NESCA has unexpected availability for Neuropsychological Evaluations and ASD Diagnostic Clinic assessments in the Plainville, MA office in the next several weeks! Our expert pediatric neuropsychologists in Plainville specialize in children ages 18 months to 26 years, with attentional, communication, learning, or developmental differences, including those with a history or signs of ADHD, ASD, Intellectual Disability, and complex medical histories. To book an evaluation or inquire about our services in Plainville (approx.45 minutes from NESCA Newton), complete our Intake Form.

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SELF-REGULATION

Mindfulness-based Interventions for Children with ADHD

By | NESCA Notes 2024

By: Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Children with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) often struggle to sustain attention, follow directions, and appropriately interact with peers when compared to children with typical development. Executive functioning challenges, including difficulties with self-regulation, are also common in individuals with ADHD. Executive functioning refers to the neuropsychological-based functions involved in the regulation of behavioral states and the organization of goal-directed behavior. This can present as difficulty breaking down goals into steps, planning, monitoring the effectiveness of an approach to a task, modulating one’s emotions, etc.

Currently, evidence-based treatment methods for managing ADHD symptomology include medication, behavioral interventions, or the combination of the two. In addition, one domain that has received increased attention from the scientific community over the past several years is the integration of mindfulness-based interventions (MBI) within treatment (Felver & Jennings, 2016).

Mindfulness is the ability to bring one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which can allow an individual to consider alternative ways to perceive and react to a situation (Singh et al., 2007). Many MBI curriculums include lessons on focusing one’s attention on the present moment, which can improve individuals’ self-regulation, executive functioning, concentration, and emotional-reactivity, while reducing aggressive behavior, social problems, and anxiety (Keng et al., 2011; Parker et al., 2014).

One such curriculum, originally developed for adults with Intellectual Disabilities and aggressive behaviors, is Soles of the Feet (SoF) (Singh et al., 2003). The purpose of this exercise is to shift the individual’s attention from a typically triggering situation to a neutral stimulus. The SoF intervention involves teaching an individual to recognize situations that trigger an emotional response in real life or through role-play scenarios. Next, the individual is guided through steps in the curriculum that consist of finding a neutral body posture, breathing naturally while thinking about the triggering event, and shifting attention to the soles of the feet. Then the individual is guided to be mindful of their feet on the ground. The goal is for the individual to end this process having appropriately responded to the situation without engaging in behavior that was contrary to expectations. Research suggests that engaging in this intervention significantly improved participants’ ability to regulate their aggressive and disruptive behaviors, and appropriately engage with others (Felver et al., 2013; Singh et al., 2007).

There are several mindfulness-based activities, such as progressive muscle relaxation and focusing on your five senses, that can be modified to support children’s attentional and emotional regulation. For some ideas, please consider visiting the American Psychological Association (APA)’s Magination Press website, where they offer several children’s book titles related to a variety of topics, including mindfulness.

References

Felver, J. C., Doerner, E., Jones, J., Kaye, N., & Merrell, K. M. (2013). Mindfulness in school psychology: Applications for intervention and research. Psychology in the Schools, 50, 531–547

Felver, J. C., Celis-DeHoyos, C., Tezanos, K., & Singh, N. N. (2016) A systematic review of mindfulness-based interventions for youth in school settings. Mindfulness. doi:10.1007/s12671-015-0389-4

Keng, S. L., Smoski, M. J., & Robins, C. J. (2011). Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: a review of empirical studies. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(6), 1041-56.

Parker, A. E., Kupersmidt, J. B., Mathis, E. T., Scull, T. M., & Sims, C. (2014). The impact of Mindfulness education on elementary school students: evaluation of the Master Mind program. Advances in School Mental Health Promotion, 7(3), 184-204. doi:10.1080/1754730x.2014.916497

Singh, N. N., Wahler, R. G., Winton, Adkins, A. D., Myers, R. E., & The Mindfulness Research Group. (2003). Soles of the feet: A mindfulness based self-control intervention for aggression by an individual with mild mental retardation and mental illness. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 24, 158–169.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Singh, J., Curtis, W. J., Wahler, R. G., & McAleavey, K. M. (2007). Mindful parenting decreases aggression and increases social behavior in children with developmental disabilities. Behavior Modification, 31(6), 749-771. doi:10.1177/0145445507300924

 

About Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.

Dr. Halladay conducts comprehensive evaluations of toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children with a wide range of developmental, behavioral, and emotional concerns. She particularly enjoys working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and complex medical conditions. She has experience working in schools, as well as outpatient and inpatient hospital settings. She is passionate about optimizing outcomes for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities by providing evidence-based, family-oriented care.

 

If you are interested in booking an appointment for an evaluation with a Dr. Halladay or another NESCA neuropsychologist/clinician, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; the greater Burlington, Vermont region; and Brooklyn, New York (coaching services only) serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Why is it so hard to develop Executive Function skills for college as a high school student?

