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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Community Supports for Effective Transition Planning - Venturing Outside the Classroom: Workshop Monday, March 23rd


February 24, 2015

We are very pleased to announce a workshop for parents and professionals on an essential element of successful transition planning too seldom addressed, particularly by the public schools: the need for community-based assessment of, and coaching in the practical life skills needed to thrive in and beyond post-secondary education. This program will be appropriate for parents of students aged 12 and older.  

Topics to be covered in this workshop will include:
  • Transition planning and service guidelines identified by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education (MA DESE);
  • Why learning to navigate one’s own community is essential to independence in adult life;
  • Effective strategies for transitioning from classroom education to community experiences;
  • What community experiences supporting transitions to college, employment, recreation, leisure, independence and a range of post-secondary outcomes look like;
  • How to implement the “I” in individualized educational program in the community.
When:   7:00 – 8:30pm Monday, March 23, 2015

Where: NESCA
                  Lower Lobby Meeting Space
                  55 Chapel Street, Newton, MA 02458

Cost:    $20/person payable by credit card over the phone,
                  or cash/check at the door.

Coffee and light refreshments will be served. Space is limited. RSVP required to Amanda Renzi at 617-658-9800, ext. 0, or by email to


Marilyn Webber is a distinguished, highly experienced transition specialist dedicated in working with adolescents and young adults. She provides Community-Based Skills Coaching services as well as short-term consultation to families and professionals.

Ms. Weber brings decades of experience working in schools and community agencies as a job developer, job coach, work study coordinator, school to careers coordinator, transition coordinator, parent and professional trainer and parent consultant. She is a veteran advocate who trained at The Federation of Children with Special Needs (FCSN), Wrightslaw and OSEP/COPAA’s SEAT program, with a practicum at FCSN.

Ms. Weber was the Partnership Director for DRYVE, a youth career center funded by the Workforce Initiative Act. She is a member of Massachusetts Advocates for Children Autism Advisory Committee and Transition Coordinator Subcommittee which recently passed “An Act Relative to Students with Disabilities in Post-Secondary Education, Employment and Independent Living.”

She is the proud mother of a young adult with autism.

Making It Up As You Go Along…Or Not

From the Academy MetroWest Blog 

By Bruce Sabian, M.A., LMHC
February 24, 2015

Before I went to graduate school and embarked on a professional career, I flirted with the world of hippie-dom for a few years. I was captivated by Jack Kerouac’s writing that extolled the life of on-the-road spontaneity and the freedom to “dig” all that was around us. I spent my share of time at Grateful Dead shows, captivated by their “make it up as you go” ethos, embodied in the lyric “Gone are the days we stop to decide…Where we should go – We just ride.”

Even though I was never a full-fledged hippie (my wife reminds me that I like showers and air conditioning too much to be a real hippie) I entered the world of human services very much in that mindset.

When I started running my own groups, there were times I’d bring that outlook to bear in the way I structured – or rather, didn’t structure – my groups. Rather than creating an agenda for my group, I’d often go into a session with nothing in mind. My feeling was that I’d try to follow the group’s lead, respond to their moods and preferences, and gently steer the agenda in a productive direction rather than imposing a preconceived program that might not have suited that particular group on that particular day.

I don’t run my groups that way anymore. As anyone who saw the Grateful Dead more than a couple of times can attest, while there were many moments of inspiration and empathic collaboration in the music, there were also plenty of times the music fell flat. Group improvisation doesn’t work too well when musicians, for whatever reason, aren’t in sync with each other during a performance. My groups often devolved to a similar state of listlessness or chaos.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because I’ve seen a lot of articles that have been touting the virtues of unstructured play for kids. Pieces in The Washington Post, Education Week, The Atlantic, and other sources point out the many benefits of stepping back and letting kids figure things out for themselves as they just play. In general, I’m a big supporter of this idea.

Some of these articles cite studies that link kids’ participation in unstructured play with the development of executive functions. Aside from the empirical support cited for this association in the articles, it makes a great deal of sense on an intuitive level as well. When kids play with each other and don’t have an adult scripting the experience, they need to address issues of time management, emotional regulation, flexibility, impulse control, and a host of other considerations.

And, they have fun while they’re doing it, which, after all is said and done, is really the point.

While there’s a lot to recommend about this approach to children’s play, its utility isn’t as universal as we’d hope. Among quirky kids – those with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Anxiety, and other associated issues – the benefits gleaned from unstructured play are often overwhelmed by the challenges that come along with it.

