Tag

Special Needs

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.

Transition Planning Timelines for Students with Disabilities

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

When families come to NESCA for transition support, a common request is to work with a transition specialist to create a detailed step-by-step transition plan with action items and deadlines that will ensure their child makes a successful transition to postsecondary adulthood. As you can imagine, many hours are needed to create an appropriate plan individualized to the student—their goals and their needs—and this plan requires frequent updating as students progress toward adulthood, have new experiences, stumble at new hurdles and make developmental leaps. However, for families who are interested in creating an individualized transition timeline plan for their student at home, there are a number of readymade timelines and checklists that can be used as starting points. While I am presenting several options below, I would encourage picking the one that you like best and that fits your child best, and using that as a foundation for your planning. Please note that even though the resources below that have been assembled by agencies who specifically support individuals with autism and are therefore described as focusing on autism spectrum disorder (ASD), they may still be important for individuals with other disabilities to review.

Transition from School to Adult Life – Time Lines, by The Arc of Massachusetts, is a two-page brochure that includes bulleted timeline recommendations for students ages 13-22

A Resource Guide for Transition Aged Youth and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), by the Autism Commission, is a 12-page pamphlet compiled to help families and individuals in the state of Massachusetts to better understand the resources available for students aged 14-22 with ASD. If viewing this pamphlet online, it is important to closely follow the page numbers. The Transition Timeline starts on page two and continues through page four.

Transitioning teens with autism spectrum disorders: Resources and timeline planning for adult living, by the Autism Consortium, is a 73-page guide intended to provide resources and information for parents and guardians of children with ASDs in Massachusetts. Pages 64-70 outline critical timelines related to education, guardianship, housing, postsecondary education, employment, healthcare, recreation and more for students ranging from age 11-22.

A Family Guide to Transition Services in Massachusetts, published by the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) in collaboration with the Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN), is a 44-page guide intended to assist parents, students and professionals in understanding the requirements of transition services for all individuals with disabilities that are eligible for special education in Massachusetts. Pages 22-23 offer an easy-to-read timeline covering important steps for youth ages 14-18.

Important Transition Information Every Family Should Know: Transition Information Fact Sheets, by the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services, is a 57-page compilation of fact sheets with important information for all families of individuals with developmental disabilities in Massachusetts. The fourth fact sheet, on page 11, is a simple but detailed visual timeline covering steps for students ages 14-22.

Turning 18 Checklist, by Autism Housing Pathways, is not a timeline! But it is a detailed and continually updated three-page document with a checklist of critical steps to take when a student with a disability turns 18 as well as a list of useful transition resources that correlate with the checklist. While the document was created by Autism Housing Pathways, the checklist is applicable for many individuals who are turning 18 and who may be seeking human service supports and disability-related benefits.

 

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

 

About the Author:

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

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

Multi-sensory Learning: Bringing it into the Home

By | NESCA Notes 2020

Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L

By: Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach

In our last OT Tuesday blog, we delved into the topic of multi-sensory learning: what it is, what it looks like in the classroom and what it intends to do. We reviewed the fact that this technique consists of targeting children’s auditory, visual, tactile and kinesthetic systems with hands-on learning activities. This week we will further discuss multi-sensory learning and brainstorm ways that this approach can be incorporated by parents into home-based learning. Multi-sensory learning is hugely variable and can be applied in a plethora of creative ways. Here are some tips to help tailor this approach to your child at home.

