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Special Needs

Transition Assessment: What is it anyway? How is it different from neuropsychological evaluation?

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

If you have a child who receives special education services or work in education, you are likely familiar with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004). This is the law that guarantees students with disabilities the right to free appropriate public education (FAPE) and that dictates that the purpose of special education and related services is to prepare students with disabilities for further education, employment, and independent living.

IDEA 2004 mandates that students have measurable postsecondary goals written in their individualized educational programs (IEPs), that describe the outcomes that a team expects for the student to achieve after exiting public education and that these goals must be “based upon age-appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment, and where appropriate, independent living skills.”[1] But, IDEA 2004 does not specifically define transition assessment.

Instead, the best and most commonly accepted definition for transition assessment comes from the Division on Career Development and Transition (DCDT). DCDT defines transition assessment as an “…ongoing process of collecting data on the individual’s needs, preferences, and interests as they relate to the demands of current and future working, educational, living, and personal and social environments.”[2]

Transition assessment can include formal testing, such as a standardized, published tests that compare students to others by age or grade or informal activities, such as interviewing or observing a student. Most students who are transition-aged (i.e., 14 or older in Massachusetts; 16 by federal law) have already had some assessments that will inform their transition planning, such as school evaluations, private evaluations, standardized academic testing, report cards, or even activities that happen within their guidance curriculum (e.g., assessment of strengths, learning style, personality type, career interests). But often, there will still be some testing needed to help better determine a student’s strengths and aptitudes, their preferences and interests for postsecondary adult life, and the gaps between their current knowledge and abilities and the requirements of the living, learning, and working environments in which they plan to function when they exit high school.

At NESCA, transition assessment is a highly individualized process that is designed to get a better sense of a student’s postsecondary living, learning, social, and vocational goals, to determine the strengths the student has that will help them reach those goals as well as the skills a student needs to develop to get there. While it is rare for two students to have the same assessment battery, transition assessment at NESCA often evaluates abilities, such as self-care, self-direction, self-advocacy, career interests, career aptitudes, communication, community use, functional academics, health and safety, domestic skills, leisure, readiness for college or other forms of postsecondary learning and training, transferrable work skills and readiness for employment. Once the student’s profile is understood, specific recommendations, aimed at readying that student for transition from high school to the next phase of life, are provided.

Often parents of transition-aged students are familiar with the term “neuropsychological evaluation“ and a student may have even had this type of private evaluation. But there can be some confusion regarding the difference between these two types of comprehensive testing. Neuropsychological evaluation focuses primarily on a student’s learning profile and the fit of that learner within their current academic setting. A good neuropsychological evaluation is a comprehensive assessment of a child’s functioning in many domains, including communication, visual-spatial ability, problem solving, memory, attention, social skills, and emotional status. The assessment of these functions is based upon information obtained from the child’s history, clinical observations, and testing results. Moreover, one of the most important aspects of a neuropsychological evaluation is the integration of all the information about a child into a meaningful profile of functioning that describes “The Whole Child.”

In contrast, a transition assessment evaluates the fit between a student and their future preferred learning, living, and employment activities and environments. While information from a neuropsychological evaluation about a student’s learning profile is greatly informative, a transition assessment gives equal weight to a student’s daily living skills, social skills, coping skills, pre-vocational skills, career interests and preferences, and self-advocacy skills. While transition assessments provide detailed recommendations related to current educational programming and transition services, a strong focus of transition assessment is an emphasis on what will be needed now, and in the near future, to assist a student in functioning, and, actually being successful and satisfied, in their postsecondary adult life.

For more information about transition assessment at NESCA, visit our transition services page and our transition FAQs.

[1] 34 CFR § 300.320(b)

[2] Division on Career Development and Transition (DCDT) of the Council for Exceptional Children, 1997, p. 70-71

 

 

About the Author:

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

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

Building Gratitude in our Kids

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC
NESCA Transition Specialist/Counselor

Would it be November without a blog post about gratitude? Gratitude feels both more important and harder to come by this year with the slew of events bombarding people’s personal lives and something different appearing what feels like every news cycle. But there must be something to all this gratitude if everyone from Forbes Magazine to Psychology Today is writing about it?

So what does the science say?

Basically, gratitude makes us happier and healthier. Being grateful and expressing gratitude can increase our social circle and have others be more willing to seek you out. Gratitude also seems to improve not only mental health but physical health as well. Studies show that grateful people take care of themselves better. They are more likely to exercise and more likely to follow up with medical personal. Studies show that writing in a gratitude journal before bed can even help you sleep better! (Morin, n.d.)

