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

Tag

STRESS

How to Make the Holidays Less Stressful

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Maggie Rodriguez, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Are the holidays the “most magical time of the year?” Maybe, but they can also be the most stressful. In fact, a recent survey by the American Psychological Association found that 41% of U.S. adults experience increased stress levels around the holidays, while 52% find their stress levels remain the same, and only 7% feel less stressed this time of year. A whopping 43% of American adults acknowledge that the stress that accompanies the holidays compromises their ability to enjoy them (and that number includes only the people willing to admit it!).

As an adult reading this, you may be thinking this information comes as no surprise and you’re all too aware of the stress that comes with the holidays. What you may not realize as fully is that this time of year can be stressful for children as well. While the holidays can bring excitement and fun, they can also present challenges, particularly for our kids and teens who struggle with underlying mental health issues (such as anxiety or depression) or neurodevelopmental conditions (such as Autism, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or Sensory Processing Disorder). For the next few weeks, many of us will be attempting to navigate our own holiday-related stress and manage the stress our children may feel and express in a variety of ways. So, if you’re feeling less overwhelmed with excitement and joy and instead simply overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Here are some strategies for making the holidays work for you:

Notice and recognize the impact of expectations. It all starts here. From Hallmark movies to the pictures posted by mom-fluencers on Instagram, we are bombarded with unrealistic images of what the holidays “should” look like. Social media is particularly insidious, as it tends to contribute to a sense that the everyday, real people around us (not just those celebrities in magazines) are living what we see reflected in their carefully edited and curated photos. It’s important to remind ourselves that these images don’t reflect the reality of life and that we don’t see 99% of what happens in the daily lives of those we follow on social media. We may see the images of perfectly decorated Christmas cookies but not the kitchen counters covered in flour, eggs, and frosting (or the parent yelling) in the background. We click on the beautiful photo of three kids all smiling at the camera from Santa’s lap but don’t see the 25 outtakes featuring those same children in tears, sticking out their tongues, or bolting out of the frame. Realizing this and taking a step back is key for ourselves and our children, who may also need explicit information about what they can expect (for instance, regarding the number of and type of gifts they will get based on your family’s budget versus what they envision).

Realize we also all harbor implicit ideas about what the holidays “should” look like based on our experiences growing up and the way our families did things, which we take for granted. If you’re in a relationship, you may have encountered your own hidden expectations if they ever come into conflict with those of your significant other. Even if you celebrate the same holiday(s), you may do so in very different ways. Some of you may be familiar with conversations, such as, “What do you mean your family decorates the tree Christmas Eve? Christmas trees go up as soon as we put our jack-o-lanterns in the compost on November 1st!” If you and your partner celebrate different holidays or your kids split their time between your home and that of another parent, all of this becomes much more complicated. So, talk about it openly and together. As a family, re-evaluate your expectations and traditions, and start with a blank slate. Sit down together, make your expectations explicit, then assess them together.

Ask some questions, such as:

  • What does each family member, kids included, envision the holidays will look like? This might be general and abstract (maybe Mom wants to ensure there’s downtime for rest and relaxation) or concrete (maybe the kids want to go ice skating over winter break, and Dad wants to make sure the family goes to midnight mass on Christmas Eve). How will you make this work both logistically and in terms of balancing different needs?
  • What traditions do you automatically take part in, and do they work for your family at this particular moment in time? Although traditions are important and meaningful, blind and rigid adherence to rituals and routines that don’t work for us don’t benefit anyone. We often take part in traditions without questioning whether they add to our lives or why we started doing them in the first place.

Once you’ve had these discussions, consider that you don’t have to “do” the holidays the same way ever single year. There’s no rule that says every holiday season has to look the same. Do you always go take photos with Santa at the mall even though your kids inevitably resist the idea, become anxious and overwhelmed, and you end up frustrated? Open up to the possibility of forgoing that tradition even if it’s just for the time being. Do you make an elaborate holiday dinner each year but aren’t up to it this year? Consider finding an alternative for now that takes the stress off of you and still aligns with your priorities. If what’s important to you is enjoying a meal with your family, maybe you can still do that while letting go of the need to do it all yourself.

