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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Going South: NESCA Announces New Hingham, MA Location

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach, NESCA

NESCA is excited to announce that it is opening a Hingham location to serve clients on the South Shore of Massachusetts. NESCA is currently booking appointments now for Neuropsychological and Psychological Evaluation Services commencing on November 1, 2023. Learn more about what is being offered by our Hingham-based staff from my interview with Hingham Director; Pediatric Neuropsychologist Moira Creedon, Ph.D.

What prompted NESCA’s expansion to the South Shore or Massachusetts, and how can clients benefit from our Hingham location’s services?
NESCA is expanding our in-person services to Hingham on the South Shore to widen the breadth of neuropsychological and educational evaluation and consulting services offered within the state. We know that families have options as they partner with neuropsychologists, and we want to be in close proximity to communities we hope to serve. This is an exciting opportunity to support students in elementary, middle, and high school as well as young adults, as they navigate the complexities of their daily lives. It is our priority to continue providing detailed, client-centered, thorough evaluations that highlight a client’s areas of strength and vulnerability. I am also excited to strengthen relationships with local care providers and schools, and to build new relationships as a new clinician within the South Shore community.

What services do you offer?
At this time, NESCA’s South Shore-based practice will offer Neuropsychological Evaluations and Projective Assessments. The goal of these services is to build a complete picture of a client’s functioning, including their intellectual, academic, and social-emotional profile. Team members are also available to participate in team meetings at school (IEP meetings), conduct school observations, and offer consultation to parents and team members. Sometimes, a child has already participated in evaluations in other settings (schools, hospitals), and a family needs help to review these documents and make meaning of the findings.

What types of clients will NESCA serve in its South Shore location?
NESCA’s South Shore-based practice is similar to our other locations and will serve children, teens, and young adults with a range of presenting issues. The focus is in working with students in elementary, middle, and high school as well as young adults. I can see clients with diagnostic questions, including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Learning Disorders (e.g., dyslexia, dysgraphia), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, and complex psychiatric diagnoses.

A specialty we have at NESCA – including in Hingham – is working with clients who have multiple diagnoses or who don’t fit neatly into a singular diagnostic box. I also see clients who are high functioning and curious about their learning style, how to improve their study skills, and how to plan for their academic future based on their unique profile.

Where are you on the South Shore? Are services in-person or remote?
We are practicing in person in an office at 99 Derby Street, Suite 200, in Hingham, MA. Hingham is uniquely positioned to serve the South Shore/Southcoast, and the Cape and Islands. For those traveling for appointments, most clients schedule testing in two longer (2.5 hour) blocks of time so the commute is reduced for families. I am also available to participate in IEP team meetings and conduct student observations in person on the South Shore, which is an exciting way to collaborate and build strong relationships with families, schools, and organizations.

What is different about what NESCA offers on the South Shore compared to other organizations or services available locally?
NESCA is highly respected in the community for providing detailed, comprehensive evaluations of students that speak to their strengths as well as their needs. Compared to some practices, your child or teen will be assessed directly by a neuropsychologist rather than a technician. You can depend on your neuropsychologist to bring their own expertise as well as the “village” of NESCA, as I am always collaborating with NESCA’s team of innovative neuropsychologists, transition specialists, educational consultants, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, and therapists. We work routinely with special education attorneys, advocates, therapists, and school personnel in collaborative relationships to support children and teens. At NESCA, we live our core values everyday: being creative problem solvers, being collaborative and building lasting relationships, and caring deeply for students, their families, and the community.

Does insurance cover your services in Hingham?
Several NESCA providers take both Blue Cross Blue Shield and private pay for services. I am paneled with BCBS. Some families are able to obtain some coverage or reimbursement through other insurance agencies, and we can provide those families with brief billing information to submit to their insurance company. We can never guarantee insurance reimbursement, so it is important that families check with their insurance plan regarding covered services.

What if I am unsure if I should refer my child or client for an evaluation?
Give us a call! Our administrative team is happy to support you in navigating this process. We are also planning some community events to provide information to our community about a variety of topics, including who we are and how to recognize signs that a child or teen may need additional support. There is also a ton of information on our website.

