Tag

TRANSITION ASSESSMENT

Why are they called “Soft” Skills?

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By Kathleen Pignone, M.Ed., CRC
Transition Specialist

If they are soft, why are they so crucial in this hard, cruel world? As a transition specialist, I meet with young adults and their parents on a daily basis. All parents want to know what is that missing piece for child to really succeed after high school? What should my priorities be? Is the right college more important than the right internship or vise versa? I often hear the saying, “I remember in my day, you just dusted yourself off and kept going. Why is this new generation struggling?”

While I don’t have an answer to those profound questions, I can offer some go-to skills that will support our young adults as they transition from high school to college, the world of work and the great beyond…soft skills—those intangible, hard-to-pin-down skills that we all know we need to succeed, but are so hard to teach. As a wise practitioner once told me, “Just because it is simple, it doesn’t make it easy.” While it’s critical to teach, prepare and equip our students with the necessary skills for academic success, soft skills can be just as important in many instances. Young adults need a balance of academic, executive functioning, communication and soft skills to set themselves up for success in their multi-faceted life after high school. These soft skills can make the difference between candidates competing for college acceptance and job opportunities.

I also like to refer to these skills as the job keeping and high achieving skills. Strong foundational academic, planning and team-building skills are necessary for success, but these soft skills are the subtle differences observed in the student chosen for that internship by the professor and recognized in the entry-level employee who quickly advances to the mentor employee.

In my practice, I am witness to amazing, capable, energizing and unique young adults, who are unaware of the many talents and strengths they already possess. I work to coach, teach and persuade them that these soft skills are in there, but are struggling to make an appearance. The key is identifying them and knowing when to call on them in stressful times. As a transition specialist, I offer the young people I meet with the opportunities to name and own these skills within themselves. For example, when a teenager is struggling with school, but shows up every day, I introduce them to their “grit,” their get-up- and-go and “try again” skill.  By identifying skills that may just be lying dormant or unrecognized, I offer them a chance to see that they have an innate strength that has both a name and a purpose. These skills are not only necessary, but are transferable to all aspects of their future lives. Their internal grit pushes them to go to class when their roommate is sleeping in and go to work even though they have a cold and could call out sick.

By definition, students ready to transition from high school are at an age and stage of curiosity, exploration, hope and optimism. But they may easily miss out on identifying these characteristics as strengths and skills, if we do not point it out and celebrate it with them. When they are resisting rules and boundaries, they are employing their skills of curiosity and exploration. When they want to protest against inequity in this unfair world and are perceived as naive and inexperienced, I praise their hope and optimism. We talk about how these soft skills are integral to their success as an adult and will serve them as they continue to grow and learn.

Young adults in our current society have no other option than to be flexible and adaptable. Technology is constantly updating and changing, forcing them to move forward or be left behind. Their resilience in handling all that social media exposes them to on a daily basis is admirable. I wouldn’t have stood as tall and strong as they do with such public scrutiny.

As we prepare our young adults for life after high school, let us always take the time to see, name and recognize the strengths and soft skills they show us. We have the opportunity to observe and learn from them and value these skills so that they may offer themselves as resources to their community. The balance necessary to teach young people how to manage an interdependent world as an adult is complicated. It is exciting and energizing to witness young people find these strengths within themselves, helping them to conquer that great big world.

 

About the Author:

Kathleen Pignone, M.Ed. CRC is a deeply knowledgeable and experienced transition specialist. Prior to her tenure at NESCA, Ms. Pignone was the Career Development Director at Bay Cove Academy for 15 years, providing students with classroom and real-world employment skills training, community job placement and on the job employment-training. She has also worked at Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education and privately as a vocational rehabilitation consultant. As a certified rehabilitation counselor, Ms. Pignone brings unique expertise carrying out vocational assessment and employment planning for adolescents and young adults as well as supporting local school programs. In addition to fortifying NESCA’s premier transition assessment services, Ms. Pignone engages in person-centered planning with teens and young adults, consultation and training for parents, providers and schools, and community-based coaching services.