Modify your expectations and make accommodations for your children given their unique personalities and potential challenges. This might mean forgoing busy and crowded events, such as parties, for children and teens who struggle with anxiety in social settings or become easily overwhelmed by sensory input. Or maybe you still attend, but you have a pre-established plan for leaving by a certain time and/or managing distress that may arise. These days, many public spaces that host events (e.g., museums, theaters) hold modified sensory-friendly versions of events at specified times. For many children, building in predictable routines, and previewing special plans or changes to their usual schedules can be very helpful. For kids or adolescents with significant “picky” eating or Avoidant-Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), you might consider hosting a holiday dinner at your house so you have control over the menu or bringing food you know your child will eat if you’re visiting others. Many kids with ADHD will need movement breaks, so think ahead about how you’ll work those in depending on your plans. It helps to think ahead and have a flexible plan for meeting your kids’ needs in different scenarios.

Now for the twist. Remember that APA study I quoted at the start of this blog? Well, even though so many people reported significant stress, it also found that 69% of adults feel the stress of the holidays is “worth it,” and many endorse positive outcomes related to the holidays, including an increased sense of togetherness. No matter what or how you celebrate, the holidays can be a wonderful and meaningful time of the year, and the odds of finding joy, connection, and calm will be higher if you take a step back and figure out how to make the holidays fit into your life and work for your family.

References:
https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2023/11/holiday-season-stress

 

About the Author

Maggie Rodriguez, Psy.D., provides comprehensive evaluation services for children, adolescents, and young adults with often complex presentations. She particularly enjoys working with individuals who have concerns about attention and executive functioning, language-based learning disorders, and those with overlapping cognitive and social/emotional difficulties.

Prior to joining NESCA, Dr. Rodriguez worked in private practice, where she completed assessments with high-functioning students presenting with complex cognitive profiles whose areas of weakness may have gone previously undiagnosed. Dr. Rodriguez’s experience also includes pre- and post-doctoral training in the Learning Disability Clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Neurodevelopmental Center at MassGeneral for Children/North Shore Medical Center. Dr. Rodriguez has spent significant time working with students in academic settings, including k-12 public and charter school systems and private academic programs, such as the Threshold Program at Lesley University.

Dr. Rodriguez earned her Psy.D. from William James College in 2012, where her coursework and practicum training focused on clinical work with children and adolescents and on assessment. Her doctoral thesis centered on cultural issues related to evaluation.

Dr. Rodriguez lives north of Boston with her husband and three young children.  She enjoys spending time outdoors hiking and bike riding with her family, practicing yoga, and reading.

To book a consultation with Dr. Rodriguez or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.

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

Understanding Behavior as Communication

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

School is out for many, and it is no surprise to many that it was a challenging year for teachers, parents, and children. One word that captures the experience of the 2022-2023 school year is stress. Teachers were stressed as their students continued to contend with the academic and social deficits that resulted from the pandemic. Many students have struggled to adapt to post-pandemic learning, and incidents of acting out behavior have increased precipitously. How do we make sense of children’s behavior while helping them develop and effectively manage the academic, social, and behavioral expectations of an ever-changing world?

Ross Greene, Ph.D., states, “Children want to do well and would if they could.” Behavior is not just random or meaningless. It serves as a way for children to express their needs, feelings, and experiences, especially when they have not yet developed strong verbal or communication skills. When the demands of the environment exceed a child’s capacity to manage them, they are apt to become stressed, increasing the likelihood that they will act out. Stress is a complex concept that is a response to perceived or anticipated demands or pressures that exceed an individual’s coping abilities.

When stressed, the adrenal glands release cortisol, a stress hormone that helps mobilize energy reserves for the fight-or-flight response. Fear and anxiety also increase individuals’ vulnerability to responding with fight or flight. So, while fear is focused on a specific threat, physiologically, it feels much the same as stress. Behavior is, therefore, a way of communicating that something is amiss. For instance, a child who acts aggressively may express frustration, which is stressful. And a child who becomes withdrawn might feel overwhelmed or anxious, triggering a stress response. Behavior is a natural way for children to communicate their needs, emotions, or reactions to the environment.