By | NESCA Notes 2024

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

Students with disabilities often have challenges with executive function skills. These may include difficulties with organization, planning and prioritization, time management, task initiation, attention and effort, working memory, self-regulation, self-monitoring, and mental flexibility. Being successful as a college student often depends on using and integrating these skills. Therefore, it’s no surprise that most of the IEPs I read when working with teenage and young adult students have goals or objectives aimed at remediating executive function (EF) skills. However, many students on IEPs have these “EF” goals for years and still don’t effectively develop the skills they need to successfully manage executive functioning tasks as college students.

One of the reasons for the remaining skill gap when students matriculate to college is because high school student responsibilities are pretty radically different from college student responsibilities. While research indicates that individuals can continue developing executive function skills throughout the lifespan, this requires a very particular set of activities. Executive function skills develop through a combination of direct instruction and opportunities to practice using the learned skills with and without support. But there often are not opportunities for practicing the skills needed for college as a high school student.

Below is a list of executive function supports that exist in high school, but often disappear in college:

  • Classes are small and always taught by teachers
  • Class material is centralized in books or on the board in the classroom
  • Time is structured by the school
  • Students are told what they need to learn from homework
  • Students are reminded of assignments and due dates
  • Completed homework is checked by teachers
  • Reading is discussed in classes
  • Studying is limited to a few hours per week
  • Testing is frequent and covers small amounts of material
  • Teachers approach students who need help
  • Schools are required to find students with disabilities who need specialized instruction and accommodations
  • Parents and teachers will remind students of their responsibilities
  • Parents and teachers will help to set priorities (or simply set them for the student)
  • Parents and teachers will correct students when behavior is unexpected

In college, students may have large classes taught by other students or experts in their fields who aren’t experts on teaching. They have to use syllabi, manage their own schedules (with large swaths of unscheduled time), integrate academic materials from a wide range of sources, and self-direct long hours of reading and studying. They also have to be responsible for advocating for themselves, knowing when they need help, and knowing what they are responsible for (academically, socially, and in their dorms) and getting those things done without parent and teacher reminders. For students who have strengths with executive functioning, often the transition to college still presents a steep learning curve. But for those who have vulnerabilities in these areas, it can be critical to recognize that the gaps are large between these two learning environments, and sometimes additional support and instruction is necessary while students are taking college classes. Some students will still need to build effective academic and executive function skills, and practice and master those executive function skills, while they are in college and managing this new set of demands.

NESCA offers many services designed to help students bridge the transition from high school to college, including executive function coaching, pre-college coaching, transition planning, and neuropsychological evaluation. To learn more specifically about our coaching services, visit: https://nesca-newton.com/coaching-services/ . To schedule an appointment with one of our expert clinicians or coaches, please complete our intake at: https://nesca-newton.com/intake/ .

Reference:

Many of the bulleted items of executive function supports that exist in high school are adapted from this high school versus college comparison by King’s College: https://www.kings.edu/admissions/high_school_vs_college

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is an expert transition specialist and national speaker who has been engaged in evaluation, development, and direction of transition-focused programming for teenagers and young adults with a wide array of developmental and learning abilities since 2004. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in working with youth with autism, she enjoys working with students with a range of cognitive, learning, communication, social, emotional and/or behavioral needs.

Ms. Challen joined NESCA as Director of Transition Services in 2013. She believes that the transition to postsecondary adulthood activities such as learning, living, and working is an ongoing process–and that there is no age too early or too late to begin planning. Moreover, any transition plan should be person-centered, individualized and include steps beyond the completion of secondary school.

Through her role at NESCA, Ms. Challen provides a wide array of services including individualized transition assessment, planning, consultation, training, and program development services, as well as pre-college coaching. She is particularly skilled in providing transition assessment and consultation aimed at determining optimal timing for a student’s transition to college, technical training, adult learning, and/or employment as well as identifying and developing appropriate programs and services necessary for minimizing critical skill gaps.

Ms. Challen is one of the only professionals in New England who specializes in assisting families in selecting or developing programming as a steppingstone between special education and college participation and has a unique understanding of local postgraduate, pre-college, college support, college transition, postsecondary transition, and 18-22 programs. She is additionally familiar with a great number of approved high school and postsecondary special education placements for students from Massachusetts including public, collaborative, and private programs.

Ms. Challen enjoys the creative and collaborative problem-solving process necessary for successfully transitioning students with complex profiles toward independent adulthood. As such, she is regularly engaged in IEP Team Meetings, program consultations, and case management or student coaching as part of individualized post-12th grade programming. Moreover, she continually works to enhance and expand NESCA’s service offerings in order to meet the growing needs of the families, schools and communities we serve.

When appropriate, Ms. Challen has additionally provided expert witness testimony for families and school districts engaged in due process hearings or engaged in legal proceedings centering on transition assessment, services and/or programming—locally and nationally.

Nearly two decades ago, Ms. Challen began her work with youth with special needs working as a counselor for children and adolescents at Camp Good Times, a former program of Milestones Day School. She then spent several years at the Aspire Program (a Mass General for Children program; formerly YouthCare) 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. Also, she 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 skill and transition programs.

Ms. Challen received her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. While training and obtaining certification as a school guidance counselor, she completed her practicum work at Boston Latin School focusing on competitive college counseling.

