While school may be wrapping up, Summer is an ideal time to embark on transition assessment and services to ensure that your child’s IEP process is preparing them for learning, living, and working after their public education. The ultimate goal of transition assessment is to identify the necessary skills and services to ready a student age 13-21 for transitioning from high school to the next phase of life. To book an intake and consultation appointment, visit: www.nesca-newton.com/intake. Not sure if you need an assessment? You can schedule a one-hour parent/caregiver intake and consultation.



Sensory-friendly Sunscreen for Tactile-sensitive Kids

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

Our Sense of Touch

Tactile processing is our ability to sense and interpret information from our environment through our sense of touch. Information from our tactile system allows us to gauge everyday sensations such as light touch, temperature, vibration, pressure, or pain.

Tactile Defensiveness

Tactile defensiveness is a term used to describe an individual who is hypersensitive to touch. As occupational therapists (OTs), this is something we come across often on our caseloads. Sensitivity to tactile stimuli can interfere greatly with a child’s functional, day-to-day activities. It can impact one’s ability to tolerate certain types of clothing, perform self-care tasks (bathing, toothbrushing, hair brushing), or eat a range of foods. Another activity that may cause difficulty in the summer months is tolerating the feeling of sunscreen on the body. While we want our families to enjoy the beach, the pool, or spend time outdoors, this task can be daunting for tactile-sensitive kids. The anticipation of this event alone may elicit an aversive response, or, in many cases, the child may begin avoiding the task altogether.

(Movement Matters, 2020).

The Role of OT

Occupational therapists help children and families participate in meaningful daily activities. When a child is sensitive to certain stimuli, the therapist will provide an environment where controlled and guided exposure can take place. This process allows for ongoing positive interaction with the medium, often through play-based activities. The therapist can help the family find alternative solutions and to identify positive coping mechanisms that allow the individual to be successful in the given task.

Tactile Defensiveness and the Beach

As a pediatric occupational therapist, a question that often comes up in the summer months is: “What do I do if my child is having trouble tolerating the feeling of sunscreen on his skin?” The first thing you can do is consider the sensory properties of the sunscreen. Is it lotion? Is it thick? Sticky? Clumpy? Smooth? Does it absorb quickly, or does it stay on the skin? Is it greasy? Does it have a certain smell to it? Stick, spray, and powder options are great alternatives for children who may be sensitive to some of the less desirable lotions. Here are some of the most recommended, sensory-friendly sunscreen options:

      Stick options

  • Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Stick *
  • Neutrogena Dry Touch Ultra Sheer Stick *
  • Aveeno Baby Face stick sunscreen

      Spray options

  • Babo Botanicals Sheer Zinc Spray
  • Banana Boat Light as Air

      Powder-based options – primarily for the face

  • Brush on Block Translucent Mineral Powder Sunscreen
  • Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield


  • Neutrogena Dry Touch Ultra Sheer *
  • Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen
  • Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence

(Evolution, 2021; No Author, 2018).

Additional Recommendations

As an occupational therapist, I am always thinking of other ways to adapt activities to make them easier for my clients. Beyond changing the actual sunscreen, here are some more ways to help make protection from the sun easier for our kids.

  • Coolibar Clothing – Limit the amount of skin that is exposed directly to the sun using protective clothing. This brand offers sun protective clothing options in shirts, hats, bottoms, and swimwear.
  • Make it a routine! – Like any other daily activity, such as getting dressed or brushing teeth, make it a part of the day! This way, it is familiar and expected.
  • Make it fun! – Play a game or sing a song while applying sunscreen. Use a timer so that the child can know when the activity is going to end.
  • Involve the child in the process as much as possible – As appropriate, have the child help with putting on the sunscreen. Use a mirror so that the child can see what is going on.
  • Proprioceptive input – Providing proprioceptive input prior to sunscreen application can help to reduce touch sensitivity. This is the sensory input one receives from the movement and force of muscles and joints. Some examples include massage/deep pressure to applicable areas, any pushing/pulling movement, use of weighted items, digging in sand, animal crawls, or wheelbarrow walks. Have the child rub down arms, legs, and back with a towel before applying sunscreen.