How do people get more information about NESCA’s South Shore services?
You can fill out our online intake form, call 617-658-9800 to speak with an intake coordinator, or reach Hingham-based Pediatric Neuropsychologist Dr. Moira Creedon directly at mcreedon@nesca-newton.com.

 

About the Author

Hingham Director; Pediatric Neuropsychologist Dr. Moira Creedon has expertise in evaluating children and teens with a variety of presenting issues. She is interested in uncovering an individual’s unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses to best formulate a plan for intervention and success. With experiences providing therapy and assessments, Dr. Creedon bridges the gap between testing data and therapeutic services to develop a clear roadmap for change and deeper of understanding of individual needs.

 

If you are interested in booking an evaluation with Dr. Creedon or another NESCA neuropsychologist, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham (coming soon), 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.

Explaining Neuropsychological Testing to Your Child

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Neuropsychological testing can be confusing for adults to understand and explain, let alone children. Some of the most common questions that parents ask our neuropsychologists prior to their in-person appointments include:

  • “How do I explain the evaluation to my child?”
  • “How can I best prepare my child for what to expect when they are in the office?”

The answers vary depending on several factors. To name a few, your child’s age, level of awareness of areas they are struggling, and your child’s language abilities guide decision-making about the best way to discuss their upcoming evaluation experience. It is important to talk with your neuropsychologist to plan the most appropriate approach for your child. However, below is some standard guidance.

When describing the evaluation itself, I advise parents to use language that reduces pressure on the situation. In other words, it is best to frame the evaluation as a low stakes experience. For example, using words like “testing” or “evaluation” can create unnecessary worry. I often recommend describing the evaluation experience as a variety of “activities,” some of which may include looking at pictures, playing with toys, drawing, and answering questions. Other activities may seem similar to what your child is asked to do in school, such as reading stories, completing math problems, and writing.

Oftentimes, when children hear they are going to the “doctor” they may worry about medical exams. For this reason, it can be helpful to reassure your child that they are not going to be getting poked and prodded; and definitely will not be getting any shots!

To explain the reasons for doing the evaluation, some key phrases to use with your child include:

  • We want to understand how you learn, because everyone learns differently. It’s great that everyone learns differently because it keeps life interesting!
  • Everyone has things they are really good at and other things that are more challenging for them. This will help us understand what comes easy to you and what might be a little trickier, so that we can help you with things like schoolwork, completing activities around the house, and play.
  • We can also share this information with your teacher so they can better understand your learning style and support you at school.
  • Some activities might seem easy and others might be hard, but your job is just to try your best!

For more helpful tips, please see Dr. Gibbons’ previous blog posts, “How Do I Prepare My Child for a Neuropsychological Evaluation?” and “Preparing our Kids to Reenter the Community.”

 

About Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.

Dr. Halladay conducts comprehensive evaluations of toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children with a wide range of developmental, behavioral, and emotional concerns. She particularly enjoys working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and complex medical conditions. She has experience working in schools, as well as outpatient and inpatient hospital settings. She is passionate about optimizing outcomes for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities by providing evidence-based, family-oriented care.

 

If you are interested in booking an appointment for an evaluation with a Dr. Halladay or another NESCA neuropsychologist/clinician, please fill out and submit 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, Londonderry, New Hampshire, and Burlington, Vermont, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

What Is Projective Testing and Why Might My Child Need It?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Moira Creedon, Ph.D. 
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

There can be a great deal of confusion about what kind of testing you want for your child. No wonder when we have so many options – neuropsychological testing, psychoeducational testing, speech and language testing, occupational therapy testing, personality testing, and psychological testing. The part that can be incredibly challenging is that these labels often involve overlapping test measures, meaning that the assessor may choose the same specific tasks that might fall into most or all of these categories. Take cognitive assessment using IQ tests which can be used by a psychologist conducting psychological, neuropsychological, or psychoeducational testing. Another layer of confusion is added for parents when one considers that many professionals in schools or medical practices are also confused and interchangeably use these labels. In an effort to demystify the process, I want to tackle a common question: what is projective testing and why might my child need it?