How can I help my child build gratitude?

Young people with disabilities, especially speech and language challenges, may have a hard time sharing their experiences at the end of the school day. Before my students left for the day, I would always ask them to go around the room and share one thing they enjoyed during their day. This way, no matter how challenging the day was, they ended it on a good note. Over time, the students began to look forward to sharing a positive experience from their day. Whether it was getting a compliment at their worksite or overcoming a challenge, they began to go looking for the positives.

Another wonderful way to build gratitude is to turn it into a scavenger hunt. Give each day a topic and share your gratitude topic at dinner. 

While we often think of a gratitude journal as something written, it doesn’t have to be. Have fun with it! Instead of writing down what you are thankful for today, take a picture with your phone or have your child make a drawing relating to the topic. Pinterest is full of great ideas, like the image below. Doing this for a month may turn you and your child a little more gleeful and find a brighter outlook on tomorrow.

Image Credit: Woman of Purpose (thepurposedwomanmag.com)

What are you grateful for today?

 

About the Author

Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC, is an experienced transition evaluator and vocational counselor. While she is well-versed in supporting a wide range of transition-aged youth, she is especially passionate and knowledgeable in helping clients and their families navigate the complex systems of adult services and benefits as well as medical and mental health systems. She is further adept in working individually with students of all abilities to empower self-advocacy and goal achievement.

 

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.

 

Linking Strengths and Interests to College Majors and Careers: The MassHire Career Information System

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

Due to Covid-19, many schools are functioning in a hybrid or remote learning status, making access to school-based guidance counselors, college counselors and transition personnel more complicated. Consequently, I am working with an unusually high number of high school students and families to provide assistance with the college selection and admissions process this year. For these students and others, working with a private transition specialist or college consultant/coach provides the structure and consistent support needed to ensure the student is able to find colleges that will be a great match, highlight the student’s strengths as a college applicant and complete the application process efficiently. Most importantly, the added support reduces anxiety—which is a natural response to the college process as well as living through a pandemic.

There are so many factors to consider when choosing a college—size, religion, location, tuition and fees, availability of internships, academic support, etc.—and one of the most important differentiating factors is often the availability of majors that a student is interested in. As such, career exploration is a very important part of my work with college-bound students. There are certainly many online resources that are useful for career exploration—YouScience, O*NET OnLine, Naviance, Khan Academy, Dr. Kit, CareerOneStop, etc.—but my personal favorite site to help teenagers learn to use is MassHire Career Information System (Previously MassCIS; https://portal.masscis.intocareers.org/).

MassHire CIS is a portal that any individual, from middle school to adulthood, can access for free by logging in with their Massachusetts City or Town Name and their Zip Code. Once inside, users can complete assessments related to their interests, skills and values, preferred lifestyle and more. The site also allows students to link results from previously taken career assessments to information about occupations and occupation categories within MassHire CIS.

Using career interests, from assessments or just a self-reported interest (e.g., photographer, elementary school teacher, personal trainer), users can research occupations and find out everything from the tasks associated with the occupation, to helpful high school courses that relate to the job, and expected future wages and occupational outlook. Users can also watch videos to learn more about occupations.

Importantly, users can easily click from careers of interest to programs of study and ultimately to Massachusetts Schools or other US Colleges and Universities that offer majors leading to occupations of interest.

MassHire CIS is one of my favorite resources to share with teens, young adults and families as part of a college transition process—but also when students are building career awareness at other times or seeking a different path to employment. I hope that by spotlighting this in my blog, more families, educators and professionals will also explore and adopt this resource as a favorite!

 

About the Author:

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

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

What Is A Representative Payee?

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC
Transition Specialist/Counselor

Your child has turned 18. The application for Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) has been submitted and approved. You’ve been assigned to be the representative payee to manage the SSI funds. How can you still help your child gain money management skills while managing the responsibilities as required by the Social Security Administration (SSA)?

What is a Representative Payee?

Many individuals with disabilities can safely and successfully manage their finances without assistance. However, due to their disability’s nature, many individuals are unable to manage their finances without help. In response to individuals who need assistance to ensure their needs are being met through their benefits, the SSA created representative payees. A representative payee is a person or organization assigned by the SSA to be responsible for the benefits that a person receives from the SSA and ensures that the beneficiary’s needs, such as housing, food and medical care are met. A representative payee can be a family member, friend or another person. When the representative payee is an organization, there is often a fee (determined by the SSA), but when the payee is a friend or family member, the payee provides this service at no cost to the beneficiary. The representative payee will make a budget for the beneficiary to ensure basic needs are met and provide money for savings and personal spending if funds allow.