Our job as adults is first to check our own emotional status, because if we are tired or stressed, it will likely influence how we respond when children behave badly. Observing and interpreting behaviors with a curious and open mindset is important. By paying attention to patterns, triggers, and context, adults can gain insights into what a child might be trying to communicate through their behavior. Our job is not to manage the behavior but to understand, per Dr. Greene, what skills are lagging or what problems need to be solved, build relationships, and work collaboratively with children to solve problems and change behavior.

Resources:

The Explosive Child, Ross Greene, Ph.D., 2021

Beyond Behaviors; Mona Delahooke, Ph.D., 2019

Podcast: Two Sides of the Spectrum; episode dated April 5, 2023; “Safety as the Foundation for Everything

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess (Cindy), a licensed psychologist, worked as an elementary counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before starting her doctorate. In this role, she developed extensive expertise and aptitude for working with individuals and groups struggling with a wide range of emotional and learning challenges.

She completed her pre-doctoral internship with Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y., where she trained at Hillside Family of Agencies in a therapeutic residential school. At Hillside, she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma.

She earned her Psy.D. in Counseling and School Psychology from Rivier University in 2018. Having a strong interest in the impact of social media on children and our culture, her doctoral dissertation studied the impact social media has on social skills development in fourth- and fifth-grade children.

Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England, where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18 and young adults.

Dr. Hess joined NESCA’s Londonderry, N.H. office in 2019, where she completed a second two-year fellowship in pediatric neuropsychological assessment. Dr. Hess now conducts neuropsychological evaluations as a pediatric neuropsychologist and has a particular interest in working with children and young adults with complex emotional and behavioral profiles. Her experience allows her to guide families in navigating the complicated options for school and other support services.

 

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

 

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, Londonderry, New Hampshire, and the greater Burlington, Vermont area, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Anxiety Reducers for Children and Teens with ASD

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Renée Marchant, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Research indicates that children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are more sensitive to heightened physiological sympathetic arousal (the “fight or flight” response), including increased heart rate, breathing rate, feeling “on edge” and body-based tenseness. Heightened physiological arousal is neurologically connected to sensory processing and emotional responses. This is why some children with ASD have “high startle responses” or sensitivities to specific sensations, such as touch or sounds. This is also why some children and teens with ASD are vulnerable to feelings of anxiety, particularly within social situations and settings.

There is growing research focusing on possible strategies and interventions that reduce anxiety and “buffer” the “fight or flight” response that can be activated for many children and teens with ASD.

5 Research-driven Anxiety Reducers:

Animals: Include companion or therapy animals in social groups or social outings (particularly new social events). In one study, children with ASD showed a 43% decrease in skin conductance responses during free play with peers in the presence of animals, as compared to toys (O’Haire, McKenzie, Beck, & Slaughter, 2015).

Exercise: Make a plan to engage in a “warm up” body-based activity right before a social event when anxiety levels are increasing (e.g., jumping jacks, burpees, squats). Research indicates that exercise calms the amygdala and decreases physiological arousal.

Relax or Distract: Practice progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). Recent research has indicated that regular and routine engagement in PMR sessions can be a useful strategy for individuals with ASD. Distract yourself from the anxiety-producing situation for the short term (e.g., count by 3s, name three things you can see and hear in the room, repeat words from your favorite song in your head).

Plan to Take a Break: Children and teens can benefit from having a healthy “escape plan” to take a break from socially-demanding and sensory-demanding settings (e.g., a large event like a play or concert, a college lecture, an interview for a job). Research indicates that “rest breaks” during mentally demanding tasks result in increased alertness, decreased fatigue and heightened relaxation.

