above are considered as part of a comprehensive transition assessment and planning process, they may not need direct assessment depending on student profile, postsecondary goals, and existing evaluation or report data.

For more information about transition assessment and transition planning at NESCA, visit our transition services page and our transition FAQs.

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s transition specialists, 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 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.

So, You Are Taking a Leave of Absence from College—Now What?

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist, NESCA

Almost 75% of college students reported moderate to severe psychological distress during the 2020-2021 school year (National College Health Assessment, American College Health Association, 2021). College students across the country are continuing to struggle with depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts this school year. My appointment calendar is often made up of meetings with college students or parents of college students beginning the process of taking a leave of absence and wondering what to do next. Here are some tips that I shared with many of these students and families.

Get Treatment

Many students need to participate in skill-based therapies (cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention, acceptance and commitment therapy, etc.) in order to build up coping skills that may not have been developed in high school. Depending on the severity of current mental health issues, a student may need to participate in an intensive inpatient or outpatient treatment. Ultimately, many students need to find a supportive outpatient therapist—ideally someone who will be able to continue treating the student if they plan to make a future college attempt.

Psychopharmacological intervention (i.e., medication) can be important to consider. Sometimes students have not been taking medications as prescribed or they are taking medications exactly as prescribed but not gaining the intended benefits. Consulting with a prescriber can be an important treatment step for determining whether medication, or medication changes, are necessary.

Get Exercise

For any student, having a regular routine for exercise, sleep, and healthy diet has an impact. However, this is even more critical for students who are vulnerable to anxiety and/or depression. Exercise does not have to start big. Walking (with or without the dog), hiking, or just moving along to a YouTube fitness video for 10 minutes a day will make a difference. It’s critical to schedule the exercise in and often easiest if this is part of a morning or evening routine. For some students, working with a personal trainer or attending scheduled classes helps with accountability. Using a wearable exercise tracker like a Fitbit, Garmin Watch, or Apple Watch can also help with motivation and consistency.

Get a Job

Over the past 25 years, we have seen a notable decrease in the number of high school students who have participated in paid employment. Many students went off to college without taking time to connect college participation with future career interests. Using time off from school to explore work preferences and build transferrable skills (and a resume) can help students experience efficacy and improve mood. As a college student, no one is particularly excited when you show up to class, and the professor certainly doesn’t depend on you in order to get their job done. However, as an employee, students can experience tangible success through accomplishing work activities, receiving gratitude from coworkers and supervisors, and earning money. Work can also provide an important social experience. This is also an historic time to be looking for a first or early career position in the American workforce. Entry-level workers can make good wages. and there are plenty of part-time job openings across industries. Moreover, it’s difficult to get fired right now because good help is truly hard to find.

For students who are not ready to commit to paid work, and need time to recover and build energies up, volunteer jobs are also good opportunities. Some students will do better with brief drop-in volunteer activities while others my want to schedule more routine work hours.

Consider Taking Classes

When students take a leave of absence from college, the assumption is that the student will want to return to a college experience. But many students take a leave of absence and determine that they do not want to go back to college or that they do not want to go back to the same college. If a student wants to keep up academic skills, they can audit or take one or more college courses during the spring semester (depending on their college’s policies and whether they are planning to return). Community colleges, state colleges, and part-time or online college programs (like Harvard Extension School) are good options to explore for classes of interest as a non-degree seeking student. Starting back with a class that is high interest or a low degree of difficulty can be helpful for students who need to rebuild confidence. Additionally, when students are unsure if they are going to return to college or uncertain of a potential future major, it can be good to try classes that are likely to transfer and generally meet basic liberal arts requirements.

Get a Coach

Some students with mental health issues have other underlying challenges that contributed to their struggles in college. There could be a learning disability that wasn’t appropriately being addressed with accommodations, executive function challenges that impacted keeping up with pace, or volume of academics, social challenges that were exacerbated by the highly social dorm environment, or other issues. It is important to consider whether there are skill deficits that may have contributed to a student experiencing anxiety or depression. Some students will benefit from life skills, executive function, or social coaching in order to build up areas that are weaker before heading back to college (or may want to continue with that coaching when they head back).