  1. Consider Your Child’s Learning Profile. It is common knowledge that both children and adults tend to have a unique style of learning, as well as preferences for how information is presented. Think about how your child has learned from you in the past. Did she learn to wash her hands thoroughly by singing a song? Watching a timer? Observing you demonstrate the best way first? Information from teaching simple tasks like these can help you suss out how your child may best learn and take in academic information. If you are unsure, consider reaching out to teachers and professionals who have worked with your student in the past. Teachers are excellent at determining the ideal way to present information to each child. They may be able to help you better understand your child’s unique learning profile and give suggestions for activities.
  2. Create Manipulatives. Manipulatives, or things that children can hold, feel and manipulate with their hands, are tools that help solidify concepts for many of our tactile learners. While school buildings are often full of creative manipulatives, many of these are easy to make using household objects. Have your child cut up cereal boxes to make letter cards. Write numbers on bottle caps or rocks and have your children count them out or create math equations. Cut up paper plates into slices to help visually represent fractions. Use an egg carton with ten cups to build a homemade ten frame. Write out words using pipe cleaners or clay. If you are not feeling particularly “DIY,” many manipulatives can be purchased online. Here are few options for manipulatives, by subject:
  1. Consider Learning Opportunities in Your Community. There are, of course, universal lessons and aspects of curricula that are consistent across the Unites States. Children all work to learn their letters, the basics of addition and subtraction, and eventually how to write a paragraph. In contrast, the unique fabric of the varied communities across our country, allows for specific education through hands-on experiences in our environments. In New England, we have access to the coast, historic sites relating to the Revolutionary War, and many state and national parks. Teach environmental science by exploring tidepools and looking at sea creatures. Involve kinesthetic learning by having your children walk along part of the Freedom Trail. Get your children outside and show them physical representations of the things that they read about and see in pictures.
  2. Tap into Online Resources. Some of the most effective multi-sensory learning tools are quite simple. Having a child follow along in a book as they listen to someone read out loud targets both the visual and auditory systems. Kids both review their spelling and focus on reading comprehension while they listen. Videos and audio recordings of educators and parents reading children’s books aloud can be found on YouTube, Audible and many other internet sites. Look at your personal library and search the titles to see whether this option is readily available. Additionally, with this teaching method becoming increasingly evidenced-based and popular, sites such as Pinterest, TeachersPayTeachers and Understood.org have excellent ideas and examples of activities to incorporate into your day.
  3. Use What You Have. Many of the multi-sensory learning activities, especially for younger children, invite kids to get their hands dirty and feel. We prompt children to practice writing their letters in bins of beans or rice. We practice patterns with popsicle sticks or blocks. We use playdough or clay to both make art projects and forms letters. Look around your house and see what you already have available. If you do not have rice or beans, but you do have some sand outside, write letters in sand! If your supply of popsicle sticks ran out back in March, have your children step outside and collect 20 small sticks each. Use those sticks to spell out words. Color them with markers and then line them up to create patterns. Have your child dip them in water mixed with food coloring and practice writing letters on a piece of paper. Multi-sensory learning is all about having children learn from the complex and rich environments around them, while using multiple sensory pathways within their bodies. Teaching materials are all around us!

 

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

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

 

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

 

Testing at NESCA during COVID-19

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

I’m sure you can agree, it’s been an interesting time due to the onset of COVID-19. Our worlds, livelihoods and professional lives have been turned upside down. At NESCA, where our entire business revolves around the in-person evaluations, assessments, coaching and treatment of children, adolescents and young adults, much of our “In Real Life (IRL)” activity had to be put on hold to prevent the risk of infection among our clients and staff.

After making the decision to temporarily close our physical offices, our clinical and administrative staff swiftly geared up to provide as many services as possible remotely. While we were considered an “essential” business by the State of Massachusetts, we opted to pause our neuropsychological testing for the safety of all involved while initiating research into how we could conduct this critical service to our families. We are keenly aware of the long wait times for testing and the associated stress that puts on parents while they seek out answers about their children’s behavior or learning differences—all the while making children who need supports earlier than later wait in the wings as well. We also knew there would be an increased need for testing because of the impact COVID-19 was and is likely to have on the mental health of children and teens; schools would eventually be inundated with a back-log of evaluations already in the works as well requests for new evaluations that, by law, have to be conducted within a specific time period; and to help fulfill the ever-present need to assist schools and parents in providing support to children with special needs.