Social Stories: Social stories provide the opportunity to practice and prepare for stressful situations, decreasing “fight or flight” responses. Read more about examples and applications of social stories in my colleague, Dr. Erin Gibbons’ previous blog post.

 

About the Author:

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

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

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

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

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

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Marchant or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Click here to learn more about NESCA’s ASD Diagnostic Clinic.

 

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 Uncertainty, Stress and Anxiety About What School Will Look Like

By | NESCA Notes 2020

*This blog post was originally published prior to the start of in-person school last fall for some. While many students have returned to their school buildings, many others are just now returning or will be in the coming weeks. 

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow and Therapist

Much of adjusting to the world in the midst of a global pandemic has been learning to live with nearly constant uncertainty. Undoubtedly, this pandemic and ensuing uncertainty has caused significant stress for youth and their families. The experience of persistent stress can result in increased vulnerability to anxiety and depression. Symptoms may become magnified in those who already faced mental health challenges. There is little doubt that there will be increases in mental and behavior health problems for children and families both in anticipating the re-opening of schools, and when schools reopen their physical buildings.

We all wonder what school will look like in the fall. The anticipation of returning to school can be especially stressful, and will likely be so for most youth. Given that students will not have been in schools with their peers for several months, it can be anticipated that they might feel a heighted sense of insecurity and uncertainty. Even in “normal times,” returning to the complex social and educational environment of school can be worrisome for many children and adolescents.

Each individual child will have had their own experiences while schools were closed. Some children and/or staff members may have been impacted by COVID-19 and some families and/or staff may be experiencing financial hardship due to parental unemployment or loss of household income. It is important to realize that regardless of their experience, each individual will have a unique response. It is helpful to recognize the signs of stress and help children learn positive ways of coping with it.

Signs of stress in preschool children include, but are not limited to, anger, nervousness, eating and sleeping problems (including nightmares), fear of being alone, irritability and uncontrollable crying.

In elementary age children, stress may manifest as increased complaining of headaches and stomachaches, feeling insecure, reduced appetite and difficulty sleeping, withdrawal and worrying about the future.

Signs of stress in pre-teens and teens may include anger, disillusionment, distrust of the world, low self-esteem, stomachaches and headaches, panic attacks and rebellious behavior.

As each person works through this very challenging situation, it is more important than ever to adopt a position of acceptance, as we never truly know what another person is experiencing or has experienced. The following are offered as suggestions on how to help children and teens cope with stress.

  • Help them identify how they are feeling and acknowledge and validate those feelings.
  • Encourage them to talk about what is bothering them.
  • Share strategies you use to cope with stress.
  • Talk openly and, as appropriate, share stories about stress in your day.
  • Find a physical activity and/or hobby that they enjoy and encourage them to participate.
  • Encourage them to eat healthy foods and emphasize the importance of a healthy lifestyle, especially as it relates to stress.
  • Make sure they get plenty of sleep.
  • Set clear expectations, without being overly rigid, and allow for “down” time.
  • Spend time outdoors, encourage them to do something they love – read a book, ride their bike, bake, etc.
  • Learn and teach your children relaxation skills, such as breathing exercises, muscle relaxation exercises, meditating, yoga, drawing or writing.

Our world will have changed by the time children re-enter their classrooms. No matter what happens in the fall, when it is time for school to start, it will inevitably be stressful. Learning to cope with and manage stress is important for physical and emotional health. However, if you are concerned about your child or are struggling yourself, seek help and support for yourself, your child or anyone in your family who is struggling.

Below are some helpful resources:

https://www.apa.org/topics/children-teens-stress

https://nesca-newton.com/helping-your-anxious-child-through-covid-19/

https://childmind.org/article/how-to-ask-what-kids-are-feeling-during-stressful-times/

https://healthy.kaiserpermanente.org/health-wellness/health-encyclopedia/he.stress-in-children-and-teens.ug1832

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert 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.

 

School Stressors in a Pandemic

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Amity Kulis, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

A recent article published by NBC News highlights the multiple stressors facing school-aged children and their families during this pandemic, with a more specific focus on the differing stress levels between remote and in-person learners. It is becoming clearer that during this time, learners and their families are facing higher rates of depression and anxiety, and there are concerns that students who are attending school remotely are learning less, particularly children with disabilities and those from low-income families.