Other students may want to take time to work with a career or transition coach to do some self-exploration. Taking a step back to participate in self-assessment related to one’s preferences and interests and to determine how those align with potential college major and future career interests can be helpful. I have worked with several students on leave to go through a career planning process. For some, they discover that they chose exactly the right college and major, and that can increase motivation when they get back to school, with proper supports in place. For others, this process sets a student on a completely new path.

Let us know, in our online Intake Form, if your student needs support during their time off from school and/or coaching to assist during their time off or when they return to college.

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

 

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, call 617-658-9800 or complete our online Intake Form.

Age of Majority: Preparing Students to Make Special Education Decisions as Adults

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services, NESCA

One of the exciting aspects of being a transition specialist who evaluates and provides consultation to students and schools across the country is that transition services are dictated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004), a federal law. Students have similar rights across all 50 states regarding how their IEPs must prepare them for postsecondary learning, living, and employment experiences. However, there are additional rights and responsibilities related to special education that are dictated by state laws and regulations. Age of Majority and the Transfer of Rights to students is one of these issues that varies from state to state.

At the Age of Majority, or the age of legal adulthood, in each state, young adults are granted certain legal rights (e.g., voting, marrying, opening a credit card, signing contracts). Each state determines which rights will transfer to young adults within their state. IDEA 2004 gives states the right to transfer educational decision-making rights to students who have reached the Age of Majority—this means that all of the educational rights previously accorded to parents/guardians may transfer directly to the student. The Age of Majority is 18 in most, but not all, states.

In states that transfer educational rights at the Age of Majority, school districts are required to provide notice to parents and students ahead of time so that families are not surprised that the parents’ rights will transfer to the student. Additionally, at least one year before the student reaches the Age of Majority, the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) needs to include a statement indicating that the student was informed of their rights under IDEA.

There are exceptions to the Transfer of Rights when a student has been determined to be “incompetent” under state law—this often involves a parent/guardian taking partial or complete guardianship of the student. Students may alternatively have a Power of Attorney drawn up so that a parent can continue to represent their educational interests. States may also have their own processes for electing decision-making when the student reaches the Age of Majority. For example, in Massachusetts, students who have turned 18 are presented with a choice to take over decision-making, share decision-making with a parent or other willing adult, or delegate decision making to their parent or another willing third party; They sign a document indicating their elected choice on or after their 18th birthday.

There are many educational rights that a student may assume when they reach the Age of Majority. Some of these include receiving notice of IEP meetings, consenting to evaluation, placement, and/or an IEP, deciding to drop out of school, or deciding to accept a diploma and end eligibility for transition services. Parents and professionals can help students prepare for the Age of Majority and Transfer of Rights ahead of time. Pacer’s National Parent Center on Transition and Employment has put together a handout with tips for doing this important work. Some of the tips are included within my longer list of preparatory activities below:

  1. Start building choice-making and decision-making skills as young as possible.
  2. Teach students about the IEP process in elementary or middle school.
  3. Encourage students to observe and participate in IEP meetings.
  4. Allow students to invite preferred educators, family members, and community members to IEP meetings for support.
  5. Role-play IEP meetings prior to participation.
  6. Begin talking about Transfer of Rights when students first begin attending IEP meetings.
  7. Prior to reaching the Age of Majority, talk about how the student thinks they will want to make decisions across areas of life—What decisions do you want to make totally alone? What decisions do you want to make in collaboration with others? What decisions do you want other people to make for you?
  8. Help students to develop good working relationships with school personnel and team members.
  9. Stay involved in the IEP process even after a child reaches the Age of Majority—but allow the student to be the primary participant in the development of their IEP.

If you suspect that your child will not be competent to handle educational decision-making, it will be important to consult with clinical and legal experts well in advance of your child reaching the Age of Majority. It is also important to keep your IEP team informed regarding any legal proceedings or arrangements that may impact educational decision-making. However, many students who are not competent to manage complex medical or financial decisions can still be strong participants in their educational processes and transition services. For tools that you can use to help educate students regarding the IEP process, please check out the video and document resources from imdetermined.org. For tools that you can use to explore decision-making and supported decision-making as students approach adulthood, please review these resources from Charting The Lifecourse.

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

 

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, call 617-658-9800 or complete our online Intake Form.

