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Friday, October 24, 2014

Jessica Minahan's New "The Behavior Code Companion" Available Now!


October 23, 2014

Author, HuffPost blogger, educational consultant and nationally-known speaker Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA is director of behavioral services at NESCA.

Her impressive new book, "The Behavior Code Companion," is not officially scheduled for publication by Harvard Education Press until December 2nd.

You can, however, order it now for $26.55 on Amazon, where it has already garnered thirty-four (!) 5-star reviews. We also secured some advance copies, one of which we'll give you for free if you come into the office. It's worth a special trip; consider these glowing comments:

Praise for The Behavior Code Companion

"Jessica Minahan translates complex knowledge about challenging behavior so that teachers and administrators have tools and strategies they can immediately implement. The Behavior Code Companion is a game changer that will help all schools that think they have run out of ideas."
--Michael Cordell, chief academic officer, KIPP, Washington, D.C.
(KIPP operates 162 charter schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia,
serving 58,000 students)

"The Behavior Code Companion is an invaluable resource for parents, teachers, administrators and related service providers, filled with tools that allow for effective and positive modification of challenging and interfering behaviors, while preserving the child's dignity."
--Alexandra Cron, special education teacher, New York City

"Minahan provides so many creative and reasonable ways to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles that she makes me want to go back to public school teaching! What a much better place schools would be if all school personnel and mental health professionals used this book!"
--Jeannie Golden, psychologist, behavior analyst and associate professor,
East Carolina University

NOTE: We also have copies on hand of Jessica Minahan's first book, "The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students."

NESCA's Behavioral Services

NESCA’s Behavioral Services department, directed by Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA, provides effective behavioral interventions to a variety of populations in multiple arenas.

Specialized in working with children who have complex profiles, such as those struggling with anxiety, depression, Asperger’s syndrome or autism, as well as with children who exhibit oppositional, sexualized and/or withdrawn behavior, NESCA applies evidence-based practices that can be implemented in both home and school settings.

From school staff training, behavior-intervention plan development and consultation to parent training and program consultation, NESCA helps school professionals and parents build capacity for the utilization of best practices with children.

Parents as Equal Participants in Team Meetings

From Parents Have the Power
to Make Special Education Work

By Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves
October 14, 2014

There is a lot of misunderstanding about the role of parents at Team meetings. In our conversations with other parents and in too many online sources, there is frequently a misconception that IDEA gives parents an equal voice with school personnel in deciding what services or educational placement their child needs.

The phrase that is most often cited is “equal participant,” which many parents assume means that the school must accept their suggestions at Team meetings.

While IDEA does require that parents be “afforded the opportunity to participate” in all Team meetings [34 C.F.R. § 300.322 (a)], the right of participation is not the same as the right of decision making. The law, in fact, only requires schools to schedule meetings so that parents have the opportunity to attend and for schools to consider any information (such as independent evaluations) or concerns that the parents bring to the meeting.

“Consider,” however, does not mean “accept.”

IDEA is clear that the school has the ultimate responsibility to ensure that a student’s IEP includes the services and placement needed for a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Because the law makes the school responsible, the law must also give the final decision on what constitutes FAPE to the school.

If parents disagree with the school’s decision, the law provides a due process remedy, either through mediation or a hearing.

Unfortunately, pursuing due process rights can be expensive, time-consuming, and have an uncertain outcome. This means that short of going to mediation or a hearing, you must arrive at Team meetings prepared to be as persuasive as possible in advocating for the services and placement you feel are necessary for your child.

Some recommendations we have are:
  • If the Team won’t agree to all your suggestions, try to come to a mutually agreeable compromise. Remember that your goal is to achieve the best possible result for your child’s education, not to “win” a contest with the school.
  • Have a relative or trusted friend attend the meeting as a note taker so that all important agreements are recorded and the subject of a follow-up letter to your special education liaison. This will prevent later misunderstandings about what was agreed to. You can record a Team meeting, assuming your state allows this, but our experience is that this is not always the best option. (See Recording Team Meetings, Not That Simple)
  • Become familiar with any federal or state laws that might impact the service or placement you want to have included in your child’s IEP. Sometimes school personnel and administrators aren’t familiar with the laws that regulate special education. A citation, gently delivered, can work wonders in breaking down uninformed resistance. If the resistance is intentional, making the Team aware of the law will work toward your advantage before a hearing officer, if it comes to that.

The bottom line is that thoughtful preparation is the best way to become “more equal” in helping your child obtain an appropriate education.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Acupuncturist Dan Chace to Treat Children, Adolescents (and Parents!) at NESCA


October 17, 2014

We are very pleased to announce that Acupuncturist Dan Chace (who prefers to be called "Chace") will be practicing part-time at NESCA, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons.

Appointments can be arranged by calling 617-658-9800, or emailing Initial 45-minute consultations are $80; subsequent 45-minute treatment sessions are $60.

Chace is uniquely--and extensively--experienced in working with children, even toddlers, whom he treats for anxiety, depression, attentional issues and some of the symptoms associated with developmental, digestive and other disorders.

