Tag

Special Education

Student Involvement in IEPs: Ten Tips to Help Middle School Students Get Started – Part 1

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

Federal law requires that students with Individual Education Programs (IEPs) be invited to attend their transition IEP meetings. In Massachusetts, this means that students approaching the age of 14, often 8th graders, should be invited to attend their IEP meetings to start the process of transition planning if this has not already begun. For many, the idea of a middle school student attending an IEP meeting, an activity that can often be intimidating and upsetting for parents, can initially be overwhelming. And historically research has indicated that when students do attend team meetings, they have the lowest level of satisfaction about their IEP meeting of any team member and they feel the least comfortable sharing their thoughts and suggestions in the meeting.[i] However, research across the country has also shown that students can learn skills to actively participate in their IEP meetings, especially when they are directly taught terminology, roles, and how to participate, and when team members expect student participation.[ii] Student participation in IEPs is not only important because it is federally mandated, it is also essential because the IEP is supposed to be based on the student’s strengths, interests, preferences, and needs as well as the student’s post-high school goals—and because it’s the student’s life! For those reasons, I am choosing to focus this blog (and some future blogs) on tips for helping middle school students to become involved in their IEP processes.

  1. Explicitly learn about the IEP document and process—There are clear rules and vocabulary used to govern the IEP process. However, these are wholly unfamiliar and strange to anyone who has not participated in the process before (and even perplexing for those of us who have a lot of experience at team meetings). Therefore, one of the most critical ways to prepare a student to attend transition IEP meetings and to be a self-directed member of their IEP team is to equip them with knowledge of the vocabulary and rules that govern the process. One organization that has created useful materials for helping to teach students about the IEP process is imdetermined.org which has documents designed to assist students in understanding the IEP (https://imdetermined.org/resource/understanding-my-iep-differentiated/) and preparing for the IEP (https://imdetermined.org/resource/understanding-my-iep-differentiated/), but it may also be important to reference and simplify certain sections of the IEP Process Guide (https://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/iep/proguide.pdf). If students are not ready to review their entire IEP (which many students are not), it may be helpful just to think about the present levels of performance, strengths, or accommodations.
  2. Talk about strengths—While it’s critical that students be able to talk about their strengths and challenges, sometimes it’s easiest to start with strengths. People can have all kinds of strengths, such as character strengths, social strengths, language strengths, academic strengths, technical strengths, extracurricular strengths, and more. For kids who have a hard time with open-ended questions, there are checklists that can be found or completed online, such as character strengths inventories, transferable skills checklists, and strengths worksheets. There are also activities that can be useful for documenting strengths over time, such as this Strengths Chain activity (https://www.understood.org/articles/en/strengths-chain-for-kids), keeping a running list or journal of strengths and accomplishments, or building a deck of strength cards. All students need help learning to describe their strengths, especially the first time. Some students may have a hard time identifying the strengths they see in themselves, but may have an easy time sharing what other people say about them or compliment them on. Talking about strengths is not a one-time activity. Make sure that you are talking about and referring to the student’s strengths often while also highlighting how various members of the household or students in the class have different strengths and skills.
  3. Talk about challenges!—While transition planning is a strengths-based process, an IEP is based on a student needing specialized instruction and related services because the student has a disability and would struggle to make effective progress in school or the general education curriculum without special education. If we are going to ask students to be actively involved in a process of goal-setting based principally on their having a disability and related challenges, it is critical that the student has the opportunity to talk about what is hard for them and what they want to get better at… in their own words. At the same time, it is important to normalize the fact that all people have challenges, learn different information at different rates, and need help (and tools) to function successfully. Ultimately, being able to use a diagnostic label and understand the impact of a diagnosis on functioning is important, but what is more important is being able to describe what is hard on a daily basis and what makes those difficult activities easier. For some students, it is helpful to read a book or watch a television show or movie with characters who face similar struggles and to label similarities between the youth and the character. Some of the same checklists mentioned for documenting strengths can be helpful for identifying areas of challenge or undeveloped skills. It may also be helpful to start filling in a worksheet similar to this one-pager (https://imdetermined.org/resource/one-pager/) or this self-awareness worksheet (https://www.understood.org/articles/en/download-self-awareness-worksheet-for-kids). Just as with strengths, it is important to talk about and refer to specific challenges that each person in the household or class faces.
  4.  Complete interest and preference inventories—Learning to engage in self-assessments and talk about those self-assessments is an important part of transition planning and IEP participation. There are so many fun interest and personality quizzes online that can be taken in minutes. Some examples include these personality tests from National Geographic Kids (https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/games/personality-quizzes), this free personality type explorer (https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test), or even the O*Net Career Interest Profiler (https://www.mynextmove.org/explore/ip). Have the student take the test—and take these tests yourself—and talk about how your results are similar or different and how well the student thinks the results of the assessment capture them. Think about whether there are strengths or challenges to add to their running lists or worksheets based on their experience taking these inventories.
  5. Talk about the student’s goals for after high school—Students have the right to input as much as possible into their postsecondary vision statement, no matter how realistic or unrealistic their input is. The only way that they can be prepared to provide input at a team meeting is if they have spent some time thinking and talking about their post-high school goals and learning about their choices and options. Just recently, my colleague Becki Lauzon wrote a blog with important discussion points for talking about post-high school goals with students, which can be found here. A robust transition planning process should include helping a student to have detailed goals for their future education or training, employment, independent living, and community engagement; however, initial discussions might just include ruling in or out things like obtaining a high school diploma, continuing learning after high school, having a paid job, driving a car, and living with other people. In middle school, the goal of talking with a student about their postsecondary vision is just to help the student learn to comfortably engage in those discussions and to find out where future work needs to be done in order to help the student build a more complete picture of their adult postsecondary life.