Ms. Challen has worked on multiple committees involved in the Massachusetts DESE IEP Improvement Project, served as a Mentor for the Transition Leadership Program at UMass Boston, participated as a member of B-SET Boston Workforce Development Task Force, been an ongoing member of the Program Committee for the Association for Autism and Neurodiversity (AANE), and is a member of the New Hampshire Transition State Community of Practice (COP).

She is also 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: Innovations that Enhance Independence and Learning.

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, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; the greater Burlington, Vermont region; and Brooklyn, NY (coaching services only) serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Why Kids Need to Outdoor Free Play

By | NESCA Notes 2020

Edit date and time By: Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
Director of Training and New Hampshire Operations

One of the best ways to make the most of your summer is to get outside and engage in lots of outdoor play. We live in a society where we tend to over-schedule ourselves and our children. Particularly during the school year, this makes it very difficult for children to get the amount of free play that they require. With this, I’m going to tell you five great reasons why you should throw away your schedule, put down the tablet, and get outside.

The first reason is probably the most obvious. Outdoor play provides great benefits to physical development. It improves motor coordination, strength, and balance, and it puts kids in an overall healthier position.

The next reason to play outside is that there are benefits for internal regulation. Not only does it make kids sleep better at night, but there is research to show that it aids attentional control and stress reduction. Being outdoors also provides kids with different sensory experiences – such as feeling the texture of sand and mud, or feeling the wind blow on your face – which will help to build children’s sensory tolerance.

The next reason to get outside is to improve cognitive development. Being outdoors provides a lot of opportunities to make observations, draw conclusions about things, see cause and effect, and be imaginative.

Next, playing outside aids emotional development. When we are over-scheduled, children do not have the opportunity to feel confident in their ability to step outside of their comfort zone or take risks. Experimenting and taking risks during outdoor play can help children understand that they have some control over what they can do within their environment, as well as begin to recognize boundaries.

Finally, the last reason to get outside is that it really bolsters social development. When there is no structure or there are no rules to follow, kids have to learn how to initiate their interactions, engage in conversation with each other, communicate, problem solve, and find ways to along, even when others have different ideas.

With all of the above benefits, outdoor free play is one of the best things you can give to your child. So as the weather is getting nicer and summer is fast approaching, if you are looking for something to do, sometimes it is best to just put down your schedule, get outside, and get dirty.

 

About the Author

Dr. Angela Currie is a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. She conducts neuropsychological and psychological evaluations out of our Londonderry, NH office. She specializes in the evaluation of anxious children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors lending to their stress, such as underlying learning, attentional, or emotional challenges. She particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child, as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Currie or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician in the referral line.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Londonderry, NH, Plainville, MA, and Newton, MA serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call (603) 818-8526.

Buyer’s Guide 101: How to Shop for a Pediatric Occupational Therapist

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Julie Robinson, OT
Director of Clinical Services; Occupational Therapist, NESCA

As a parent of a child who has just been referred for Occupational Therapy (OT) services, the prospect of what to do next and where to go can be quite confusing. With so many providers in the area, it can be difficult to know who would be the right fit for your family. Typically, when you reach out to express interest in OT services at NESCA, Julie Robinson, OT, our department director, will have a personal phone call with you to help you through the process. As you conduct your search for the right fit for your child and family, here are some good questions you might ask to help you determine what works best. We’ve offered answers regarding NESCA’s services to let you know more about how we provide OT services.

What type of insurance do you take for occupational therapy?

Here at NESCA, we are in-network for BCBS and Allways, and we bill them directly on behalf of our patients.

How long are your OT sessions?

We spend 45 minutes directly with a child and another 5 – 10 minutes at the end of the session to consult with the caregiver. Other practices provide 30 or 38 minute sessions to compensate for decreases in insurance payments since the outset of Covid-19.

How long do we have to wait for an OT session? 

We can initiate an evaluation within 2 – 3 weeks of initial contact. If you have availability to bring your child in for treatment during the school day, there is no waitlist at this time. If you require sessions in the afterschool hours, there is a very small waitlist.

How many patients does a clinician typically see per week?

Some practices require their clinicians to perform as many as 30 or 32 patient hours per week to maximize their income. Here at NESCA, we cap patient hours at 26 per week. It is very important for us to focus on providing excellent clinical care to our clients with staff who are not burnt out or struggling to manage paperwork, treatment planning, and administrative activities, such as phone calls and emails to support our families. We are proud to offer research-backed services and want to provide our clinicians with ample time for continued opportunities for learning, allowing them to reach their highest level of potential and skill as a therapist – which they then pass on that knowledge and skill to our families.

What does your OT practice focus on?

At NESCA, our focus of therapy is based on a holistic view of a child to encourage life-long functional skill acquisition. We use a combination of sensory motor, sensory integration, developmental, and trauma-informed techniques, as well as practice and repetition of those techniques. We offer coaching on daily living skills to address weaknesses across a variety of areas: self-regulation, executive functions, self-care skills, such as dressing and bathing, handwriting and fine motor development, feeding, academic readiness, organization and attention. Other practices may utilize sensory integration or applied behavioral analysis as the basis for their program, for example.