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 a transition assessment or consultation with Kathleen, please complete NESCA’s online intake form

 

Everyone Has Something to Offer

By | NESCA Notes 2018

 

By Kathleen Pignone, M.Ed., CRC
Transition Specialist

It feels like every day is a National soup or sandwich day or Taco Tuesday. So much that national recognition months are getting lost in the shuffle. National Disability Employment Awareness Month was declared in 1988 by the United States Congress for October to raise awareness of the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. The purpose of National Disability Employment Awareness Month is to educate about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. This year’s theme is “America’s Workforce: Empowering All”

“Americans of all abilities must have access to good, safe jobs,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta. “Smart employers know that including different perspectives in problem-solving situations leads to better solutions. Hiring employees with diverse abilities strengthens their business, increases competition and drives innovation.”

Why does it matter? Why recognize a small group of the population? Because they are a valuable resource. Because they deserve a reframe from being disenfranchised to being seen as an asset. In 2017, 18.7 percent of persons with a disability were employed, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. In contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without a disability was 65.7 percent. The employment-population ratios for both persons with and without a disability increased from 2016 to 2017.

The Office of Disability Employment Policy under the US Department of Labor offers so many resources for employers and employees. They offer free curriculum on teaching soft skills so all young people regardless of ability can not only get jobs, but keep jobs. They offer public service campaigns that promote the benefits of employing those who regardless of disability or diagnosis offer something to an employer. They propose the question, “What can YOU do?” They give examples of what employees with disabilities can do!

“I can solve difficult problems for a Fortune 500 company.” Says Bob an executive from Google who has bipolar disorder.

“I can manage your home improvements.” Says Michael a landscaper and carpenter who has an intellectual disability.

“I can run a successful business.” Says Patty who co-owns and manages a grocery store and has paraplegia.

These are just a few examples of the valuable contributions that many people with disabilities can offer.

As each day passes and it is National Dessert Day and you want to roll your eyes and minimize a special day or month. Please pause and remember that some of these national recognitions may be a valuable opportunity to celebrate pride and difference in a positive way.

If you are interested in supporting National Disability awareness month please feel free to visit the ODEP website and find several ways to positively support those who are capable and desiring employment, but may be overlooked.

 

About the Author:

Kathleen Pignone, M.Ed. CRC is a deeply knowledgeable and experienced transition specialist. Prior to her tenure at NESCA, Ms. Pignone was the Career Development Director at Bay Cove Academy for 15 years, providing students with classroom and real-world employment skills training, community job placement and on the job employment-training. She has also worked at Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education and privately as a vocational rehabilitation consultant. As a certified rehabilitation counselor, Ms. Pignone brings unique expertise carrying out vocational assessment and employment planning for adolescents and young adults as well as supporting local school programs. In addition to fortifying NESCA’s premier transition assessment services, Ms. Pignone engages in person-centered planning with teens and young adults, consultation and training for parents, providers and schools, and community-based coaching services.

 

To book an assessment or consultation with Kathleen, please complete NESCA’s online intake form

 

Transition Planning: Let’s Talk about Graduation Dates for Students on IEPs

By | NESCA Notes 2018

 

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

On March 26, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) sent out an important administrative advisory regarding transition services and graduating with a high school diploma (Administrative Advisory SPED 2018-2: Secondary Transition Services and Graduation with a High School Diploma). This much-needed advisory clarifies when and how students with IEP’s should be issued a high school diploma and also touches on best practices for planning both student graduation and appropriate secondary transition services.

As a transition specialist who is often contracted by schools and families, it is not uncommon to be asked to help determine whether a student is ready to graduate. The challenge in answering this particular question is that there is no universal set of skills or level of knowledge that deems a student on an IEP “ready” to graduate. In fact, students on IEP’s, just as with mainstream students, graduate all the time without being ready for many adult activities (e.g. apartment hunting, changing jobs, applying for a bank loan, comparing health insurance plans).

The truth is, there are a number of skills that we need for “adulting,” but do not need in order to graduate with a high school diploma. As this important advisory points out, the special education process is not simply about completing local graduation requirements. It is also about transition planning and services that uniquely equip a student for reaching their goals after leaving public education. Therefore, we need to rethink the question, “Is my child/student ready to graduate?” And instead, the critical question to ask when a student approaches the end of 12th grade is, “Has the child/student received a free and appropriate public education (FAPE)?”