So, You Are Taking a Leave of Absence from College—Now What?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist, NESCA

Almost 75% of college students reported moderate to severe psychological distress during the 2020-2021 school year (National College Health Assessment, American College Health Association, 2021). College students across the country are continuing to struggle with depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts this school year. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, my appointment calendar consisted primarily of meetings with college students or parents of college students beginning the process of taking a leave of absence and wondering what to do next. Here are some tips that I shared with many of these students and families.

Get Treatment

Many students need to participate in skill-based therapies (cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention, acceptance and commitment therapy, etc.) in order to build up coping skills that may not have been developed in high school. Depending on the severity of current mental health issues, a student may need to participate in an intensive inpatient or outpatient treatment. Ultimately, many students need to find a supportive outpatient therapist—ideally someone who will be able to continue treating the student if they plan to make a future college attempt.

Psychopharmacological intervention (i.e., medication) can be important to consider. Sometimes students have not been taking medications as prescribed or they are taking medications exactly as prescribed but not gaining the intended benefits. Consulting with a prescriber can be an important treatment step for determining whether medication, or medication changes, are necessary.

Get Exercise

For any student, having a regular routine for exercise, sleep, and healthy diet has an impact. However, this is even more critical for students who are vulnerable to anxiety and/or depression. Exercise does not have to start big. Walking (with or without the dog), hiking, or just moving along to a YouTube fitness video for 10 minutes a day will make a difference. It’s critical to schedule the exercise in and often easiest if this is part of a morning or evening routine. For some students, working with a personal trainer or attending scheduled classes helps with accountability. Using a wearable exercise tracker like a Fitbit, Garmin Watch, or Apple Watch can also help with motivation and consistency.

Get a Job

Over the past 25 years, we have seen a notable decrease in the number of high school students who have participated in paid employment. Many students went off to college without taking time to connect college participation with future career interests. Using time off from school to explore work preferences and build transferrable skills (and a resume) can help students experience efficacy and improve mood. As a college student, no one is particularly excited when you show up to class, and the professor certainly doesn’t depend on you in order to get their job done. However, as an employee, students can experience tangible success through accomplishing work activities, receiving gratitude from coworkers and supervisors, and earning money. Work can also provide an important social experience. This is also an historic time to be looking for a first or early career position in the American workforce. Entry-level workers can make good wages. and there are plenty of part-time job openings across industries. Moreover, it’s difficult to get fired right now because good help is truly hard to find.

For students who are not ready to commit to paid work, and need time to recover and build energies up, volunteer jobs are also good opportunities. Some students will do better with brief drop-in volunteer activities while others my want to schedule more routine work hours.

Consider Taking Classes

When students take a leave of absence from college, the assumption is that the student will want to return to a college experience. But many students take a leave of absence and determine that they do not want to go back to college or that they do not want to go back to the same college. If a student wants to keep up academic skills, they can audit or take one or more college courses during the spring semester (depending on their college’s policies and whether they are planning to return). Community colleges, state colleges, and part-time or online college programs (like Harvard Extension School) are good options to explore for classes of interest as a non-degree seeking student. Starting back with a class that is high interest or a low degree of difficulty can be helpful for students who need to rebuild confidence. Additionally, when students are unsure if they are going to return to college or uncertain of a potential future major, it can be good to try classes that are likely to transfer and generally meet basic liberal arts requirements.

Get a Coach

Some students with mental health issues have other underlying challenges that contributed to their struggles in college. There could be a learning disability that wasn’t appropriately being addressed with accommodations, executive function challenges that impacted keeping up with pace, or volume of academics, social challenges that were exacerbated by the highly social dorm environment, or other issues. It is important to consider whether there are skill deficits that may have contributed to a student experiencing anxiety or depression. Some students will benefit from life skills, executive function, or social coaching in order to build up areas that are weaker before heading back to college (or may want to continue with that coaching when they head back).

Other students may want to take time to work with a career or transition coach to do some self-exploration. Taking a step back to participate in self-assessment related to one’s preferences and interests and to determine how those align with potential college major and future career interests can be helpful. I have worked with several students on leave to go through a career planning process. For some, they discover that they chose exactly the right college and major, and that can increase motivation when they get back to school, with proper supports in place. For others, this process sets a student on a completely new path.