Does the practice provide OT services in a clinical setting, remotely, at home, in school, or in the community?

Our primary service provision at NESCA is in the office or over teletherapy. In some instances, where schedules can be accommodated, we will provide services in the home, schools, or in the community. There may be additional travel fees involved for services outside of the office.

Does your OT practice offer comprehensive or second opinion evaluations for academic programming if needed?

NESCA does provide this service.

Will your practice consult with teachers or other caregivers if needed?

Yes. Sometimes additional fees are required, as insurance does not cover this service. We believe that consultation with outside providers is a critical part of our success!

Does your practice provide any specific programs outside of traditional sensory-motor based Occupational Therapy services?

At NESCA, we provide several specialty services in addition to traditional OT:

  • Feeding therapy
  • Safe and Sound Protocol for auditory sensitivity and self-regulation
  • Handwriting Without Tears
  • Trauma-informed Sensory Integration

What makes our clinicians so special?

One of the things that makes our occupational therapists an ideal match for your family is our love for children, the work we do, and our commitment to lifelong learning and the development of our clinical skills. Our entire OT department has known each other for at least four years, and we all came together as a team from another practice, with clinicians that are hand-picked by our director. We meet together on a weekly basis to share ideas and information, as well as to support each other in our clinical development.

For more information about NESCA’s Pediatric Occupational Therapy services, please visit: http://nesca-newton.com/occupational_therapy/ or submit an online Intake Form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

 

About the Author

Julie Robinson is an occupational therapist with over 25 years of experience as a clinician. The work Julie does is integral to human development, wellness and a solid family unit. She particularly enjoys supporting families through the process of adoption and in working with children who are victims of trauma. Julie has extensive experience working with children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or who have learning or emotional disabilities. She provides services that address Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and self-regulation challenges, as well as development of motor and executive functioning skills.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services or other clinical therapies, 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.

 

A Halloween for Those with Sensory Challenges

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Julie Robinson, OT
Director of Clinical Services; Occupational Therapist, NESCA

Halloween – a holiday full of tricks and treats. For some children, getting in the Halloween spirit by getting dressed up, carving pumpkins, and going trick-or-treating with friends is what they look forward to all year. For others, dressing up in an itchy costume, not being able to see someone’s face because they are wearing a spooky mask, being out in the dark with crowds of noisy trick-or-treaters, carving pumpkins and having to touch the oooey goooey insides of a pumpkin, and seeing decorations that make sudden noises or movements may make this holiday overwhelming for these children. Halloween can be tricky for families with children living with sensory processing difficulties, but with some creativity and planning ahead, families can build their toolboxes with their own tricks to combat the challenges that come with Halloween so their child can enjoy the treats that Halloween has to offer.

Here are some tricks for some common challenges that Halloween brings up:

Prepare for the day

Have an open discussion with your child about the traditions and activities associated with Halloween. You can read Halloween-themed books or watch Halloween movies (perhaps not the really scary ones!) to prepare your child for what to expect, because the anticipation of a new routine or anticipation of participating in unfamiliar activities can cause stress on a child. Discuss the plan for Halloween regarding decorations, attending parties, going trick-or-treating, etc., ahead of time so the child knows what to expect when celebrating the holiday. Consider the use of a visual picture schedule with activities that may be added into your typical routine. Provide ample warnings for transitions, when possible, to give your child time to move from one activity to another.

Be creative and imaginative with your child’s costume

The most important aspect of a costume for a child with sensory processing difficulties is ensuring that the costume is comfortable. Certain costume material may be itchy or scratchy, costumes with masks may occlude a child’s vision or be too tight on their head, or make-up may smell off-putting to a child. Children should have the opportunity to try on their costume when walking, sitting, and reaching for things before wearing it for real to make sure they are comfortable moving around in it. It is important to remember the idea of “less is more” and to use your imagination when coming up with costume ideas. For example, if a child wants to be a superhero, consider attaching a superhero logo to the front of a shirt they wear regularly rather than having your child wear a full superhero one-piece costume that may be itchy, tight, and hot.

Choose activities that best fit your child’s sensory needs

Meaningful participation in Halloween festivities doesn’t just include carving pumpkins and going trick-or-treating. Halloween activities can include roasting pumpkin seeds, setting out the candy bowl for trick-or-treaters, doing Halloween-themed crafts, etc. It is important for you to pick activities that best fit your child’s sensory needs. For example, if your child dislikes carving pumpkins because they have to touch the messy pumpkin insides, consider having your child paint their pumpkin or decorate it with stickers instead or make a pumpkin out of paper to decorate. If you and your child really want to go trick-or-treating but your child becomes overwhelmed with noisy crowds, consider trick-or-treating on only quiet side streets, or limit your time, allowing for breaks in between. If your child becomes overwhelmed with flashing lights, loud noises, or scary decorations, consider doing a drive-by of the neighborhood before taking your child out for trick-or-treating so you know which houses to avoid. For some children who crave a great deal of movement, it may be useful to engage in some heavy work activity before participating in a Halloween activity: wall push-ups, yoga poses, carrying weighty objects, for example. It may also be useful to engage in calming sensory activity to ease the transition from a busy setting back into the house: tactile materials like playdough or putty, water play, or a sensory table may be worth trying, or consider making a play tent or fort with quiet books or puzzles, or drawing to smooth the transition.

