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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L joins NESCA

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist specializing in pediatric treatment as well as occupational therapy in the developing world. She is joining NESCA in order to offer community-based skills coaching services as well as social skills coaching as part of NESCA’s transition team.

We are pleased to announce the newest member of the NESCA transition team, Dr. Sophie Bellenis!

Meet Dr. Bellenis:

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in pediatrics and occupational therapy in the developing world. For the past five years her work has primarily been split between children and adolescents on the Autism Spectrum in the United States, and marginalized children in Tanzania, East Africa.

Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists.

Dr. Bellenis has worked for the Northshore Education Consortium at the Kevin O’Grady School providing occupational therapy services and also at the Spaulding Cambridge Outpatient Center. She also has extensive experience working at the Northeast ARC Spotlight Program using a drama-based method to teach social skills to children, adolescents, and young adults with autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and related social cognitive challenges.

Internationally, Dr. Bellenis has done extensive work with the Tanzanian Children’s Fund providing educational enrichment and support. She has also spent time working with The Plaster House, a post-surgical, pediatric rehabilitation center in Ngaramtoni, Tanzania.

Dr. Bellenis currently works as a school-based occupational therapist for the city of Salem Public Schools and believes that individual sensory needs, and visual motor skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming. 

Dr. Bellenis will be working with a small caseload of clients aged 12-26 who have recently participated in neuropsychological evaluation and/or transition assessment at NESCA. If you have questions about working with Dr. Bellenis, please email Kelley Challen, Director of Transition Services, at kchallen@nesca-newton.com.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Great Masquerader

Anxiety and School Refusal

By: Ryan Ruth Conway, PsyD

Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in life. It is a normal, adaptive human emotion that helps us prepare for important events and optimizes performance – think upcoming tests, ballet recitals, sports playoff games – and alerts us to danger in situations that threaten our safety. However, some individuals experience anxiety so intensely and so frequently that it becomes impairing, hindering their daily functioning. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), it is the most common mental health disorder in the United States among adults and children. In my work with children and teens, I have seen anxiety become such a powerful force that it gets in the way of having sleepovers at friend’s houses, limits social engagement, results in marked physical discomfort, impairs concentration in class, and even contributes to flat out refusal of school.

Anxiety is an inward focused feeling, meaning that we experience it internally. As a result, it is often unrecognizable to parents and teachers and can go easily undetected for a long time until it becomes a problem. Children might be ashamed to talk about it, try to push it away to avoid distress or be limited in their ability to fully articulate what is happening. Behaviorally, anxiety causes a fight-flight-freeze reaction. It leads to acting out and aggressive behaviors (i.e., “fight”) as well as running away and escaping (i.e., “flight”). Anxiety can also be an underlying source of noncompliance, disguised as unwillingness to engage and shutting down in overwhelming situations (i.e., “freeze”).

In a recent New York Times Magazine article (see link below), writer Benoit Denizet-Lewis takes a closer look at the increasing prevalence of adolescent anxiety as well as a residential program, Mountain Valley Treatment Center, that provides services for more severe cases. In an information age, many teens, parents, educators and mental health professionals are citing social media as partly to blame for the uptick in anxiety. The constant comparing to peers through social media is problematic in that it makes teens feel like they aren’t good enough, which can greatly impact their self-esteem. In my clinical work I see an overreliance on smartphones due to the reinforcing function they serve – whether it be a text back to hang out or a “like” on an Instagram post – and I will often work with youth on self-reinforcement and finding alternatives that are intrinsically rewarding to them.

Many of the students interviewed for the New York Times Magazine article who attended Mountain Valley had histories of significant difficulty attending their regular school due severe anxiety and/or depression, a presentation known as school refusal. School refusing behaviors exist on a spectrum, from the mild (e.g., missing gym class every now and then due to fears of changing in front of classmates) to the more severe (e.g., missing entire weeks of school due to persistent worries about having panic attacks). Early intervention is key. The longer the child or adolescent is out of school, the more pressure they feel about “catching up” academically. The more they feel like they are falling behind, the more depressed and anxious they become. The more upset and stressed they are, the more difficult it is to get back to school. And the cycle continues.

Understanding this cycle, NESCA offers a special program for youth who refuse school because of emotional distress, called Back to School (BTS). In this program, clinicians use a comprehensive evidence-based treatment approach and work closely with parents and school faculty to figure out the most effective plan that will help the student reenter school.