Projective testing provides psychologists with very specific and unique insight about a person’s thinking habits and processing. Unlike cognitive or academic tests, projective tests do not have a “right answer.” So, projective testing is not going to ask a child to solve a math problem or define a word. It is not going to test how quickly they can name vegetables or see how skilled they are at shifting between sets of the rules. The overall goal of projective testing is to figure out how a child, teen, or adult responds to an ambiguous situation. This means, we ask people to project their brain habits (thinking style, way of interpreting the world, way of processing emotions, way of viewing self and others) onto a situation when it is not clear that there is a “right” or “wrong” answer. A person must use their problem-solving and emotion regulation skills in action. Examples of projective tests include the Rorschach inkblot test, story-telling tasks (e.g., the Thematic Apperception Test or the Roberts Apperception Test), drawings, and incomplete sentences. Projective tests take additional time to administer and usually longer to score, so they are scheduled as separate visits at NESCA.

Why might you use a projective test? There are some situations where projective testing is incredibly useful, such as when a diagnosis of a thought disorder (e.g., psychosis) is in question. It is also very useful for questions of trauma, attachment, anxiety, or mood disorder. Projective testing is also incredibly useful when psychiatric symptoms are confusing. Take the example of someone who is a perfectionistic or very guarded about their symptoms. A person with this profile is very likely to read a question that says, “I am very anxious,” and answer no. However, projective testing can see if there are themes of anxiety by considering how a person responds to an ambiguous situation. Take another example of someone who leans in the other direction and reports many symptoms that overlap with many diagnoses. In this case, many symptoms are endorsed as “yes.” Projective testing can help to provide clarity to narrow down the list, especially without an obvious answer. In both of these cases, it is helpful to access a person’s unconscious brain habits as a key to understanding a person’s functioning.

When would you not use projective testing? I do not use projective testing when my referral question does not need it. For example, a question of a learning disability or ADHD does not require projective testing. Using projective measures would be inappropriate, time consuming, and potentially stressful for a person when it is not needed. Similarly, projective testing is not often used in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder as there is little research about how neurodivergent populations respond to the ambiguous stimuli. I also do not use projective testing if neuropsychological testing suggests that a person has an intellectual disability or struggles in their visual processing skills (e.g., NVLD) since many of the projective measures (e.g., Rorschach, story-telling, drawings) use a visual stimulus card. In those cases, it would be inappropriate to assume that a response reflects a person’s emotional processing when it would really be about their visual processing.

Projective testing is incredibly informative and, like other neuropsychological tools, should only be utilized by professionals who are trained to administer and interpret these tests. Since it is not as simple as a correct single answer on an answer key, it is critical that these procedures are administered by psychologists with the advanced training to use and interpret the information. And, like all of our measures, the results gathered using projective measures are data points that are combined with other data points. The performance on one test or demand does not dictate the entire conclusion. A strong and comprehensive assessment will use projective test data as part of a larger understanding of your child. Information gathered in projective testing can highlight important strengths for your child and contribute helpful information to drive treatment.

NESCA has several clinicians who are highly trained and skilled at administering projective testing. If you have questions about projective testing and whether your child needs it, let us know by filling out our online Intake Form.

 

About the Author

Dr. Creedon has expertise in evaluating children and teens with a variety of presenting issues. She is interested in uncovering an individual’s unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses to best formulate a plan for intervention and success. With experiences providing therapy and assessments, Dr. Creedon bridges the gap between testing data and therapeutic services to develop a clear roadmap for change and deeper of understanding of individual needs.

 

If you are interested in booking an evaluation with Dr. Creedon or another NESCA neuropsychologist, please fill out and submit 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.

Meet Pediatric Neuropsychologist Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Jane  Hauser

Director of Marketing & Outreach, NESCA

I recently had the opportunity to learn more about Pediatric Neuropsychologist Lauren Halladay, Ph.D., who joins NESCA in September. Learn more about her background and specialties in today’s blog interview.