Let us know, in our online Intake Form, if your student needs support during their time off from school and/or coaching to assist during their time off or when they return to college.

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

 

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, call 617-658-9800 or complete our online Intake Form.

College Myth Buster: Four-Year College Degrees Are Most Often Not Completed in Four Years

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist, NESCA

One of the biggest challenges in supporting students with disabilities, and their families, as they contemplate the transition from high school to college is combatting the many “myths” that exist in our culture and brains about college. Chief among those myths is the expectation that a 17- or 18-year-old should be able to:

  • Select “the right” college—which is a “fit” for their interests and personality during a period of time when they are quickly changing and forming a new view of themselves and their identity.
  • Easily bridge the transition from high school to college—even though the expectations for time management, class and study hours, life skills, extracurricular participation, meeting graduation requirements, etc., are completely different.
  • And, successfully complete 120 or more college credit hours within just four years.

The reality is that the majority of students who enroll at a “four-year” college in the United States will not finish their bachelor’s degree in four years. Instead, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, just 41 percent of first-time, full-time college students earn a bachelor’s degree in four years. To rephrase, the majority of students who enroll at a college expecting to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in four years will be disappointed. Given that colleges are excellent at marketing, you may notice when researching schools, that it is far more common for public and private universities to advertise their “six-year” graduation rate, rather than the four-year rate. Even so, the overall six-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time undergraduate students in 2020 in the United States was 64 percent overall—or 63 percent at public institutions and 68 percent at private nonprofit institutions. There is essentially a one in three chance that a student who enrolls at a particular college, will not end up with a degree from that college six years later.

While these numbers can be somewhat startling, it is important to go into the college process with eyes wide open and to pay attention to each college’s retention rates from freshman to sophomore year as well as their graduation rates. There is also a great opportunity here to rethink college planning and college paths. Rather than trying to find “the right” college for seeking a bachelor’s degree, students might instead look for “the right” college to start being a college student at. Sometimes, this is the community college right down the street where the student can trial classes of interest to narrow down their choices of major and also trial classes in areas of challenge (such as math, or a lab science) if the student is worried about being able to pass such classes at a four-year college. Another possibility for students with learning disabilities can be to start at a college that is designed for students with learning disabilities or that has a great learning disabilities program. We have the opportunity to help students forge a college path that looks a lot more like a career path, starting with an “entry-level” school and working up to a school that offers the student the rigor and concentration that reflects the student’s highest potential. For students interested in this type of planning, familiarity with transfer rates and transfer agreements between colleges can be an important part of the college research process. Financial planning is also critical—rather than a student needing to fund six years of college at a private institution, participation in a community college as a starter school or taking classes at a community college or public college during the summer might help to curb overall college costs.

In addition to thinking creatively about college planning, I think it is important to talk earnestly about college retention and graduation rates with teenagers—to let students know that there is actually a good chance they might not like the college they choose, might decide to change colleges, or might not graduate in four years. These are the facts of college, and we need to normalize the experience of trying college and deciding it’s not the right school or right time, needing to take a semester off for mental health reasons, or simply needing more time to get through it. Because that is what’s normal in this country right now!

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

 

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, call 617-658-9800 or complete our online Intake Form.

Making the Most of Summer – Setting a Few Life Skill Goals (for College and Life in General after High School)

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist, NESCA

Summer in the United States is looking more “normal” than it has in three years. Kids are in camps, summer school is in-person, and families are traveling. While there is a semblance of planning and activity that many of us missed greatly in 2020 and 2021, many teenagers are still finding their groove with changing work schedules, driver’s education, etc. No matter what your teenager is doing, this is great time to sit down and set a few “simple” life skill goals for the summer. In 2020, I wrote a two-part blog series focused on eight life skills that are critical to build before college:

  1. Getting up “on time” each morning
  2. Washing, drying, and putting away laundry—including sheets
  3. Basic kitchen skills
  4. Using basic tools (e.g., screwdriver, hammer, measuring tape, etc.)
  5. Medication management
  6. Money management
  7. Routine exercise
  8. Using a calendar for scheduling

For teenagers in high school or heading off to college, these are great skills to begin tackling over the summer months. For example, getting up by a certain time is something that can be especially important to work on when consequences are low. For instance, it is hard to let a teen sleep in when they are going to miss an AP exam, but it can be easier to let them practice using an alarm (and possibly oversleeping) when they are going to a movie with a friend or attending a camp. Summer is a great time for teens to be able to experience natural consequences as they practice taking on new risks and responsibilities associated with some of the life skills above.