He practices a minimally or even non-invasive form of Japanese acupuncture, using very fine-gauge needles or in many cases, no needles at all, instead relying upon various other tools applied externally.  He also addresses nutritional and other lifestyle factors that influence child development.

The many parents who wish to explore integrative treatment options that may not involve medicating their children may find his services both appropriate and effective, along with yoga and other therapies offered at NESCA.

Learn more about Japanese acupuncture HERE.

About Dan Chace

Chace is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island, with a degree in zoology. Following stints working in the field of ornithology for the Utah Division of Wildlife and the Massachusetts Audubon Society, he accepted a position at The Fessenden School in West Newton, MA, where he spent 13 years teaching science in the Upper School. For the last eight years of his Fessenden tenure, Chace was head of the department.

In 2010, he enrolled in the New England School of Acupuncture (NESA), from which in 2014, after years of study both here and in Japan, he earned his Master's Degree in Acupuncture (MAc). Chace is also a Diplomate of Acupuncture of the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), and licensed in Massachusetts by the Board of Registration in Medicine.

What makes his practice unique is that he blends the creative techniques of Japanese acupuncture with his Western scientific background and experience as an educator. Most importantly, his practice is guided by personal experience. As a child and young adult, Chace suffered from severe anxiety. He writes,

"It seemed, regardless of the conditions of my life, I felt unsettled, anxious, and for the most part, always out of balance. At NESA, I came to understand that much of this anxiety was my body's response to my diet.

Over time, the lack of nutritious food and healthy lifestyle had created an imbalance in me. As a practitioner, I now see similar imbalances at the root of many symptoms that patients present.

Over my three years at NESA, I significantly altered what I ate, how I exercised, and how I experienced life. While the process was difficult, the results have been well worth the effort, as I no longer feel the overwhelming anxiety I once did.

I want to share what I have learned with each and every patient I am lucky enough to treat."

Riding the ADHD Roller Coaster: Was I Wrong to Drug My Son?

From Great Schools

By Connie Matthiessen

October 19, 2014

After a contradictory ADHD diagnosis — and drugs with scary side effects — he discovered a simple treatment that works.

Late one night I woke up to the sound of someone rummaging in the kitchen. The noise seemed to go on and on, and then something clattered to the floor. I jumped out of bed and made my way to the dark kitchen. There was my oldest son, standing bent over the stark light of the refrigerator, a partially eaten apple in one hand and bowl of cold pasta in the other.

He looked skinny and feral and there was a smear of florescent green — pesto, probably — on the front of his shirt.

“Sorry, Mom,” he mumbled, his mouth full. “I can’t sleep. And I’m starving!”

“It’s three in the morning,” I protested.

“I know. Sorry. I think the drugs finally wore off.”

I helped him put together a makeshift meal, then went back to bed. And lay there, wide awake.

My son had recently been diagnosed with ADHD — the diagnosis du jour and one that seems to land on boys far more often than girls. He’d been prescribed an ADHD drug, a stimulant that in my day was called “speed” and was coveted by college students at exam time.

Usually calm, mature, and in charge, he was now edgy and hollow-eyed; he couldn’t eat at mealtime, or sleep at bedtime, and had taken to wolfing down food in the middle of the night. I finally heard him turn off the lights and go upstairs to his room, and the house was quiet.

How did we get here, I wondered. And where were we heading?

Constant Motion

My firstborn has always been antsy, impatient, on the move. When he was a small boy, I learned that I had to take him to the park every day or he’d ricochet around the house until something or someone — usually his little brother or sister — got damaged. He was in constant motion from early morning until he fell exhausted into bed at night.

Not surprisingly, school was a challenge. He had trouble paying attention in class and rushed through his homework in the classroom, on the bus, or in short, rapid-fire sessions at home. This was fine in the early grades, but as he got older, his quick-and-dirty approach didn’t work so well, and his grades were often mediocre.

As reading assignments grew longer every year, my son struggled to sit still long enough to get through them. Books on tape allowed him to “read” while he kicked a soccer ball, lifted weights, or paced the room. Studying for tests — not to mention sitting through them — remained agonizing for him. Since he rarely did well, he developed test anxiety, which only made matters — and his grades — worse.

“Your son is really bright — he could be doing so well if he’d just work a little harder.” This invocation to hard work became a litany from his teachers I heard again and again, always laced with the same note of frustration.

I shared their exasperation, often taking him to task over his slapdash approach to schoolwork. During the worst of it, our arguments about homework soured our evenings and blighted our weekends. A wiser part of me knew he was struggling, and it occurred to me more than once that he might have something going on. But when I asked his teachers, none of them seemed to think he had what other boys with attention issues suffered from: ADHD.

His teachers had experience with kids whose behavior was far more extreme, kids who, even on medication, couldn’t focus well enough to get even mediocre grades. By comparison, my son was a well-behaved, average student.

In his senior year, something happened that made me wonder if I needed a second opinion — beyond his well-meaning teachers. For days I'd been trying to talk to him about his college choices, because decision deadlines were pending. The subject clearly made him anxious, and he'd usually cut me off and say he didn't feel like talking about it.