If you know a parent of a child with ADHD, go ahead and ask him or her what the most challenging parts of a school day are for their child. It’s a good bet that the answer is going to be one of the following: 1.) The school bus, 2.) Recess, 3.) Lunchtime, or 4.) Transitions. What do those times have in common? Those are the times during a typical school day when the structure is minimized or non-existent.

Social and behavioral expectations are often loosely implied rather than being clearly and explicitly stated. Adults are not positioned to provide a consistent flow of limit-setting or feedback. Kids who are susceptible to becoming overstimulated, distracted, or impulsive tend to get overwhelmed and lose sight of boundaries. Kids who struggle to read social cues or who may have trouble seeing “the big picture” tend to fall through the cracks when the explicit rules and guidelines they rely upon are taken away. Kids who struggle with perspective taking can lose sight of the fact that their peers may not share their enthusiasm for whatever activity or plan they might have in mind.

Rather than seeing unstructured times as being fun and enriching, quirky kids may see them as just another frustrating social experience.

So, what are parents of quirky kids to do? Should they try to help their kids avoid failure and frustration by steering them away from unstructured play? Or should they, in effect, throw their kids to the wolves, figuring that the skills they can gain justify the frustrations and stumbles that go along with it. Neither extreme is all that enticing.

The trick is to find a middle ground where skills can be acquired without self-image being devastated in the process. Success depends on many factors but one of the most important is having a good sense about where to set the bar. In general, the right place is at a height that’s challenging for kids but not so challenging that, with some effort, they can’t get over it most of the time.

If the bar is too low, kids don’t learn new skills and often wind up getting bored or complacent. Set it too high and the struggles and frustration involved with getting over it wind up drowning out any new skills that may have been acquired along the way.

There are a number of adaptations that you can use that serve the purpose of adding a little bit of structure or scaffolding to unstructured play. Here are just a few:

1.) Don’t leave things entirely open ended. Instead of having the kids fashion their own agenda from scratch, offer them a finite number of choices.

2.) Place time limits on the unstructured or open-ended aspect of a play date. Suggest to the kids that they play on their own for a certain period of time before you all do an activity together or you begin to set more specific parameters. Try to monitor things as they progress so minor frustration doesn’t escalate quickly into heavy drama.

3.) Talk things through with your child prior to the start of the play. Anticipate the potential pitfalls or problem areas and provide suggestions on how to deal with them.

4.) Make adaptations that add some structure to activities that are usually open-ended. For example, if the kids opt for playing with Lego’s, sit down and help them figure out what they’re going to build before they get to it.

5.) Establish clear rules or boundaries about what is and what is not permitted. Think about what activities have the potential to escalate quickly into conflict and make sure the kids know that they’re not allowed.

With a few tweaks here and there, it’s possible to help quirky kids experience the fun and benefits that can only be gained from unstructured play. Sharing the exhilaration of making it up as you go along leaves you open to new experience and lets you truly live in the moment. Why should the jam bands have all the fun?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Is Your Teenager Struggling With Behavioral Challenges? NAMI 7-Week Basic Mental Health Course Starts Tuesday, March 17th

The National Alliance on Mental Illness

February 27, 2015

Experts agree that children and adolescents are growing up in an increasingly complex and stressful world full of social and academic challenges. Some are struggling to manage these challenges due to biological, psychological and/or social issues.

The symptoms of these underlying issues may include school avoidance, isolation, poor grades, self-harm, problems with relationships, impulsivity, poor decision-making, defiance, eating disorders and substance abuse.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is offering a free educational program specially designed for parents and other caregivers of adolescents and children living with emotional or behavioral challenges. An evidence-based program, NAMI BASICS is taught by trained parent volunteers who themselves have children with these issues.

The program runs for 7 weeks and covers topics such as neurobiology, problem solving skills, listening and communication skills, accessing services and supports, crisis management and caregiver self-care.

When:   7:00 - 9:30pm (Seven successive Tuesdays starting
                   March 17, 2015)

Where: Acton, MA (Call for specific street address information)

This 7-week program is offered at no cost, but pre-registration is required. Space is limited.

To register, please call or email Dee at 978-697-3441 ( or Cara at 978-760-2455 (

Mountain Valley Treatment Center in NH - An Important Resource for Adolescents with Significant Anxiety Disorders


February 24, 2015

"Severe Anxiety is like a weed. It grows fast, damages the garden, and if not removed at the stem, has a tendency to return."