  • Given the importance of catching school refusal early, here are some warning signs to look out for:
  • Test-taking anxiety
  • Peer bullying
  • Ongoing visits to the nurse despite no apparent signs of illness
  • Frequent requests to phone or go home during the school day
  • Somatic complaints without a medical explanation (e.g., stomachaches, headaches, etc.)
  • Absences on significant days (e.g., tests, speeches)
  • Sleep problems or resistance to leave bed in the morning
  • Changes in mood – anxiety, irritability, sadness 
If you have any questions about the BTS Program or NESCA’s therapy program in general, please contact Dr. Ryan Ruth Conway at rconway@nesca-newton.com or 617-658-9831. Dr. Conway will additionally be speaking at several workshops this fall on the subject of School Anxiety, School Phobia, and School Refusal. Information regarding upcoming NESCA events can be found on our web site at http://www.nesca-newton.com/events.html.

Denizet-Lewis, B. (2017). Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety? The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/magazine/why-are-more-american-teenagers-than-ever-suffering-from-severe-anxiety.html.

About the Author:

Dr. Ryan Ruth Conway is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), behavioral interventions, and other evidence-based treatments for children, adolescents and young adults who struggle with mood and anxiety disorders as well as behavioral challenges. She also has extensive experience conducting parent training with caregivers of children who present with disruptive behaviors and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Dr. Conway has been trained in a variety of evidence-based treatments, including Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Exposure with Response Prevention (ERP). Dr. Conway conducts individual and group therapy at NESCA utilizing an individualized approach and tailoring treatments to meet each client’s unique needs and goals. Dr. Conway has a passion for working collaboratively with families and other professionals. She is available for school consultations and provides a collaborative approach for students who engage in school refusal. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Catch Them When They're Good!

A Positive Parenting Tool

By: Ryan Ruth Conway, PsyD

If your child’s go-to response to your requests is typically “no,” then keep reading…

Children who tend to disobey rules, become easily agitated, experience temper outbursts and argue with authority figures are known to display a pattern of behaviors called disruptive behaviors. These behaviors can cause significant family turmoil and become quite challenging for schools to manage. Children who have trouble regulating their emotions and behaviors may be pinned as “the bad kids.” This is unhelpful, because it does not explain what exactly is underlying the acting out. This type of reputation can also impact a child’s self-esteem, resulting in feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Disruptive behaviors could be masking other issues that are not obvious to teachers and parents. Consider the possibility that the kindergarten student who shuts down and refuses to engage in class is not oppositional, but instead experiencing anxiety about being away from his mother or father. Maybe the second grader obtains his parents’ attention most often at home when she lashes out. In trying to control disruptive behaviors, children get a lot of attention from adults for what they are doing wrong, often times unintentionally.  

One of the hallmarks in teaching caregivers how to effectively manage these kinds of behaviors is positive parenting, which comes from a behavior therapy approach. Among positive parenting techniques is “catching them when they’re good,” which shifts the focus away from what is problematic and towards the appropriate behaviors parents want to see continue. With this technique, parents become more mindful about the behaviors they attend to, and seek out opportunities to let their child know when he or she is on the mark. It feels good for both the giver and the receiver, and can bring you closer to your child!

Positive feedback is a powerful tool at any age. For children, it comes in many forms – a sticker for helping to set the dinner table, a praise statement (“I’m so pleased that you are using gentle hands with your brother”), even a hug! As your child starts to recognize that you are giving more attention to appropriate behaviors, they will similarly shift from negative actions (e.g., sassing off, whining, crying, etc.) to positive ones.

Behavioral parent training empowers caregivers by teaching them specific skills to not only manage their children’s behavior at home, but also to improve communication, build warmth within the parent-child relationship and create a calmer household. The Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (SCCAP), a group dedicated to disseminating information about evidence-based therapies for youth mental health problems, sites behavior therapy (individual parent and groups of parents with or without child participation) as the most efficacious treatment for disruptive behaviors in children. The SCCAP website, www.effectivechildtherapy.org, was recently updated and is a helpful resource for parents seeking information and guidance about treatment for children and teens.

NESCA is excited to be offering a new group for parents and children ages 7-10 who exhibit disruptive behaviors and/or ADHD symptoms. This group will have separate parent and child sections – with opportunities for combined parent-child sessions – and utilize both behavioral and cognitive-behavioral techniques. For additional information, visit http://www.nesca-newton.com/events.html.