Knowing our pause of testing was not a long-term, viable option, after careful consideration and much intense research, we identified several options on how we could bring our neuropsychological evaluation services back to the NESCA community. The options we identified as possibilities included conducting teletherapy, using a partial plexiglass screen (akin to what you would see protecting a store cashier), observing social distancing and constructing a two-office model. We examined the risk to both clients and clinicians, privacy and technology constraints, ethics surrounding the validity of the test findings and legal issues concerning the credibility of evaluation findings/diagnosis among other topics.

While we determined that teletherapy has a role in the testing process, including parent intake and feedback sessions, we ultimately decided that it would not be a solution for NESCA to adopt for the actual evaluation of a child. Next, the partial plexiglass shield did not provide enough risk mitigation for the child or evaluator, and it may not have been a secure enough physical barrier for some of the more aggressive children we test to keep both parties properly distanced.

So, where does that leave us? We do have social distancing in the mix as a potential option. While it does not provide maximum risk reduction, some families see it as the most natural option. The child, and if necessary, a parent helper, are at one end of a long conference table, and the evaluator is at the other end, at least six feet away at all times. All people in the room wear masks to further reduce risk. All testing materials are set up in advance for the child or parent helper. Most tests can be conducted on an iPad, which is controlled by the evaluator’s computer.

Since we were very aware that some parents would not be comfortable with this model, we continued our exploration and education, landing on an innovative two-office model. The two-office set-up involves a four foot by eight foot clear plexiglass window to be installed between two offices. This allows for clear observation of the child by the evaluator, the ability for the child and evaluator to communicate with each other via a high-quality intercom system and for the evaluator to visually demonstrate activities that the child is asked to perform during testing. A parent helper can be allowed in the room with the child should they need support during the session. Again, many of the tests would be administered via an iPad, which is controlled by the evaluator in the adjoining room. All additional test materials are organized and arranged in the office where the child is prior to testing.

NESCA’s two-office approach was piloted in our Londonderry, N.H. office by Dr. Angela Currie. Due to its maximum risk reduction for all parties and its similarity to the standard testing experience, NESCA expanded its testing capabilities with this model to the Newton office, where there are currently two of these testing areas available. While it does have some limitations, it is working very well with our families.

Along with the new testing models implemented, NESCA is, of course, taking all precautions available to reduce risk of exposure. We require risk assessment questionnaires, temperature checks and hand sanitizing; implemented a “touchless” check-in process; limit the number of people to a total of eight at one time in the 7,000 square foot Newton office, with testing being done at opposite ends of the office; provide private waiting rooms for parents who are not involved in the child’s testing; and sanitize all equipment and rooms used both before and after every appointment. We continue to follow the CDC and State’s guidelines for re-opening requirements.

We are very proud of our ability to continue to serve parents, children, families and schools during this extremely difficult time. I am once again so grateful to the cohesive and collaborative team we have in place here at NESCA and for its creativity, innovation, determination and dedication. The needs of families with children who have special needs never stop. While we may be forced to pause, NESCA will do everything in its power not to stop either.

Resources/Notes:

  • To view the Federation for Children with Special Needs webinar with Dr. Ann Helmus, visit Testing in the Age of Remote Learning
  • Dr. Helmus will present, “Testing in the Time of Covid,” to the Massachusetts Urban Project, a statewide network of special education leaders from 15 urban school districts across the state, on June 9.
  • Dr. Helmus will present on this topic in conjunction with Massachusetts Advocated for Children in June TBD.

 

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, 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.

Multi-sensory Learning: More than Just a Buzz Word!

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

As teaching methods continue to become more and more creative, and learning is being facilitated through interventions that target all types of students, the term “multi-sensory learning” has started to cement its place in the educational lexicon. You may have seen a line in an evaluation, such as, “This student would benefit from a multi-sensory learning approach,” or “The use of multi-sensory teaching methods will help this student to solidify their learning.” In some ways this phrase is easy to interpret. Multi means many. Sensory refers to the body’s different senses, the tools we use to interpret and experience the environment around us. Reason would tell us that this phrase means using all of these senses to acquire knowledge, information, and skills, and….it does! But what does this look like in practice? How are professionals actually using this method to help our children learn?