A challenge when working with, or parenting, teenagers who have a lot of skills to develop is figuring out where to start or how to gain “buy-in.” One of the ways that I like to work with students to set life skill goals is to have the student take a basic life skills inventory, such as the Casey Life Skills Toolkit, Life Skills Inventory, or Adolescent Autonomy Checklist. After a student rates their own skill levels, I ask them to review skills that they cannot already do and identify how important those skills are on a scale of 1 to 10. Then, we go through the list again, and I ask which skills they would like to learn in the next 2 months, 6 months, and year. Once the teenager has identified the importance of a skill and the desire to work on the skill in the near future, it is much easier to set short-term goals. We can work out a skill-building plan for the summer. including how much time to dedicate on a daily or weekly basis. We can also talk about the types of barriers or challenges that might get in the way of the teenager practicing these skills. Additionally, we can set expectations for how often the teen is going to report back to me on the skill so that there is built-in accountability, and the teen knows to expect the check-ins rather than feeling like someone is checking up on them.

Every teenager is different. If you are a parent wanting to help your child make the most of summer, you may find that you can go through the same process that I do to help your child set a few short-term goals. Other teenagers will be able to work on goals themselves—once they have gone through the exercise of setting them. And others, may benefit from having a coach who can build a relationship, support development of executive function and coping skills, and partner with the teen in making the most of summer. If you think your child would benefit from some coaching or an “expert” to work with them, we have a great team of professionals here at NESCA who are ready to help.

If you are interested in working with a transition specialist, executive function coach or real-life skills coach at NESCA for consultation, coaching, planning or evaluation, please complete our online intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

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, call 617-658-9800 or complete our online Intake Form.

Testing Outside the Box—Vocational Assessments for Nonverbal, Nonreading and/or Hard-to-Test Students

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist, NESCA

My colleague Tabitha Monahan and I have dedicated several recent blog entries to vocational assessment—a vital tool for helping students to learn about career planning and employment and to set career goals for themselves. Previous blogs have included an overview of vocational assessment as well as an in depth look at career interest inventories, career aptitude testing, assessing work motivation and values and real-life experiences, such as informational interviews and job shadows.

However, many of the most “popular” or common tools for vocation assessment are intended for use with students who have functional reading abilities (i.e., basic reading skills at or above 5th grade levels). While there are many accommodations a skilled evaluator might use to help a wide range of students effectively access these tests, there are also students who receive special education services and cannot access these word-based and rating-based assessment tools. So, what tools can be used effectively with these students? How do we assess interests and aptitudes for students who are nonverbal, have reduced reading skills, or may provide unreliable responses to language-based testing methodologies? Below are a few of the methods that we find particularly useful at NESCA.

  • Picture-based Interest Inventories

Instead of using text-based items and rating scales, picture-based career interest inventories help individuals to express their occupational interests by selecting preferred pictures of people at work or people performing work-related tasks. Pictures are presented in sets of two, three, or more, and the student points to or circles the picture that seems most interesting. Based on the number and types of pictures selected, the test identifies work themes that are most appealing to the student. Evaluators can also look for themes among pictures selected, such as a student who selects a high number of pictures that have multiple people, computers, vehicles, outdoor activities, etc. Three popular picture-based assessments are the Picture Interest Career Survey (PICS) published by JIST, the Reading-Free Vocational Interest Inventory-Third Edition (RFVII-3) by Katherine Synatschk and Ralph Becker, and the Career Interest Inventory – Pictorial Version by Shasta Twenty-first Century Career Connections.