How did you choose pediatric neuropsychology as a profession?

My interest was originally piqued when I was younger, as early as my high school years. I volunteered at a therapeutic riding program for kids with disabilities. That’s what initially sparked my desire to work with kids, and those with disabilities, in particular. My mother was a third grade teacher, which also imparted the desire to work with kids and help them overcome their challenges at school.

I went on to major in psychology and had a strong interest in pediatrics for the reasons I mentioned previously. Based on some of the work I did in graduate school, I learned that I really enjoyed the assessment piece, especially with the younger kids, helping them in life by identifying the right diagnosis (when applicable) and helping to put the right interventions in place for them to build skills that will equip them for the future.

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

I’ve had a wide breadth of work experiences where I was supervised by neuropsychologists, whether it be in satellite health systems, the hospital setting, etc. While in those clinics, I had the opportunity to work with a variety of populations and presentations, including those who have experienced trauma, or have developmental or learning disabilities.

Having worked in several states throughout the country, including Oregon, Ohio, New York and Massachusetts, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with a variety of families who present with unique backgrounds, experiences, and cultural values, which I always consider when making diagnostic decisions and developing recommendations.

What areas of neuropsychology have you most enjoyed to date? What would you consider your specialty area?

There are several areas that I am very passionate about. I really enjoy working with young kids, those under the ages of five or six. I also have a great interest in working with families who have concerns about their child potentially having an autism spectrum disorder or an intellectual or developmental disability. In addition, I find it incredibly rewarding to work with and help families whose children are medically complex or have moderate to severe cognitive impairments.

Regardless of how the child or student presents or what challenges they may have, I always individualize my approach so that I can meet the needs of each child. This is especially true in cases where families have had a hard time getting assessments done in the school setting or even privately in the past.

What is the most rewarding experience in neuropsychology that you’ve had to date?

I find it rewarding to hear from families when the strategies I’ve recommended are or are not working for them. For example, hearing that parents achieve success in implementing behavior management strategies, accessing support in the community, and/or learning about their child’s diagnosis and how to create an environment that suits their needs is a wonderful feeling. On the other hand, when the initial recommendations are not as helpful as intended, I enjoy approaching the problem-solving process together and discussing alternate approaches.

I also find it incredibly rewarding to offer parents and caregivers a deeper perspective on a child who has a moderate to severe cognitive impairment or is medically complex. Being able to give them a sense of where their child is developmentally in relation to their peers can be enlightening. Additionally, having more information about a child’s developmental level can help families and school staff establish appropriate, and individualized, expectations that set the child up for success. I strive to make a difference in these cases by developing strong partnerships with families, as well as serving as a trusted resource and advocate as they navigate how to best access supports in the community and in school.

What benefits, having been trained in a school psychology department, do you bring to families at NESCA?

My school psychology background allows me to bring a deep awareness and perspective on how the IEP process works. My experience and knowledge of special education rights allows me to be a true partner to families who are trying to navigate and understand the IEP process. I am able to share that knowledge and better advocate for my clients in Team meetings.

Why did you decide to join the team at NESCA?

I knew that in my next career move, I wanted to be part of a collaborative community that puts an emphasis on work/life balance—I feel that both allow clinicians to produce the highest quality work. At NESCA, I will also have the opportunity to use my school psychology skills and be an active participant in the IEP process on behalf of our clients.

NESCA is known for creating and building long-lasting relationships with the families they work with. I look forward to working with families and their schools/districts for the long-term, helping students to build skills along the way that will help them throughout their lives.

Finally, not being a native Bostonian, I am excited to learn more about and partner with the different school systems on behalf of the families and students we work with at NESCA.

 

About Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.

Dr. Halladay conducts comprehensive evaluations of toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children with a wide range of developmental, behavioral, and emotional concerns. She particularly enjoys working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and complex medical conditions. She has experience working in schools, as well as outpatient and inpatient hospital settings. She is passionate about optimizing outcomes for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities by providing evidence-based, family-oriented care.

