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.

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Pediatric Neuropsychologist Ferne Pinard, Ph.D., Joins NESCA

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach

I recently had the opportunity to learn more about Pediatric Neuropsychologist Ferne Pinard, Ph.D., who joined NESCA in this August. We are thrilled to have her on board and hope you learn more about her background and specialty areas in today’s blog interview.

How did you choose pediatric neuropsychology as a profession?

I’ve had an interesting journey to get to where I am today professionally. I started working with adolescents in the West Indies as a high school teacher. There I quickly learned that meant not just teaching to the curriculum, but also looking at each student as a whole person – often along with their parents – providing counseling to them and additional academic support as needed to meet their needs. That sparked my initial interest in working to support children.

That spark turned into a deep interest in psychology. In college I decided to major in psychology. I became involved in research examining various aspects of child development and learned about statistical methods.

In graduate school, I worked with my mentor on research projects that involved administration of neuropsychological tests and examining how performance on these tests were related to various outcomes (e.g., academic performance, externalizing behaviors). I enjoyed doing assessment as part of the research project and other training experiences. Although I toyed with the idea of becoming a therapist – as I was trained to provide therapy and conduct assessment – I decided to further my knowledge in the brain/behavior relationship

How have your previous work experiences prepared you to be a neuropsychologist with NESCA?

I spent the last 11 years at Boston Children’s Hospital, first as a post-doctorate fellow and later as an attending neuropsychologist.

As a fellow at Boston Children’s, I had the opportunity to work in various specialty clinics, gaining exposure to patients with a range of medical and genetic conditions, including neurofibromatosis, cancer, etc.

Later, I went on to gain specialty experience in the Pediatric Neuro-immunology and Learning Disabilities programs. As an attending neuropsychologist, I worked with, trained, and supervised pre-doctorate psychology interns and post-doctoral fellows.

As part of the neuroimmunology program, you assisted with research on the impact of post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC) – also known as Long Haul Covid – on children and their education. Tell us about that.

Yes, I had the opportunity to provide consultation to a previous colleague examining the cognitive impact of Long Covid. I also conducted a few assessments of adolescent struggling with persistent symptoms after being diagnosed with Covid. Difficulties with attention, mood, executive functioning (e.g., working memory and slow processing speed), and fatigue are commonly reported among individuals with Long Covid. These students also experienced disruption in school due to their illness then ongoing symptoms and understandably find it difficult to keep up and meet academic expectations. So many young people were sadder and more anxious throughout Covid…layer Long Haul Covid on top of that, and it’s a huge problem.

How do you see your previous work experiences translating to the families we work with at NESCA?

I bring a lot of knowledge and evaluation experience to NESCA, but most importantly, I bring expertise and compassion in working with families – creating and maintaining relationships with them. The greatest thing I can do for a family is to listen to their concerns, let them feel heard, and allow them to express their feelings about what they and their child are going through. This helps the parents and the child’s school gain a better understanding of the child.

How do you tailor your evaluations for different children, say an anxious child?

Patience and validation are key. I think it is also important to include the child and their caregiver in the discussion. Perhaps I add additional structure to the evaluation (e.g., use of a checklist, breaks at predetermined times), integrate strategies to reduce anxiety (e.g., deep breathing, use of fidgets), or modify the evaluation to take place over three sessions instead of two. Sometimes, the child is allowed to have the parent in the room with them throughout the evaluation. There are different approaches that can be taken based on each individual, and it’s my role to work with the child and caregiver to identify what would work best for the child.

You’ve had a lot of experience evaluating medically complex children and children who are dealing with medical conditions that many think only affect adults. Tell us about that.

It’s true. I’ve worked closely with children who have gone through cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. These are always very touching experiences. These children have been through so much medically that sometimes the medical experiences lead to mental health challenges. They may have gotten through the cancer itself, but there can be residual and sometimes long-term fears of a reoccurrence. Often, there is an intensely emotional component to these assessments because of what the children and their families have endured. I’ve heard the fear in the voices of both the children and their parents’ voices. It’s my job to listen and provide them with a safe space.