Every student is different and is able to engage in the process in different ways and at different times, but I hope that there is at least one tip in these blogs that is useful for you. Next month, I will be writing a second blog with more tips for engaging middle school students in the IEP process.

If you are interested in having your child work with Kelley Challen or another NESCA transition specialist to plan and prepare to be part of their IEP meeting, please fill out an intake for our transition consultation and planning services or our student coaching services today!

[i] http://www2.ku.edu/~tccop/files/Martins_Perspective.pdf

[ii] http://www2.ku.edu/~tccop/files/Martins_Perspective.pdf

 

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

 

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

Vision Statements

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC
Transition Specialist and Consultant

Having been a transition specialist, evaluator and consultant, as well as having worked different roles within the special education system for many years, I have come to learn that the “Post-Secondary Vision Statement” for a student is one of the most overlooked pieces of the transition and IEP process. To me, this is one of the MOST important parts of the transition planning process for students, their families, and their Team members. The vision statement is a key part of a student’s IEP, as well as their Transition Planning Form (TPF), once a student turns 14. Prior to a student turning 14, the vision statement should be completed collaboratively by the Team. Once a student turns 14, I encourage the student to have as much input as possible, no matter how realistic or unrealistic the vision is. There have been times when I have seen two vision statements on an IEP, one for the student and one for the parents and/or Team, depending on the situation. Many times, parents or school staff will ask for guidance on what information should be gathered and how to get that information from a student.

Below are some of the tips that I have learned and shared along the way:

  • The vision will most likely change from year to year.
  • The vision is what should be driving the development of the IEP.
  • Starting at age 14, the vision statement that is in the IEP needs to correspond with the vision statement on the TPF.
  • From age 14 on, the vision statement (as well as the TPF) should be read at the beginning of the IEP meeting to make sure the Team is focusing on the areas needed to assist a student in reaching their vision.
  • If a student is unable to write their own vision, it is important that the Team incorporates what they know about the students’ strengths, interests, etc.

A vision statement can be long or short. It is not the length of it that matters, but the content. With the summer now starting, it is a good time to sit down with your student and start to discuss some of the below areas to be prepared for the upcoming school year.

  • Education
    • Do you want to pass MCAS?
    • Do you want to earn a high school diploma?
    • Do you want to stay in school until the age of 22?
    • Do you want to go to a 2- or 4-year college?
    • Do you want to take classes towards a certificate program/trade?
    • Do you want to attend a community-based day program?
  • Employment
    • Do you want to have a part-time job while you are still in school?
    • What do you want to be when you are older (even if it is unrealistic)?
    • Do you want to participate in volunteer work?
    • Do you want to work part-time or full-time?
    • If you are unsure about what job you might like, what tasks/activities do you enjoy doing?
  • Independent Living
    • Do you want to live on your own, in a shared living setting or stay living with family?
    • Would you like to live alone or with a roommate?
    • Do you want to live in the same area?
    • How will you access the community (i.e., public transportation, driver’s license, family, etc.)?
    • Do you want to work on developing your independent living skills, such as money management/budgeting, domestic skills, cooking, shopping, first aid, etc.?
    • What do you want to do for fun (i.e., community events, sports, acting, working out, etc.)?

There are many resources available to families regarding what to do and not to do when it comes to writing a strong vision statement for a student of any age. Below are a few examples of resources that I have found helpful:

https://www.concordspedpac.org/IEPvision.htm

https://datamomkristen.com/developing-a-measurable-vision-statement-for-an-iep-or-isp/

https://adayinourshoes.com/iep-vision-statement/

 

About the Author

Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC, works with teens, young adults and their families out of the Newton, MA and Plainville, MA offices. Lauzon has unparalleled experience as a Transition Specialist, Transition Consultant and Vocational Program Coordinator. Lauzon will be providing transition assessment (including testing, functional evaluations and observations) consultation, case management, training and professional development for schools; and transition planning, consultation and coaching for transition-aged students and their parents.