Evolution, M. (2021, May 26). Sunscreen Ideas for Tactile Defensive Kids. Mommy Evolution. https://mommyevolution.com/sunscreen-ideas-tactile-kids/

No Author. (2018, March 31). Autism Inclusivity [Facebook page]. Facebook. Retrieved August 6, 2021, from https://www.facebook.com/groups/autisminclusivity

Movement Matters. (2020, May 3). Occupational Therapy ABC. https://www.movementmatters.com/


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.


Parenting Orchids and Dandelions

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By: Nancy Roosa, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

I recently evaluated a 15-year-old boy, who we’ll call Sam, whose parents brought him in due to some concerning new behaviors, including failing classes, disobeying his parents’ rules – particularly around curfew and technology use – and smoking marijuana on a daily basis. When meeting Sam, I was amazed at how engaging, polite and good-natured he was. It was hard to imagine this young man disobeying his parents and staying out all night, which he was also doing frequently.

Sam had grown up in an affluent and supportive family, the third of four children. The other three were, like their parents, easy-going, adaptable and successful – academically, socially and athletically. They were on the path to becoming independent and successful adults. Sam had always been a bit different. He was the child who had colic as an infant, sleep disturbances throughout childhood, separation anxiety at preschool, and extreme sensitivity to sensory stimuli. His parents cut tags out of his clothes, bought him loose-fitting pants, and avoided birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese’s – or almost anywhere there would be crowds of loud children, as these situations could reduce Sam to tears.

When evaluating Sam, I was impressed by his intelligence, quick reasoning and solid academic skills.  There was nothing obvious that standard neuropsychology tests uncovered. But Sam was also open and articulate about his difficulties. He explained that he was easily overwhelmed – “jangled,” he called it – in social situations, in a fast-paced classroom or on an athletic field. When he started ninth grade in a challenging parochial school, he was faced with more stressful situations, academically and socially. He became extremely anxious about tests and lengthy homework assignments, so he fell behind academically and developed pretty serious school anxiety. Given his sensitive nature, he was particularly likely to struggle in a class where the teacher was, in his words, “too strict,” or even “mean.” He wasn’t successful enough socially or athletically to sustain his self-esteem in these areas, particularly compared to his talented siblings. He found himself becoming angry and anxious, and he started using marijuana to calm himself. As he described it, getting high was the only time he felt happy and relaxed.

Sam was clearly struggling, easily meeting criteria for an anxiety disorder and a substance use disorder.  But I wanted to explain some of the “why” behind his struggles, so, in talking to his parents, I relied on the explanation put forth by Dr. W. Thomas Boyce, in his book, Orchids and Dandelions: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive. He explains that most children are like dandelions, born with sturdy, resilient temperaments so that they, like dandelions, grow and thrive wherever they land –  assuming there’s some minimal level of appropriate conditions. But about 20% of children are more like orchids. They are born with a very sensitive nervous system, which is highly attuned to all the stimulation in the world around them. Dr. Boyce found that for these children, lower levels of stress precipitated a full-fledged anxiety response, involving the release of stress hormones that create a Fight, Flight or Freeze response – an appropriate response for a life-threatening situation, but not much help when facing, say, a strict teacher or a hard test. These children are therefore much more likely to develop full-blown anxiety disorders. On the positive side, their high level of sensitivity to the world around them means they are typically very empathic and emotionally attuned. Like an orchid with careful nurturing, they will develop into exceptional adults.

Fortunately, many orchids do naturally gain resilience as they grow, according to Elaine Arons, Ph.D. In her book The Sensitive Child, she cites studies that find most children who are shy as preschoolers – suffering social and separation anxiety – will develop coping strategies and not appear shy by the time they reach school age. These orchids gain resilience without losing their sensitivity.