Some of the children seen may not be able to maintain engagement for a typical evaluation due to fatigue related to their medical condition and treatment, for example. In these cases, the evaluation will need to be carefully tailored to address the referral question (s). And again, the approach to the evaluation would have to be modified to meet the child where they are.

I’ve also worked with children who have been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and other autoimmune conditions. With these children, I always factor in the amount of stress they are experiencing in life and school as well as the fears they have about how MS may impact them later in life. The stress they feel, whether at school or based on their diagnosis, can have a negative impact on their symptoms. There’s a cascading effect from the brain and all of its thoughts and worries, and that is what we help them deal with. I am always eager to advocate for these children who bear such a heavy load.

What is the most rewarding part of your job as a neuropsychologist?

I feel that I have added value to a child’s life, when I can provide them and their families with a meaningful and comprehensive understanding of their profile—one that includes strengths, not just a focus on weaknesses. I think this is essential as it enables the family and child to advocate for their needs.

Why did you want to be part of NESCA’s team?

Initially, I was really drawn to the integrative approach to care for the children who are with NESCA. Coordination of care, whenever possible, and consultation among professionals involved in a child’s care leads to better outcomes. I was also excited to work with the professionals who specialize in different areas than I am accustomed to working with, such as postsecondary transition. The team here is very willing to collaborate so we can all teach and learn from each other. While I know I will gain great knowledge from the group, it really best serves the families with whom we work.

 

About Pediatric Neuropsychologist Ferne Pinard, Ph.D.

Dr. Pinard provides comprehensive evaluation services for children, adolescents, and young adults with learning disabilities, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), and psychiatric disorders as well as complex medical histories and neurological conditions. She has expertise in assessing children and adolescents with childhood cancer as well as neuro-immunological disorders, including opsoclonus-myoclonus-ataxia syndrome (“dancing eyes syndrome”), central nervous system vasculitis, Hashimoto’s encephalopathy, lupus, auto-immune encephalitis, multiple sclerosis (MS), acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), and acute transverse myelitis (ATM), and optic neuritis.

To book a neuropsychological evaluation with Dr. Pinard or another expert neuropsychologist at NESCA, complete NESCA’s online intake form

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

When is it Actually Bullying?

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By Yvonne M. Asher, Ph.D. 
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Autumn holds excitement for many students – heading back to school to see old friends, meet new teachers and learn new skills. However, for some, a new school year holds more apprehension than enthusiasm. Students worry that their teacher will be mean, their math homework will be hard or that their recess time cut short by bad weather. One fear that is described more and more often by parents and children is the fear of bullying.

What is bullying?

There is no single definition of bullying, but most researchers describe the following necessary and sufficient characteristics:

  • unwanted, intentionally aggressive behavior that is aimed at harming another person
  • carried out repeatedly
  • in a relationship where there is a power differential

The quintessential example of this is the hulking, five-foot-five elementary schooler who pushes, shoves and steals the lunch money of a short, scrawny younger child every day. Luckily, this kind of aggression is rare; however, the rarity of “classic” bullying requires us to be somewhat more mindful of what childhood behaviors are (and, are not) considered bullying.

First and foremost, behavior must be unwanted and intended to harm. This means that the rambunctious children rough-housing on the playground is generally not a bullying situation. Playful acts, or acts with the intent of friendly, physical play, are not bullying. Certainly, there are times when children may misunderstand the intent of their peers or friends and perceive an action as hurtful. In that case, a frank discussion of intended message versus experienced consequence is required, but there is no immediate concern for bullying. If a child did not intend to hurt their peer, bullying is not the issue.

When researchers use the term “aggressive behavior,” it should be clarified that aggression is not always physical. Aggression comes in three forms: physical, verbal and relational. Physical aggression is exactly what you are imagining – punching, kicking, hitting and similar behaviors. This kind of aggression occurs in very young children (think: toddlers), most often as a means of communication due to their limited verbal skills. By early childhood, kids rarely use physical aggression to communicate, as most children are able to talk and verbalize their wants, needs and feelings.

