Tag

therapeutic intervention

When the Worry Bug Makes You Mad: Understanding the Importance of Positive Behavior Plans for Anxious Kids

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Renée Marchant, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

“Don’t Feed the Worry Bug,” by Andi Green is a wonderful book for children who are anxious or experience a lot of worrisome thoughts. The story is about a monster who constantly feeds his WorryBug, only to find that as he worries more and more, the WorryBug continues to grow until the monster is totally overwhelmed by the emotion. Eventually, he learns to control it. In my practice, I evaluate a number of children with lots of worries…but they don’t actually look worried. Instead, children may appear defiant, hyperactive and aggressive. Why do children overwhelmed with anxiety sometimes become frustrated and angry or have poor behavioral control at home and in the classroom?

Children with anxiety “on the surface” may appear angry, oppositional and defiant to adults. However, these behaviors oftentimes reflect secondary responses to an underlying cause: anxiety. Responses to anxiety can be categorized as “fight, flight or freeze.” As a classic example, if you run into a grizzly bear on a hike, your body’s natural physiological response is to fight, flee or freeze. Your anxiety about the demands of a situation send your body and brain into a state of “threat alert.” Similarly, when a child is worrying about something, is socially anxious, or is feeling nervous about their ability to handle a task, this “threat alert” system is activated and the child’s ability to make well-thought out decisions is impaired. The child may be labeled a “behavior problem” because of the impulsivity, defiance, disruptiveness or aggression (fight mode). Or the child may appear distractible, silly and immature, or avoidant of challenging tasks (flight mode). An anxious child may also show difficulties shifting gears/transitioning, problems letting go of events, or seem unmotivated or apathetic (freeze mode). It is also not uncommon for children with anxiety to have challenges demonstrating appropriate social skills, such as problems with insight into how their behaviors may affect others. They may also experience challenges reading the nonverbal and verbal cues in their environment because their brain is “soaked” with high arousal, immobilizing their capacity to apply logic to everyday situations. How do we help children manage their anxiety and the resulting behavioral challenges from that anxiety?

A neuropsychological evaluation can provide insights into your child’s behavioral challenges to determine if there may be an “underlying cause,” such as anxiety, (or other causes such as learning disabilities, depression or poor information processing) which are driving weak emotional and behavior control. Once identified, a neuropsychologist can provide guidance on the most effective interventions for a child at school and at home.

In my experience, one of the most important interventions for a child who experiences anxiety and secondary behavioral challenges is the development of a Positive Behavior Plan at school, which can then be included in a child’s IEP. However, many children with anxiety do not respond well to traditional behavioral reward systems that solely focus on increasing or decreasing behaviors (e.g. follow directions, sit calmly, keep your body safe, etc.), as these systems do not teach the child the self-regulation skills necessary for controlling emotional and behavioral responses. Instead, an effective Positive Behavior Plan for a child with anxiety includes behavioral targets or “goals” that focus on the attempt at coping strategy application. Importantly, a child with anxiety should be rewarded for trying to use a coping strategy, as it will take time, practice and reinforcement before a child develops the capacity to apply coping strategies consistently and successfully.

Sample coping strategies that a child should be taught by a special educator, counselor or other specialist include “taking deep breaths, jumping jacks, taking a break, using words to say how I feel,” or other self-regulation tools. When the goals of a Positive Behavior Plan focus on using a coping strategy before or during moments of distress rather than a plan that is tied to increasing or decreasing specific behaviors after they occur, a child builds independent capacity to appraise and react appropriately to physical and emotional responses in the classroom and the community. Children learn the signs (e.g. in their body, mind and in their environment) that the WorryBug is approaching, and feel better equipped, confident and more in control of their emotions and behaviors. For more information on how to appropriately develop Positive Behavior Plans for children with anxiety, “The Behavior Code” by Jessica Minahan and Nancy Rappaport is an excellent resource for parents and educators.

When the “WorryBug” or anxiety makes kids mad, mean and aggressive, a comprehensive and thorough neuropsychological evaluation can determine how to best tackle the anxiety “beneath the surface” through therapeutic and educational interventions. A neuropsychological evaluation can also direct the development of strategic Positive Behavior Plans that are individualized and appropriate for the child’s home and school environment.

