Tag

students

Making the Most of Summer – Setting a Few Life Skill Goals (for College and Life in General after High School)

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

Summer in the United States is looking more “normal” than it has in three years. Kids are in camps, summer school is in-person, and families are traveling. While there is a semblance of planning and activity that many of us missed greatly in 2020 and 2021, many teenagers are still finding their groove with changing work schedules, driver’s education, etc. No matter what your teenager is doing, this is great time to sit down and set a few “simple” life skill goals for the summer. In 2020, I wrote a two-part blog series focused on eight life skills that are critical to build before college:

  1. Getting up “on time” each morning
  2. Washing, drying, and putting away laundry—including sheets
  3. Basic kitchen skills
  4. Using basic tools (e.g., screwdriver, hammer, measuring tape, etc.)
  5. Medication management
  6. Money management
  7. Routine exercise
  8. Using a calendar for scheduling

For teenagers in high school or heading off to college, these are great skills to begin tackling over the summer months. For example, getting up by a certain time is something that can be especially important to work on when consequences are low. For instance, it is hard to let a teen sleep in when they are going to miss an AP exam, but it can be easier to let them practice using an alarm (and possibly oversleeping) when they are going to a movie with a friend or attending a camp. Summer is a great time for teens to be able to experience natural consequences as they practice taking on new risks and responsibilities associated with some of the life skills above.

A challenge when working with, or parenting, teenagers who have a lot of skills to develop is figuring out where to start or how to gain “buy-in.” One of the ways that I like to work with students to set life skill goals is to have the student take a basic life skills inventory, such as the Casey Life Skills Toolkit, Life Skills Inventory, or Adolescent Autonomy Checklist. After a student rates their own skill levels, I ask them to review skills that they cannot already do and identify how important those skills are on a scale of 1 to 10. Then, we go through the list again, and I ask which skills they would like to learn in the next 2 months, 6 months, and year. Once the teenager has identified the importance of a skill and the desire to work on the skill in the near future, it is much easier to set short-term goals. We can work out a skill-building plan for the summer. including how much time to dedicate on a daily or weekly basis. We can also talk about the types of barriers or challenges that might get in the way of the teenager practicing these skills. Additionally, we can set expectations for how often the teen is going to report back to me on the skill so that there is built-in accountability, and the teen knows to expect the check-ins rather than feeling like someone is checking up on them.

Every teenager is different. If you are a parent wanting to help your child make the most of summer, you may find that you can go through the same process that I do to help your child set a few short-term goals. Other teenagers will be able to work on goals themselves—once they have gone through the exercise of setting them. And others, may benefit from having a coach who can build a relationship, support development of executive function and coping skills, and partner with the teen in making the most of summer. If you think your child would benefit from some coaching or an “expert” to work with them, we have a great team of professionals here at NESCA who are ready to help.

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

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

Testing Outside the Box—Vocational Assessments for Nonverbal, Nonreading and/or Hard-to-Test Students

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

My colleague Tabitha Monahan and I have dedicated several recent blog entries to vocational assessment—a vital tool for helping students to learn about career planning and employment and to set career goals for themselves. Previous blogs have included an overview of vocational assessment as well as an in depth look at career interest inventories, career aptitude testing, assessing work motivation and values and real-life experiences, such as informational interviews and job shadows.

However, many of the most “popular” or common tools for vocation assessment are intended for use with students who have functional reading abilities (i.e., basic reading skills at or above 5th grade levels). While there are many accommodations a skilled evaluator might use to help a wide range of students effectively access these tests, there are also students who receive special education services and cannot access these word-based and rating-based assessment tools. So, what tools can be used effectively with these students? How do we assess interests and aptitudes for students who are nonverbal, have reduced reading skills, or may provide unreliable responses to language-based testing methodologies? Below are a few of the methods that we find particularly useful at NESCA.

  • Picture-based Interest Inventories

Instead of using text-based items and rating scales, picture-based career interest inventories help individuals to express their occupational interests by selecting preferred pictures of people at work or people performing work-related tasks. Pictures are presented in sets of two, three, or more, and the student points to or circles the picture that seems most interesting. Based on the number and types of pictures selected, the test identifies work themes that are most appealing to the student. Evaluators can also look for themes among pictures selected, such as a student who selects a high number of pictures that have multiple people, computers, vehicles, outdoor activities, etc. Three popular picture-based assessments are the Picture Interest Career Survey (PICS) published by JIST, the Reading-Free Vocational Interest Inventory-Third Edition (RFVII-3) by Katherine Synatschk and Ralph Becker, and the Career Interest Inventory – Pictorial Version by Shasta Twenty-first Century Career Connections.