As I discussed in a previous blog (Transition Planning: The Missing Link Between Special Education and Successful Adulthood), FAPE as guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) includes transition planning and services. Under IDEA 2004, a federal law, transition planning must start by the time a student turns 16. Here in Massachusetts, we have even stronger regulations, and secondary transition services may begin “no later than the age of 14.” This means that the IEP has to be carefully constructed to help students build skills “in a stepwise and cumulative manner” toward completing their high school program while also making progress toward their desired post-secondary learning, working, and independent living activities including community engagement.

The foundation for this process is an individualized and coordinated transition assessment process that carefully evaluates a student’s needs, strengths, preferences, and interests beginning before the age of 14. Just as with all IEP goals and services, assessment informs the team’s discussion and decision-making; it helps the team to know how to plan for the long-term, prioritize for the coming school year, and to track progress.

In each annual meeting for a transition-aged student, the IEP team needs to explicitly discuss whether the student is progressing towards their measurable postsecondary goals and whether the educational program and related transition services are calibrated in such a way that the student will continue to make progress. Anticipated graduation date (listed on the top of the Transition Planning Form and recorded in the Additional Information section of the IEP) is a critical part of this discussion each year. When a student, parent, teacher, or other team member is uncertain about a student’s ability to complete local requirements and receive appropriate transition services “on time,” this needs to be discussed directly.

If there is confusion or disagreement about the graduation date, additional assessment may be needed to clarify the student’s needs. However, if the team starts the transition planning process when a student is 14, and carefully plans out the instruction, community experiences, and employment related activities necessary for progressing toward the student’s post-high school goals, and closely tracks the student’s progress, then students, parents and educators will rarely need to ask whether the student is “ready to graduate.” Instead, they will know if the student has received FAPE because the student’s IEP has included well-calculated transition services and there will be clear measures of the student’s progress with annual goals and transition-related services indicating whether this particular student requires support beyond the traditional 12 years of education.

I am grateful for the recent administrative advisory from DESE and have found each of their advisories on the topic of transition to be tremendously helpful in supporting a shared understanding of the transition planning process among families, schools, and the professionals supporting them. At NESCA, we have seen great progress in the delivery of individualized transition services across the state of Massachusetts since the Massachusetts Legislature approved the amendment to the Massachusetts special education statute in 2008 to require transition planning services “beginning age 14 or sooner” and DESE put out Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2009-1: Transition Planning to Begin at Age 14. With the recent advisory, I am certain that we will continue to see more teams embrace the transition planning process early. Students, families, and districts will experience less confusion and distress as a student approaches the end of 12th grade, because there will be a clear plan for exiting or continuing special education based on effective transition planning and a collaborative and communicative team process.

Transition Resources and Advisories from MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education 
· MA DESE Secondary Transition Page – http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/secondary-transition/default.html
· Administrative Advisory SPED 2018-2:Secondary Transition Services and Graduation with a High School Diploma – http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/advisories/2018-2.html
· Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2017-1: Characteristics of High Quality Secondary Transition Services – http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/advisories/2017-1ta.pdf
· Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2016-2: Promoting Student Self-Determination to Improve Student Outcomes – http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/advisories/2016-2ta.pdf
· Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2014-4: Transition Assessment in the Secondary Transition Planning Process – http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/advisories/2014-4ta.html
· Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2013-1: Postsecondary Goals and Annual IEP Goals in the Transition Planning Process – http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/advisories/13_1ta.html
· Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2009-1: Transition Planning to Begin at Age 14 – http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/advisories/09_1ta.html

While this blog includes some specific content that applies only to families of students in IEPs in Massachusetts, the requirement of transition services for students on IEPs is a federal mandate. For families living in New Hampshire, guidance from the New Hampshire Department of Education can be found athttps://www.education.nh.gov/instruction/special_ed/sec_trans.htmThe NH DOE has additionally helped develop a website with resources for increasing the college and career readiness of NH Students that can be found ahttps://nextsteps-nh.org.

 

If you are interested in working with a transition specialist at NESCA for consultation, planning, or evaluation, please complete our online intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

 

About the Author:

Kelley Challen, EdM, CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning,  consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services.  She 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 also 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. 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. She is also 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.