About the Author:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

State Dyslexia Laws – What do they aim to do and how can we aid their success?

By | NESCA Notes 2019

 

By: Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
Director of Training and New Hampshire Operations

While in 2013 there were only 22 states that had laws regarding dyslexia, as of March 2018, 42 states have dyslexia-specific laws, and as discussed in the article Dyslexia Laws in the USA: A 2018 Update by Martha Youman and Nancy Mather, 33 legislative bills related to dyslexia were introduced between January and March 2018 alone. These dyslexia laws address such things as dyslexia awareness, teacher training, early screening of risk factors, interventions and accommodations, and rights of individuals with dyslexia. In addition to identifying the need to address these matters, at least 10 states have developed dyslexia handbooks, and New Hampshire (where I practice as an evaluator and consultant) has developed a dyslexia resource guide. With Governor Charlie Baker’s signing of S2607 on October 19, 2018, Massachusetts now joins the list of states with dyslexia training, screening, and intervention mandates.

To see such progress in the identification and intervention of dyslexia is exciting for everyone who is connected to this community. As a pediatric neuropsychologist, I have worked with individuals with dyslexia and related disorders for many years, and in 2017 I had the pleasure of being one of the many professionals involved in the development of the NH dyslexia resource guide. Since that time, it has been encouraging to see a number of school districts embrace training opportunities and develop early screening efforts. While that is so, across the nation several states still do not have dyslexia-specific laws, and most states that do have them continue to experience uncertainty about how to implement said laws. Based on my personal experience and observations, there appear to be some basic steps or efforts that may improve the effectiveness of these efforts:

  • Use the term “Dyslexia.” Historically, the term “dyslexia” has been rejected or discouraged by most schools, instead preferring to label the associated learning profile as a Specific Learning Disability in reading; however, dyslexia specialists and advocates have long argued that this latter term is problematic because it fails to acknowledge the neurobiology of dyslexia and it does not inform interventions, accommodations, and related services with the level of specificity that is dictated by the defined diagnosed label. To address this concern, in 2015 the U.S. Department of Education issued a formal letter clarifying that “there is nothing in the IDEA or [the] implementing regulations that would prohibit IEP Teams from referencing or using dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia in a child’s IEP.” Until schools are willing to routinely use the term “dyslexia,” the potential success of dyslexia laws is significantly challenged.
  • Educate families about universal screening and differentiated instruction. The screening and intervention requirements outlined in most dyslexia laws fall within the purview of general education, aiming to identify children with risk factors for learning disabilities and support their needs through multi-tiered systems of support, such as Response to Intervention (RTI). As such, there are not as many defined requirements regarding progress monitoring and reporting, or the coordination of the child’s “team” (i.e. parents, teachers, and other pertinent school personnel), as there would be within special education procedures. Families need to be educated about these universal screening procedures and methods of differentiating instruction within the general education curriculum so that they can understand their child’s challenges and monitor progress in a more informed manner.
  • Coordinate general education and special education screening and evaluation procedures. While the screening and intervention procedures discussed in dyslexia laws are generally within general education, a child should be referred for special education consideration if he or she is not making progress with the increased levels of RTI support. To optimize the utility and impact of the early screenings and to ease the referral process, the criterion that is measured within the general education setting should map onto the criterion for special education eligibility as much as possible; however, should a child require referral for special education consideration, it will also be critical to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of why the child is not progressing, allowing for more individualized and appropriate interventions.
  • Ensure the dissemination of dyslexia handbooks or resource guides. While the dyslexia community is enthused by state dyslexia laws, many teachers and school personnel are not aware of these mandates or the associated resources. These resources are a treasure trove of information about how to delivery differentiated instruction and integrate instructional methods and accommodations that are likely to be helpful for all students.
  • Continue raising awareness. Parents, teachers, and school personnel should all be educated about learning profiles, early warning signs, screening procedures, and interventions. School districts should take advantage of the resources provided by their state, which often includes the availability of a state-appointed reading specialist who can provide training or aid the dissemination of information or development of screening and intervention procedures.

There has been great progress in the recognition, identification, and remediation of dyslexia within American schools; however, this work is only just beginning. At the core of this issue is the need to recognize dyslexia as a defined, neurologically-based learning disability that can be identified at an early age and can be effectively remediated through targeted, evidence-based interventions.