A representative payee is responsible for tracking and keeping detailed records of how the funds are spent and must provide those records to the SSA when asked. Many payees also need to fill out an annual reporting to the SSA detailing how the funds from the previous year were used. Recent changes in the law amended who needed to fill out such reports. Now, parents and spouses who are representative payees and live with the beneficiary no longer need to fill out the annual report. However, they do still need to keep detailed financial records.

How can I support my child’s financial literacy as their representative payee?

I have been a representative payee for individuals with disabilities for the vast majority of my career. In that role, I also worked to increase the individual’s financial literacy skills and increase their understanding of their financial situation. Having the individual involved in the process has innumerable benefits, the most basic of being the respect for their human rights. By having the individuals involved as much as they are capable and is healthy for them, much of the animosity and much of the paternalism of having another person control their finances, can be dissipated. Some individuals will still choose to have minimal involvement in their finances due to anxiety, comprehension or individual priorities. But most will want a say. By meeting your child where they are in their financial journey, you can build their confidence, independence and autonomy.

The first step I like to take in building an understanding around finances is helping the person comprehend where their money is going. Maybe that will be showing your child a bank statement. Perhaps it will be showing receipts. For many young people, the amount they receive in SSI seems like a lot of money. Helping them understand the value of the funds they receive can be one of the most challenging tasks.

Another activity I like to do with the beneficiaries I assist is asking them to create their budget. How would they like to see their money spent? What are their financial goals? Do they want to live on their own someday? How much do they want to set aside for savings for more significant expenses or purchases, like first, last and security deposit; a car; a vacation? Below is a very basic budgeting form I like to use as a starting point.

Beneficiary Budget Month Year
Income
SSI $783.00
MA State Supplement $114.39
Total Income: $897.39
Expense
Rent $265.00
Groceries $200.00
Transportation $55.00
Electricity $60.00
Cable $105.00
Cell Phone $75.00
Medication $15.00
Personal Spending $75.00
Savings $25.00
Total Spending: $875.00

Within the last few years, ABLE accounts have been getting a lot of press – and for good reason. For individuals who became disabled at birth or at a young age, an ABLE account is a wonderful way for the individual to save money for important needs and not have those assets affect the essential financial and healthcare benefits they need. The IRS recently updated the rules for ABLE accounts. In the resources below is an article from Disability Scoop with information about these updates.

One of the best ways to increase your child’s money management skills is to have them be responsible for portions of their money. They are many ways to do this, and it may take some trial and error to find the best way for your child. It is important to remember that you are not allowed to give the beneficiary direct access to the bank account as the representative payee. That means you cannot just hand over the debit card to your child. However, many companies offer programs that help young people (and adults) manage their money. I tend not to use the word “allowance” for adults when managing their money. Instead, I use words like “personal spending” or “Flex Money.” Whether I write a check to the individual for these funds or reload a prepaid debit card, giving the individuals the remaining money after necessities have been met gives them the freedom to make their own spending choices, whether good or bad. And yes, I have worked with individuals who were without personal spending money within days of receiving their excess funds for the month. Still, I have worked with individuals who have, over time, been able to build some savings and a greater understanding of money management. I have listed some in the resources, but these are not ones I have personally used, so please review and see which ones you think would work best for your family.

Another method that I find beyond useful to help build financial independence and assess current money management skills is to transfer the responsibility of paying a bill over to the individual. This should be a lower priority bill, like the cable bill, a streaming service or a cell phone bill. As time goes on and the person can pay the bill on time without prompts, increase the number of accounts the person is responsible for paying. As they build their financial independence, increase their personal spending to include funds for necessities, such as groceries and prescription copays. And remember, once a person has a representative payee, it does not mean that they must have one for life. Suppose your child is able to build the financial management skills necessary to manage their finances independently. In that case, a representative payee can be removed. If your child now has the skills to manage their own money, talk to one of your child’s providers. They can fill out a form to return this right to your child.

Have you been working with your child on money management skills? How have you fostered financial independence?

 

Resources:

Social Security Administration Representative Payee Webpage

Disability Scoop: IRS Issues Final Rules on ABLE Accounts

The Balance: The Best Debit Cards for Teens

Capital One MONEY Account

Dough Roller: Best Prepaid Debit Cards for Teens

FAQs for Beneficiaries that have Representative Payees

 

About the Author

Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC, is an experienced transition evaluator and vocational counselor. While she is well-versed in supporting a wide range of transition-aged youth, she is especially passionate and knowledgeable in helping clients and their families navigate the complex systems of adult services and benefits as well as medical and mental health systems. She is further adept in working individually with students of all abilities to empower self-advocacy and goal achievement.