If you picture a typical classroom from a few decades ago, there is a teacher standing up at the front of the room providing students with information to copy down into their notebooks. These students are receiving information through the auditory system only. They are being expected to listen, comprehend and retain the lesson using one sense, their hearing.

Now let’s picture the classroom of a teacher using multi-sensory learning techniques. Often, students are clustered in different areas with a teacher checking in at every table to provide each small group with support. Students are looking at images or pictures of the object they are studying, both reading information and hearing it clarified by their teacher, and are likely using manipulatives, or things they can feel to help understand the content. These students are learning through their visual, auditory and tactile systems.

Humans grow, evolve and learn in complex, multi-sensory environments that are constantly targeting all of our senses. Our brains are built to learn through a combination of visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic data (Shams & Seitz, 2008). Using visual methods helps children learn through the sense of sight; auditory through the sense of hearing; tactile through the sense of touch; and kinesthetic through body movement. Children display greater performance when learning activities target all of these systems, as opposed to when they are taught using one modality (Broadbent, White, Mareschal, & Kirkham, 2018).

As an example, let’s look at teaching Kindergarten students their letters. A robust multi-sensory approach to teaching the alphabet includes looking at pictures of the letters, saying the sounds out loud as a class, tracing the letters in the air with one finger, making each letter out of playdough, writing the letters in bins of rice, making the student’s bodies into the shape of individual letters, and finally picking up a pencil to attempt to form the letters on the page independently. Students gain a comprehensive understanding of the letters as their brains have been targeted across multiple sensory systems.

There is substantial research for using this multi-sensory approach for another foundational academic skill: reading (Walet, 2011). Many of the most well-known phonics and reading programs, such as Orton-Gillingham and the Wilson Reading System, use these strategies to help students who learn differently to master this skill (AOGPE, 2012 & Wilson, 2017). When using some programs students learn to tap out syllables and letters on their fingers as they read, incorporating tactile feedback. Others focus on including books on tape so that students both see and hear each word as it is read aloud.

Other excellent examples of multi-sensory learning in the classroom include:

  • Songs and rhythm to solidify content
  • Base ten cubes as math manipulatives
  • Fieldtrips!
  • Games involving movement, such as flashcard races, Around the World and clapping games
  • Paper with raised or highlighted lines for tactile or visual feedback
  • Video clips to review concepts
  • Real coins and dollars when learning about money
  • Science experiments in a high school lab

While students are currently all at home receiving their lessons and assignments through a digital medium, many are missing out on the creative ways that their fabulous teachers use these strategies in their classrooms. In my next blog, we will discuss some ways to incorporate these strategies in the home!

 

References

Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators (AOGPE). (2012). The Orton-Gillingham

Broadbent HJ, White H, Mareschal D, Kirkham NZ. Incidental learning in a multisensory environment across childhood. Dev Sci. 2018;21(2):e12554. doi:10.1111/desc.12554

Shams, L., and Seitz, A.R. Benefits of multisensory learning. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 60, November 2008, pp. 411-17.

Walet, J. (2011). Differentiating for Struggling Readers and Writers: Improving Motivation and Metacognition through Multisensory Methods & Explicit Strategy Instruction. Journal of the American Academy of Special Education Professionals,83-91.

Wilson, B. (2017). Teaching total word structure. Wilson Language Training Corporation.

 

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

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

 

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

 

Bolstering Skills This Summer

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

With the status of ESY (Extended School Year) services still yet to be determined for the upcoming summer, many parents of transition-aged individuals (14 and up) are wondering what life skills can be worked on this summer, especially if virtual learning continues.