Or visit our previous article about behavioral parent training and the research backing this approach: http://www.nesca-news.com/2017/04/parent-training-programs-101.html. 

About the Author:

Dr. Ryan Ruth Conway is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), behavioral interventions, and other evidence-based treatments for children, adolescents and young adults who struggle with mood and anxiety disorders as well as behavioral challenges. She also has extensive experience conducting parent training with caregivers of children who present with disruptive behaviors and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Dr. Conway has been trained in a variety of evidence-based treatments, including Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Exposure with Response Prevention (ERP). Dr. Conway conducts individual and group therapy at NESCA utilizing an individualized approach and tailoring treatments to meet each client’s unique needs and goals. Dr. Conway has a passion for working collaboratively with families and other professionals. She is available for school consultations and provides a collaborative approach for students who engage in school refusal. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Transition Workshop October 17: Forget Failure to Launch! How to Support Your Teen or Young Adult in Getting Off the Couch and Involved in Life Outside the House

That's the topic of a presentation taking place at NESCA's offices in Newton at 7:00pm on Tuesday, October 17th, featuring Veteran Transition Specialist  Kathleen Pignone as speaker.

Participants in this work shop will learn how to:

·        Contingency plan when Transition Plan A (and even Plan B) is not working out as hoped 
·        Create and balance a long-term plan with short-term attainable goals
·        Foster social motivation and engagement and prevent isolation
·        Develop motivation, perseverance and resiliency using a strengths-based and person-centered approach
·        Help teens and young adults learn skills necessary for engaging in decision making and daily activities independent of parents
·        Access key community resources

Light refreshments will be served. Admission is free, although seating is limited!

To register, email info@nesca-newton.com, with "Failure to Launch" in the subject line.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Ron Suskind and The Affinity Project

is excited to announce a new partnership with Ron Suskind and

A strengths-based approach to building social, emotional, practical, and executive functioning skills for people with an Autism Spectrum Diagnosis

The Affinity Method is an exciting new approach that uses your child’s unique interests – or affinities – as tools to expand social-emotional awareness and intelligence. By using their passions as pathways, we meet them where they are, learn more about how they use their interests to navigate the world, and draw out the connections between what they know and what we want to help them learn. 

Meet Ron Suskind, founder of the Affinity Project,
and hear about how this exciting new partnership could benefit you!

Day: Monday, October 2nd, 2017
Time: 7:00p-8:30p
Location: NESCA office
55 Chapel St.
Newton, MA 02458

The method uses ground-breaking technology – an app called Sidekicks - to engage our clients.  The client is called the Hero, Sidekicks are avatars; animated characters that live in the Hero’s smartphone or tablet app who act as the Hero’s friend. Behind the scenes, these avatars are controlled by various coaches - therapists, parents, and other individuals who wish to engage with Heroes through the app. When either a Hero or a Coach searches for video content, it will mirror simultaneously on the other paired device.

They can play, pause, discuss, enjoy, play again!
The Coach controls what the Sidekick says out loud to the Hero.

The Hero responds by speaking out loud to the Sidekick.
This is heard by the Coach through their mobile device or computer console.
The Hero can also choose to text (instead of speaking aloud), and the text will appear on the Coach’s screen.
Ron Suskind, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and best-selling author of Life, Animated, now an Academy-award nominated movie, used Disney movies to reach his nonverbal autistic son and bring him back to language and relationships. He and leading technologists created The Affinity Project and the Sidekicks app so parents everywhere could do the same, no matter what their child loves.

Click the video link to learn more about Ron, his son Owen and how the Affinity Project came to life! 

NESCA is proud to be one of the very first providers to offer use of the Sidekicks app in therapy sessions!

To learn more about this exciting opportunity, contact
Rebecca Girard at NESCA
Join us on Monday, October 2nd. 

We look forward to seeing you!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Rebecca Girard, LICSW, CAS joins NESCA

Rebecca is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and a Certified Autism Specialist.

We are pleased to announce the newest member of the NESCA team, Rebecca Girard!

Meet Rebecca:

Rebecca has worked with children, adolescents, adults with Asperger's/Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families for over a decade. Having previously worked at Aspire, AANE, and Northeast ARC where she was a co-founder of The Spotlight Program, Rebecca 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 be partnering with The Affinity Project to provide enhanced psychotherapy to children with ASD at NESCA.

Her other clinical interests include group work, trauma-informed care, and mindfulness/meditation. Her approach is child-centered, strengths-based, creative and compassionate. Ms. Girard’s professional passion is promoting tolerance and understanding of neuro-diverse people of all abilities, and creating an empowering and accepting environment in therapy for clients of all ages.