 

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

 

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.

 

Bolstering Transition Skills in Another Summer of COVID-19

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC
Transition Specialist and Consultant

With rules and regulations around COVID-19 beginning to change, I took the time to reflect on a blog that I wrote almost exactly one year ago today. That blog focused on how bolster skills during the summer months when COVID-19 restrictions had limited so many of the hands-on, community-based and real-world experiences and opportunities for those of transition age due to social distancing. So many of the typical learning opportunities were just not available at that time.

While many things may have changed since last year, we are still not completely back to our old “normal.” In fact, I have spent the last year working to adapt transition skills and services for the students and clients with whom I work for this “new normal.” Since we will be living in this “new normal” for an uncertain amount of time longer, we’ll need to continue to provide transition support and services to our young adults in this still fairly limited environment.

We are indeed beginning to open back up, but not all of the typical opportunities and experiences in the community will be readily available to participate in. If you are once again looking to bolster transition skills over the summer, the following are examples of resources and activities that could be incorporated into an individual’s summer routine. Updated suggestions for opportunities that may be more available this year are also included.

Career-Research/Vocational Activities:

https://careerkids.com/pages/career-research

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Browse/Search:career%20research/Price-Range/Free

https://www.careeronestop.org/Videos/video-library.aspx

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Vocational-Skills-Ice-Cream-Shop-Worker-Shift-Elapsed-Time-Boom-Cards-6874043?fbclid=IwAR2SP077flhzJq9F5ZEzjNcVqMhGGIqMwPM4h5_bOS65CQlA1XmtJyME48Y

Virtualjobshadow.com

Online Banking:

https://www.moneyinstructor.com/onlinebanking.asp

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Browse/Price-Range/Free/Search:online%20banking

https://www.bankaroo.com/

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Debit-Card-Digital-Interactive-Activities-4459286?fbclid=IwAR0XObQr2srDU8c7OMqj2O_MobluuxFep-BfOEo7jbRj51tvTOpIFHVTn8E

Domestic Skills (i.e., cooking, cleaning, laundry):

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/DLS-Doing-the-Laundry-Workbook-423396

https://tacanow.org/family-resources/developing-lifeskills-chores/

https://accessiblechef.com/

Recreation and Leisure:

http://www.spedchildmass.com/special-needs-recreation-disability-autism-aspergers-massachusetts/

https://www.wtae.com/article/virtual-disney-world-rides/31788233?fbclid=IwAR1-RK5xHwsCMteU7qM8y1oRGisz2Pp1nifGDfY-MaMgYl0Ih6hf9MxKlCM#

www.kahoot.com (several free interactive games that can be played in-person or virtually)

Post-secondary Education:

https://www.youvisit.com/collegesearch/

https://campustours.com/

 

About the Author

Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC, works with teens, young adults and their families out of the Newton, MA and Plainville, MA offices. Lauzon has unparalleled experience as a Transition Specialist, Transition Consultant and Vocational Program Coordinator. Lauzon will be providing transition assessment (including testing, functional evaluations and observations) consultation, case management, training and professional development for schools; and transition planning, consultation and coaching for transition-aged students and their parents.

 

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

 

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.

 

When the Worry Bug Makes You Mad: Understanding the Importance of Positive Behavior Plans for Anxious Kids

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Renée Marchant, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

“Don’t Feed the Worry Bug,” by Andi Green is a wonderful book for children who are anxious or experience a lot of worrisome thoughts. The story is about a monster who constantly feeds his WorryBug, only to find that as he worries more and more, the WorryBug continues to grow until the monster is totally overwhelmed by the emotion. Eventually, he learns to control it. In my practice, I evaluate a number of children with lots of worries…but they don’t actually look worried. Instead, children may appear defiant, hyperactive and aggressive. Why do children overwhelmed with anxiety sometimes become frustrated and angry or have poor behavioral control at home and in the classroom?

Children with anxiety “on the surface” may appear angry, oppositional and defiant to adults. However, these behaviors oftentimes reflect secondary responses to an underlying cause: anxiety. Responses to anxiety can be categorized as “fight, flight or freeze.” As a classic example, if you run into a grizzly bear on a hike, your body’s natural physiological response is to fight, flee or freeze. Your anxiety about the demands of a situation send your body and brain into a state of “threat alert.” Similarly, when a child is worrying about something, is socially anxious, or is feeling nervous about their ability to handle a task, this “threat alert” system is activated and the child’s ability to make well-thought out decisions is impaired. The child may be labeled a “behavior problem” because of the impulsivity, defiance, disruptiveness or aggression (fight mode). Or the child may appear distractible, silly and immature, or avoidant of challenging tasks (flight mode). An anxious child may also show difficulties shifting gears/transitioning, problems letting go of events, or seem unmotivated or apathetic (freeze mode). It is also not uncommon for children with anxiety to have challenges demonstrating appropriate social skills, such as problems with insight into how their behaviors may affect others. They may also experience challenges reading the nonverbal and verbal cues in their environment because their brain is “soaked” with high arousal, immobilizing their capacity to apply logic to everyday situations. How do we help children manage their anxiety and the resulting behavioral challenges from that anxiety?