A recent study from NBC News and Challenge Success, a nonprofit affiliated with Stanford Graduate School of Education, compared the differences between students who have been learning exclusively online and those who have been able to attend at least partially in-person. The study involved more than 10,000 students in 12 U.S. high schools who completed a self-questionnaire provided by the research study. The high schools were reported to come from multiple locations around the country (Arizona, Texas, New York and Midwest) and were descried as “demographically similar to the nation in terms of student family income,” though this was not true of being matched for race and likely other factors not discussed in the article. This also does not appear to be a peer-reviewed study, which suggests limitations to predictive power of the outcomes. Nevertheless, findings suggested that students who spent time in the classroom self-reported lower rates of stress and worry than students who were fully remote. An alarming finding was that half of all students, regardless of how they were attending school at the time of the study, reported they were more stressed by school than they had been during the previous year. Students reported exhaustion, headaches, insomnia or other stress-related ailments at high levels – regardless of whether they were in-person or not – with the highest rates being for remote learners: 84 percent fully remote learners; 82 percent hybrid students; and 78 percent fully in-person.

The article suggested that additional stressors found for remote students included on average more homework and that these remote students were also less likely to feel they had an adult they could go to with a personal problem. Anecdotally, one teacher commented, “In the room, you get more eye contact.” The teacher added, “On the screen, oftentimes the kid could be sitting in front of a window. You can’t see them, so it’s hard to make sure they’re attentive.”

While there are limitations to this study, it is clear that students and their families are currently experiencing a high level of stress. Many schools have been aware of this problem and have taken steps to embed extra programming into their students’ weeks. We need to continue to prioritize community connection and wellness for students attending school in-person and online. It is important to ensure that students know who they can reach out to and how, particularly those learners who are not stepping foot into a school building this year. It is also important to build in opportunities for stress management, as well as instruction in healthy habits, such as exercise, sleep hygiene and healthy eating. Clearly both children and their caregivers could benefit from this type of support right now. If you or a loved one is experiencing heightened emotional stress, it is important to reach out for help. This can include alerting your child’s school to their increasing stress, as well as bringing concerns to your child’s doctor. A referral to a psychologist or licensed mental health professional may be in order to help you and your child through this difficult time.

Source: Remote Students Are More Stressed Than Their Peers In The Classroom, Study Shows by Erin Einhorn, 2/15/2021 published by NBC News.

 

About the Author
Dr. Amity Kulis joined NESCA in 2012 after earning her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, with a concentration in Children, Adolescents and Families (CAF). She completed post-doctoral training in pediatric neuropsychology with an emphasis on treating children with developmental, intellectual, learning and executive functioning challenges. She also has extensive training psychological (projective) testing and has conducted individual and group therapies for children of all ages. Before joining NESCA, Dr. Kulis worked in private practices, clinics, and schools, conducting comprehensive assessments on children ranging from toddlers through young adults. In addition, Dr. Kulis has had the opportunity to consult with various school systems, conducting observations of programs, and providing in-service trainings for staff. Dr. Kulis currently conducts neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments for school-aged children through young adulthood. She regularly participates in transition assessments (focusing on the needs of adolescents as they emerge into adulthood) and has a special interest in working with complex learners that may also struggle with emotional challenges and psychiatric conditions. In addition to administering comprehensive and data-driven evaluations, Dr. Kulis regularly conducts school-based observations and participates in school meetings to help share her findings and consultation with a student’s TEAM.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Kulis or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists and transition specialists, 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, 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.

 

 

Anxiety Reducers for Children and Teens with ASD

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Renée Marchant, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Research indicates that children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are more sensitive to heightened physiological sympathetic arousal (the “fight or flight” response), including increased heart rate, breathing rate, feeling “on edge” and body-based tenseness. Heightened physiological arousal is neurologically connected to sensory processing and emotional responses. This is why some children with ASD have “high startle responses” or sensitivities to specific sensations, such as touch or sounds. This is also why some children and teens with ASD are vulnerable to feelings of anxiety, particularly within social situations and settings.