 

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.

 

Transition Goals: What are they and why do they matter in the IEP process?

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

As an evaluator and consultant, I spend a lot of time in team meetings. Usually, I expect to be invited to more of these at the beginning of the school year when teams meet to review assessments or important changes that have occurred during summer months. This year, there will be an unprecedented high number of team meetings early in the school year as families and schools strive to make up for time lost during COVID-19 related school closures. Therefore, it seems timely to write my blog on transition goals and their role in the IEP process.

For all students with individualized educational programs (IEPs), teams are accustomed to writing and implementing annual goals. But, for students 16 and older across the country (or students in Massachusetts who will be turning 14 and older during this IEP period), their IEP process also needs to include transition goals. What is confusing about transition goals is that we commonly used this verbiage to describe a few different components of the IEP for transition-aged students.

In my opinion, the most important transition goals, are the measurable postsecondary goals, that are included in the IEP and which describe the outcomes that a team expects for the student to achieve after exiting public education and which are based on the student’s own strengths, preferences, interests and vision. Every IEP across the country must include measurable postsecondary goals. In Massachusetts, postsecondary goals are documented in the student’s vision statement. Before the student became transition aged, the vision statement typically described the family’s and team’s expectations and dreams for the student over the next 1 to 5 years. For IEPs of students turning 14 and older, the vision statement needs to include explicit statements about the outcomes that are expected for the student in transition planning areas. Postsecondary goals for education or training as well as employment are required for all students on IEPs, and many students will also have independent living and community participation goals.

Below is a formula for writing a postsecondary goal that is adapted from the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT):


Within 2 months of graduation, Joseph will participate in supported employment training and community-based training with assistance from MA Department of Developmental Services.A few examples of measurable postsecondary goals are included below:

  • After earning her diploma, Sarah will attend a four-year college in Massachusetts or New Hampshire (and major in education or child development).
  • After graduation, Tom will work part-time at TJ Maxx with support from his coworkers and supervisor.
  • After high school, Joseph will use public transportation (e.g., subway, bus) to get to and from his apprenticeship.

Unlike annual goals, measurable postsecondary goals are not goals that will be achieved in the calendar year or even while the student is on an IEP. However, there is another type of “transition goal” that is closely related. Once an IEP team has clearly defined a student’s postsecondary goals, they are required to identify transition services that the student will need to make progress toward these goals. When the IEP is developed, the IEP must include annual IEP goals that clearly and directly relate to the student’s postsecondary goals and transition service needs. For example, a student who wants to attend college may need annual goals related to building executive functioning, self-advocacy and college-level academic skills; while a student who wants to use human service supports for community-based employment may need to build communication, self-regulation and work readiness skills. Annual IEP goals should be based on the student’s disability-related needs and also their postsecondary goals—Given the student’s disabilities, what skills does the student need to build this year to be able to attain their postsecondary goals in the future?

 

Special education is about preparing students for future education, employment, independent living and community engagement. Measurable postsecondary goals are how we make sure that special education is individualized for each student, and transition-related annual IEP goals are how we make sure we are progressing toward the postsecondary goals. When we know what the student wants for their adult postsecondary life, we can use the IEP process to help the student build academic and functional skills that can support the student in achieving that vision.

The next time you look at an IEP, take a look at the vision statement (or the section where your state records measurable postsecondary goals). Can you clearly tell what the student wants to do after high school? Are there both employment and education or training goals included? What about independent living and community engagement? These measurable postsecondary goals are the guide posts that provide direction for the IEP process and ensure that the team is working together in support of results and outcomes that will support the student throughout their lifespan.

For more information about postsecondary goals and annual IEP goals in Massachusetts, check out Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2013-1: Postsecondary Goals and Annual IEP Goals in the Transition Planning Process from MA DESE: http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/advisories/13_1ta.html

This link to a presenter’s guide for a presentation on Improving Secondary Transition Services from NTACT is also a great resource for understanding the role of postsecondary goals and annual goals in the IEP process as outlined in IDEA: https://www.transitionta.org/system/files/resourcetrees/I13_One_Hour_Presenter_Guide_FINAL2019.pptx

 

About the Author:

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

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

Voting Support for Individuals with Disabilities

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC
Transition Specialist/Counselor

General Election season is upon us. The major-party national conventions are over, and the Massachusetts primary results are in.