A neuropsychological evaluation can provide insights into your child’s behavioral challenges to determine if there may be an “underlying cause,” such as anxiety, (or other causes such as learning disabilities, depression or poor information processing) which are driving weak emotional and behavior control. Once identified, a neuropsychologist can provide guidance on the most effective interventions for a child at school and at home.

In my experience, one of the most important interventions for a child who experiences anxiety and secondary behavioral challenges is the development of a Positive Behavior Plan at school, which can then be included in a child’s IEP. However, many children with anxiety do not respond well to traditional behavioral reward systems that solely focus on increasing or decreasing behaviors (e.g. follow directions, sit calmly, keep your body safe, etc.), as these systems do not teach the child the self-regulation skills necessary for controlling emotional and behavioral responses. Instead, an effective Positive Behavior Plan for a child with anxiety includes behavioral targets or “goals” that focus on the attempt at coping strategy application. Importantly, a child with anxiety should be rewarded for trying to use a coping strategy, as it will take time, practice and reinforcement before a child develops the capacity to apply coping strategies consistently and successfully.

Sample coping strategies that a child should be taught by a special educator, counselor or other specialist include “taking deep breaths, jumping jacks, taking a break, using words to say how I feel,” or other self-regulation tools. When the goals of a Positive Behavior Plan focus on using a coping strategy before or during moments of distress rather than a plan that is tied to increasing or decreasing specific behaviors after they occur, a child builds independent capacity to appraise and react appropriately to physical and emotional responses in the classroom and the community. Children learn the signs (e.g. in their body, mind and in their environment) that the WorryBug is approaching, and feel better equipped, confident and more in control of their emotions and behaviors. For more information on how to appropriately develop Positive Behavior Plans for children with anxiety, “The Behavior Code” by Jessica Minahan and Nancy Rappaport is an excellent resource for parents and educators.

When the “WorryBug” or anxiety makes kids mad, mean and aggressive, a comprehensive and thorough neuropsychological evaluation can determine how to best tackle the anxiety “beneath the surface” through therapeutic and educational interventions. A neuropsychological evaluation can also direct the development of strategic Positive Behavior Plans that are individualized and appropriate for the child’s home and school environment.

About the Author:

Dr. Renée Marchant provides neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments for youth who present with a variety of complex, inter-related needs, with a particular emphasis on identifying co-occurring neurodevelopmental and psychiatric challenges. She specializes in the evaluation of developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorder and social-emotional difficulties stemming from mood, anxiety, attachment and trauma-related diagnoses. She often assesses children who have “unique learning styles” that can underlie deficits in problem-solving, emotion regulation, social skills and self-esteem.

Dr. Marchant’s assessments prioritize the “whole picture,” particularly how systemic factors, such as culture, family life, school climate and broader systems impact diagnoses and treatment needs. She frequently observes children at school and participates in IEP meetings.

Dr. Marchant brings a wealth of clinical experience to her evaluations. In addition to her expertise in assessment, she has extensive experience providing evidence-based therapy to children in individual (TF-CBT, insight-oriented), group (DBT) and family (solution-focused, structural) modalities. Her school, home and treatment recommendations integrate practice-informed interventions that are tailored to the child’s unique needs.

Dr. Marchant received her B.A. from Boston College with a major in Clinical Psychology and her Psy.D. from William James College in Massachusetts. She completed her internship at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute and her postdoctoral fellowship at Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, where she deepened her expertise in providing therapy and conducting assessments for children with neurodevelopmental disorders as well as youth who present with high-risk behaviors (e.g. psychosis, self-injury, aggression, suicidal ideation).

Dr. Marchant provides workshops and consultations to parents, school personnel and treatment professionals on ways to cultivate resilience and self-efficacy in the face of adversity, trauma, interpersonal violence and bullying. She is an expert on the interpretation of the Rorschach Inkblot Test and provides teaching and supervision on the usefulness of projective/performance-based measures in assessment. Dr. Marchant is also a member of the American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA) and continues to conduct research on the effectiveness of family therapy for high-risk, hospitalized patients.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Marchant or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.

 

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.

 

Why Taking Competency Tests, like the MCAS, can be Critical for Transition and College Planning

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

Most states require some form of competency testing for students, particularly students who will graduate with a state standard diploma. But in the past year, standardized competency testing has become more complicated, if not impossible, to carry out.