But this positive evolution requires good parenting. While dandelions do fine with the average “good-enough” mother, as famously defined by psychologist Donald Winnicott, orchids need parents to be just a bit better.

How does one do this? How can a well-meaning, good-enough parent help these orchids become better able to manage the squalls, large and small, that occur in any one’s life?

Fortunately, there is a wealth of research – contained in books and articles – on building resilience in children. Most emphasize that we need to allow children to struggle with challenges, even to the point of sometimes failing, so they learn that they can cope and succeed in the face of adversity. This message is clear from the title of several such books: e.g. The Blessing of the Skinned Knee: Using Timeless Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children, by Wendy Mogel and The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed by Jessica Lahey.

We also have a neurobiological explanation for this process. We know that continued exposure to a stressful situation allows the body to habituate and the terrible feelings – such as fear and panic – that accompany a stress response gradually recede. As this happens, the previously scary situation becomes routine, and the child’s self-confidence and willingness to tackle new risks grows. Every preschool teacher knows this. The crying child who is being left by his parents in an unfamiliar preschool will eventually calm down and start to enjoy himself. The process goes more quickly if parents calmly and confidently reassure the child, then leave. The parent who is also anxious, who hovers over the child, attempting to sooth his fears, only increases the child’s anxiety by sending the message that this IS a scary situation. This phenomenon was dramatically illustrated in a study by Susan Crockenberg and Esther Leerkes (Development and Psychopathology, 2006). They found that 6-month-old children had different levels of reactivity – or startle – in response to unfamiliar stimuli. These infants also showed differences in how much they tried to avoid the situation, versus distracting themselves while staying in the presence of the stimuli. Children with high reactivity and a tendency to withdraw from novel stimuli, along with parents who were less sensitive, were more likely to show high anxiety at 2.5 years of age. Exposure to challenge causes the body to habituate and builds resilience. Trying to avoid stressful situations only exacerbates fears.

However, this can be counterintuitive for parents of very sensitive children. In fact, the more attuned a parent is to his/her child’s sensitivity, the harder it becomes. Sam’s parents had always coddled him a bit more than their other children. Knowing that he didn’t like loud birthday parties, his mother tended to decline these invitations. When he became upset and started to cry at a soccer game, his father felt so sorry for him that he didn’t insist that Sam return the next week. This avoidance did not allow Sam to grow and master new situations, but instead narrowed his world.

This is not to say that Sam’s parents should have been less emotionally attuned. Rather, it’s important for parents of children like Sam to walk a fine line between exposing the child to moderate challenges that he can manage but do not overwhelm him. It’s also important that they stay calm themselves, empathizing with the child’s fears but reassuring him at the same time. Not an easy task.

Fortunately, Sam has many strengths, not the least of which are his sensitivity and his intelligence, as well as great artistic gifts. He also has a solid relationship with his parents, even though it has been quite strained of late. After our evaluation, Sam and his parents decided to place him in a therapeutic wilderness program so he could withdraw from daily pot use in a safe place and learn skills from therapists there, as well as learn from peers who were going through similar struggles. This coming year, he will not return to the challenging parochial school he attended for ninth grade and will instead start at an independent school that offers some academic supports and a flourishing arts program. Sam’s roots are well-established, and with a bit more awareness of the gifts and challenges inherent in his sensitive nature, he is expected to grow into a self-confident and resilient young man.


About the Author: 

Dr. Roosa has been engaged in providing neuropsychological evaluations for children since 1997. She enjoys working with a range of children, particularly those with autism spectrum disorders, as well as children with attentional issues, executive function deficits, anxiety disorders, learning disabilities, or other social, emotional or behavioral problems. Her evaluations are particularly appropriate for children with complex profiles and those whose presentations do not fit neatly into any one diagnostic box. As part of this process, Dr. Roosa is frequently engaged in school visits, IEP Team Meetings, home observations and phone consultations with collateral providers. Dr. Roosa has also consulted with several area schools, either about individual children or about programmatic concerns. She speaks to parent or school groups, upon request.

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