On alternate Tuesday mornings throughout the school year, we host educational seminars for our clinical staff, because it's essential that they stay abreast not only of the latest developments in the field, but also of the resources to which they can confidently refer clients. This week, we heard a compelling presentation by Dan Villiers, Ph.D., founder and admissions director of Mountain Valley Treatment Center (MVTC) in Haverhill, New Hampshire.

Situated on a beautiful, 1800-acre "campus" bordering the White Mountain National Forest, MVTC is a unique non-profit, short-term residential treatment center for adolescent boys and girls struggling with anxiety disorders. Which we know from painful experience to be proliferating! In a supportive and nurturing milieu, Mountain Valley provides well-researched, evidence-based therapies to students aged 13 - 20 whose lengths-of-stay average 75 days. You can learn much more on MVTC's website.

We thought you might be interested in this poignant "Open Letter" from Dan Villiers, in which he describes his own struggles with crippling anxiety as a teen, and his motivations for establishing MVTC:

Origins & Motivations 

Some people have asked me about the motivations behind Mountain Valley. I do tell them about the data: from the almost 10 million children diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in the United States (NIMH, 2012); to the 700% increase over the last forty years (Gray, P., 2010); to the treatability statistics of CBT and anxiety disorders that would make even the biggest skeptic give you a high five.

I do tell them about the benefits of exposure therapy, how the victim of the fight and flight response can heal more rapidly in an environment where there is no one to fight, and nowhere to flee. I do tell them about the concerning shortage of anxiety disorder treatment programs, and how this is an epidemic, so I think we should be doing more.

I don’t tell them about how my life as a teenager was circumscribed by anxiety, and the decisions it made for me. I don’t tell them about the America I lost at 17 years old because “tough it out” was not the panacea I needed. I don’t tell them about the Mountain I climbed to overcome panic, and the Valley of recovery I was fortunate to find; a valley where I became more the arbiter of real threat and less the victim of perceived danger.

While my own experience inspired the design of Mountain Valley, my frustrations as a clinician treating anxiety provided equal motivation.

I was frustrated that however “in the zone” I was, the benefits of the 50-minute hour wore off on my clients almost as fast as the euphoria I feel after hot yoga. I was frustrated by parent’s who saw medication as the first line of attack, and rarely as an adjunct to therapy, or the “if all else fails” scenario.

I was frustrated by how my client’s fear, and their fear of fear, made “no-shows” as frequent as I remember it raining in London. I was frustrated by my attempts of social anxiety skills groups and panic attack support groups, where 6 were scheduled to attend, and only one showed. There is nothing like five empty chairs, and decaffeinated herbal tea, to make a 17-year-old feel like he is the only one.

I know that you probably know that movement and change is tough without the normalization and empathy from a student’s peers; the power of, “I know exactly what you mean,” and, what I heard a student say on her graduation from Mountain Valley last week, “guys, if I did it, I promise, you can too.”

Anxiety was once a mechanism to solely prepare and protect us from harm, but it seems to have evolved into something annoyingly unnecessary at best and pervasively destructive at worst. While the complex story of the origin of anxiety disorders needs to be told, it is important for our anxious teenagers to know that the experience of it is just an experience; a series of symptoms, and a symptom itself.

Mountain Valley helps our students to understand that they are not defined by their anxious temperament, or the anxiety they experience, but more by their response to it. Denial, apathy and avoidance are responses and strategies that provide some immediate relief, but overtime, become equally as damaging as the anxiety itself.

Severe Anxiety is like a weed. It grows fast, damages the garden, and if not removed at the stem, has a tendency to return. Symptom reduction is merely the beginning of the Mountain Valley journey. It is the origin that provides the motivation for our teenagers to address anxiety at its root; from enmeshed relationships with a parent, to years of teasing and bullying, to sibling rivalry. I know you see this all the time.

This is not to downplay the influence of “genetic vulnerability” and “biological predisposition” in the origins of anxiety; merely, let’s focus more on what we can change, and less on what we can’t. In our daily challenges working with students in need, I think they need to know that just as much as we do.

Daniel P. Villiers, Ph.D.

Mountain Valley Treatment Center is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, and contributions to it are fully tax-deductible.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Take a Look at NESCA's New Website!


February 26, 2015

Some screen shots from our new website: 

Please visit if you haven't already!

When Students Need More: Taking the Long View

From Responsive Classroom
via the "Responsive Blog" 

February 18, 2015

A reality of teaching that all teachers know well is that no matter how effectively we teach, no matter how hard students try, and no matter how many good days the class has together, students will sometimes need more--more direction, more support, more teaching, more time.

