Tag

routine

Life Skills for College to Work on Now – Part 2

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

In Massachusetts, we are more than five weeks into home-based learning and looking toward another two months (or more) of schools and childcare facilities being closed. Unfortunately, this is taking a particularly large social and emotional toll on our teenagers and young adults. One strategy for coping with current conditions is to focus on concrete ways that we can control our daily lives and to set short-term tangible goals. With that in mind, I am writing a second blog focusing on the opportunity teenagers are being given to build daily living and executive functioning skills that will ultimately help them live away from home and self-direct their lives. Last week, I discussed four important skills that are critical for attending residential colleges: getting up on time each morning, doing laundry, having basic kitchen skills, and using basic tools for assembling and fixing things around home. This week, I am offering another four skills. For any young person, I always suggest letting the student pick the skill(s) they want to work on first. When you have a lot to work on, you may as well pick the starting point that feels most important and motivating!

  • Medications: For students who have been on medication during high school, keeping that medication regimen stable is typically a must during the transition to college. Students need to have the knowledge, preparation and organizational skills needed to maintain their own medication regimen. Often a good way to start this process is to purchase a 7-day pill organizer and have teens be responsible for dispensing their own medication for the week. Certainly, a smartphone or smartwatch with several alarms can be useful for remembering medications at needed times. For more information about medication management expectations in college, check out this article by Rae Jacobson. He makes some useful recommendations, such as using a unique alarm tone for medication reminders and putting pills in highly or frequently visible locations (e.g., next to your toothbrush that you routinely use).
  • Money: Students in early stages of high school may be too young for their own bank accounts and credit cards. However, some banks do offer accounts that are specially tailored for minors. Students can open a joint bank account as a minor with a parent or legal guardian. Teens can also practice managing plastic through use of traditional prepaid debit cards, Amazon.com or store gift cards, or a debit card made especially for minors like Greenlight. From home, teens can practice making necessary online purchases, tracking payments and shipping, checking account balances, and using a software like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets to keep a record of purchases. There are also plenty of great free web-based financial literacy resources that teens can use to learn about banking and consumer skills from home; a few resources that my colleague Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC, and I like include:
  • Building an Exercise Routine: Believe it or not, basic fundamentals like healthy eating, sleep hygiene and regular vigorous exercise are strong predictors of college success and satisfaction. As we are living in a period of time where team sports are not accessible, this may be exactly the right time for teenagers to build their own individual exercise routine that can be carried out at home and in one’s local neighborhood. A good baseline to strive for is a routine that includes exercise sessions at least three days per week. With decreased time factors in our lives, students can play around with morning, afternoon or evening exercise to see what feels best for their bodies and brains. If brisk dog-walking, jogging/running or biking activities are not appealing, there are plenty of great YouTube exercise videos (e.g., dance, yoga, strength training, cardio training, etc.) that require no equipment and are calibrated for all kinds of bodies and levels of fitness. Setting a schedule for weekly workouts will help to ensure that exercise becomes more routine and tracking progress with that schedule (e.g., journaling, marking a calendar, using an app like Strava or Aaptiv, etc.) helps to build and sustain motivation. Some teens (and adults) also find that they are more able to stick to an exercise routine if they use a smartwatch to help track, celebrate and prompt their progress.
  • Using a Calendar System for Scheduling: The alarm clock mentioned in last week’s blog is certainly an important time management tool that is vital to master prior to attending college. Another critical time management tool for college (and life beyond) is a calendar system for managing one’s schedule. When starting to build time management skills, simply asking your teen to write down their schedule can be a good place to start. What do they know they have to do each day of the week? What appointments or activities are missing? Teens may have a calendar system that they are already accustomed to using for checking the date, but may not be using that tool to manage their entire schedule. Some common calendar app tools include iCal, Google Calendar and Outlook, but some teens may do better with paper-based systems. If a teen benefits from a paper copy of their schedule, I would still recommend that they learn to use something electronic, then just print off their daily, weekly or monthly schedule based on preference and need. Practice inputting activities that are happening right now, such as assignments, remote classes, meals, therapy, etc. Teens can also play around with reminder settings to see what feels best for prompting participation in activities. Sometimes 15 minutes is too much time, but 5 or 10 is just right. Other times, more than one reminder is needed.

To read more about the Life Skills recommendations from last week’s Transition Thursday blog, click here!

 

If you are interested in working with a transition specialist 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. 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 or call 617-658-9800.

Remote Real-life Skills Coaching: How Does it Work?

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

What is life skills coaching?

Coaching services in general aim to target functional life skills and help our children and adolescents to slowly build the ability to independent. While some of these skills, such as taking Uber, riding the T, or ordering in a restaurant, cannot be targeted using an online platform, the majority of these skills can absolutely be built with the help of a dedicated remote coach. Currently, many of our coaches are helping students through the great task of processing a huge life change in response to the COVID19 virus.

What skills can be worked on with a remote coach?