In Massachusetts, graduation requirements have been altered for several grades of students. Students graduating in 2021-2023 are being offered alternative options for meeting state competency determination in one or more of the required subject areas (e.g., science and technology/engineering, mathematics, English Language Arts). For more details about those alternatives, see MA Graduation Requirements and Related Guidance on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) website.

The opportunity for students in the Class of 2022 to graduate without ever sitting for 10th grade MCAS is something that many students, parents, and teachers are excited about. While I understand, and even agree with, criticisms of standardized testing, there are also many reasons that I am disappointed for the students who are missing out on the opportunity to sit for this testing. These students, especially those with disabilities, are missing out on a vital transition planning activity.

Preparing for, and sitting for, (and coping with,) high stakes tests is an important part of life. Whether you pass or fail, being able to show up and perform your best in a high-pressure situation is a valuable life skill. Moreover, being able to demonstrate competency in a test situation is a reasonable and necessary college and career skill.

Additionally, standardized tests like MCAS provide objective feedback regarding the student’s level of achievement with high school material. Grades can be tremendously subjective, and are highly dependent on the teachers and types of classes that the student is exposed to during high school. In contrast, students participating in honors, college prep, and functional math classes all sit for the same standardized math tests. This is especially important when students in all three of those classes are interested in heading off to college after high school, and when we want to get a sense of their readiness for handling college coursework. Generally, students who do not earn passing scores (i.e., students who score in the “Needs Improvement” or “Partially Meeting Expectations” categories) on the MCAS, especially by 12th grade, will struggle with college placement exams, such as the Accuplacer, and may end up needing to take remedial coursework at the start of college. Students have a right to know how ready they are for the academic rigors of college as they are making their college plans, and standardized testing results can be helpful information (although they are by no means the whole picture).

With the new competency determination options, many students in Massachusetts view sitting for MCAS as something that is only worth doing if they are possible candidates for the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship (a merit-based state scholarship program). However, I hope students will also consider the other positive reasons I have listed above when deciding whether to sit for the test. For college-bound students who do choose not to sit for MCAS, I strongly recommend sitting for other standardized exams during high school, such as SAT, ACT, Accuplacer, etc. These experiences are important opportunities to build confidence in high stakes situations, to assess college readiness skills, and to identify skill gaps that may need shoring up.

Certainly, there are many legitimate concerns about standardized test contents and validity, including significant equity issues. I also believe that competency tests and college placement tests provide important information for many college-bound students. They are one metric, among many, that are worth having for transition and college planning.

 

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

 

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

Diplomas, Graduation Dates and IEP Transition Services Revisited

By | NESCA Notes 2021

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

Three years ago, on March 26, 2019, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) sent out an important administrative advisory regarding transition services and graduating with a high school diploma (Administrative Advisory SPED 2018-2: Secondary Transition Services and Graduation with a High School Diploma). At the time, I wrote a blog about the advisory, wanting to bring attention to the much-needed guidance clarifying when and how students with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) should be issued a high school diploma.

Today, more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, seems like a very important time to revisit what it means for a student on an IEP to be ready to graduate high school with a diploma this June. Given the lengthy school shutdown in Spring 2020—followed by ongoing limitations in social contact, community engagement, employment opportunities, and more—many students and their families are questioning whether they are ready for graduation. In fact, I sat in a team meeting last week where a special educator asked an adult student whether they would like to take their diploma or “refuse” their diploma in June. [This phrasing, “refusing” or “rejecting” a diploma, is often used but is inaccurate as a student is not refusing to take their diploma. Rather, the team is instead delaying or deferring graduation in certain circumstances.]

As a parent and professional regularly involved in the IEP process, a comfort throughout this pandemic is that while education has been reinvented several times, and community safety and engagement is highly variable, special education laws (including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004, which outlines the requirement for school districts to provide transition services) remain the same. The decision for a student receiving special education services to take a diploma, or defer taking a diploma, continues to be based primarily on the same variables:

  1. Meeting local graduation requirements;
  2. Passing the state Competency Determination (CD); and
  3. Receiving Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that includes secondary transition services based on age-appropriate transition assessment.

Prior to COVID-19, passing the state CD in Massachusetts typically involved passing on-demand tests in English Language Arts (ELA), Mathematics and Science or successfully completing an alternate assessment competency portfolio. For students who have an anticipated graduation date prior to October 1, 2021 (as noted in their most recent signed IEP), something that has changed during the pandemic is that there are now Modified CD requirements that allow for CD in ELA and mathematics to be awarded upon district certification that the student earned full credit for a relevant course aligned to the curriculum framework in the subject matter and demonstrated competency in that subject. A similar Modified CD requirement for science is also available for students graduating in classes of 2021-2023. Therefore, a student who did not pass on-demand MCAS testing in 2019 may be eligible to graduate with a diploma using the Modified CD requirements.