When we think of developing transition skills, the first words that tend to come to mind are “hands-on,” “community-based,” “real-world experiences,” etc. Unfortunately, in our current state of social distancing, many of the “normal” learning opportunities are not available at this time. While some business are beginning to open back up, and there is optimism that more businesses will be opening come June—depending on what the safety guidelines are—there still may not be opportunities for needed community-based experiences. While many schools are providing creative and individualized transition services through online platforms and remote learning, many students have greater difficulty accessing instruction that is hands-off. If you are looking to bolster transition skills over the summer, the following are examples and resources of transition-related activities that could be incorporated into an individual’s summer routine.

 

Career-Research 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

 

Online Banking:

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

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

https://www.bankaroo.com/

 

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#

https://www.specialolympics.org/

 

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.

 

Visual Motor Integration Deep Dive – Part 2

By | NESCA Notes 2020

 

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

Last week’s blog taught us the nuts and bolts of Visual Motor Integration. Let’s jump into the what VMI really means for students who struggle with VMI.

Research has shown a statistically significant correlation between performance on visual motor integration assessments and teachers’ assessments of early elementary school students’ reading, mathematics, writing and spelling ability (Optometry and Vision Science, 1999; Pereira, D., Araujo, R., & Braccialli, L., 2011). Now that we understand what visual motor integration is as a concept and that it is a foundational skill for academics, let’s look at some areas of education that may be difficult for children with visual motor dysfunction.

  • Written Output – Beginning in preschool, children start to learn how to draw vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines. They practice circles, squares, crosses and drawing an X. All of these are considered pre-handwriting practice. As a child moves along in their academic career, they start incorporating these movements into letters and eventually words. Children who struggle with VMI have particular difficulty recreating the images that they see. This often manifests itself in letter reversals, illegible written output and inability to judge whether their copy looks like the model or not. As children get into later grades, visual motor dysfunction may include difficulty copying information from a whiteboard, trouble staying on the line or within the space provided, and a simple lack of fluidity when writing. Tasks, such as filling out graphic organizers and brainstorming, feel tedious and tiring, as opposed to helpful.
  • Math – While math is not typically thought of as a motor-based task, substantial portions of current math curriculums rely on visual motor integration. For younger students, drawing shapes, writing equations and recognizing patterns may be particularly tough. As students get older, geometry requires them to write out proofs and draw shapes, while calculus requires graphing and drawing lines based on complex equations. Building on VMI helps students to access more than simple written output.
  • Using Classroom Tools – While this may not seem as academically focused as the other areas that are affected by VMI, classroom tools are frequently used throughout the school day. Scissors, a stapler, a hole puncher and a mouse/keyboard all require some level of visual motor function.

It’s difficult to briefly sum up all of the ways that students are incorporating their visual motor integration skills into a typical school day, or realistically a day in general. They use these skills without even realizing it, which means they unintentionally practice them all day. VMI is something that can continue to develop all through the lifespan. Artists pick up new tools and build mastery, adult calligraphy classes have become a new fad as people learn to modify and improve their handwriting, and even Tom Brady continues to work on perfecting that spiral. Targeted intervention can help children build on their foundation and find confidence in their abilities. If you feel that VMI might be affecting your child’s education, reach out to an occupational therapist and see if they can help you better understand your child’s individual profile.

 

References

Optometry and Vision Science: March 1999 – p 159-163. Retrieved from https://journals.lww.com/optvissci/Abstract/1999/03000/Relationship_between_Visual_Motor_Integration.15.aspx

Pereira, D., Araujo, R., & Braccialli, L. (2011) Relationship between visual-motor integration ability and academic performance. Journal of Human Growth and Development, 21(3), 808-817. Retrieved_from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317462934_Relationship_analysis_between_visual-motor_integration_ability_and_academic_performance

 

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

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

 

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

 

Visual Motor Integration Deep Dive – Part 1

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

If your child is currently receiving occupational therapy services in either a sensory clinic or a school-based setting, it is likely that you have heard the phrase “visual motor integration (VMI).” It has possibly been described as the ability to “see something and then recreate it with a pencil,” or “coordination between the eyes and the hands to create an intended outcome.” While these phrases or simple definitions do give some insight into the skill, there are layers to understanding the intricacies of VMI and how it may affect someone in a classroom setting. Why is visual motor integration important? Why does this skill affect a child’s ability to successfully access their curriculum? And really, why do occupational therapists seem to be so focused on this foundational skill?