Monitor for overstimulation

Knowing when your child has had enough of Halloween festivities is just as important as knowing how to get your child engaged in them. A child may not be overstimulated at first, but may become overwhelmed minutes later. It is important to give your child choices of activities and next steps they can take as well as alerting your child about the sequence of events and the timeframe of events so that they know what to expect. If possible, help your child learn to advocate for themselves by saying things like, “please don’t touch me,” or “no thank you, I don’t want wear that,” in order to give them some autonomy over the activities that they participate in. However, in situations where this isn’t possible, it is important as the parent to know when to stop or disengage from festivities when sensory overload occurs and return home or to a quieter, more familiar space to give the child time to decompress.

Resources:

Enjoying Halloween With Sensory Challenges. (2021). Aota.org. https://www.aota.org/About-Occupational-Therapy/Patients-Clients/ChildrenAndYouth/halloween-sensory.aspx?fbclid=IwAR23ux4OKqJmXEZdnCIzb2_Uh0of55YKuCf8ek97UEAc1jZflndR_ZEBRwM

Morin, A. (2019, August 5). Halloween Challenges for Kids With Sensory Processing Issues and How to Help. Understood.org; Understood. https://www.understood.org/articles/en/halloween-challenges-for-kids-with-sensory-processing-issues-and-how-to-help

5 Ways to Help Children with Sensory Challenges Participate in Halloween Festivities. (2021). Aota.org. https://www.aota.org/Publications-News/ForTheMedia/PressReleases/2019/102419-Halloween-Tips-Sensory-Challenges.aspx

 

About the Author

Julie Robinson is an occupational therapist with over 25 years of experience as a clinician. The work Julie does is integral to human development, wellness and a solid family unit. She particularly enjoys supporting families through the process of adoption and in working with children who are victims of trauma. Julie has extensive experience working with children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or who have learning or emotional disabilities. She provides services that address Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and self-regulation challenges, as well as development of motor and executive functioning skills.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services or other clinical therapies, 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.

 

Is It Sensory? Or Is It Behavior?

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Julie Robinson, OT
Director of Clinical Services; Occupational Therapist, NESCA

As parents or other caregivers of children with special needs, we can often find ourselves confused between what is a sensory response and what is behavior. Although this is often a complex question, and one without a straightforward answer, there are some tools of the trade that OTs use to help us determine just what is going on with these children. What makes this so complex is that each child is an individual, with their own unique ways of responding to sensory stimuli, to social interactions, and when out in varied settings in their community or with family. Children may also present differently from minute to minute or day to day, depending on sleep, hunger, and fluctuations in mood. But we can often look closely for patterns that may help to guide us in finding the answers.

When working with a child who seems to be in a meltdown, one of the best things you can do is take a quick scan of the environment. Is there a loud or distracting sound in the background? Did someone touch the child unexpectedly? Is the overall environment too busy and overstimulating, such as at party or a restaurant? Sometimes just naming or removing the stimuli, if possible, is enough to help get things back under control. If you know a triggering situation might arise that provokes a meltdown, see if you can give the child a warning and a plan of where to go for comfort. “We will be having a fire drill in 10 minutes, so when it happens you can hold _____’s hand, or we can get you some headphones to cover your ears to make you more comfortable” is one example. Find something soothing from a sensory perspective to help the child settle: a quiet corner with books, some tactile play or fidgets, calming music, a tight squeeze ( but only if tolerated and given permission to do so ). If you know you are entering a highly stimulating environment, it may be best to go in for short periods, with frequent breaks built in for your child every 10 minutes or so to take a walk, use the bathroom, or get a drink.

If you do not see something sensory in your environment creating the discomfort or the meltdown, then behavior and emotions are more likely at play. You child may feel confused about a social interaction, about expectations, or what may be coming next in a transition. Your child may feel a lack of confidence or anxiety in a situation, that although may be seemingly simple and straight forward to you, may not to him or to her. An academic task may feel misunderstood, and not knowing how to start can result in a meltdown for many of our children.

When you see that the child you are caring for is beginning to ramp up, that is the best time to intervene. Once a meltdown has begun, language processing will be limited, and the child may not be reachable for a period of time in order to settle down. The best thing you can do in those moments, is to help the child to stop. I often use a stop sign to hold up in my therapy sessions, that cues the child to take a quick break from interacting with me when I see things starting to spin out of control. I limit my language, provide a calming sensory activity, then we can talk about the upset once I have the child back in my court.