  • Video-based Interest Assessment

Video-based career interest assessments are more difficult to find but can be incredibly useful nonverbal tools for vocational evaluation and career planning. A tool that we use at NESCA is Your Employment Selections (YES), which is a CD-ROM-based reading-free job preference and career exploration program that has 120 videos of different jobs which are viewed and compared strategically in pairs. Through initial video-based trial, students indicate preferences, such as a desire to work indoors or outdoors, work alone or with coworkers, interact with the public or coworkers, and do light or heavy lifting work. These preferences are used to determine which subset of job videos the student will view. Traditional testing involves the student watching two videos and pointing to, or clicking on, the one they like more. However, the evaluator can work with a student who has limited verbal abilities to determine some of the features or tasks the student likes most, or dislikes most, within the specific job videos shown. While this video program is no longer available for retail, there are plenty of great career videos that can be used to carry out similar informal assessment on web sites, such as CareerOneStop, Dr. Kit, MassHire Career Information System, and even YouTube.

  • Functional Assessments and Observations

For all students, regardless of communication or self-determination skills, functional assessments and real-world observations play a vital role in career assessment and planning. For students who struggle with reading- and writing-based assessments, it can be important to have access to more hands-on standardized assessments of employment strengths and abilities. One such assessment tool is the Skills Assessment Module (SAM) published by Piney Mountain Press, which includes an auditory directions screen to determine how well a student can follow verbal directions and 12 work-related activities that simulate actual work aptitudes required in training and jobs (e.g., mail sort, ruler reading, assembling small parts, etc.). However, evaluators who do not have access to formal assessments can purchase or create pre-vocational and vocational kits for assessing and learning work skills and can carry out functional assessment of real or simulated work-related tasks in school, community, and work settings.

Observing students performing work-related behaviors and tasks is one of the most powerful evaluation tools that we have for determining strengths and needed areas for growth. If a student is performing vocational activities at school or has a volunteer or paid job during the week, that can be critical for an evaluator to observe. There are also protocols that can be used to formally assess students’ skills during observations, such as the Vocational Skills Assessment Protocol from The Assessment of Functional Living Skills (AFLS), and the Becker Work Adjustment Profile – Second Edition (BWAP-2).

  • Interviews and Parent/Educator Participation in Interest Inventories

While some transition-aged students may have trouble clearly expressing interests using words or inventories, all students have some way of communicating information to people who know them well. Transition and vocational assessments often require creativity and effort to gain informal, subjective, and anecdotal information from educators, parents, and other stakeholders who know the student well. It is useful to interview several people, asking questions about the student’s preferred leisure and school activities, areas of strength, preferences that need to be taken into account when planning for future employment, and specifically asking if there are any jobs that the interviewee is aware of that they think might be a good fit for the student in the future. Another technique is to use career interest inventories which are intended for self-report, such as the O*Net Interest Profiler (IP) or RIASEC, and ask parents or educators to fill out the inventory with what they believe the student’s preferences would be. Having a high level of correlation between parent report, educator report, and the student’s responses on picture-based or video-based testing can be extremely helpful in knowing where to focus career planning energy for the student.

Conducting vocational assessment, or any assessment, for this population of students—when tests are often not explicitly designed for them–is difficult. There are some tremendous tools specifically designed for testing students who are nonverbal or nonreaders, and there are many other assessment tools which can be made, modified, or used in nontraditional ways to gain a more complete picture of the student. The most important aspect of assessment is to choose the tools that are going to best suit the student.

For more information about vocational assessment and transition assessment at NESCA, visit our transition services page and our transition FAQs.

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

 

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, call 617-658-9800 or complete our online Intake Form.

Transition Assessment: How to Prepare for the Team Meeting

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist, NESCA

Every child who receives special education services in the United States is entitled to transition services—a coordinated set of activities that will facilitate the student’s preparation for postsecondary education and/or training, competitive employment, independent living, and community participation.[1] In order to provide these services, an IEP team has to first conduct “age-appropriate transition assessment.”[2] I have written about transition assessment in previous blogs, including Transition Assessment: What is it anyway? How is it different from neuropsychological evaluation? and Vocational Assessment and Transition Planning.

A challenge for students and families who are participating in transition assessment for the first time, is knowing how to prepare for team meetings where transition planning and services will be discussed. When you attend a team meeting after an occupational therapy evaluation or academic evaluation, you know that you are going to be discussing what occupational therapy services or academic instruction your child may need as part of their IEP process. However, when a student has participated in transition assessment, the team will be discussing a whole variety of activities (e.g., regular and specialized instruction, related services, community experiences, linkage to adult human service agencies) that the student will need to participate in as the student is preparing for adulthood. Some transition assessment reports contain dozens of recommendations for comprehensive planning. Recommendations may include activities that you are used to discussing with your team, such as instruction and services for a current IEP period, but recommendations may also include other activities that should occur outside of school with support from a parent or community member or actions that may need to occur at a later date. To make the most of your team meeting, it is helpful to do a little bit of homework and preparation after you receive your transition assessment report.