Let’s start by dissecting the phrase visual motor integration, as each word truly highlights an important aspect.

Visual.

In this sense, “visual” refers to the functional visual skills and visual perception. Functional visual skills include being able to follow along a horizontal, vertical or diagonal line with one’s eyes, as well as being able to account for depth by focusing on objects that are both close to the face (a book) and far away (the whiteboard). Clinically, these skills are referred to as visual tracking and convergence respectively. Visual perception is the brain’s ability to interpret the data that the eyes are seeing and turn it into meaningful information. This is not simply the ability to clearly see something, a skill that is often assessed by school nurses or optometrist. It is the ability to understand it. Visual perception is complex in its own right, but the specific details are for another time, or potentially another blog.

Motor.

Similar to visual skills, “motor” refers to one’s overall motor skills. This includes:

  • Fine motor control – the ability to use the small muscles in the hands to make coordinated movements;
  • Gross motor – the ability to use the large muscles in the body; and
  • Postural stability – the ability to create a supported foundation when sitting or standing; a child’s postural stability is hugely affected by their core muscles and their position when sitting.

Integration.

Some students have visual motor dysfunction because of a deficit in either their visual skills or their motor skills. They find using these two skills together difficult simply because one foundational piece is already affected. Conversely, some students have trouble with VMI simply because of this integration piece. Being able to use these two skills in conjunction with intention and coordination is a skill within itself. Through standardized assessment and clinical observation, occupational therapists should be able to determine the root cause of a child’s VMI dysfunction. This helps to guide appropriate intervention and accommodation. In some ways, visual motor integration is similar to hand-eye coordination.  Being able to recreate something that a child sees, such as a square, the letter “A” or a horizontal line is truly using VMI skills.

Next week, we’ll dive further into VMI and how it serves as a foundational skill for academics, its impact on learning and the output students produce.

 

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

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

 

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

 

The Therapeutic Great Outdoors—Part 2

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

In last week’s blog, we provided the first five ideas on how to teach and build OT skills by getting outdoors. This week, we bring the next installment of ideas to help build skills while also providing a break from being cooped up together. Take it a step further and build in some kindness lessons by offering neighbors or passers-by some of the outputs from the suggested ideas and projects!

  1. Make Fossils. This activity consists of finding unique and special treasures outdoors and making imprints of them back inside. First, find some small solid objects, such as rocks, small sticks, acorns, leaves or shells. This is a perfect activity to do after a nature scavenger hunt! Then have your children press these objects into playdough or plaster of Paris to make their own fossils. Children work on their fine motor skills as they roll out the plaster, pinch their objects and push them down to make an imprint. Try making this great playdough recipe together before you get started. For some extra creative options, to try include: incorporating small toys, such as dinosaur figurines or LEGOs or using cookie dough as a base, then eat your fossils for a snack!
  2. Make a Bird Feeder. There are many different creative ways to make bird feeders with your children. Choose a bird feeder that requires multiple fine motor skills and is appropriate for your child’s level! Two options are:
    1. Bagel Feeder – Start with a bagel. Help your child tie a string or piece of ribbon through the center hole of the bagel in a large loop. Next, have your child choose a topping to put onto the bagel. I generally suggest peanut butter! Have the child practice spreading this topping all over the bagel. Using a knife to spread such a thick, sticky substance is a pretty difficult fine motor task! Next have your child use their “pinchy fingers” (thumb and pointer finger) to pick up bird seed and sprinkle it on the peanut butter. The end product will be a bagel covered in peanut butter and bird seed that is ready to hang on a tree outside. Place it near a window and let your children watch the birds enjoy their creation!
    2. Cheerio Feeder – You may have heard that stringing beads is an excellent occupational therapy activity that promotes bilateral coordination, fine motor precision, motor planning and a pincer grasp. Consider making a bird feeder by stringing Cheerios (or any cereal with a hole in the center) onto a piece of string and hanging them in the trees. Birds will love to peck off the individual pieces as a snack.
  3. Paint Rocks or Shells. Painting rocks and other outdoor treasures is a great activity that allows children to be creative while using tools and practicing a functional grasp. Allow children to pick up the rocks and get messy to help promote some bilateral coordination!
  4. Draw with Sidewalk Chalk. While writing with chalk may seem very similar to writing with a pencil to us adults, for children who are just learning to manipulate a pencil, it can be a hugely different experience. Writing on the uneven ground provides tactile feedback. Holding a piece of chalk that moves with the contours of the ground requires increased hand strength. Children get to practice modulating how hard they need to push down on the chalk to make a solid line. If your child is hesitant to practice handwriting, try sneaking outside 5 or 10 minutes before them to create a few “sidewalk worksheets” for them to complete before they start to draw their creative masterpieces. For some children, there is a huge sensory piece to sidewalk chalk, as they work to tolerate the new texture and the feeling of chalk on their hands.
  5. Bring out the Bubbles. In occupational therapy, we often use bubbles to help children work on their oral motor skills. Children work to make their mouth into a round “O” shape and blow with enough force to create the bubbles themselves. Prompt your kids to pop bubbles by clapping their hands together. This helps to practice eye-hand and bilateral coordination. Next, have your child try to keep their eyes on one bubble as long as possible to practice visual tracking!