  • Video-based Interest Assessment

Video-based career interest assessments are more difficult to find but can be incredibly useful nonverbal tools for vocational evaluation and career planning. A tool that we use at NESCA is Your Employment Selections (YES), which is a CD-ROM-based reading-free job preference and career exploration program that has 120 videos of different jobs which are viewed and compared strategically in pairs. Through initial video-based trial, students indicate preferences, such as a desire to work indoors or outdoors, work alone or with coworkers, interact with the public or coworkers, and do light or heavy lifting work. These preferences are used to determine which subset of job videos the student will view. Traditional testing involves the student watching two videos and pointing to, or clicking on, the one they like more. However, the evaluator can work with a student who has limited verbal abilities to determine some of the features or tasks the student likes most, or dislikes most, within the specific job videos shown. While this video program is no longer available for retail, there are plenty of great career videos that can be used to carry out similar informal assessment on web sites, such as CareerOneStop, Dr. Kit, MassHire Career Information System, and even YouTube.

  • Functional Assessments and Observations

For all students, regardless of communication or self-determination skills, functional assessments and real-world observations play a vital role in career assessment and planning. For students who struggle with reading- and writing-based assessments, it can be important to have access to more hands-on standardized assessments of employment strengths and abilities. One such assessment tool is the Skills Assessment Module (SAM) published by Piney Mountain Press, which includes an auditory directions screen to determine how well a student can follow verbal directions and 12 work-related activities that simulate actual work aptitudes required in training and jobs (e.g., mail sort, ruler reading, assembling small parts, etc.). However, evaluators who do not have access to formal assessments can purchase or create pre-vocational and vocational kits for assessing and learning work skills and can carry out functional assessment of real or simulated work-related tasks in school, community, and work settings.

Observing students performing work-related behaviors and tasks is one of the most powerful evaluation tools that we have for determining strengths and needed areas for growth. If a student is performing vocational activities at school or has a volunteer or paid job during the week, that can be critical for an evaluator to observe. There are also protocols that can be used to formally assess students’ skills during observations, such as the Vocational Skills Assessment Protocol from The Assessment of Functional Living Skills (AFLS), and the Becker Work Adjustment Profile – Second Edition (BWAP-2).

  • Interviews and Parent/Educator Participation in Interest Inventories

While some transition-aged students may have trouble clearly expressing interests using words or inventories, all students have some way of communicating information to people who know them well. Transition and vocational assessments often require creativity and effort to gain informal, subjective, and anecdotal information from educators, parents, and other stakeholders who know the student well. It is useful to interview several people, asking questions about the student’s preferred leisure and school activities, areas of strength, preferences that need to be taken into account when planning for future employment, and specifically asking if there are any jobs that the interviewee is aware of that they think might be a good fit for the student in the future. Another technique is to use career interest inventories which are intended for self-report, such as the O*Net Interest Profiler (IP) or RIASEC, and ask parents or educators to fill out the inventory with what they believe the student’s preferences would be. Having a high level of correlation between parent report, educator report, and the student’s responses on picture-based or video-based testing can be extremely helpful in knowing where to focus career planning energy for the student.

Conducting vocational assessment, or any assessment, for this population of students—when tests are often not explicitly designed for them–is difficult. There are some tremendous tools specifically designed for testing students who are nonverbal or nonreaders, and there are many other assessment tools which can be made, modified, or used in nontraditional ways to gain a more complete picture of the student. The most important aspect of assessment is to choose the tools that are going to best suit the student.

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

 

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

 

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

Transition Assessment: How to Prepare for the Team Meeting

By | NESCA Notes 2022

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

Every child who receives special education services in the United States is entitled to transition services—a coordinated set of activities that will facilitate the student’s preparation for postsecondary education and/or training, competitive employment, independent living, and community participation.[1] In order to provide these services, an IEP team has to first conduct “age-appropriate transition assessment.”[2] I have written about transition assessment in previous blogs, including Transition Assessment: What is it anyway? How is it different from neuropsychological evaluation? and Vocational Assessment and Transition Planning.

A challenge for students and families who are participating in transition assessment for the first time, is knowing how to prepare for team meetings where transition planning and services will be discussed. When you attend a team meeting after an occupational therapy evaluation or academic evaluation, you know that you are going to be discussing what occupational therapy services or academic instruction your child may need as part of their IEP process. However, when a student has participated in transition assessment, the team will be discussing a whole variety of activities (e.g., regular and specialized instruction, related services, community experiences, linkage to adult human service agencies) that the student will need to participate in as the student is preparing for adulthood. Some transition assessment reports contain dozens of recommendations for comprehensive planning. Recommendations may include activities that you are used to discussing with your team, such as instruction and services for a current IEP period, but recommendations may also include other activities that should occur outside of school with support from a parent or community member or actions that may need to occur at a later date. To make the most of your team meeting, it is helpful to do a little bit of homework and preparation after you receive your transition assessment report.