About 20% of eligible voters have a disabilitybut only 49.3% of individuals with disabilities voted in 2018. And that was an 8.5% increase from previous years among this increasingly important voting bloc. Campaigns, such as the REV UP Campaign by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), have launched voter registration drives, championed for disability rights and policies to be part of the political conversation, and to increase awareness and action to remove barriers that make it challenging for individuals with disabilities to vote.

So how can we help our young people with disabilities exercise their right to vote? In Massachusetts, even individuals with guardianship maintain their right to vote unless the court documents specifically state otherwise. There are many ways to support individuals, but it starts with helping them register. Massachusetts residents can register to vote online, when obtaining or renewing a driver’s license or state ID, or at the local registrar of voters’ office. Notices from MassHealth and the DTA also include voter registration forms.

Absentee/mail-in ballots have been in the news more than ever due to the pandemic. Still, they have long been an excellent strategy for individuals with disabilities who would have difficulty voting in person. Absentee ballots are a great option for individuals who may have difficulty navigating the multiple steps in person or have a lower processing speed.

All citizens are also allowed to bring a person to help them while they are at the polls. Encourage your young person that many people require assistance at the polls, and it is completely normal to have the help available if they need it. Each polling location should also have at least one AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal, which helps individuals with visual impairments vote independently.

No one wants their vote not to be counted due to errors filling out their ballot. People can request a sample ballot in advance from their local registrar of voters (the Secretary of State’s website can give you the address and phone number of your local registrar). Practicing filling out ballots in advance (even ballots from previous elections) can help a new voter become comfortable with the form and is great fine motor skill practice for those who may need it!

The Massachusetts Secretary of State also creates a voter information booklet for each election regarding the ballot initiatives. These red booklets can be found at many community locations and frequently include the local library, post office and city/town hall. These booklets offer information on what a yay or nay vote would mean and have information from each initiative’s proponents and opponents. Use that sample ballot as a starting point for the different types of elected positions.

Help your young adult find out what the different boards do and why there is an election for things such as town selectman or zoning board. Help your young adult find the websites for candidates running for office and review the candidates’ stances on issues. Ask what issues they want to learn more about and are important to them.

Most importantly, remind them that their voice counts. As many disability rights activists have said, “nothing about us without us.” Individuals with disabilities are greatly affected by the policy decisions that occur in government at all levels. Since many individuals with disabilities have frequently experienced disenfranchisement, there are numerous groups working tirelessly to lessen and remove these barriers. How have you helped your young adult exercise their right to vote?

 

About the Author

Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC, is an experienced transition evaluator and vocational counselor. While she is well-versed in supporting a wide range of transition-aged youth, she is especially passionate and knowledgeable in helping clients and their families navigate the complex systems of adult services and benefits as well as medical and mental health systems. She is further adept in working individually with students of all abilities to empower self-advocacy and goal achievement.

 

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.

 

What In-person School Looks Like During COVID-19

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC
Transition Specialist/Counselor

Fall is approaching, and school is starting. As a student, I always knew summer was close to ending when Staples started their “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” commercial. The joy that parents and the community feel as fall approaches and another year of learning begins is understandably absent this year. Many parents, teachers and students are still unsure if they will be remote, in-person or both. All are too aware that even if students and teachers return to the school building, school will not look as it did in the fall of 2019. The comradery that our children experience through recess and interactive group work will be limited. Lunch will not be the boisterous room of students comparing who is in each class and what teachers are giving homework the first week.

What can we expect then–especially our students who need the small in-person support they have received from their special education teachers, teaching assistants and related service providers? I was able to get a glimpse of what our new in-person normal would look like providing vocational counseling and support during an extended-school year (ESY) program this summer. When returning to school, the first thing I learned—remembered, is how resilient children are. Most students in the programs had very few issues with masks. For those who did, more frequent mask breaks and workarounds, such as face shields, greater distance between them and other students or neck scarves let them still participate in much needed in-person support. Hand-washing and sanitizer have become the norm, and staff and students had frequent opportunities to use both. Social Skills groups still occurred but were modified to continue to be possible. Community-based opportunities were limited, but again, teachers and service providers have long been accustomed to finding out of the box solutions for their students.