 

If you are interested in booking an appointment for an evaluation with a NESCA neuropsychologist/clinician, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

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

What Do We Mean by Individualized Neuropsychological Evaluations?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Erin Gibbons, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Previous blogs in our recent series addressing frequently asked questions during the intake process, have covered the important differences between school-based testing and an independent neuropsychological evaluation. A neuropsychological evaluation should always be comprehensive, meaning that it covers various aspects of the student’s learning profile: cognition, language, memory, attention, and social-emotional functioning. However, the evaluation should also be individualized. Essentially, a good evaluation should aim to answer the questions that are specific to that student, not just a cookie-cutter list of tests.

Prior to starting testing, the clinician reviews any previous records and holds an intake appointment with the student’s parents or caregivers. Through this process, the clinician gathers information about the student’s early developmental history, medical background, and current challenges. If the student is already receiving services – either privately or through the school district – that is also important information. All of this helps to shape the “Referral Questions” for the evaluation. In some cases, the questions are very specific; for example, “Does my child have dyslexia?” or “Does my child have ADHD?” In other cases, the question is less defined, such as when we are asked “What is going on with my child and how do I help them?”

We often get asked by parents or caregivers if their child can have all of the tests available performed during their child’s neuropsychological evaluation. As clinicians, we understand that temptation. An evaluation is both an investment of time and money for the parents or caregivers. But neuropsychological evaluations are a lot of work for children, so we want to be sure to tailor the tests to what is actually going to yield beneficial findings for them or will help answer the referral question.

Some families request the list of tests that will be included in the evaluation. Unfortunately, this is not always possible until after testing is underway. Following the intake process, the clinician starts to develop the “battery” – the specific tests that will be administered to the student. Most clinicians have a skeleton battery of tests that they include for every client – an intelligence test, some academic tests (reading, writing, and math), and tasks that assess skills, such as language, memory, and attention – as described above. The clinician then fills in the testing battery based on the specific questions for that student. For example:

  • An evaluation designed to test for dyslexia should include several tests of reading as well as tests that look at very specific skills related to reading (e.g., phonological processing). When there are no concerns about reading, this aspect of the evaluation would be briefer.
  • An evaluation designed to assess for autism spectrum disorder should include a variety of tasks that examine social communication and reciprocal social skills. These types of tasks would likely not be included for a student who has never had any challenges in the social domain.

If a school district or another provider is asking for the list of tests that will comprise the neuropsychological evaluation, please talk to your clinician about this during the intake process. The final list might not be available until testing is complete, but this is definitely something that your clinician can provide as soon as possible.

 

About the Author

Erin Gibbons, Ph.D. is a pediatric neuropsychologist with expertise in neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological assessment of infants,

children, and adolescents presenting with developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorders. She has a particular interest in assessing students with complex medical histories and/or neurological impairments, including those who are cognitively delayed, nonverbal, or physically disabled. Dr. Gibbons joined NESCA in 2011 after completing a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in the Developmental Medicine Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. She particularly enjoys working with young children, especially those who are transitioning from Early Intervention into preschool. Having been trained in administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), Dr. Gibbons has experience diagnosing autism spectrum disorders in children aged 12 months and above.

 

If you are interested in booking an evaluation with a NESCA neuropsychologist/clinician, please fill out and submit 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.

Are We Working With a Full Deck of Cards? Why Neuropsychologists Want Results from Previous Evaluations

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Moira Creedon, Ph.D. 
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Neuropsychological testing is a tremendous undertaking in time and effort for a family. It involves intake documents, questionnaires, financial paperwork, insurance information, teacher forms, and the list goes on. I promise this paperwork is meaningful and helpful, a way to get the most out of the time and investment in a neuropsychological evaluation. Over the next few weeks, several of NESCA’s neuropsychologists will tackle a few common questions that we face that will help you prepare for neuropsychological testing.