Here are some things to think about and questions you might ask yourself to help guide your interactions and expectations when you, as the adult, are confused about whether this is sensory or behavior:

  1. What are the undesirable behaviors that my child observes when he or she is upset or uncomfortable? Are they different when there is sensory discomfort, in comparison to when he or she is upset with a person or a demand? Notice quality of voice, bodily tension, inability to stay still or focused, aggression, flight or an attempt to get away, shutdown or inability to interact. You may start to see patterns in behavior when you look at them in relation to a sensory event or something that is more emotionally-laden.
  2. What occurred just before this behavior appeared? Was there a sensory distraction or discomfort or was he or she upset with a person or a demand?
  3. How did the child behave during this episode?
  4. How did adults or peers interact with my child during the episode? Did it calm the child, or make him or her more agitated?
  5. List sensations that may have triggered a meltdown: tactile, auditory, visual, smell, taste, movement. Were they loud, distracting, uncomfortable? Was the child in a space that may have been too small or too large? Was the child able to get away from the uncomfortable stimuli, or did he or she feel stuck in the moment?

It will be beneficial for team members to share information and write these things down, perhaps in a format of a journal, so that the team can work together to uncover the patterns, find strategies that are successful, and provide consistency across the board. We all know consistency for these children is one of the most effective tools for learning, and although it may take some extra work up front for caregivers, the pay off on the other side is often so rewarding that it is worth the effort.

If you would like to explore this topic further with NESCA OT Julie Robinson, join us for a free webinar on this topic on September 13, 2021 at 10:30 am ET. Register in advance for this webinar at:

https://nesca-newton.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_-edHNIwkRBKnjk0gq6-bUw

 

About the Author

Julie Robinson is an occupational therapist with over 25 years of experience as a clinician. The work Julie does is integral to human development, wellness and a solid family unit. She particularly enjoys supporting families through the process of adoption and in working with children who are victims of trauma. Julie has extensive experience working with children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or who have learning or emotional disabilities. She provides services that address Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and self-regulation challenges, as well as development of motor and executive functioning skills.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services or other clinical therapies, 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.

 

Playgrounds & Their Role in Child Development

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist, NESCA

Growing up, I remember spending hours and hours at playgrounds with friends and family. Running around, scraping our knees, and swinging from one structure to the next. While we all know that playgrounds can be loads of fun, the therapeutic benefit children can gain from these unique environments is often overlooked. Playgrounds allow children to explore the environment around them, develop important social/emotional skills, and build the necessary motor abilities to be successful in life.

Think of your average playground and consider the range of equipment that is present. Each type of equipment offers its own benefits in helping a child to build skills in different areas. Some common examples of playground equipment include:

  • Slides
  • Swings
  • Spinning equipment (e.g., tire swing, Sit N’ Spin, merry go round)
  • See-saw
  • Zipline, Static trapeze
  • Climbing structures
    • Ladders, monkey bars, stepping stones, vertical/fireman’s pole, coil climber, rock wall, rope structures
  • Imaginative play/Sensory-based equipment
    • Sandboxes, ball pits, splash pads, water tables, playhouse/kitchen set-ups

Gross Motor Skills

Playgrounds are great places for children to gain exposure and practice using gross motor skills. Some of the gross motor skills that can be targeted include upper and lower extremity strength, core strength and postural control, balance, shoulder/elbow/wrist stability, and bilateral coordination. Gross motor skills are important because they allow us to perform everyday functions, navigate and interact with our environment, and engage in leisure activities like sports! They also lay the foundation for our body to develop more refined motor skills in the hands. In other words, the child must have proximal stability before achieving distal mobility (Miss Jamie O.T, 2021). As our bodies develop these gross motor skills, this sets the groundwork for fine motor control. The more opportunities we give children to practice and explore, the better!

Image Credit: (Miss Jamie O.T, 2021)

Fine Motor Skills

Traditionally, we think of seated activities, such as coloring, writing, puzzles, or beads, as targeting our fine motor –  or hand –  skills. While this may be true, engagement in playground activities is also a great way to build hand strength, dexterity, grasp patterns, upper extremity coordination, and more. Think of a child climbing on a ladder, up a slide, or across a monkey bar structure. Our hands play a vital role in these activities. While engaging with playground environment, a child has ample opportunity to develop and use what is known as the “power grasp.” This is the grip needed to stabilize an object with the pinky side of the hand, while the thumb side of the hand wraps around the object (Miss Jamie O.T, 2021). This grasp is used in everyday life, such as when holding a cup, turning a doorknob, or opening a jar. Many skills established in this environment can then be transferred to the functional tasks performed in our daily routines. The playground is the perfect place to learn them!

Sensory Processing and Integration

In addition to motor skill practice, a playground environment can provide children with a plethora of sensory experiences that benefit overall regulation. When we think of playgrounds, many times swinging, spinning, and sliding activities come to mind. These activities provide a child with important vestibular information that allow for understanding of head/body position in space. This input can be crucial for regulation, social interaction, and successful navigation of the environment. Additionally, playground activities give our bodies ample proprioceptive, tactile, and visual input. Consider a child swinging on the monkey bars. While suspended, a child receives pulling/pushing input to the joints, which allows for increased body awareness and accurate grading of movements through space. Furthermore, a child is interacting with his or her environment, constantly taking in tactile, auditory, and visual information. For many children, exposure to these sensory-rich experiences can positively impact regulation, arousal, and social and emotional development.