But in one of those “Aha” moments that sometimes come along just when we need them, I realized recently that just because some students need extra help doesn’t mean the proactive teaching we do every single day is ineffective. Far from it.

It’s all the daily teaching of classroom procedures and expectations, all the modeling, practicing, and re-teaching, that make the moments of focused, joyful learning possible and enable us to work productively through the moments of struggle.

Here’s how I came to that realization.

A Meltdown in the Midst of Progress

A couple of months into the year, our classroom was beginning to click. More than previous classes, this one had struggled to meet both academic and social expectations. But now, as I looked around the classroom, I saw definite signs of progress. The students’ illustrations of their hopes and dreams (or learning goals) for the year were displayed close to the rules poster they designed together.

Students were practicing routines and procedures we’d taught earlier as they navigated the classroom gathering supplies for their math work. I heard academic conversations. And I caught the occasional giggle as students settled into the day’s rhythm. Things felt good!

And then I noticed Ella, very distracted by a piece of paper clutched in her hand. Suddenly she startled her classmates by yelling at another student across the room, “I don’t want to be your friend anyway!”

My sense of accomplishment gave way to frustration and concern. Despite all of our proactive teaching, were my co-teacher and I really helping our students? Were we doing the right things for them? Was all our work working?

Stepping Back for a Longer Look

After stopping Ella’s misbehavior and getting everyone’s learning back on track, I kept a watchful eye on Ella while reflecting on what I’d just observed and why it might have happened. First, I considered all the hard work we’d done--and were still doing--to establish a community of learners who supported one another:
  • Taught, modeled, and gave children plenty of practice with classroom routines and procedures;
  • Created classroom rules with students and taught them how to put those rules into action;
  • Presented students with engaging, appropriately challenging academics;
  • Used plenty of reinforcing and redirecting language to acknowledge and encourage students’ efforts and help them when they struggled;
  • When students’ behavior was heading off-track, used redirecting language, proximity, and nonverbal cues before turning to logical consequences;
  • Used one-on-one modeling, problem-solving conferences, and written agreements to help students resolve sticky social or academic struggles or progress toward long-term goals.

“Quite a list!” I thought, particularly pleased with our progress in using reinforcing language when students struggled. (We’d noticed early in the year that we were tending to focus more on redirecting behavior mistakes than on reinforcing positive efforts).

Then, I considered the many successes we’d had lately. Ella had learned several strategies for controlling her tendency to lash out and often used them successfully. Kai used a private checklist to keep track of positive comments he made during the day, and his daily average was steadily increasing. A problem-solving conference (and follow-up support) gave Zoelle strategies for handling her aversion to writing. She now usually got to work quickly, without disturbing classmates.

And the class as a whole had many periods of sustained, productive work.

Yes, It’s Working

As I reflected, I realized that all students sometimes have the sort of incidents that Ella had that day. But the teaching practices and interventions on my list--along with Morning Meeting, Closing Circle, Academic Choice, and all our other Responsive Classroom practices--were indeed working for her and for all the other students in our class.

That’s why I was able to observe all that progress in the moments before Ella’s outburst--and why she was able, with my help, to get back to productive learning so quickly.

Stop, Breathe, Reflect

As you move through a school year, with all of its inevitable ups and downs, I hope you’ll stop now and then to do a bit of reflection and perspective-taking. Remind yourself that all students and all teachers experience good times and challenging ones. And trust that the proactive teaching you do every day not only makes the successes possible; it also makes the additional support effective when students do need it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Register Now for "Asperger/Autism and Disclosure 2015" - An AANE/NESCA/MGH Aspire Conference Saturday, March 14th

The Asperger/Autism Network

February 10, 2015

Especially in light of the changes in the DSM-5.

This conference will cover all aspects of disclosure pertinent to children, teens and adults: from parents disclosing to their child, their family, and to the community, and adults disclosing to colleges, potential partners or employers.

Featured Speakers: NESCA’s Dr. Jason McCormick, Daniel Rosenn, M.D. and Gina and Katie Gallagher (of Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid).

When:   8:30am - 4:00pm Saturday, March 14, 2015

Where: Bentley University Conference Center
                   175 Forest Street, LaCava 300
                   Waltham, MA

Cost:   $125/professionals; $90/non-professionals

Register here.

Co-sponsored by AANEMGH/Aspire and NESCA.