The second type of aggression is verbal aggression. This can involve things like yelling, screaming, swearing, threatening and name-calling. This kind of aggression occurs throughout childhood and adolescence, with the frequency decreasing as children mature.

The last form of aggression is the most complex. It is called relational aggression. Researcher Nicki Crick defined relational aggression as any act that uses the social relationships, social standing or social experiences of an individual to harm them. The stereotypical examples of relational aggression come from films like Mean Girls. Gossip, social exclusion, humiliation, embarrassment, rumor spreading and intentional ignoring are all examples of behaviors that fall into the category of relational aggression. This frequency of relational aggression generally increases as children develop, as relational aggression requires more sophisticated verbal and social skills to carry out. In addition, relational aggression is rarely noticed by adults and often does not carry the same disciplinary consequences as physical or verbal aggression. Children learn quickly that refusing to play with a peer or spreading a nasty rumor is unlikely to get them “in trouble,” making this type of aggression far more effective for older children and adolescents.

It is important to note that both boys and girls engage in aggressive behavior. Girls tend to start using relational aggression younger, and use it consistently throughout their lives. Boys tend to start out using physical aggression, and shift to relational aggression as they mature. However, both boys and girls engage in aggressive behavior at all developmental stages.

Back to our definition of bullying – the next element is “happens repeatedly.” Bullying is not a one-time occurrence. The behavior, or harm caused by the behavior, must happen over and over. Two children who are angry and get into a fight in the cafeteria may well be intending to harm one another. However, if the fight is a one-time occurrence, there is no immediate concern for bullying. One challenging aspect of this part of the definition is how we handle online or cyberbullying (i.e., bullying that happens through electronic media such as text or social media). Because posts to social media, texts and images online can be viewed multiple times by multiple people, a single act carried out online may meet the definition of bullying. For example, posting a message that conveys a nasty rumor about a peer to one classmate’s profile can have untold impact on the victim’s social relationships depending on how many times that post is forwarded, tagged, “liked,” discussed or otherwise shared across the social network.

The last part of the definition of bullying is that it occurs “in a relationship where there is a power differential.” Power differentials exist in many relationships – parent/child, teacher/student, employer/employee, landlord/renter, therapist/patient and so on. In children, power differentials may exist when a child is:

  • older
  • physically larger
  • more popular
  • more socially skilled

While this is not an exhaustive list, these are the most common situations where we find power differentials in children. Without a power differential present in the relationship, bullying is not an immediate concern. It is not uncommon for children to have challenges in their friendships, such as teasing, unwanted horseplay, sitting with other friends at lunch and choosing to work with a different partner on a project. However, these challenges typically do not meet the “power differential” criterion of bullying. They are better defined as normal, healthy obstacles in relationships that, when worked through productively, can help children develop more sophisticated social problem-solving skills.

What to do when it is bullying

We’ve discussed many examples of what is not bullying, so what should happen when behaviors are best characterized as bullying? First and foremost, assess your child’s safety. If physical aggression is part of the bullying, consider immediate action, such as talking to your child’s teacher or school administrator. Note that bullying is now a legal matter in many states, including Massachusetts. When talking to your child, remember that bullying comes with plenty of shame and anxiety, so make every effort to ask simple, clear, direct questions with as calm a tone as possible.

If your child’s safety is not a primary concern, ask your child if they want your help to solve the problem. If so, consider helping your child map out the social dynamics of what is happening. Who is saying what? To whom? Is it just you who is the victim, or are the bullies doing the same thing to other children? Does the teacher notice? If so, do the bullies get in trouble? Depending on the answers, help your child work toward a strategy to solve the problem. Younger children may require more adult intervention, such as a parent reaching out to the teacher. Older children and adolescents may be able to try out problem-solving strategies independently, with your support at home.