As discussed in previous blogs, if the student is going to be part of the team meeting (which they should be), then the student should have the opportunity to discuss the assessment results with the evaluator or another trusted adult. If your school district conducted the transition assessment, ask when and how they are going to review the results with the student prior to the meeting. If you obtained an independent or private evaluation, ask if you can schedule a student feedback meeting with that evaluator prior to the student’s team meeting. Students need to be aware of the findings and the recommendations that are being made, and they need to be prepared to actively participate in discussion about the results. Whether a student supports or disagrees with recommendations from a transition assessment can have a large impact on changes that are made, or not made, to the IEP.

In addition to student preparation, all team members should be prepared to discuss the assessment recommendations in a planful and organized manner. As a parent, it is helpful to read each recommendation in the report and consider the following questions:

  • Is this a skill or activity that you can reasonably tackle at home this year or in coming years? Do you need any training or consultation to be able to support the student?
  • Is this a skill or activity that would be best supported by a community provider rather than a parent, family member, or school staff?
  • Is this a skill or piece of knowledge that the student must attain this academic year in order to make progress toward their long-term goals? Do they need specialized instruction or related services to learn the skills or gain this knowledge?
  • Is this a skill, piece of knowledge, or service that needs to be focused on at a later time, but documented somewhere so that the team does not forget the recommendation?

It can be helpful to put together an abbreviated list of the goals, objectives, or services that you know your child will need this school year based on the assessment. Alternatively, some families find it useful to create a table or grid to organize transition planning activities. Here is one possible presentation that a family might use to prepare for a team meeting.

 

  Parent Community Providers School/IEP
Education/Training ·   Tour three colleges

·   Attend summer program on college campus

·   Counseling on enrollment process for postsecondary educational programs with Pre-Employment Transition Service (Pre-ETS) provider ·   Update postsecondary goals

·   Instruction of Study Skills, including notetaking

·   Assistive technology consultation

·   Personal Finance course

·   Sexual Health Instruction

Employment ·   Create first student resume

·   Set up informational interview with family friend who works as an accountant

·   Self-advocacy counseling with Pre-ETS provider ·   Help student obtain work permit

·   Support student in applying for paid part-time work

Independent Living ·   Review family health history

·   Teach student to complete medical history paperwork

·   Prepare questions with student ahead of medical appointments

·   Assist student in opening checking account

·   Include student in home maintenance activities

·   Individual counseling

 

 

·   Instruction in tracking sleep hygiene, diet, and exercise activities

·   Assistive technology consultation for health habits

Community Engagement ·   Support student in learning to carry out personal shopping activities ·   Social skills group with insurance-based provider

·   Study for driver’s permit test with Transition to Adulthood Program (TAP) provider

·   Travel orientation with local public transit authority

·   Make referral to Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) service provider

·   Invite VR service provider to team meeting with parent & student consent

 

 

It is also helpful to consider how the information from the transition assessment can flow through the IEP document. Information learned about the student’s postsecondary goals (i.e., the student’s goals for their life after high school) must be documented in the IEP and used to guide IEP development. Portions of the assessment may also be included as key evaluation results and current performance data, may inform how the team considers various federal and state special factors such as the students need for assistive technology or more functional means of communication, may suggest linkages that are needed with state resources and adult human service agencies, and may inform other aspects of the IEP. It is important to think about each section of your child’s IEP and how the assessment results might impact the team’s discussion of that section.

Many schools and families are familiar with transition assessment services at NESCA but do not realize that our transition specialists will consult with students, parents, and teams to plan for transition assessments, review assessments that have been conducted by other clinicians, or support the team meeting process. For more information about transition planning, consultation, and assessment services at NESCA, visit our transition services page and our transition FAQs.

[1] https://sites.ed.gov/idea/regs/b/a/300.43

[2] https://sites.ed.gov/idea/regs/b/d/300.320/b

 

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

 

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

Going with the Flow

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS
Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

It’s September, and a new school year has already begun for most children. We had hoped that Covid would be behind us and the start of this school year would begin with a greater semblance of the old normal. Sigh…it has not. We are still wearing masks, keeping our distance and washing hands amongst other health considerations. Many students are eager to get back to school and in-person learning even though they have to wear masks. Many are accustomed to it, and it is no big deal. However, there are those students who preferred virtual learning and have grown more and more anxious at the thought of going back to in-person learning.