Reach out if you would like to work with Rebecca!

direct line: 617-658-9825 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Is Acupuncture right for you?

Article by Holly Pelletier, NESCA's New Acupuncturist 

One of the most common questions I receive as an acupuncturist is “Can it help with (insert any condition or ailment here)?”   And the answer is most emphatically “Yes”.  This is because the majority of us suffer from something we wish we didn’t have to. The reason is that we have been taught only to receive medicine and health care as a means of fixing something which is already broken. We do not think about creating and maintaining a healthy body before these malfunctions begin to occur. But what if we could change our way of thinking?

As a society in general, we tend to be hyper-focused on fixing problems. When we shift our focus back a bit, we can usually see that problems come from preventable causes. It is these precipitants or causes that need to be addressed. When it comes to the human body, we all ought to be able to recognize ourselves in the following scenario:

Imagine a time where you had an injury or felt pain somewhere in the body. You may have noticed that you quickly developed a very intuitive way to relieve the pain; perhaps you shifted your bodyweight to avoid an achy foot, or used your non-dominant hand to pick up something heavy, or placed a pillow below a sore hip in the car. Whatever the situation, I’m sure you instinctively and creatively found a way to lessen your pain.

At first, these adjustments may have been just what you needed to allow some part of your body to rest and heal. Sometimes, however, circumventing pain can cause prolonged unnatural use of your body in other areas; and when you strain one part of your body in order to avoid strain on another part of your body every day for a week or a month, or in many cases even years, you will without a doubt begin to feel pain somewhere else. The body has a way it is supposed to move, and when you move in a way that is contradictory to it, you incite a domino effect.

The entire body is interconnected. Every system, every organ, and every cell that is out of balance has to pull from reserves somewhere else. Simply put, the sick robs from the healthy. This is how imbalance forms in the body, and it is the reason unpleasant symptoms begin to manifest.  

Symptoms of imbalance can be subtle--they may show up in the form of dry mouth, a slightly aching head, or difficulty sleeping. Every person has a different chemical makeup, and therefore these imbalances will show up differently in everyone. It takes an in-tune and aware individual to begin noticing these changes in their body, and an even more proactive and intelligent person to decide to do something about them when the first signs arise.

At last, we come to acupuncture and its role. Acupuncture is part of a holistic medicine system that originated in China and dates back thousands of years. Its entire motivation is to restore balance anywhere in the body. That means that, in a roundabout way, acupuncture can work with any ailment, although its strength is with preventative and early-onset illness.

This is why acupuncture is a phenomenal modality for children and adolescents. Their imbalances are fresh and new, still close to their root cause, and relatively easy to reverse. It becomes more difficult as we age.

When explaining this to those who are new to acupuncture, I often get follow-up questions about whether or not acupuncture can cure things such as cancer, diabetes, alzheimer’s, and other extreme ailments. Without a doubt, there are some very debilitating diseases that are best managed with a combination of pharmacological treatments and acupuncture.

Until you begin getting treated with acupuncture and seeing how your body responds, it is nearly impossible to determine the level of imbalance in the body. What I can say with clarity and assertion is that acupuncture will most definitely help in some areas of a person’s life. When dealing with chronic illness, there is such a deep imbalance in the body that the person’s main concern may not be transformed in the way that they hope. In these individuals, although their illness may not be cured, their quality of life will almost certainly improve and many symptoms will be managed with acupuncture included in their care.

Because acupuncture works with such a variety of individuals with drastically differently manifesting symptoms, it is challenging to specifically say what changes you will see after beginning your course of treatments. Following are a list of benefits I have found to show up in almost everyone I treat, regardless of primary concern:

Improved and more stable mood

Stress reduction and the body’s ability to handle difficult situations 

Better and more sustainable energy throughout the day 
Deeper and more quality sleep 

Appetite regulation - more or less depending on what the individual needs 

Overall increased feeling of well being 

Decrease in pain and inflammation in the body 

There are many lists out that there have been approved by the FDA detailing specific ailments that “acupuncture treats” and they can be helpful, but looking at the benefits of acupuncture in that way minimizes the vast comprehensive approach that it actually has on the body. 

It is a much more holistic medicine that can positively affect many individuals.

For any questions involving acupuncture, or to set up a free consult or appointment please contact Holly at hpelletier@nesca-newton.com.