The first topic to tackle relates to the need for previous records. It can feel time consuming to track down documents from years ago, particularly if your child has grown and changed over time. There are many reasons why it is critical to provide these records so your provider has the full deck of cards as they build an individualized evaluation for your child. I’ll tackle the three most important reasons to me:

First, pediatric neuropsychologists want to understand the development of your child over time. For example, if we are evaluating learning problems, I want to know what it was like in kindergarten and early elementary school when your child learned to read. I want to know when the attention problems started or problems interacting with peers were first noticeable to those around them. As we build a developmental timeline, it can help to conceptualize where it all began to help us get at the magical “root cause” that parents often seek. Understanding development over time also helps us to build a better treatment plan. For example, if I can see that a child struggled to develop early reading skills and then years later is extremely anxious about attending school, it helps guide recommendations in both domains.

Secondly, records are critical so we do not risk “practice effects.” “Practice effects” refer to the improvement in scores that happens simply from being exposed to the task before. While guidelines are not as set in stone as some may think, it is generally advised not to repeat many neuropsychological measures within a year of testing. There may be reasons to speed up this timeline that are client-specific, but we cannot make that determination unless we see the documents. Research says practice effects diminish over a few months to a year. We want to eliminate any interfering factors that would make it harder to draw conclusions about the data in the current evaluation. With the time and investment you make in testing as a parent, I can only imagine how frustrating it would feel to hear that something we can manage interfered with the process. Access to records helps us to choose the right measures for the right moment.

Thirdly, providing previous records also allows us to track skill development over time. This is particularly important if we want to see if an intervention (e.g., reading instruction, therapy, attending social skill groups) is working to build the skills. Put simply, it tells us if a problem is getting better or getting worse. Even if you do not agree with the final conclusions drawn by the previous professional, the scores still provide critical data points in development. For more information on seeking a second opinion when you disagree with results, sit tight – that blog post is coming!

I often use the metaphor with kids and families that neuropsychological testing can help us to develop a type of “instructional manual” for how their brain works. With younger kids, I tell them that I am writing the LEGO instructional manual for which steps to take in what order and with what pieces. Without the prior records, I’m missing a bag of pieces. That is almost as frustrating as stepping on the actual LEGOs!

Please come back over the next several weeks to hear more from my colleagues about how to make the most of your child’s neuropsychological evaluation!

 

About the Author

Dr. Creedon has expertise in evaluating children and teens with a variety of presenting issues. She is interested in uncovering an individual’s unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses to best formulate a plan for intervention and success. With experiences providing therapy and assessments, Dr. Creedon bridges the gap between testing data and therapeutic services to develop a clear roadmap for change and deeper of understanding of individual needs.

 

If you are interested in booking an evaluation with Dr. Creedon or another NESCA neuropsychologist, please fill out and submit 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.

My child is nonverbal. Should I still get a neuropsychological evaluation?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Erin Gibbons, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

The short answer to this question is YES. As a neuropsychologist, I enjoy evaluating students who have complex profiles, including intellectual/developmental disabilities, genetic conditions, and medical complexities. In many cases, these students have been deemed “untestable” and have never had a comprehensive evaluation.

This is problematic for two major reasons.

  • First, we cannot understand a student’s potential if we have no data or assessments available. Following from this, it is very hard to develop realistic and measurable goals without using the student’s innate potential to guide those goals.
  • Second, lack of testing causes practical and logistical problems later in the student’s life. As a child approaches adulthood at 18, it is necessary to have documentation of their cognitive and adaptive skills as well as diagnoses in order to seek adult services. More specifically, the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) requires documentation of intellectual disabilities prior to age 18.

Having assessed thousands of children and adolescents over the years, I’ve learned that I can ALWAYS gather important information from a neuropsychological evaluation. I have evaluated students who are nonverbal, students with severe intellectual disabilities, students with limited to no motor abilities, students with vision and hearing impairments, students with severely challenging behaviors…. In every case, a neuropsychological evaluation has been meaningful and useful in terms of A) understanding the student’s capabilities, and B) developing educational and treatment goals.