However, as students, their parents, and their education teams ponder June 2021 graduation dates, it is important to keep focus on the same variables that we have always used for considering whether a student is ready to accept a local diploma. Here are some questions that may help when considering these variables.

  1. Has the student met all local graduation requirements? Did they complete the core courses required by the district? Or, were they given credit for courses/activities that varied greatly from courses that general education students completed? What about attendance requirements? Did the student stop attending classes or have a significantly lower rate of attendance than general education peers in the past year? Did the student meet requirements for community service hours or a capstone project if those were required of general education students?
  2. Did the student pass the state Competency Determination? Did the student have the opportunity to participate in MCAS on-demand testing? If they did not, did the student have a track record of passing MCAS tests? Was the student scheduled to graduate this June or did someone from the school district propose changing the student’s graduation date to take advantage of the Modified CD requirements currently being used by the department of education due to COVID-19?
  3. Did the student receive FAPE including secondary transition services based on age-appropriate transition assessment while in high school? Is there a Transition Planning Form (28M/9) that the team has been updating annually? Are there appropriate measurable postsecondary goals in the student’s IEP vision statement that are based on transition assessment (PLEASE remember that interview is an important assessment tool for many students)? Was the student’s voice part of team meetings where transition services were discussed? Does the student’s IEP have measurable goals that will reasonably help the student to progress toward their IEP vision statement? Has the student made effective progress on the goals outlined in the IEP over the past year? Has the student been able to engage in transition services that were described in the IEP? Was the student’s graduation date supposed to be this June or was it “TBD”? And, if appropriate, was a representative of an adult human service agency (e.g., Department of Mental Health, Department of Developmental Services, Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing) involved in one or more IEP meetings?

Having missed out on school and community-based activities in the past year can create an immediate concern that a student needs to hang on to their special education protections and should not graduate this June. But the truth is that the pandemic created opportunities for students to generalize skills and practice functional skills, and some students are more ready than ever to move on from special education. And, as I stated in my previous blog, there is no universal set of skills or level of knowledge that deems a student on an IEP “ready” to graduate. In fact, students on IEPs, just as with mainstream students, graduate all the time without being ready for many adult activities (e.g., apartment hunting, changing jobs, applying for a bank loan, comparing health insurance plans).

When you are considering whether the student has received FAPE, it is important to remember that every student missed some typical high school planning steps over the past year. When school buildings closed down and community engagement came to a halt, educators and special educators had to pivot many times. Transition planning steps may have been missed or services may not have been delivered in originally anticipated ways without any clear fault or person to blame. If a student’s progress towards their measurable postsecondary goals was substantially halted, this might be important for the team to discuss. But there are many circumstances where students continued to make progress in spite of the missed opportunities. Perhaps the pandemic even created new opportunities for progress that would not typically be available until a student exits high school (e.g., a paid job, increased self-direction through participation in remote learning, easier access to pre-employment transition services, increased communication with peers through technology, etc.).

Regardless, as you are thinking about graduation, please remember that the most important question to ask is not, “Is my child/student ready to graduate?” Instead, the critical question to ask when a student approaches their graduation date is, “Has the student received a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)?” If the answer is “yes,” it is vital to give the student the opportunity to step into adult postsecondary life and begin applying the skills they have learned through their education and special education. Although the pandemic has created a lot of anxiety and uncertainty, let’s not fall victim to a pattern of rejecting IEPs (essentially rejecting/refusing diplomas) out of fear.

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

Resources:

Transition Resources and Advisories from MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education:

While this blog includes some specific content that applies only to families of students in IEPs in Massachusetts, the requirement to deliver transition services for students on IEP is a federal mandate and impacts graduation in all states.

 

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

 

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

The Roles of Students, the School and the Family during the Transition Planning Process

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC
Transition Specialist and Consultant

The transition process is a complex and ongoing one. Throughout the transition planning process, many individuals often wonder who exactly is responsible for what. While the school system plays a big role during this time, it is also important to make sure that students and their families/guardians have a role in the process as well. Here’s a helpful breakdown of the participants involved in the transition process and what responsibilities fall within each of their roles.

The Role of the School in the Transition Process

  • Provide information on the student’s strengths, past achievements and progress on the current IEP
  • Provide strategies for effectively teaching the student, including appropriate accommodations and/or modifications so the student can successfully access the general curriculum
  • Identify needed related services
  • Coordinate all the people, agencies, services or programs involved in the transition planning
  • Link students and parents to appropriate post-school services, supports or agencies prior to the student leaving high school
  • Suggest courses of interest to the student and educational experiences that relate to the student’s preferences and interests and that provide skills to help the student achieve their desired post-school goals
  • Hold workshops for families on transition planning, post-secondary options, adult service providers, etc.