Hard skills are often thought of as specific, functional abilities that one can develop and perform. (In employment, these are often thought of as technical skills.) Options that can be worked on with a remote coach include cooking based on a specific recipe, ordering groceries on-line, calling to refill prescription, setting up a medication management system, typing, using Google classroom or Microsoft suite, electronic calendar management, etc.

Soft Skills include more abstract and broad abilities that are necessary for employment, academic success, and community independence. NESCA coaches work on executive function, social communication, and self-determination skills necessary for long-term independence at home, in school, and at work. Example skills taught include creating daily schedules, goal setting, preparing for interviews, organizing the home environment in order to be productive, reading and understanding IEPs and assessments, using technology to support memory, customer service skills, research skills, and more.

With the current pace and routine of life changing dramatically, NESCA coaches are working to help our clients establish healthy routines and habits. Coaches are available to help develop functional morning and evening routines, set up weekly to-do lists, develop a system to meet deadlines, use online resources for virtual learning, etc.

Who can benefit from this service?

Almost all adolescents and young adults could benefit from building life (and career or college readiness) skills, increasing independence, and practicing executive function; however, our neurodiverse population often has particular difficulty with changes in routine and greatly benefits from having a relational support to build structure and navigate change. All of our coaches have extensive experience working with adolescents and young adults with a wide range of learning, developmental, physical and social-emotional needs. NESCA is committed to helping young people who are struggling with this transition as well as families who are eager to use this unique situational opportunity to focus on skill building at home that is often difficult to fit in simultaneous to normal school demands.

What is a recommended coaching schedule?

Due to the individualized natural of coaching, the schedule and frequency can be incredibly personalized for each individual client. All of our coaching sessions begin with an intake process that includes input from both the adolescent and their family. Schedules are often developed in collaboration with the teen or young adult, the family, and the coach to best meet the client’s needs. Some example schedules that are used by current NESCA clients include:

  • Weekly Skill Building. Clients who are looking to target specific skills often choose to do a weekly session focus on learning and repetition.
  • Monday, Wednesday, Friday 30 Minute Check-ins. This model allows for a student to receive some guidance creating their own scheduling, while simultaneously holding them accountable.
  • Monday Motivation/Friday Follow-up! These sessions range from 1-2 hours and include weekly goal setting, check-ins regarding a weekly to-do list, and personal scheduling. For many clients a Friday follow-up session is an important opportunity to practice self-monitoring and review the previous week.

As somebody who coaches students in person and remotely, what differences do you notice?

I find that the main difference when coaching students remotely is when and how skills are targeted. In person, much of my coaching focuses on community integration, using our transit systems, and navigating the complex social interactions that are necessary when out in the community. Remote coaching can still target pieces of each of these skill areas but the process is in many ways more intrinsic. We may focus on learning to use the internet to find community opportunities, learning to create schedules for travel or complete applications for para-transit, using video learning to “try out” travel, employment, and community activities, and bolstering social media skills. We focused on building global skills in new ways that will help in the future, across environments. For instance, social communication by phone and video conferencing is a skill that will support social and employment success in the future.

In terms of the personal connection and opportunity to build rapport, I find that some teenagers are incredibly adept at communicating over a digital medium. Those who are not, tend to learn quickly. I am continually impressed by their ability to focus, discuss real-life topics, and build skills remotely.

 

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. 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. Dr. 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, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, Transition Services, or Virtual 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.

 

School-based Occupational Therapy at Home

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

While school districts and government officials work to plan for the current “new normal,” no concrete decisions have been made about the delivery of special education and provider services. As parents take on the huge task of educating within the home, it is important to consider how we can bolster some of the skills that are continuously targeted in the school setting. As an occupational therapist, I have provided direct services and worked with teachers who are adeptly teaching a class of 20, while simultaneously making sure that their two students with OT needs are being provided appropriate accommodations and motor practice. Here are some activities that can be done in the home to keep the development and learning going!

If your child’s occupational therapy (OT) evaluation mentions difficulty with fine motor coordination, consider incorporating these activities into your day.

  • Sort marbles, pompom or coins. Using fingers to pinch and pick up small objects helps to build strength and solidify grasp and grip patterns. Increase the difficulty of this activity by having kids push pompom and marbles through small holes or manipulate coins through slits in a tub or box.
  • Play with playdough or putty. Make shapes using cookie cutters, push beads into putty and pull them all out, roll playdough into a snake and use different pinches to create patterns from head to tail. Pinches to consider include: thumb and index finger, thumb and index+middle finger and thumb against the side of the index finger (lateral pinch).
  • String beads, cheerios or pasta with holes. This activity promotes bilateral coordination, fine motor control and grasp patterns. Scaffold this activity by starting with threading on pipe cleaners, moving to dry spaghetti and finally working to thread onto string.
  • Practice using tweezers to pick up small objects.

If your child’s OT evaluation mentions difficulty with visual perception or visual motor integration, try these!