It is important to understand that a neuropsychological evaluation with a more developmentally complex student will look different than an evaluation with a neurotypical student. There are standardized tests that I will not be able to administer based on the student’s language skills, motor abilities, and academic knowledge. Some students can only tolerate 20 or 30 minutes of testing at a time, so the evaluation is broken into 9 or 10 sessions. Some students provide their responses using a communication device. Some students need to be supported by a behavior therapist to help them maintain a safe body.

In some cases, students cannot engage in any standardized tests due to multiple disabilities. However, I still have them come into my office at least once so that I can meet them in person and gather information about their communication skills, social interest, and activity levels. I will then spend time observing the student at their educational program, interviewing school-based staff, and gathering information from the student’s caregivers about their skills at home. With all of these data points, I can then provide a thorough set of recommendations for school-, community-, and home-based goals – even though I might not have “valid” standard scores.

For all of the families who think that a neuropsychological evaluation cannot be done with their child for one reason or another, I urge you to reconsider your perception of the purpose of an evaluation. In these cases, the emphasis of the evaluation is not on test scores, but on developing a better understanding of the student’s strengths and weaknesses. More importantly, the evaluation should be used as a reference to guide treatment goals to help the student achieve the highest level of independence of which they are capable based on their potential.

 

About the Author

Erin Gibbons, Ph.D. is a pediatric neuropsychologist with expertise in neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological assessment of infants,

children, and adolescents presenting with developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorders. She has a particular interest in assessing students with complex medical histories and/or neurological impairments, including those who are cognitively delayed, nonverbal, or physically disabled. Dr. Gibbons joined NESCA in 2011 after completing a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in the Developmental Medicine Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. She particularly enjoys working with young children, especially those who are transitioning from Early Intervention into preschool. Having been trained in administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), Dr. Gibbons has experience diagnosing autism spectrum disorders in children aged 12 months and above.

 

If you are interested in booking an appointment for the ASD Diagnostic Clinic or an evaluation with a NESCA neuropsychologist/clinician, please fill out and submit 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.

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

By | NESCA Notes 2020

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

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

In the classroom

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

Managing assignments

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

Testing

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

Social and daily life

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

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

 

 

About the Author:

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

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

Why does my neuropsychologist need that? What do the tests measure and why is previous testing important?

By | NESCA Notes 2019

 

By:  Stephanie Monaghan-Blout, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

When a family books an intake for neuropsychological evaluation, they are typically asked to complete a few pieces of paperwork and to bring previous testing and other educational documents such as an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for their intake appointment. Despite this request, many parents will come to the intake session with empty hands. Understanding that parents have an enormous number of tasks on their plate, one could expect that paperwork was left at home due to timing or organization difficulties. However, when I ask parents about the missing paperwork decision, the reasons for leaving it behind generally fall into two groups: (1) lack of knowledge about the purpose of testing; and (2) concerns about creating some form of bias in the examiner’s mind. Some parents don’t share prior testing with me because they don’t have a clear idea of what the testing is and how it is going to be used for my evaluation. This is very common with families who are new to the special education or mental health process. Some parents are reluctant to share past testing because they want a “fresh view” and are concerned that looking at someone else’s work may create a bias. This often comes up when there is disagreement between parents and their school or past provider as to the nature of the child’s difficulties. Sometimes the parents and child have had a bad previous experience with testing and/or with the examiner, and they do not feel that the test results accurately (or at least empathetically) describe their child. In any of these situations, I find that parents feel more comfortable if they know more about how the tests we use are developed and why we find it helpful to view previous testing.