The Role of the Student in the Transition Process

  • Participate actively in all discussions and decisions (IEP meetings). This could include reading their vision statement, creating a PowerPoint to share at the meeting, etc.
  • Communicate preferences and interests
  • Communicate strengths and areas where help is needed
  • Take part in the IEP development
  • Develop a post-secondary vision statement
  • Identify transition-related skills that can be done in the home environment (i.e., chores)

The Role of the Parent(s)/Guardian in the Transition Process

  • Support the student
  • Reinforce the value of an individualized, appropriate educational program
  • Provide information about the student’s strengths, interests and areas where assistance is needed
  • Provide information about the student’s independent living skills and the help the student may need to achieve the desired post-school goals
  • Be actively engaged as equal partners in all aspects of the IEP planning, discussion and decision-making
  • Work in collaboration with the school to practice transition skills within the home environment

Below are some additional resources on this topic:

http://alabamaparentcenter.com/resources/documents/Transition_v2_Whatschoolscandotoinvolvefamilies.pdf
https://fcsn.org/transition_guide/english.pdf
https://www.communityinclusion.org/pdf/man5.pdf

About the Author

Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC, works with teens, young adults and their families out of the Newton, MA and Plainville, MA offices. Lauzon has unparalleled experience as a Transition Specialist, Transition Consultant and Vocational Program Coordinator. Lauzon will be providing transition assessment (including testing, functional evaluations and observations) consultation, case management, training and professional development for schools; and transition planning, consultation and coaching for transition-aged students and their parents.

 

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

 

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.

 

Generalizing Skills from the Classroom to Home and Community – Part 2

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC
Transition Specialist and Consultant

Back in my December blog, I delved into the question, “How do I get my students to transfer the skills they are learning in school to the home environment?”.  As I mentioned then – and which is still true now – this is a question that almost every parent thinks and asks about. It still remains that every student and home environment are different, so the first step is to individualize the process and see what works best for both the student and the family in an attempt to generalize those life skills.

In my last blog, I provided suggested activities and resources that focused on the areas of cooking and domestic skills. In this blog, I will share information regarding the areas of financial literacy and community resources. Please note that these are a wide range of activities, and it is important to determine what is most appropriate for your young adult.

Financial Literacy

  • Coin and bill identification with real money. It is important to practice identifying the values of coins and bills with real currency.
  • Set up a store in your home and label items with realistic prices. This can be good practice for identifying how much items cost, budgeting, rounding up to the next dollar, checking for correct change, etc.
  • When you feel they are ready, assist your young adult in opening up their own bank account. Be sure to take them with you and make sure they understand the process and the responsibility that is associated with this (i.e., financial safety).
  • If your young adult has a bank account, you could assign them one household bill to pay per month. This will help them begin to understand of the cost of living, as well as responsibility.
  • If safety is a concern, many parents choose to start their young adults off with the use of gift cards versus a debit/credit card. This could be a grocery store gift card so your young adult can independently shop for their list of items and check out independently.
  • I have had many families look into safer debit card options, such as these (please note that I am not endorsing/NESCA does not endorse any one in particular.
  • Have your young adult perform basic chores within the home and provide them with compensation. This will help build an understanding of working to earn money.
  • Other helpful resources:

Recreation and Leisure

 

About the Author

Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC, works with teens, young adults and their families out of the Newton, MA and Plainville, MA offices. Lauzon has unparalleled experience as a Transition Specialist, Transition Consultant and Vocational Program Coordinator. Lauzon will be providing transition assessment (including testing, functional evaluations and observations) consultation, case management, training and professional development for schools; and transition planning, consultation and coaching for transition-aged students and their parents.

 

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

 

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.

 

Generalizing Skills from the Classroom to Home and Community – Part 1

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC
Transition Specialist and Consultant

“How do I get my student to transfer the skills they are learning in school to the home environment?” This is a question that almost every parent thinks about and asks for suggestions on. I wish I had a simple answer and something that could solve this for each and every student that I have worked with over the years. As you know, every student and home environment are different, so the first step is to individualize the process and see what works best for both the student and the family. Below are some suggestions for two transition areas that have worked, including some resources.