There is growing research focusing on possible strategies and interventions that reduce anxiety and “buffer” the “fight or flight” response that can be activated for many children and teens with ASD.

5 Research-driven Anxiety Reducers:

Animals: Include companion or therapy animals in social groups or social outings (particularly new social events). In one study, children with ASD showed a 43% decrease in skin conductance responses during free play with peers in the presence of animals, as compared to toys (O’Haire, McKenzie, Beck, & Slaughter, 2015).

Exercise: Make a plan to engage in a “warm up” body-based activity right before a social event when anxiety levels are increasing (e.g., jumping jacks, burpees, squats). Research indicates that exercise calms the amygdala and decreases physiological arousal.

Relax or Distract: Practice progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). Recent research has indicated that regular and routine engagement in PMR sessions can be a useful strategy for individuals with ASD. Distract yourself from the anxiety-producing situation for the short term (e.g., count by 3s, name three things you can see and hear in the room, repeat words from your favorite song in your head).

Plan to Take a Break: Children and teens can benefit from having a healthy “escape plan” to take a break from socially-demanding and sensory-demanding settings (e.g., a large event like a play or concert, a college lecture, an interview for a job). Research indicates that “rest breaks” during mentally demanding tasks result in increased alertness, decreased fatigue and heightened relaxation.

Social Stories: Social stories provide the opportunity to practice and prepare for stressful situations, decreasing “fight or flight” responses. Read more about examples and applications of social stories in my colleague, Dr. Erin Gibbons’ previous blog post.

 

About the Author:

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

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

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

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

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

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Marchant or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Click here to learn more about NESCA’s ASD Diagnostic Clinic.

 

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.

 

Positive Coping Strategies for Stress, Anxiety and Trauma During Times of Crisis

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Renée Marchant, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Amidst the global pandemic, children, their caregivers, their teachers and therapists are naturally experiencing heightened stress and anxiety. We are more likely to be sent into “fight, flight, freeze, mode” – the body and brain’s critical survival strategy to prepare and deal with perceived threat. For example, when you see a Grizzly Bear on your hiking trail, you instinctually run, fight back or hide.

However, we can become “stuck” or more sensitive to this instinctual urge, which is not adaptive and can negatively impact physical, emotional and social health. For example, chronic deployment of the “flight, flight, freeze” response occurs for individuals who experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Chronic deployment of “fight, flight, freeze” responses is also more likely amidst a global pandemic, such as COVID-19. Importantly, chronic deployment of “fight, flight, freeze” responses also occurs for individuals and communities who experience chronic racial injustice and oppression.

Under chronic experiences of stress and threat, our body remains activated and hyper-aroused, even when deploying this response is not helpful. For example, children may shut down or dysregulate when faced with even small stressors – making an error on a math worksheet or even accidentally spilling something on the table. Children and teens may be more irritable, defiant or isolative. Overall, chronic deployment of the “fight, flight, freeze” response heightens anxiety, stress and general feelings of malaise.

So, what can we do? What can we do to “turn off” or lessen this stress response? What are some ways to positively cope during these difficult times?

  1. Research shows that the #1 resiliency factor is the reliable presence of at least one supportive relationship with an adult. Build connection and community through shared activities and conversations about your experiences. Remember to always take care of yourself before taking care of others – self-care is critical.
  2. Focus on validation first; problem-solving second. Validating, acknowledging and accepting pain, distress, hurt and the like builds communication and naturally decreases tension and stress. Validation is the essential first step prior to action, problem-solving and positive coping.
  3. In order to grow positive coping, it is helpful to build mastery and self-expression. Strategies that can help to both organize and “release” feelings and stressful experiences rather than “bottle them up” include:
  • Use your body to heal your mind: play, do yoga, engage with nature, exercise;
  • Engage in shared action to promote communication and change at a community and systemic level. Volunteer or advocate for a cause of importance. Contact your local legislators and express your concerns;
  • Write or draw about your experience. Use collages, images or videos to express your goals, experiences and fears;
  • Engage in therapeutic movement. Create a music playlist for various emotions. Dance or engage in rhythmic actions (e.g. knitting, pottery);
  • Identify your strengths and what you value in life. Happiness is fleeting – goals and values last longer and support positive coping. For a free strengths and values survey, check out: https://www.viacharacter.org/;
  • Connect with community resources available in your area, such as therapists, mentors, religious organizations, support groups, local-nonprofits, etc.; and
  • Be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion.

