By: Yvonne Asher, Ph.D.
NESCA Pediatric Neuropsychologist
“You’re going to have a tough conversation on your hands,” I said. The parent sighed and nodded in response. “That’s what her ABA provider said, too,” she responded.
This conversation would not be difficult because her child was acting out, engaging in challenging behaviors, or taking up a great deal of adult time. In fact, she was exactly the opposite. Quiet, calm, gentle, and well-regulated were some of the words I used during our feedback session. And this, we discussed, is a huge part of the problem.
Despite their best efforts, teachers simply cannot be with every child that needs help, each time they need help. School providers do not have infinite caseloads, time, or capacity. There are real-world limitations to providing support and services for children at school. And yet, the children who suffer from these very real constraints are so often the quietest and least disruptive. This is extremely unfortunate when the child has real, diagnosed, observable deficits that absolutely require special attention and intervention at school.
Our brains often develop schema in order to reduce the brain’s workload (these occur entirely outside of our conscious awareness). Many social psychology studies have characterized the harm that schema can do. One such harm often comes to children for whom teachers have either strong positive or strong negative schema about. The effects of negative schema are likely obvious, but the positive schema can be just as challenging to manage. When teachers view a child very positively, they may be more likely to “write off” concerns (e.g., “she was just tired today,” “he really does know, he’s just having a bad day”), over-emphasize the child’s effort and diligence (rather than their actual skill level or mastery), and focus on positive attributes of the child in place of focusing on their weaknesses.
It can be challenging for parents to hear such positive feedback, particularly when it does not correlate with their perception of the child’s difficulties. Although neuropsychology attempts to be a strength-based field as much as possible, fully exploring and adequately characterizing deficits is often an invaluable part of what we do. This can help us to bring objective, data-driven recommendations to school teams for all students, hopefully preventing those quiet, hard-working youngsters from “falling through the cracks.”
About the Author
Dr. Yvonne M. Asher enjoys working with a wide range of children and teens, including those with autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays, learning disabilities, attention difficulties and executive functioning challenges. She often works with children whose complex profiles are not easily captured by a single label or diagnosis. She particularly enjoys working with young children and helping parents through their “first touch” with mental health care or developmental concerns.
Dr. Asher’s approach to assessment is gentle and supportive, and recognizes the importance of building rapport and trust. When working with young children, Dr. Asher incorporates play and “games” that allow children to complete standardized assessments in a fun and engaging environment.
Dr. Asher has extensive experience working in public, charter and religious schools, both as a classroom teacher and psychologist. She holds a master’s degree in education and continues to love working with educators. As a psychologist working in public schools, she gained invaluable experience with the IEP process from start to finish. She incorporates both her educational and psychological training when formulating recommendations to school teams.
Dr. Asher attended Swarthmore College and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She completed her doctoral degree at Suffolk University, where her dissertation looked at the impact of starting middle school on children’s social and emotional wellbeing. After graduating, she completed an intensive fellowship at the MGH Lurie Center for Autism, where she worked with a wide range of children, adolescents and young adults with autism and related disorders.
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 email@example.com or call 617-658-9800.
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