  • Puzzles! Doing a puzzle requires multiple visual perceptual skills, as well as the fine motor precision to fit pieces together.
  • Word searches. Word searches require horizontal and vertical tracking, letter discrimination and visual figure ground ability. Consider scaffolding this activity by finding word searches that only have horizontal words, have both horizontal and vertical, or have horizontal, vertical and diagonal words.
  • Sorting activities. Objects can be sorted by color, shape, size, texture and a plethora of other characteristics. Consider using objects found in the home, such as pens, buttons, silverware or simply items in a junk drawer for sorting activities.
  • Mazes, Hidden Pictures and Spot the Difference activities can all be found online.
  • Copying activities. Draw pictures using horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines, circles, squares, triangles and crosses and have your child try to copy them exactly. This activity works on visual motor integration specifically.

If your child’s OT evaluation mentions difficulty with endurance, postural stability or core strength, try these!

  • Draw or play while lying on the ground. Tummy time is often thought of as an activity to help our newborns, but lying on your tummy and using the muscles needed to keep the upper body and head stable can be beneficial for building strength in most of our kids.
  • Yoga! Incorporate an online video or movement break into your daily routine.
  • Pretend to be different animals! Walk like a bear, slither like a snake, hop like a frog or trot like a horse. Mimicking these animals is a great activity to do while listening to music and uses all different muscles.

While it can be difficult to target our children’s specific needs without direct access to therapists and our usual resources, building in small activities throughout the day can help to maintain strength, skill development and the foundational abilities needed for academic growth.

 

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. 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. Dr. 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, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

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

 

Making the Most of COVID-19 School Closures

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

COVID-19 was recently declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), and it is quickly becoming a pervasive force that we are all attuned to. As our healthcare providers, scientists and officials focus their energy on social distancing recommendations and public health measures, it seems as if time spent at home with our families – whether self-imposed or mandated – is inevitable. With our hardworking community members and officials focused on large-scale responses and issues, let’s take some time to discuss how we can create positive and productive environments in our own homes with our children while so many schools are closed.

  • Create Routines – Our children thrive on routine. Consider keeping their regular bedtime and morning routines, sitting down for lunch at the same time as they do at school, and writing out a daily schedule so that they know the plan for the day. Keeping these small things consistent can help our kids to feel regulated, calm and make a potentially scary situation feel much more predictable.
  • Request Work from Classroom Teachers – Most teachers will be sending home classwork to keep children engaged while they are out of the classroom. Make sure to request passwords to online learning sites used at school (raz-kids.com, IXL.com, etc.), have access to books at an appropriate reading level, ask about sites that provide printable worksheets, and, if still in school, bring home worksheets that could be completed during time off.
  • Schedule Recess/Playtime – While home is often seen as a place to relax and have fun, scheduling recess or play/downtime may help kids to feel like there is more of a routine. An average day at elementary schools fluctuates between time spent on learning, time to process and reflect, and time to have some fun. With an extended stay at home, it may help to touch on all of these activities. Scheduled recess allows for a child to predict when they will have a break to move their bodies and decompress.
  • Use Screens Wisely – Many parents will no doubt be working from home and have significant to-do lists of their own. While watching movies and favorite TV shows is likely an inevitable – and in many ways beneficial – tool to pass the time, consider exploring some more educational screen-based options as part of your child’s day. Resources such as National Geographic Kids, PBS KIDS.org, ScienceDaily.com, educationworld.com, TIME For Kids, Smithsonian Tween Tribune, among others can help to provide more academic content, including Social Studies, Science, Current Events and more. Commonsensemedia.org is also a great resource for finding age appropriate options.
  • Move Your Body – While getting outside for some fresh air is the ideal way for our children to move their bodies, this may not be an option. Thankfully, there are some creative ways to make sure our kids get in time for gross motor movement. Consider options such as GoNoodle.com, Cosmickids.com and Gaia.com for whole body movement and yoga videos. If you are looking for options other than video-based activities, consider building a pillow fort, keeping balloons off of the ground, having a dance party or setting up a home-made obstacle course.
  • Bolster Life Skills Education – As Kelley Challen, NESCA’s Director of Transition, so aptly explained in her blog post, the process of teaching our kids to become functional adults starts at birth. Consider spending this time teaching some skills in the home: have kids help with the process of doing a whole load of laundry from start to finish, work through a recipe for dinner together or clean surfaces around the house while explaining how to safely use different cleaning products. All of these experiences help a child to understand their future role as independent adults.
  • Work on the Broader Executive Functioning (EF) Skills – EF includes skills such as problem solving, time management, goal setting and organization. Provide sorting activities, have a child create their own schedule, set a daily goal, practice telling time or play some problem-solving games such as Heads-up, Charades or Guess Who.

 

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in pediatrics and occupational therapy in the developing world. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as well as social skills coaching as part of NESCA’s transition team. Dr. 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. In addition to her work at NESCA, Dr. Bellenis works as a school-based occupational therapist for the city of Salem Public Schools and believes that individual sensory needs, and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.
To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

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