Domestic Skills

Cooking

  • If your student uses a visual recipe in the classroom to learn how to cook, ask the teacher for copies of the exact recipe after it has been mastered in the classroom.
  • Try to have similar cooking tools in the home kitchen that your student uses at school.
  • Start with something basic and that your student likes. It is more of an incentive if they will enjoy eating the end product!
  • Some families choose one night a week that their student cooks with the family or by themselves. This will help build a routine, as well as having your student contribute as an active member of the household.
  • Another motivator for some students is to have a family member take a short video or photo of them cooking (or the final product) so it can be shared with their teacher or other family members. I can’t tell you how much of a confidence booster this has been for students who I have worked with!
  • Other helpful resources:

 

About the Author

Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC, works with teens, young adults and their families out of the Newton, MA and Plainville, MA offices. Lauzon has unparalleled experience as a Transition Specialist, Transition Consultant and Vocational Program Coordinator. Lauzon will be providing transition assessment (including testing, functional evaluations and observations) consultation, case management, training and professional development for schools; and transition planning, consultation and coaching for transition-aged students and their parents.

 

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

 

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.

 

A Week in the Life of a Transition Teacher During COVID-19

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC
Transition Specialist and Consultant

PPE, 6 feet apart, no sharing of materials, remote learning, handwashing, social distancing, hybrid learning…. These are just a few of the thoughts that went through every educator’s mind prior to the start of the 2020 school year. Making a personal decision to go back to teaching in the midst of a pandemic was a no brainer for me. I love teaching, I love helping students and I love working in the field of special education and transition. Once the reality hit that August was just around the corner, I realized that I needed to be even more creative than ever before in providing transition services to my students and their families. COVID-19 was not going to stop students from getting closer to aging out of the special education system and needing to be as prepared as everyone else before they move into the adult world. I began reading blogs, joining Facebook groups, searching for resources and talking with current and former colleagues. As I was doing all of this, I realized that there was no guide for how special educators were supposed to prepare for the upcoming year. It was up to every educator, including myself, to think outside the box and determine what we were all going to do to continue to provide the services that our students have always needed.

When I found out that I would be teaching in-person four days a week and remote once a week, I was relieved, yet nervous at the same time. The students many of us work with need to be taught in-person to best access the curriculum and learn new skills. They require hands-on learning opportunities, community-based instruction and face-to-face interaction. Many people asked how I was going to do this with all of the safety restrictions and regulations. I always found myself saying the same thing, “I will do it how I always have.” Seems easy enough, right?

I went into week one feeling excited to get back to some sense of “normal” and confident with my preparation of schedules, functional academic activities, lesson plans and all of the COVID-19 safety precautions in place. It hasn’t been perfect, and there are many things that we can’t do that we used to be able to, but we are making it work! My students have shown more resilience and adaptability than I ever could have expected. I swear that sometimes they are more resilient than we are as teachers! My goal is to provide some of the ways that we have made this work so others can see that it is doable – and while overwhelming at times – we are indeed all in this together!

The following are suggestions that I have found to be successful:

  • Grocery Shopping: Take a smaller group out and prepare by reviewing COVID-19 safety within the community. There are many free resources out there to help explain how and why we need to wear masks, social distance, follow the arrows in the store aisles, etc.
  • Cooking: Every student has their own “cooking bucket” that allows for safety to be the top priority. This can include individual measuring cups, a cutting board, spatula, mixing bowl, oven mitts, baking sheet, etc. The dollar store is a great option for these items!
  • Social Skills: We are learning new ways of greeting others and having conversations. The days of fist bumps, handshakes and high-fives are now replaced with “air high-fives,” waves and elbow bumps. Everyone is learning that they have to speak louder and clearer to be heard through masks. It takes practice, but over time it will work!
  • College Exploration: Many colleges are offering virtual tours!
  • Career Exploration: If you are not able to get out and participate in informational interviews or job shadowing, there are virtual ways of exploring different jobs and work environments, such as: https://www.careeronestop.org/Videos/CareerVideos/career-videos.aspx or https://www.candidcareer.com/.
  • Community Access: It is Fall in New England and a great time to explore your community! If you are not within walking distance to places, you could possibly try public transportation (with COVID-19 precautions and parent approval) or have a school bus (if available) drive you to local town centers. Spend time having students use Google Maps prior to going and map out where you will visit, what local businesses do and how they can be used, etc. There are still options for outdoor dining, Dunkin’® trips, bringing a bagged lunch to an area with distanced picnic tables, etc.
  • Let’s not forget about the new skills that all of us are learning! There are many opportunities to teach students about resources and options during our “new normal,” including:
    • Zoom, Google Meet, FaceTime
    • Virtual recreation and leisure activities
    • Ordering food from delivery services that offer contactless delivery, such as DoorDash® or Grubhub
    • Using grocery delivery services
    • Online banking
    • Virtual scavenger hunts

 

About the Author

Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC, works with teens, young adults and their families out of the Newton, MA and Plainville, MA offices. Lauzon has unparalleled experience as a Transition Specialist, Transition Consultant and Vocational Program Coordinator. Lauzon will be providing transition assessment (including testing, functional evaluations and observations) consultation, case management, training and professional development for schools; and transition planning, consultation and coaching for transition-aged students and their parents.

 

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

 

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.