 

About the Author:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Kids Want to Do Well and Would If They Could

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow and Therapist

Ross Greene, Ph.D., is the author of several books including The Explosive Child, Lost at School, Lost and Found, and his most recent book, Raising Human Beings. He also is the founder of Lives in the Balance, a non-profit dedicated to supporting families with behaviorally challenging children. The foundation of his approach is that all kids want to do well and would if they could. Dr. Greene emphasizes using a collaborative problem-solving approach, which he calls Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (CPS). This model is based on the assertion that challenging behaviors arise when a child is faced with expectations that exceed their capacity to respond adaptively. Thus, adults are encouraged to take a collaborative, proactive approach to managing challenging behavior as opposed to relying on punishment and rewards.

The focus of collaborative problem-solving is not on the child’s challenging behavior, which could range from crying and whining, to hitting and biting, but rather on the expectations the child is having difficulty meeting. Adults work to identify the problematic expectations and the skills the child is lacking to meet the expectations. Dr. Greene refers to unmet expectations as “unsolved problems.” The goal is to solve those problems rather than modify behavior. Dr. Greene describes the CPS model as non-punitive and non-adversarial, and as such, it decreases the likelihood of conflict, enhances relationships and improves communication.

As a result of the pandemic, many parents and children are spending much more time together. For some parents of challenging children, their child’s behavior has been exacerbated by the increase in uncertainty and constantly changing expectations. There are many situations that arise that may lead to power struggles with children. It is important to remember that behavior is communication. Families are encouraged to reconsider their expectations and work collaboratively with their children to solve problems, especially when faced with extraordinary circumstances.

The specifics of collaborative problem-solving are much more detailed than there is space in this blog, and I encourage you to check out the resources listed below. While the consequences of the pandemic are certainly very stressful, they also present a good opportunity for families to enhance communication, uncover unsolved problems, teach skills and foster resilience.

 

Books for families by Dr. Greene:

The Explosive Child

Raising Human Beings

Website – contains educational videos and free resources for families and educators: https://www.livesinthebalance.org/about-cps

There are many YouTube videos available about CPS, but this one is pertinent to our current circumstances

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert 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.

 

“Doomscrolling” and Creating Space for Gratitude

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow and Therapist

A recent article in the New York Times (July 15, 2020) discusses a newly coined term for a coping strategy that has become pervasive amidst all the uncertainty: “Doomscrolling.” In the article, doomscrolling is defined as, “…the experience of sinking into emotional quicksand while bingeing on doom-and-gloom news.” It has become so common, it has a name.

We are collectively experiencing a great deal of anticipatory anxiety, which occurs when we feel anxious or stressed about an event that will happen in the future. We know there will be an event, but we do not know when or what that event will be. For those who participate in doomscrolling, perhaps it is an effort to find a sense of certainty. If we know what is coming next, it helps us feel more in control. However, while doomscrolling may provide a short-term sense of control, like many maladaptive ways of coping, it will eventually take a toll on our mental and physical well-being. Several wonderful suggestions are offered in the article and a follow-up piece to deal with doomscrolling. Another positive strategy for coping with anxiety and stress is practicing gratitude.