 

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

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

 

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

 

The Therapeutic Great Outdoors—Part 1

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

Aside from a spring snowfall this week, it looks like springtime may have truly arrived here in New England. Flowers are popping up on trees, the peepers and morning birds are singing and the warm sun is finally convincing most of us to leave the coats and hats inside. Now more than ever, the opportunity for children to get outside seems like a welcome reprieve from the weeks either cooped up or bundled up.  Mother Nature is a fabulous teacher and has created the perfect environment for children to work on building some of their fine motor, visual motor and sensory skills. This week, we’ll explore five of 10 creative ways to use the outdoors as the classroom, OT gym or playground that it can be! Check back next Tuesday for the next five!

  1. Get Dirty! Thankfully, some of the simplest activities work on the most skills. Letting kids get as dirty as they can works on building sensory tolerance. Digging in the dirt builds hand strength and endurance. Squatting down to play in the mud builds gross motor coordination and whole-body control. Consider bringing out utensils, cups and bowls and so your children can practice scooping, pouring and mixing!
  2. Plant a Garden. Take playing in the dirt one step further by incorporating the steps to planting a garden. This “garden” could be flower or veggie patch, a planter or just a little pot to keep on the window sill. Children work on isolating one finger by poking a hole in the soil, a pincer grasp by picking up small seeds between their thumb and pointer finger and hand strength by digging holes and burying seeds. This is also a great opportunity for children to practice the responsibility of watering plants every day. Add in some math review by having them measure the height of their plants and recording the information in a table.
  3. Climb Trees. The age-old activity of climbing trees works on building gross motor coordination, muscle strength and motor planning. To incorporate some visual skills practice, have children bring “binoculars,” or two toilet paper rolls taped together, to seek out different things that they can see from a new vantage point.
  4. Nature Scavenger Hunt. Scavenger hunts are an excellent way to target building visual skills as they prompt kids to scan their environment, search for specific things in a busy visual field and ignore the overwhelming amount of visual stimulation around them. Bring in a sensory element by asking children to observe, feel and smell each of their treasures. Check out this fabulous Egg Carton Nature Scavenger Hunt created by The Silvan Reverie.
  5. Build a Fort. Encourage kids to use their imagination and build outside. Provide them with twine or string, an old sheet, and a hammer and nails (if they can use them safely). If they are not ready to use these tools, they can practice propping sticks up against a tree to build a lean-to or gathering sticks and branches to make a platform to sit on. All of these options require motor planning, trial and error, and get kids to move their bodies.

 

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

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

 

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