Yes, the first day was nerveracking. How were the students going to tolerate wearing a mask for hours on end? How were my co-workers and I going to wear a mask all day long? How was I going to get a drink safely while wearing a mask? But we did. Staff and students alike remained diligent with hand-washing, and the students were ready to learn. Teachers and teaching assistants (TAs) were available and came together for short periods to help students understand challenging tasks. Some of our children and students have behaviors or need activities of daily living (ADL) support that may have us more uneasy with their health and safety returning to in-person learning. Teachers and TAs were prepared for that, too. Whether it was a face shield with a mask, an extra set of clothes to change into or an additional layer of PPE, the student’s needs were met, and we all returned the next day.

Every district seems to have its own approach and plan. Still, in the end, each plan’s goal is the same: have every student continue to learn and prepare for life after high school and have each person return home safe and healthy.

 

About the Author

Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC, is an experienced transition evaluator and vocational counselor. While she is well-versed in supporting a wide range of transition-aged youth, she is especially passionate and knowledgeable in helping clients and their families navigate the complex systems of adult services and benefits as well as medical and mental health systems. She is further adept in working individually with students of all abilities to empower self-advocacy and goal achievement.

 

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.

 

The Next Pandemic: Mental Health Issues

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Ann Helmus, Ph.D.
NESCA Founder/Director

The return to school, whether remotely or in person, will be a transition that is bound to be stressful for many children and adolescents as well as their parents and teachers. Coming on the heels of five stressful months of lockdown, remote learning, loss of social contact and so many other changes,  children will be meeting this challenge with depleted resources for coping with stress and may show new signs of anxiety or mood issues. This will be particularly true for children and adolescents who have underlying issues with mental health, attention or learning. Prioritizing the mental health of students and focusing on providing emotional support will be key to helping children manage the transition back to school. “When children feel connected, they’re going to learn better, do better, stay on track,” commented Dr. Nadine Kaslow, professor of psychiatry at Emory School of Medicine and past president of the American Psychological Association, in this article. She emphasized that “loving warm interactions need to take precedence” over struggling with them about behavior or about schoolwork.”   Remembering that undesirable behaviors are often driven by emotional distress and are a form of communication can be helpful for parents in responding in a positive and supportive manner. As we continue through this period of unprecedented levels of stress and change, children need to feel connected to and supported by their parents even more than is usual; maintaining this connection is far more important than any academic goals, no matter how far behind parents fear their child is as a result of the interruption to regular schooling.

If you have concerns about your child’s mental health, clinicians at NESCA are available for expert consultation or evaluation of your child’s emotional functioning so that the appropriate supports can be put in place. This work can be done either through teletherapy or in-person through contactless evaluations in all three of our locations (Newton and Plainville, MA and Londonderry, NH). NESCA has several suites in which there is a large plexiglass panel in the shared wall between two offices so that the child/parent and evaluator/therapist are in separate offices but have the benefit of full visibility and communication through headphones. For more information, please view, “Testing in the Age of COVID-19” on our Video Resources page.

If you have questions about your child’s mental health and would like professional help, please reach out to Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS: dlucci@nesca-newton.com for an intake and screening.

 

About the Author: 

NESCA Founder/Director Ann Helmus, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical neuropsychologist who has been practicing for almost 20 years. In 1996, she jointly founded the  Children’s Evaluation Center (CEC) in Newton, Massachusetts, serving as co-director there for almost ten years. During that time, CEC emerged as a leading regional center for the diagnosis and remediation of both learning disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

In September of 2007, Dr. Helmus established NESCA (Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents), a client and family-centered group of seasoned neuropsychologists and allied staff, many of whom she trained, striving to create and refine innovative clinical protocols and dedicated to setting new standards of care in the field.

Dr. Helmus specializes in the evaluation of children with learning disabilities, attention and executive function deficits and primary neurological disorders. In addition to assessing children, she also provides consultation and training to both public and private school systems. She frequently makes presentations to groups of parents, particularly on the topics of non-verbal learning disability and executive functioning.

To book an evaluation with Dr. Helmus, NESCA Founder and Director, or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists or therapists, 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, as well as Londonderry, New Hampshire. NESCA serves clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Processing Speed Deficits and College – Part 2 – Finding a Fit

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

In my last blog, Processing Speed Deficits and College – Part 1 – The Dilemma, I discussed specialized instruction for students who have processing speed deficits in high school in comparison to the accommodations process in college. Below is a list of some of the accommodations and instructional modifications that are often afforded to students with processing speed deficits in high school, and if/how that support can be replicated in college as well as how hard a student may need to work to bridge gaps in support. One of the most important things to remember when reviewing this list is that modifications to the course of study or workload in a college course are typically not available in college. Students with processing difficulties must be able to keep up with the same instruction provided to every student in the class through a combination of accommodations, self-help strategies and use of supports (tutoring, academic coaching, office hours, study groups, etc.) outside of the classroom.