Purpose of Testing: The purpose of neuropsychological testing is to find out if a child (or adolescent or adult) is developing skills at a rate and capacity commensurate with their age and ability level. In order to do this in an efficient, equitable, and consistent manner, test developers identify skills they think are important in learning, devise a task that appears to quantifiably measure that skill, give that task to children in different age groups and then transform the raw scores attained by the children into a common scale. This allows them to compare different children within an age group, and this also allows them to compare the same child at different ages. Some common measurement scales are standard scores, scaled scores, Z scores, T-scores and percentiles. All of these formats are based on a normal distribution (remember the bell curve?) in which the majority of scores fall within a certain area with increasingly fewer scores falling at either end. The “bump” where most scores fall is described as average (between 25th and 75th%ile) with the tails receiving an above or below average description. While these descriptions do not begin to capture the whole child, they do convey information about how a child is performing relative to developmental expectations based on what we know about children of the same age. They can also tell us if the child is making age expected progress according to their unique learning curve. Furthermore, most people are good at some things and not so good at others, and the pattern of their scores can often give us valuable information about their learning profile.

Question of Bias: The concern about bias is important, given that neuropsychological tests are often used to classify people and make decisions about providing or denying services. There are a number of ways in which we try to control for bias, starting with trying to make sure that the group of people that are used as test subjects when developing norms are representative of the population at large. Test makers are getting better at this, but we have a long way to go, which means that it is important that evaluators know how each test has been developed and normed. Test selection is also extremely important; some tests are not appropriate for some groups. Think about giving a Calculus test to someone who has not completed Algebra 1; this kind of mismatch is going to result in a spuriously low score on math ability.

The main way that neuropsychologists and psychologists try to control for bias is through what is referred to as standardized administration—giving the test in the same way to each child. A good deal of the training of graduate students, interns, and post-doctoral fellows involves learning and practicing these skills so that the test is given to every child in the same way, regardless of who gives it. At the same time, children are children, and sometimes they need something different. It is up to the evaluator to decide when to engage in “non-standardized administrative procedures.” One example of non-standard administration could be starting a child who has trouble catching on to novel tasks at a lower age starting point in order to help them master the task demands. Another example would be stopping a task before a ceiling of errors is reached because the child is very anxious and is having a hard time staying with the activity. It is important to make note of that break in protocol in the report; while it may somewhat reduce the validity of the scores, it also tells us something very valuable about the child’s learning style and tolerance.

Value of Having Previous Testing: Having the opportunity to review all previous testing is extremely valuable to neuropsychologists because it gives up some insight as to a child’s developmental trajectory. Scores that are higher than in previous testing may suggest improvement in a skill set. Scores that are consistent with previous testing indicate that a child is making age-expected progress along their unique learning curve. However, they may be falling farther and farther behind their same-age peers or progressing more quickly. Scores that are significantly weaker than in previous testing need to be closely examined. This could be a result of an imbalance between the environmental demands and the child’s internal resources. For instance, smart kids with executive function deficits are often not prepared for the organizational challenges of middle and high school. Significantly lower scores could also indicate stalled development due to ineffective educational interventions. It could also be a sign of emotional distress that is interfering with a child’s functioning. Rarely, it could be a sign of a medical or neurological problem. There are also some times when a change in average scores reflects a change in the exact tests or subtests used for the child. For example, when a teenager turns 16, it is common to begin administering adult intelligence scales and these tests may place higher value on slightly different skills (e.g., mental math). Without reviewing previous testing, a current evaluator may be able to provide a snapshot of a child’s current functioning, but might miss a critical developmental pattern important for understanding if/how the child is learning, what is needed to enhance their performance, and what can reasonably be expected over time for the child.

 

About the Author:

Formerly an adolescent and family therapist, Dr. Stephanie Monaghan-Blout is a senior clinician who joined NESCA at its inception in 2007. Dr. Monaghan-Blout specializes in the assessment of clients with complex learning and emotional issues. She is proficient in the administration of psychological (projective) tests, as well as in neuropsychological testing. Her responsibilities at NESCA also include acting as Clinical Coordinator, overseeing psycho-educational and therapeutic services. She has a particular interest in working with adopted children and their families, as well as those impacted by traumatic experiences. he is a member of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI) associated with Massachusetts Advocates for Children and the Harvard Law Clinic, and is working with that group on an interdisciplinary guide to trauma sensitive evaluations.

 

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Monaghan-Blout 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, 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.