Social/Emotional, Play Skills

Playground environments also provide abundant social interaction for children as they are often shared, public spaces utilized by mixed ages, genders, and abilities. We know that many children are highly motivated by peers and benefit from the opportunity to observe and learn from the actions of others. Consider the different components of a playground; each promotes different patterns of play, and therefore, reinforces different developmental skills. For example, overhead structures, such as monkey bars, tend to attract older children and facilitate independent, gross motor play. This kind of activity promotes problem-solving and persistence. See-saws and swings tend to promote collaboration between children, as they require turn-taking skills, communication, and teamwork. An area such as a sandbox or water table may facilitate imagination skills, as children use their creativity and explore tool use. While we know a playground allows for progression of development in various areas, the actual type of equipment being used may influence which specific skills are being targeted (Landscape Structures Incorporated, 2021).

References

  1. Landscape Structures Incorporated. (2021). Developmental Benefits of Playground Equipment. Benefits of Playground Equipment. https://www.playlsi.com/en/playground-planning-tools/education/playground-equipment-benefits/#:~:text=Stimulate%20Development%20through%20Playground%20Equipment&text=The%20movements%20children%20perform%20on,and%20develops%20better%20body%20awareness.
  2. Miss Jaime O.T. (2021). Promoting Fine Motor Skills on the Playground. Developing Fine Motor Skills at the Playground. https://www.missjaimeot.com/promoting-fine-motor-skills-playground/

 

About the Author
Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts with experience in both school-based and outpatient pediatric settings. Maddie received her undergraduate degree in Exercise Science/Kinesiology at The College of Charleston in South Carolina and  earned her Doctorate degree in Occupational Therapy from The MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston.

Maddie is a passionate therapist with professional interest in working with young children with neurodevelopmental disorders, fine and gross motor delays and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

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.

 

Why Kids Need to Outdoor Free Play

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
Director of Training and New Hampshire Operations

One of the best ways to make the most of your summer is to get outside and engage in lots of outdoor play. We live in a society where we tend to over-schedule ourselves and our children. Particularly during the school year, this makes it very difficult for children to get the amount of free play that they require. With this, I’m going to tell you five great reasons why you should throw away your schedule, put down the tablet, and get outside.

The first reason is probably the most obvious. Outdoor play provides great benefits to physical development. It improves motor coordination, strength, and balance, and it puts kids in an overall healthier position.

The next reason to play outside is that there are benefits for internal regulation. Not only does it make kids sleep better at night, but there is research to show that it aids attentional control and stress reduction. Being outdoors also provides kids with different sensory experiences – such as feeling the texture of sand and mud, or feeling the wind blow on your face – which will help to build children’s sensory tolerance.

The next reason to get outside is to improve cognitive development. Being outdoors provides a lot of opportunities to make observations, draw conclusions about things, see cause and effect, and be imaginative.

Next, playing outside aids emotional development. When we are over-scheduled, children do not have the opportunity to feel confident in their ability to step outside of their comfort zone or take risks. Experimenting and taking risks during outdoor play can help children understand that they have some control over what they can do within their environment, as well as begin to recognize boundaries.

Finally, the last reason to get outside is that it really bolsters social development. When there is no structure or there are no rules to follow, kids have to learn how to initiate their interactions, engage in conversation with each other, communicate, problem solve, and find ways to along, even when others have different ideas.

With all of the above benefits, outdoor free play is one of the best things you can give to your child. So as the weather is getting nicer and summer is fast approaching, if you are looking for something to do, sometimes it is best to just put down your schedule, get outside, and get dirty.

 

About the Author

Dr. Angela Currie is a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. She conducts neuropsychological and psychological evaluations out of our Londonderry, NH office. She specializes in the evaluation of anxious children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors lending to their stress, such as underlying learning, attentional, or emotional challenges. She particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child, as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Currie or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician in the referral line.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Londonderry, NH, Plainville, MA, and Newton, MA serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call (603) 818-8526.

Mind the Gap: Why You Should Consider Summer OT and Speech Services at NESCA

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Julie Robinson, OT
Director of Clinical Services; Occupational Therapist, NESCA

It has been a challenging school year, with ever-changing schedules, routines, and unfortunately with a good deal of inconsistency in the provision of therapeutic services through the schools, due to the many impacts of COVID. Parents, caregivers and students have all experienced differing levels of anxiety about what progress has been and is being made, with many children experiencing some level of regression with regard to behavior, self-regulation, motor skills or language development. In anticipation of many of our children returning to school in-person in April, parents have expressed concerns that their children may be lagging behind or that they have not had ample support throughout the earlier parts of their school year to ensure they can keep up with the other children in their class. Over the months of April, May and June, we will all get to see firsthand where the gaps might arise. And then when school is over, many of us might be concerned that the gains of just a few short months will be lost again over summer. This is why those of us at NESCA perceive that the benefits of summer services will be an important part of ensuring progress and the ability to jump right back into learning – as we hope all school will be in-person again in the fall.

NESCA is available to provide summer services, as we do consistently for our weekly patients. In addition, we are offering short-term services to those children who may not qualify for them through their school systems, or for those families who would simply like to supplement what their children are receiving in-district to give them a boost before school begins again in the fall.