If your child does not want your help, consider letting them try to solve the problem on their own. Remind them that you love and trust them, and have confidence in their ability to figure out tough situations. Encourage your child to participate in other social activities where they experience more positive interactions, such as martial arts, Girl or Boy Scouts, team sports or clubs outside of school. Having strong, positive friendships is one of the most important resiliency factors when a child is the victim of bullying.

It may help to know that upwards of 90% of adults report having been the victim of bullying at least once in their lifetime. Interestingly, over 70% also report having bullied someone else.

 

About Pediatric Neuropsychologist Dr. Yvonne Asher:

Dr. Yvonne M. Asher enjoys working with a wide range of children and teens, including those with autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays, learning disabilities, attention difficulties and executive functioning challenges. She often works with children whose complex profiles are not easily captured by a single label or diagnosis. She particularly enjoys working with young children and helping parents through their “first touch” with mental health care or developmental concerns.

Dr. Asher’s approach to assessment is gentle and supportive, and recognizes the importance of building rapport and trust. When working with young children, Dr. Asher incorporates play and “games” that allow children to complete standardized assessments in a fun and engaging environment.

Dr. Asher has extensive experience working in public, charter and religious schools, both as a classroom teacher and psychologist. She holds a master’s degree in education and continues to love working with educators. As a psychologist working in public schools, she gained invaluable experience with the IEP process from start to finish. She incorporates both her educational and psychological training when formulating recommendations to school teams.

Dr. Asher attended Swarthmore College and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She completed her doctoral degree at Suffolk University, where her dissertation looked at the impact of starting middle school on children’s social and emotional wellbeing. After graduating, she completed an intensive fellowship at the MGH Lurie Center for Autism, where she worked with a wide range of children, adolescents and young adults with autism and related disorders.

 

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.

 

To book an appointment with Dr. Yvonne Asher, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Got Complicated? NESCA’s Newest Pediatric Neuropsychologist Wants to Test Your Child. Find Out Why!

By | NESCA Notes 2019

Pediatric Neuropsychologist Yvonne Asher, Ph.D., joins NESCA on June 3, servicing clients in the Londonderry, New Hampshire and Newton, Massachusetts offices, and is scheduling new clients now. We sat down with Yvonne to learn more about her, what her passions in neuropsychology are and why she joined NESCA.

 

By Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach

NESCA has 15 neuropsychologists who test a wide range of individuals. Tell us about your past professional experience and the types of clients you most enjoy serving.

I love working with children with complex profiles where challenges and diagnoses aren’t easily made or identified. This is the group of kids I worked with most often when I was with Mass General Hospital’s Lurie Center for Autism. It’s also incredibly rewarding to work with kids who aren’t able to communicate in a traditional manner—they may be too young, too impaired or potentially non-verbal. Many people think these individuals are too difficult to work with in testing. Using data to better understand their strengths and weaknesses is my passion, and I love to help them tell their stories through the assessment process.

It sounds like you enjoy working with complex kids. Can kids who have limited verbal skills and/or behavior challenges be tested?

Yes! Sometimes these children can be labeled in a punitive or negative way, such as being “uncooperative” or “untestable.” I don’t believe that anyone benefits from these kind of labels. It’s my job as the psychologist to be creative so that we can get the necessary data to understand them. I try to ease parents’ minds by reassuring them that I’ve seen many of these children before. And, if I haven’t frequently seen a particular complex profile, I’m lucky to have wonderful colleagues and resources to collaborate with on such cases.

For example, I worked with one very sweet, four-year-old child who had severe communication issues.  The parents and his pediatrician questioned whether he had autism. Since he had incredibly limited verbal skills, we altered all of the assessment tasks, using some non-verbal assessments and creatively modifying others to complete the testing. We noted that everything in the assessments—aside from his language—was on track developmentally. Prior to testing, everyone was pointing toward autism as the diagnosis, but he actually had a severe expressive/receptive language delay. His parents had figured out some tricks to communicate with him, but the world was a very scary place to him. He didn’t understand what was going on and primarily used gestures and facial expressions to communicate. That, unfortunately, only got him so far. As you can imagine, these challenges and frustrations led to a very stressful environment for the entire family. We recommended intensive speech therapy to help develop his communication skills, providing the family with a clear path forward.