 

 

 

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.

 

Supporting the Twice-Exceptional Children in our Lives

By | NESCA Notes 2018

 

Free to Be 2e!
Supporting the Twice-Exceptional Children in our Lives

By: Rebecca Girard, LICSW, CAS
Licensed Clinical Social Worker, NESCA

Richard Branson
Businessman and Investor

Whoopie Goldberg
Actress and talk show host

Tim Burton
Director

Daryl Hannah
Actress

What do the above celebrities all have in common, aside from being wildly successful and having household names? They are all considered “2e”!

The term, “Twice Exceptional” or “2e” is gaining popularity in educational and therapeutic settings, but what does it mean? The term refers to children who possess both exceptional gifts and talents, and who also experience various learning difficulties such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Learning Disabilities, and Autism Spectrum Disorders. A recently published textbook, Twice Exceptional: Supporting and Educating Bright and Creative Students with Learning Difficulties (2017) explores this movement in detail and offers the latest evidence- and strengths-based approaches in supporting the extraordinary “2e” young people in our lives.

Scott Barry Kaufman writes frequently on this topic. He argues that education and intervention have often employed a silo approach, meaning that these systems have viewed children as either exclusively disabled or exclusively gifted, instead of appreciating the dynamic interaction of both. Kaufman describes this as an “artificial mutual exclusiveness” that is harmful to children whose unique profiles include both remarkable strengths and complex learning deficits. This often leads to difficulty “fitting in” in traditional educational settings as well as to children feeling misunderstood and unappreciated for the things they are good at doing. According to davincilearning.org, a website dedicated to “multiple exceptionality” or the intersection of giftedness, disability, and trauma, there are three ways we misunderstand the needs of twice-exceptional children:

  1. Disability masks giftedness, and the focus on correcting disability leads to giftedness being overlooked.
  2. Giftedness masks the signs of disability.
  3. Both giftedness and disability mask each other, and the person appears to be ordinary.

So what is to be done? If you have a “2e” child in your life, consider the following recommendations set forth by Dr. Kaufman:

  1. Specialized methods of identification that consider the possible interaction of the exceptionalities.
  2. Enriched/advanced educational opportunities that focus on developing the child’s interests and highest strengths while also meeting the child’s learning needs.
  3. Simultaneous supports that ensure the child’s academic success and social-emotional well-being, such as accommodations, therapeutic interventions, and specialized instruction.

As parents, educators, and therapists, we must be sensitive to the intricacies of a child’s abilities and deficits, and take care to not focus too exclusively on such a false dichotomy. Instead, let’s “see beyond lables,” as Dr. Kaufman suggests, and focus on natural strengths, internal motivation, and opportunities for growth.

Many accomplished people with learning differences attribute thinking differently as a factor in their success. May all our “2e” friends find what works best for them and create their own self-defined success.

NESCA is proud to offer evaluation services that help to uncover underlying reasons for struggles as well as unique strengths and aptitudes and to integrate findings into a recognizable portrait of of the whole child, teen, or young adult. If you would like to learn more about Neuropsychological Assessment or Transition Assessment at NESCA provides, click here.

And for more information about twice-exceptionality, see below!

*Disclosure: Rebecca Girard, LICSW contributed to Twice Exceptional: Supporting and Educating Bright and Creative Students with Learning Difficulties in the chapter, “Appreciating and Promoting Social Creativity in Youth with Asperger’s Syndrome”

About the Author:

Rebecca Girard, LICSW, CAS is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in neurodivergent issues, sexual trauma, and international social work. She has worked primarily with children, adolescents, adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families for over a decade. Ms. Girard is highly experienced in using Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) as well as Socio-dramatic Affective Relational Intervention (SDARI), in additional to a number of other modalities. She is excited to provide enhanced psychotherapy to children with ASD at NESCA as well as to provide individual and group therapeutic support to youth with a range of mood, anxiety, social and behavioral challenges. Her professional passion is promoting tolerance and understanding of neurodiverse people of all abilities, and creating an empowering and accepting environment in therapy for clients of all ages. Her approach is client-centered, strengths-based, creative and compassionate.