In the classroom

  • Reduced pace for instruction – High school educators may be used to heavily modifying their instruction (i.e., providing instruction at a slower pace, in manageable “chunks,” sometimes even with breaks between content) when they are teaching a class that includes students with reduced processing speeds. This is a typical methodology for many private special education schools and for special education classes in public schools. However, this is not the typical instructional style at a traditional college. With that said, there is great variety in the pacing of classes from one institution to another, and even from one teacher to another within the same institution. For students who have received specialized instruction in high school, it is important to consider the pace of available instruction and to sit in on college classes when considering this transition. Depending on the student’s learning profile, it may be necessary to seek out a college or support program that is specifically designed for students with learning disabilities or has had targeted programming for students with learning disabilities—especially those with processing speed deficits—for many years.
  • Copies of teacher notes or fill-in-the-blank notes – Note-taking is an important skill for life, and even students who receive accommodations to enhance their note-taking need to build skills for retaining instruction and oral direction. However, some students exit high school without note-taking skills. Upon request, colleges often have one or more ways that they can accommodate students who are unable to effectively take their own notes in class. Students may be able to get copies of teacher notes/slides, copies of notes taken by another designated student or professional note taker, recordings of class or opportunities to use other technologies in class, such as a Livescribe Smartpen. When note-taking is a challenge, it is important to understand what accommodations are typically available at a particular college, including what support might be provided for assistive technology training and usage.
  • Follow-up questions and review of learning – Students who have difficulty processing classroom learning in real-time are often provided lengthy opportunities to ask questions about materials outside of class and/or provided with copies of the teacher’s lecture materials and study guides for separate review. When thinking about college, easy access to course information and resources from outside of the classroom is an important consideration. While many universities and professors use learning management system (LMS) technologies like Blackboard, Canvas, Google Classroom, etc., there are still some professors who have not made the shift to using these systems for the majority of their coursework or student communication. Getting a sense of technology use is important if a student expects to preview and review course materials outside of the classroom (independently or with support). Understanding how easy it is to get ahold of professors outside of class (e.g., percentage of faculty who work full-time at the school, have offices, have office hours), and how to schedule brief times for individual communication with the instructor is also useful.

Managing assignments

  • Reduced writing – In high school, students who struggle with processing speed may be expected to complete fewer assignments or have longer deadlines than typical peers. In college, students are expected to complete the same number of assignments and to have all of their work for each course completed by the end of the semester. It is possible at some colleges to request extensions on assignments as an accommodation or on a case-by-case basis. However, extensions on assignments should be something that are needed as an exception rather than a rule or students may find themselves unable to keep up toward the end of a semester. Instead of extending deadlines, students who struggle with writing demands may benefit greatly by taking a reduced course load (i.e., fewer classes per semester) or by diversifying the types of classes they enroll in during one semester—for example, taking a kinesiology class at the same time as an English Composition class. If these types of accommodations are important, students will need to carefully understand a school’s policies on underloads as well as how much control/flexibility a student is able to have when managing their course of study.
  • Grading based on quality not quantity – Just as described above, it is important to remember that every student in a college course is expected to complete the same quantity of work and same course requirements. Both quality and quantity matter in college and for those reasons it is important to pick a school that is well suited for your pace and style of learning as well as a major that will enable you to fulfill course requirements using your learning strengths.
  • Support with reading fluency – Specialized instruction during K-12 education may have focused on helping a student to increase their reading pace. Reading intervention and readers are not typical in college. However, technology can be a lifesaver in supporting a student’s independent reading fluency. Students may benefit from audio books or from text-to-speech technology so that they can take in information in multiple modes and a faster pace. Practicing with technologies and understanding the related accommodations that will be available in college are important for continued reading success. Some high school students have additionally needed tutoring support because they learn best when discussing aloud content that they have read in a supportive setting—for those students, it has been important to seek out schools or learning disability programs that can provide this type of tutoring (a less common support) or to pay privately for tutoring in addition to college-based learning supports.