As discussed in previous blogs, if the student is going to be part of the team meeting (which they should be), then the student should have the opportunity to discuss the assessment results with the evaluator or another trusted adult. If your school district conducted the transition assessment, ask when and how they are going to review the results with the student prior to the meeting. If you obtained an independent or private evaluation, ask if you can schedule a student feedback meeting with that evaluator prior to the student’s team meeting. Students need to be aware of the findings and the recommendations that are being made, and they need to be prepared to actively participate in discussion about the results. Whether a student supports or disagrees with recommendations from a transition assessment can have a large impact on changes that are made, or not made, to the IEP.

In addition to student preparation, all team members should be prepared to discuss the assessment recommendations in a planful and organized manner. As a parent, it is helpful to read each recommendation in the report and consider the following questions:

  • Is this a skill or activity that you can reasonably tackle at home this year or in coming years? Do you need any training or consultation to be able to support the student?
  • Is this a skill or activity that would be best supported by a community provider rather than a parent, family member, or school staff?
  • Is this a skill or piece of knowledge that the student must attain this academic year in order to make progress toward their long-term goals? Do they need specialized instruction or related services to learn the skills or gain this knowledge?
  • Is this a skill, piece of knowledge, or service that needs to be focused on at a later time, but documented somewhere so that the team does not forget the recommendation?

It can be helpful to put together an abbreviated list of the goals, objectives, or services that you know your child will need this school year based on the assessment. Alternatively, some families find it useful to create a table or grid to organize transition planning activities. Here is one possible presentation that a family might use to prepare for a team meeting.

 

  Parent Community Providers School/IEP
Education/Training ·   Tour three colleges

·   Attend summer program on college campus

·   Counseling on enrollment process for postsecondary educational programs with Pre-Employment Transition Service (Pre-ETS) provider ·   Update postsecondary goals

·   Instruction of Study Skills, including notetaking

·   Assistive technology consultation

·   Personal Finance course

·   Sexual Health Instruction

Employment ·   Create first student resume

·   Set up informational interview with family friend who works as an accountant

·   Self-advocacy counseling with Pre-ETS provider ·   Help student obtain work permit

·   Support student in applying for paid part-time work

Independent Living ·   Review family health history

·   Teach student to complete medical history paperwork

·   Prepare questions with student ahead of medical appointments

·   Assist student in opening checking account

·   Include student in home maintenance activities

·   Individual counseling

 

 

·   Instruction in tracking sleep hygiene, diet, and exercise activities

·   Assistive technology consultation for health habits

Community Engagement ·   Support student in learning to carry out personal shopping activities ·   Social skills group with insurance-based provider

·   Study for driver’s permit test with Transition to Adulthood Program (TAP) provider

·   Travel orientation with local public transit authority

·   Make referral to Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) service provider

·   Invite VR service provider to team meeting with parent & student consent

 

 

It is also helpful to consider how the information from the transition assessment can flow through the IEP document. Information learned about the student’s postsecondary goals (i.e., the student’s goals for their life after high school) must be documented in the IEP and used to guide IEP development. Portions of the assessment may also be included as key evaluation results and current performance data, may inform how the team considers various federal and state special factors such as the students need for assistive technology or more functional means of communication, may suggest linkages that are needed with state resources and adult human service agencies, and may inform other aspects of the IEP. It is important to think about each section of your child’s IEP and how the assessment results might impact the team’s discussion of that section.

Many schools and families are familiar with transition assessment services at NESCA but do not realize that our transition specialists will consult with students, parents, and teams to plan for transition assessments, review assessments that have been conducted by other clinicians, or support the team meeting process. For more information about transition planning, consultation, and assessment services at NESCA, visit our transition services page and our transition FAQs.

[1] https://sites.ed.gov/idea/regs/b/a/300.43

[2] https://sites.ed.gov/idea/regs/b/d/300.320/b

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

 

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, call 617-658-9800 or complete our online Intake Form.