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Transition Planning: “Remote” Work-based Learning Experiences

By April 9, 2020NESCA Notes 2020

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

In the past three weeks, I have consulted with countless parents of high school students who are worried about how school closures and social distancing are impacting their child’s ability to gain need work experience during high school. Prior to March, I had been working with their teens to plan for summer internship programs, obtain first paid work experiences or finish out volunteer hours needed for senior graduation. Now, many of those plans are moot or uncertain. Instead, we are beginning to create backup plans (and backup plans for our backup plans) for continuing to build skills that will help these students be employable and successful even if internships and competitive work experiences are not accessible.

Fortunately, an unexpected benefit of Covid-19 school closures is the extraordinary educational resource-sharing that is occurring across the country (and even across the globe). We are all able to continue to build resources to help one another and the families that we support remotely. From our couches, we are able to access trainings provided by researchers, providers and educators who are among the top in their fields, often free of cost, and we are able to be part of large active professional networks. One of my favorite resources for transition-related information during this time is the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) who hosted presenters Brenda Simmons, MS, and Michael Stoehr, MS, to speak about Employment Preparation and Work-Based Learning Experiences in a Virtual World on Tuesday, April 7th. Because of the work I am doing with families, I was particularly appreciative of one model shared by Brenda Simmons, MS, and Michael Stoehr, MS, during a webinar I attended: A Work-Based Learning Continuum.

Work-based learning experiences, including paid employment, are one of the most substantial predictors of postsecondary adult employment for students with disabilities. While paid employment in an integrated setting is a critical work-based learning experience, it is a part of a continuum of activities, many of which are still accessible during the current remote-learning times. Below is a graphic adapted from Simmons and Stoehr to help visualize this continuum.

Work-Based Learning Continuum adapted from Simmons and Stoehr NTACT/WINTAC Training

While Internships, Apprenticeships and Competitive Employment are difficult to participate in remotely (especially because these experiences are now isolated rather than integrated), the other activities highlighted along the continuum offer more opportunities for remote exploration:

  • Job Shadowing and Worksite Tours: Even when students cannot visit worksites in person, employers may be able to provide “virtual” tours to share information about what their company does, show teens around their workplace, explain what different employees do and demonstrate work tasks. There are also many virtual tours of workplaces already readily available online. Consider who is in your network that is still going to their workplace or able to travel to work as an “essential” employee. There is a breakdown from Business Insider about the types of businesses that are considered “essential” in current times, and the range of opportunities are impressive. With job shadowing and worksite tours, it is imperative to remember that the most important component of the experience is for teens to engage in self-reflection about the jobs and worksites. What did I see? What did I learn? Is this a place I can picture myself working? What accommodations might I need to be successful in this workplace?
  • Informational Interviews and Mentoring: Before school closures, I worked with many teens who had success in finding their first internship or job through the process of an informational interview. Rather than going through a traditional application and interview process—which can be particularly difficult for teens with social or emotional vulnerabilities—students engage in a “low-stakes” conversation with an employer simply to learn more about a job of interest. While many working adults across the US are strapped for time given that they are now full-time work-from-home employees, stay-at-home parents and teachers/instructional aides all at once, there are also many employees who have found themselves with extra time and a desire to connect with others socially while giving back to their communities. This is a great time for a teen to reach out and ask for 30 minutes of someone’s time to learn more about their field of work. Here is a nice informational interviewing resource that comes from the UC Berkeley Career Center and can be adapted for these remote times. Career-focused mentoring is a step beyond an informational interview and may be a logical next step in a relationship that starts with an informational interview or might be set up with another adult who is able to assist with career exploration and development. Given current times, you may want to consider early career professionals and retired professionals as individuals who may be more available for a career-focused mentoring relationship.
  • Pre-boarding and Onboarding Training: Looking across the continuum of work-based learning experiences, pre-boarding and onboarding trainings are likely to be most unfamiliar to teens. Pre-boarding typically refers to activities that occur between the time a candidate accepts a job and has their first day, while onboarding activities usually occur on an employee’s first day (or first few days). Many companies have created digital materials, including videos and trainings, that help new hires get a sense of workplace culture and community expectations—they provide a level of information that goes beyond what you learn in an informational interview or job shadow. These training activities make for great work-based learning experiences and can be accessed as a creative resource even if a teen is not currently job searching. This is a blog that offers examples of onboarding and pre-boarding videos. But there are many more available through web-based searching or that can potentially be made available through the human resource department at a company of interest.

In a previous blog, 7 Ways to Build Work Readiness from Your Couch, I shared some useful resources for building job search skills and learning about careers of interest remotely. I would recommend that the interested reader check out that blog for websites offering virtual job shadow and worksite tour videos as well as information about volunteer and paid work opportunities that can be completed remotely.


If you are interested in working with a transition specialist at NESCA for consultation, coaching, planning or evaluation, please complete our online intake form:


About the Author:

Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. 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 or call 617-658-9800.