Through our evaluations with students in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, clinicians at NESCA aim to identify and define learning profiles such as these and provide recommendations for targeted instruction as well as systemic support and training. Please visit our website at www.nesca-newton.com for more information.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Angela Currie is a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. She conducts neuropsychological and psychological evaluations out of our Londonderry, NH office. She specializes in the evaluation of anxious children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors lending to their stress, such as underlying learning, attentional, or emotional challenges. She particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child, as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.

 

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

 

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Londonderry, NH, Plainville, MA, and Newton, MA serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call (603) 818-8526.

More Than An Inkblot: Measuring Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking Skills with Projective Tests

By | NESCA Notes 2019

Image Cred: SlidePlayer.com 2019

By Renée Marchant, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

What might this be? A saxophone player? A woman’s face? A bunch of black and white paint? Or is it something else entirely? This classic optical illusion engages the parts of the brain responsible for perception, critical thinking, and problem-solving so that humans can “make sense” of a somewhat ambiguous picture. We know that everyone perceives and experiences the world differently. In order to best support a child’s growth and development, parents, educators, and professionals need to understand a child’s “lens” or “brain habits” that guide how they think, how they feel and how they behave. Projective testing assesses these “brain habits” and sheds light on a child’s problem-solving style.

If you google or look up “projective test” in the dictionary, an array of definitions pop up. The general theme is: a projective test is a test designed with ambiguous stimuli upon which a person presumably “projects” hidden, unconscious emotions and conflicts. Yes, a person’s internal thoughts, feelings, and assumptions sometimes outside of conscious awareness do influence your response to projective tests and your behavior in everyday life. However, projection is only one piece of the puzzle. A broader, more accurate definition is:

A projective test is a “performance-based” test that requires the respondent to perform a task that has little structure, direction or guidanceThese tasks might, for example, involve completing a sentence, telling a story, or describing inkblots (i.e. the famous Rorschach Inkblot Test).

So why do we care about assessing a child or teen’s ability to make sense of an unstructured, ambiguous task? In addition to measuring a child’s concrete knowledge and skills (e.g. academics, intellectual functions, memory capacity etc.), it is oftentimes crucial to understand how a child problem-solves a situation “in action” – when they must rely on themselves to formulate a solution. This is particularly true for children who have difficulties managing their emotions, children who have trouble making reasonable decisions, and children who can’t seem to make or keep friends. For youth with these challenges, understanding how “in the moment” problem-solving and critical thinking skills work or don’t work gives parents, educators, and professionals insight into learning style, challenges and strengths, and most importantly, guides individualized therapeutic interventions.

A growing number of business and education leaders have begun to recognize the importance of performance-based assessments to evaluate student learning in the classroom and the workplace. Creativity, ingenuity, “thinking on your feet” and the capacity for critical thinking and analysis are clearly key skills in today’s innovative world. Therefore, to set kids up for success, it is understandably helpful to evaluate a child’s thinking and feeling “brain habits” that affect their choices, behaviors, and aspirations. As assessors, teachers, professionals, and parents, we want to better understand how each child applies knowledge to solve problems they face now and in the future – social problems, work problems, emotional problems and beyond. Projective testing provides not only a current evaluation of a child’s capacity to problem solve “on their feet” but provides a direction for how those “brain habits” might pose a strength or a challenge for that child as they grow.

Are you thinking about referring a child, teen, or young adult for projective testing? Here are 5 “fast facts” to guide you:

  1. Projective (also known as performance-based) tests are powerful diagnostic tools when administered and interpreted in conjunction with observation and other standardized test results by a skilled, experienced practitioner. It is important to ask a potential evaluator about their training in projective testing and how they utilize the results.
  2. Projective testing is helpful for children and teens with various complex, social and emotional challenges. Common referrals include questions related to: thinking problems/emerging psychosis, trauma, attachment-related concerns, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, developing personality traits and disorders, high-risk behaviors such as suicidal or homicidal thoughts and actions, substance abuse, poor emotion regulation, and self-injury.
  3. Projective testing provides information about a child’s thinking patterns, how they experience emotions, self-esteem, and their habits of interacting with others. For example, is a child more likely to “keep everything inside” and avoid or do they dysregulate and “explode” when they experience anxiety? Are a child’s difficulties making and keeping friends because they get “stuck” on the details of a situation, is it because they “miss the big picture”, or are they in a constant state of worrying that others will let them down? Answering these questions results in a more individualized intervention plan for therapy, at home and at school.
  4. Projective testing is not for everyone. There is little research on the use of projective testing with children and adolescents with low visual acuity, below average verbal and/or non-verbal IQs, impairments in visual-spatial processing, social-communication challenges, or language disorders. Be cautious of practitioners who do not inquire and evaluate these important aspects of a child’s functioning, as they are crucial components to determine the appropriateness of a projective evaluation.
  5. Projective testing sheds light on not only a child’s areas of difficulty, but can also provide an individualized analysis of a child’s strengths. For example, projective testing can identify capacity for insight into choices and behaviors, ability to engage effectively in a therapeutic relationship, capacity for empathy and perspective-taking, as well as a child’s inclination towards imagination, creativity, and ingenuity.

About the Author:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, MA, 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.

 

Lessons from My Children: Always Ask “Why?”

By | NESCA Notes 2018

 

By: Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
Director of Training and New Hampshire Operations

There is a lot that we can learn from our children. They are not as burdened as we, and they approach life with more vigor, wonder, and confidence. With this, they do a lot of important things that we adults have forgotten to do.

Right now, both of my boys are at ages when they are constantly asking, “Why?” For my two year old, it may sound something like this:

Me: “It’s time to put on our shoes.”
Him: “Why?”
Me: “Because we have to go to school.”
Him: “Why?”
Me: “Because we leave at 7:45.”
Him: “Why?”
Me: “Because I have to be at work at 8:15.”
Him: “Why?”

I think you can see where that one is going…

For my five year old, the questioning is a little more sophisticated:

“Why can’t we feel the earth moving?”
“Why do the teens always start with number one?”
“Why is ‘W’ an upside down ‘M’?”

While sometimes the incessant questioning can make a parent’s head spin, asking “why” is how children learn about the world. Questioning is one of the primary tools aiding children’s cognitive development. But in spite of the importance of questioning early on, as we get older, we increasingly forget to make such inquiries. While this may be for understandable reasons – life is busy, we are set in our routines, we have learned to trust the expertise and opinions of others, etc. – such lack of questioning can often interfere with our ability to effectively solve life’s dilemmas, and effectively help our children.

At NESCA, families and caregivers seek out our evaluations for a range of concerns: reading interventions were tried, but they did not work; a child’s behavior is out of control, but they are not responding to the behavioral plan; a teenager is not motivated to do their schoolwork, and they are failing; or conversely, in spite of spending five hours per night on homework, the teen is still failing.

What is most often happening in these situations is that there is not a sufficient understanding of why the child is struggling, and so well-intentioned attempts at helping are rendered fruitless.

Things are not always as they seem. Behavior, be it academic difficulties or noncompliance, is a symptom of an underlying issue. So while some children struggle to read because they are delayed in the acquisition of phonological skills and other foundations of reading, other children may struggle to read because of deficits in things like visual scanning and processing, attention, and/or auditory processing. For the out of control child, if their noncompliance is based in underlying anxiety and their need to avoid anxiety triggers and feared situations, then behavioral plans that are not paired with anxiety-focused therapeutic interventions will be ineffective.

It is because of the need to know “why” that NESCA’s neuropsychologists always conduct the most comprehensive neuropsychological evaluations. Unless we know the underlying reasons for a client’s challenges, we cannot create the well-informed recommendations and roadmap for how to help them make progress. Through in-depth inquiry and investigation, we get a detailed understanding of a client’s strengths and challenges. We find the reason “why.”

So, while I may sometimes get tired of answering my children’s near-constant questioning, they may have this one right. It is only with ongoing contemplation and inquiry that we can be confident in our understanding of the world, and of our children.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Angela Currie conducts neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments out of NESCA’s Londonderry, NH and Newton, MA offices, seeing individuals with a wide range of concerns. She enjoys working with stressed-out children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors that may be lending to their stress, including assessment of possible underlying learning challenges (such as dyslexia or nonverbal learning disability), attentional deficit, or executive function weakness. She also often conducts evaluations with children confronting more primary emotional and anxiety-related challenges, such as generalized anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, or depression. Dr. Currie particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.

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