You were a teacher before becoming a neuropsychologist. How do you feel your past experience as an educator enhances your work as a pediatric neuropsychologist?

I have a lot of experience working in public and charter schools. I was also a preschool teacher before graduate school, where I found the children to be endlessly funny, creative and just awesome! This experience is, in part, what fuels my desire to work with younger children who are experiencing challenges.

Having that educational experience is so valuable for the families at NESCA. I’ve been in special education and can help parents understand the process and landscape every step of the way—from an initial concern and assessment to getting an IEP and to thinking about high school placement and transition to adulthood.

The school experience also helps me to relate to the teachers, since I’ve been one and know how to partner with them to help students. We always help our families and push for what’s needed, but it’s helpful to also understand the constraints of the school setting. Knowing the constraints won’t change our recommendations, but it’s helpful in providing recommendations that will be implemented.

Why did you opt to move from the school setting to neuropsychology?

While I loved working in the school setting, I found that I didn’t get the chance to work as closely with families as I wanted. While families were there for school meetings, I’m looking to work with and serve the whole family system. I enjoy taking a close look at why children are having particular challenges, whether there’s a diagnosis that can be identified, and determining what school or path best fits a child and their family. I like taking the time to talk with parents and educators, giving each of them the chance to talk about the child, and to ask questions and make a plan for the child and their family. With really young kids, this is often just a first step, and I am excited to work with families long-term and help them through future hurdles.

What is so special about working with young children and their families?

Being a family’s first introduction to mental health is so meaningful. I tend to work with families who may be noticing that some milestones or behaviors are a bit off, or when they may first be considering a neuropsychological evaluation or other assessments. I like to find those parents who are asking, “What do you think it could be?” I truly enjoy giving these parents insight into their child, and providing exposure to and help along their path in mental healthcare.

Why did you opt to work in a group practice, like NESCA?

During my postdoctoral work, I really came to value the consultation with and supervision from other psychologists. I thought about going back into the school setting, but school psychologists are typically the only ones in that role at their school, or even their district. I appreciate the ability to put heads and knowledge together as colleagues. Doing so, on behalf of our clients, can help us to frame a case or intervention in a different way. Being able to bounce ideas or recommendations off of each other and using the combined experiences, knowledge and referral resources of other neuropsychologists brings so much to clients, families and individuals with challenges. NESCA, in particular, offers a very supportive environment in which to work. That can be felt by co-workers as well as the families we serve.

 

About Pediatric Neuropsychologist Dr. Yvonne Asher:

Dr. Yvonne M. Asher enjoys working with a wide range of children and teens, including those with autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays, learning disabilities, attention difficulties and executive functioning challenges. She often works with children whose complex profiles are not easily captured by a single label or diagnosis. She particularly enjoys working with young children and helping parents through their “first touch” with mental health care or developmental concerns.

Dr. Asher’s approach to assessment is gentle and supportive, and recognizes the importance of building rapport and trust. When working with young children, Dr. Asher incorporates play and “games” that allow children to complete standardized assessments in a fun and engaging environment.

Dr. Asher has extensive experience working in public, charter and religious schools, both as a classroom teacher and psychologist. She holds a master’s degree in education and continues to love working with educators. As a psychologist working in public schools, she gained invaluable experience with the IEP process from start to finish. She incorporates both her educational and psychological training when formulating recommendations to school teams.

Dr. Asher attended Swarthmore College and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She completed her doctoral degree at Suffolk University, where her dissertation looked at the impact of starting middle school on children’s social and emotional wellbeing. After graduating, she completed an intensive fellowship at the MGH Lurie Center for Autism, where she worked with a wide range of children, adolescents and young adults with autism and related disorders.

 

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.

 

To book an appointment with Dr. Yvonne Asher, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.