Our occupational therapists (OTs) can work on the following areas of focus with your child:

  • self-regulation and coping skills
  • how best to transition from the quiet of home to the multiple stimuli of a classroom full of children
  • how to cope with longer hours of wearing a mask
  • how to follow social distancing requirements, when they long for a closer physical connection with their peers

We can also help to ease the anxiety some children may have about becoming sick or how NOT to feel fearful of getting back into the classroom when sensory processing issues push them to feel uneasy. Our OTs can continue work on handwriting and motor development work started throughout the school year to ensure there is no regression or to improve the speed and automaticity of written expression and legibility. We can teach organizational and executive functioning skills to encourage kids to be independent, prioritize assignments and manage their time. OTs can address self-care skills of dressing, shoe tying, feeding and hygiene, which are likely to require more independence with social distancing requirements. While it’s summer, we help build outdoor skills, such as bike riding and greater self-confidence on the playground to elicit more social connections with peers. Our OTs are providing services in-person in our Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts clinics, by teletherapy or outdoors in the community as appropriate.

Our speech therapists at NESCA can also help to continue and supplement the hard work children have been putting in throughout the school year. They can work on social pragmatics and help with the skills needed to transition from so much time alone, to being in groups with their peers once again. NESCA’s speech therapists can support children on how to:

  • initiate play
  • find shared interests
  • be flexible thinkers
  • communicate with kindness and an appropriate level of voice
  • read gestures and non-verbal communication (especially while wearing masks, which can impede the ability to properly read another person’s mood, reactions or emotions)

We can continue to work on the established goals from school, regarding both expressive and receptive communication, language articulation and language as it pertains to written communication. Our speech therapists are currently providing all services via teletherapy while we work on a transition back to in-person therapy.

If you are interested in seeking out summer services at NESCA, or any of our assessments and services, please contact NESCA’s Director of Clinical Services Julie A. Robinson. She can be reached at jrobinson@nesca-newton.org and will conduct a phone intake with you to help you best determine your needs.

 

About the Author

Julie Robinson is an occupational therapist with over 25 years of experience as a clinician. The work Julie does is integral to human development, wellness and a solid family unit. She particularly enjoys supporting families through the process of adoption and in working with children who are victims of trauma. Julie has extensive experience working with children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or who have learning or emotional disabilities. She provides services that address Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and self-regulation challenges, as well as development of motor and executive functioning skills.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services or other clinical therapies, 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.

 

The Benefits of Sensory-based Play

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist, NESCA

The importance of play for child development

Play is considered an essential aspect of child development as it contributes to cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being. As a pediatric occupational therapist, play is an integral part of my job. When children have opportunities to play, this allows them to build their creativity and imagination, resolve conflicts and learn self-advocacy skills. Through play, children develop new abilities that lead to enhanced confidence and resiliency, skills crucial for navigating day to day challenges. Play allows kids to practice decision-making skills, discover areas of interest and engage in passions. (Ginsburg, 2007).

 What is sensory-based play?

Sensory play can be described as any play activity that stimulates an individual’s sensory system. The sensory system includes touch (tactile), smell (olfactory), taste (gustatory), sight (visual), hearing (auditory), balance (vestibular) and movement (proprioception). Common examples include sensory bin or sandbox play, play with shaving cream, finger paint and/or food, use of a balance beam, ball pit, and/or swings, sound tubes, and so much more!

Why is sensory play beneficial?

While we know that play is a critical part of child development, incorporating a multi-sensory approach into play activities can be particularly beneficial. When activities are fun and meaningful – our senses are engaged – we learn best!

  • Promotes learning – children who engage multiple senses to accomplish a task are better able to remember and recall learned information.
  • Facilitates exploration, creativity and curiosity in children who may be seeking, or avoiding, certain types of stimuli.
  • Allows for strengthening of the brain pathways and connections that allow for efficient sensory integration.
  • Promotes self-regulation by allowing for interaction with different mediums that may be calming for the child (Educational Playcare, 2016).

What kinds of OT skills can be targeted through sensory play?

  • Sensory processing skills
  • Fine motor skills
  • Gross motor skills
  • Feeding skills
  • Body awareness
  • Motor planning
  • Visual perceptual skills
  • Communication and play skills
  • Self-regulation and coping skills

References:

Educational Playcare. (2016, October 27). Why Sensory Play is Important for Development.
https://www.educationalplaycare.com/blog/sensory-play-important-development/#:~:text=Sensory%20play%20includes%20any%20activity,%2C%20create%2C%20investigate%20and%20explore

Ginsburg, K. R. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and
maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics119(1), 182-191.

To learn more about Maddie Girardi, watch this video interview between NESCA Occupational Therapists Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L, and Maddie Girardi, OTD, OTR/L.

About the Author
Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts with experience in both school-based and outpatient pediatric settings. Maddie received her undergraduate degree in Exercise Science/Kinesiology at The College of Charleston in South Carolina and  earned her Doctorate degree in Occupational Therapy from The MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston.

Maddie is a passionate therapist with professional interest in working with young children with neurodevelopmental disorders, fine and gross motor delays and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

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.