According to the National Institutes of Health, early research suggests that a daily habit of practicing gratitude may improve emotional and physical health. Practicing gratitude reduces stress and anxiety by regulating stress hormones in the brain. It also enhances the production of dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions and sense of well-being. Practicing gratitude can be as simple as taking a moment to appreciate a good cup of coffee or a refreshing breeze on a hot day. There are many ways to create space for gratitude:

  • Take a few moments each day to write down as many things as you can that you are grateful for
  • Try to notice positive moments as they are happening
  • Compliment yourself each day and say it out loud
  • Keep a gratitude journal that includes: Compliments that you give yourself, current challenges and what you are learning, people you are grateful for, and significant assets of your life right now.
  • Start a gratitude jar with your family where each person writes one thing they are grateful for that day on a slip of paper and adds it to the jar. The notes can be read aloud at the start of each new week.

For further reading check out these articles:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/15/technology/personaltech/youre-doomscrolling-again-heres-how-to-snap-out-of-it.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/16/technology/coronavirus-doomscrolling.html?searchResultPosition=2

https://positivepsychology.com/neuroscience-of-gratitude.

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert 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.

 

Positive Coping Strategies for Stress, Anxiety and Trauma During Times of Crisis

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By Renée Marchant, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Amidst the global pandemic, children, their caregivers, their teachers and therapists are naturally experiencing heightened stress and anxiety. We are more likely to be sent into “fight, flight, freeze, mode” – the body and brain’s critical survival strategy to prepare and deal with perceived threat. For example, when you see a Grizzly Bear on your hiking trail, you instinctually run, fight back or hide.

However, we can become “stuck” or more sensitive to this instinctual urge, which is not adaptive and can negatively impact physical, emotional and social health. For example, chronic deployment of the “flight, flight, freeze” response occurs for individuals who experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Chronic deployment of “fight, flight, freeze” responses is also more likely amidst a global pandemic, such as COVID-19. Importantly, chronic deployment of “fight, flight, freeze” responses also occurs for individuals and communities who experience chronic racial injustice and oppression.

Under chronic experiences of stress and threat, our body remains activated and hyper-aroused, even when deploying this response is not helpful. For example, children may shut down or dysregulate when faced with even small stressors – making an error on a math worksheet or even accidentally spilling something on the table. Children and teens may be more irritable, defiant or isolative. Overall, chronic deployment of the “fight, flight, freeze” response heightens anxiety, stress and general feelings of malaise.

So, what can we do? What can we do to “turn off” or lessen this stress response? What are some ways to positively cope during these difficult times?

  1. Research shows that the #1 resiliency factor is the reliable presence of at least one supportive relationship with an adult. Build connection and community through shared activities and conversations about your experiences. Remember to always take care of yourself before taking care of others – self-care is critical.
  2. Focus on validation first; problem-solving second. Validating, acknowledging and accepting pain, distress, hurt and the like builds communication and naturally decreases tension and stress. Validation is the essential first step prior to action, problem-solving and positive coping.
  3. In order to grow positive coping, it is helpful to build mastery and self-expression. Strategies that can help to both organize and “release” feelings and stressful experiences rather than “bottle them up” include:
  • Use your body to heal your mind: play, do yoga, engage with nature, exercise;
  • Engage in shared action to promote communication and change at a community and systemic level. Volunteer or advocate for a cause of importance. Contact your local legislators and express your concerns;
  • Write or draw about your experience. Use collages, images or videos to express your goals, experiences and fears;
  • Engage in therapeutic movement. Create a music playlist for various emotions. Dance or engage in rhythmic actions (e.g. knitting, pottery);
  • Identify your strengths and what you value in life. Happiness is fleeting – goals and values last longer and support positive coping. For a free strengths and values survey, check out: https://www.viacharacter.org/;
  • Connect with community resources available in your area, such as therapists, mentors, religious organizations, support groups, local-nonprofits, etc.; and
  • Be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion.

To learn more about this topic, a helpful webinar is available at “Supports for Students with a History of Trauma and Significant Anxiety,“ presented by Dr. Renee Marchant, PsyD, and Dr. Stephanie Monaghan-Blout, PsyD.

 

About the Author:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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