Testing

  • Extra time – This is one accommodation that is fairly common in both high school and college settings. One major change is that many high schools provided unlimited extra time to students, even those with no identified learning disabilities. In college, students will typically receive 50% or 100% extended time based on their needs as demonstrated in diagnostic testing. Good executive functioning can be helpful if you are a student who uses extra time on exams, because you may need to schedule your exams in a separate testing setting each time they occur.
  • Shorter length/Reduced writing requirements – As a college student, you are required to meet the same testing requirements as every student in your class. If you are accustomed to reduced writing requirements on tests, you will need to consider some of the other available accommodations (e.g., extra time, assistive technology, etc.) to successfully manage. You may also need support building your test taking strategies so that you can use your time most efficiently on tests.
  • Separate testing space – Taking a test in a reduced distraction environment, or possibly a private room, is another accommodation that is common in both high school and college. Similar to students who receive extra time on tests, there can be a high degree of planning and organization involved in scheduling one’s exams in a separate setting according to school guidelines. Students may want to inquire about the level of support that college personnel will provide to a student when they are first learning to organize and implement their testing accommodations.

Social and daily life

  • Two additional factors that may have been important in high school include Smaller school/class size and Similar peer cohort. Matriculating from a small homogenous class or school environment, where all of your peers have similar learning styles and accommodation needs, can be a shock. When researching and visiting schools, it will be extremely important to get a sense of who the other students on campus are, how common processing speed deficits are among students with learning disabilities on campus, how diverse the school is and how tolerant students generally are, etc. Sitting in on classes and taking part in accepted student days can be critical activities for students who are looking for a college that will meet them where they are at.

When students enroll with disability support services, they are often asked how their disability impacts their learning, what accommodations they were provided in high school, and what accommodations they think they will need. For students with processing speed deficits, it is critical to be able to answer these questions before beginning a college search and to find colleges that truly match their learning needs as well as their more general wishlist!

 

 

About the Author:

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

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

Processing Speed Deficits and College – Part 1 – The Dilemma

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

By nature, transition specialists are generalists—professional who support students with a wide range of disabilities in moving toward an even wider range of learning and life outcomes. Working in Massachusetts, with an early background as a guidance counselor in a college preparatory high school, I often support students who are contemplating whether and when they should matriculate to a four-year college program. Many of these students experience processing speed deficits. This means that these students may be capable of reasoning at average or above average levels, and therefore being stimulated and actively engaged by college course content, but these students also need extra time to process visual and verbal information, to make sense of this information, and to produce output.

Landmark College in Putney, Vermont, assembled an assessment for parents and students—A Guide to Assessing College Readiness—that includes five areas considered essential for students with learning disabilities who want to succeed in a traditional college setting. These include academic skills, self-understanding, self-advocacy, executive function and motivation/confidence. Some of the academic items include being able to read up to 200 pages of college level text in a week, writing an organized 10-page paper that cites multiple sources, and being able to complete all of the steps of a long-term project in a timely manner. Within the assessment, it is carefully noted that this is not a diagnostic tool and is intended to inform discussion about the appropriate environment and supports that the student will need to achieve success and struggle less in college. So, when I recently received a question from a parent who was wondering if it actually mattered that her student was not able to read 100 pages in only a few days, the answer I provided was, “it depends.”

While there are many ways that we accommodate and modify instruction for students who have processing speed deficits during high school, some of these methods are easy to replicate across college environments and others are heavily dependent on the environment or only replicable with a good deal of external support provided by people and technologies. For example, in high school, students with significant processing speed deficits may be supported through modifications, such as teachers reducing their pace of instruction, providing copies of instructional materials and/or fill-in-the-blank note-taking templates, actively following up with students to confirm their understanding of material, reducing the amount of work a student is expected to do per quarter or on a test, and actively assisting students in digesting complex reading materials or offering lighter/alternative reading. When all of these modifications are added together, a student has a highly specialized high school experience and may be left with gaps in their academic, executive functioning and self-advocacy skills that need to be carefully bridged when the student aspires to participate in college learning.

While high school accommodations and modifications center on supporting a student to successfully make progress in school, accommodations at the college level focus exclusively on what a student needs to be able to access the instruction that is already available at that college. Rather than individually modifying the curriculum or work load in a college course, a student must be able to keep up with the same instruction provided to every student in the class and the same requirements as every student in the college through a combination of accommodations, self-help strategies and use of supports (tutoring, academic coaching, office hours, study groups, etc.) outside of the classroom. Accommodations are still very individualized, but educational programming is typically not. This makes the college search and selection process complex and important for students with processing speed deficits. Not every college that specializes in supporting students who face learning difficulties is a good choice for a student with slow processing speed. And not every student with a processing speed deficit has the same skills, or faces the exact same challenges, when navigating college.

Stay tuned for our next Transition Thursday blog where I will elaborate on some of the common modifications and accommodations provided to high school students with processing speed deficits and how to think critically about college selection, support and accommodation based on experience with those accommodations.

 

About the Author:

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

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