Back at the start of the pandemic, I wrote a blog about going with the flow, and it seemed appropriate to reintroduce the topic again as we start another school year still with so much uncertainty. Will there be outbreaks of the new variants at school? Will there be quarantines happening again? Will someone in my family, class, school get sick and how serious will it be?  We don’t know the answers to these questions, and worrying about them doesn’t help us be in the moment. In Bostonia’s current cover piece, “The kids are stressed, anxious, lonely, struggling, learning, grateful, adapting, alright,” Eric Moskowitz summed it up accurately. What researchers found is that children who were at a disadvantage before the pandemic suffered the most – which is not surprising – yet overall kids are resilient.

In  Angela Currie’s recent blog, “Helping Students Transition Back to School,” she covers the essentials of establishing bed time/morning routines, connecting with teachers, mask wearing routines and many more. I would like to add to her list with the psychological, social and emotional routines and ways of being that will also make the transition smoother.

Education Week offers a few social-emotional checklists that are good to review to help you set your student off on the right foot as they start this school year.

  • First check in with yourself and your own emotions/feelings. If you are feeling anxious, do something to help calm your emotions and gain some centeredness. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.
  • Establish those all so important sleep, eating and exercise routines.
  • Establish a calming routine that the family can do together for a few minutes (i.e., yoga, mindful minute, deep breathing, etc.).
  • Acknowledge the breadth of feelings your child may have and how rapidly they may change. Point this out to him/her when they are calm. Introduce the realization that thoughts are connected to feelings, and they can change their thoughts to help their feelings change. Be understanding, supportive and empathetic yet also encourage your student to use their “past data” to support their progress forward through their feelings.
  • As Angela said, establish routines and predictability at home but also model and help your child know that things don’t always go as planned. Have routines yet be flexible, adaptable and a “go with the flow” mindset will be essential as s/he enters this school year. There are always Plans B, C, and D when Plan A doesn’t work. For instance, you may insist your child wear a mask and another child in his class, or afterschool activity/sport, may not. Preview this possible scenario so your child can adept and accept. Or, a student starts the year in-person, but then hybrid (hopefully not) happens…again. You get the idea about teaching flexibility.
  • Stay positive even in the midst of uncertainty, as this helps create the right biochemical mix that allows you to think more clearly.
  • Be aware of your thoughts and help your child be aware of their thoughts. Thoughts influence our mood, feelings and behavior, and we can exert control over them.
  • Be grateful (end the night with a gratitude moment).
  • Be supportive. Acknowledge the efforts, tasks, feelings, etc. that your kids are taking on and experiencing. It helps them develop self-confidence, self-esteem, self-efficacy, pride and a sense of competence.
  • Be hopeful. Yesterday is history (don’t dwell there), tomorrow is a mystery (don’t worry about it) and today is a gift (even if you don’t feel like it is). Be present and allow whatever feelings come up (positive or negative) to flow through you so you can make way for new feelings.

Wishing everyone a smooth start to the 2021-2022 school year, and may the force be with us as we continue to combat Covid.

Resources

https://www.bu.edu/bostonia/

https://www.edweek.org/leadership/preparing-for-in-person-learning-a-covid-19-checklist-for-parents/2021/08?utm_source=nl&utm_medium=eml&utm_campaign=eu&M=63136722&U=1970318&UUID=f2e19d19dbb5bd4e92068a32311b141c

 

About the Author

NESCA’s Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services Dot Lucci has been active in the fields of education, psychology, research and academia for over 30 years. She is a national consultant and speaker on program design and the inclusion of children and adolescents with special needs, especially those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Lucci was the Principal of the Partners Program/EDCO Collaborative and previously the Program Director and Director of Consultation at MGH/Aspire for 13 years, where she built child, teen and young adult programs and established the 3-Ss (self-awareness, social competency and stress management) as the programming backbone. She also served as director of the Autism Support Center. Ms. Lucci was previously an elementary classroom teacher, special educator, researcher, school psychologist, college professor and director of public schools, a private special education school and an education collaborative.

Ms. Lucci directs NESCA’s consultation services to public and private schools, colleges and universities, businesses and community agencies. She also provides psychoeducational counseling directly to students and parents. Ms. Lucci’s clinical interests include mind-body practices, positive psychology, and the use of technology and biofeedback devices in the instruction of social and emotional learning, especially as they apply to neurodiverse individuals.

 

To book a consultation with Ms. Lucci or one of our many expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician/consultant in the referral line.

 

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.