Then, one afternoon we were in the car on the way home from a soccer game. He was sweaty and tired, and he looked discouraged. I assumed it was because his team had lost, when out of the blue he confessed that he was worried about college. "One of my teachers was telling us how hard the workload is going to be," he blurted out. "Tons of reading, tons of papers and tests. What if I can't do it?"

I’d been worrying, too, but it was his concern that finally pushed me to have him evaluated for ADHD.

Weird, Weird World

And so, we entered the bizarre wonderland of ADHD testing. Our doctor referred us to a respected adolescent psychiatrist who interviewed my son and me, together and separately, and then recommended ADHD testing. After evaluating him, she told me privately that she was sure he met the criteria for ADHD; she was just waiting for the test to confirm the diagnosis.

It turns out there is no definitive test for ADHD — you can’t do a blood panel or a brain scan to reach a diagnosis. Instead, experts rely on observation, self-reporting, and various psychoeducational assessments. My son took a long, tedious exam on computer to evaluate a number of different ADHD indicators and we waited.

A few weeks later, we filed into the psychiatrist’s office. There, with unmeasured certainty, she informed us that he “definitely had ADHD.” In fact, she said she was surprised that he’d been able to do as well as he had in school, given just how “impaired” he was. She recommended that he go on ADHD medication right away, and scribbled out a prescription.

As we drove home from the pharmacy, I asked my son how he felt. He was holding the orange bottle of pills, and he studied it as he told me, “Now I finally get what’s going on with me. All these years I thought I was just stupid.” I felt a twist of guilt that I’d waited so long to take this step.

But it wasn’t to be one of those clean roads from diagnosis to recovery. He started on the medication immediately — and immediately felt the side effects. He’d always been a light eater, and now he didn’t touch the lunches I insisted on sending with him to school. He sat with us at the dinner table, but could hardly choke down a bite. He couldn’t sleep, either, and after several weeks of this, he was edgy and ragged.

Worst of all, he noticed no positive effects from the medication. He felt neither calmer nor more focused in school. The psychiatrist had told us that it could take a while to find the right medication and the correct dosage, so I put in a call to get her advice.

Addiction, Anxiety and Psychosis

While I was waiting to hear back from the psychiatrist, the Centers for Disease Control released a new report on ADHD. Since 2007, diagnosis of ADHD in the U.S. has risen 16 percent and — over the previous decade — a whopping 41 percent. For boys, the incidence is particularly acute: one in five high school boys in the U.S. carries a diagnosis of ADHD, and the great majority are being medicated.

As I read the New York Times article, I felt I was looking into a mirror of what was happening to my son:

“About two-thirds of those with a current [ADHD] diagnosis receive prescriptions for stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall, which can drastically improve the lives of those with ADHD but can also lead to addiction, anxiety and occasionally psychosis.”

A comment by psychiatrist and ADHD researcher James Swanson hit home: “There’s no way that one in five high school boys has ADHD. If we start treating children who do not have the disorder with stimulants, a certain percentage are going to have problems that are predictable — some of them are going to end up with abuse and dependence."

As I read and reread the report, I wondered again where my son fell on the great spectrum of boys who hate to sit still and would rather be running around a field. Was his restlessness an actual disease or an energetic predilection? Of course I wanted him to excel in school, but was I doing the right thing by allowing him to seek a chemical cure to his academic ills? My son wasn’t a stellar student, but he was doing okay. Should we just leave well enough alone?

I knew from friends whose kids had been diagnosed that the right medication can be transformative, helping kids not only survive but flourish after years of struggle in school. But what if my son was one of the overdiagnosed? I thought I was smart enough to discern hype from reality, but was I actually jeopardizing his health and his future?

No Magic Pill

When I finally reached the psychiatrist to complain about the medication, she surprised me by saying that, in fact, she wasn’t sure if my son had ADHD. He had scored so high on the ADHD scale that a therapist who evaluated his test results thought there could be an error in the test. “He needs to be retested immediately,” she told me.

After he was retested, we received the results quickly: my son did not have ADHD after all, the psychiatrist informed us. She was remarkably unapologetic and never acknowledged her 180-degree reversal: after being so adamant that he had ADHD, she was now just as sure that he did not — with seemingly no need for explanation in between. Instead, she suggested that he suffered from anxiety and recommended therapy.

We left the psychiatrist’s office in a daze. We’d both initially welcomed the diagnosis — and the possibility that a pill could solve his problems. It was such a clear-cut solution to a vexing problem. But after almost a month of dealing with the side effects of the medication, my son and I both realized just how high a price he was paying for this miracle cure.

The insane ride on the ADHD roller coaster had turned our world upside down, only to drop us right back where we’d started — with no answers and even more questions.

Pills — or PE?

Once he’d stepped off the ADHD roller coaster, my son was left to his own devices — the same devices he’d been using all along. Instead of drugs, he developed his own treatment plan, regulating his energy levels with powerful doses of daily exercise. He'd always played sports, but now he became more methodical about getting exercise every day. Though he didn’t know it, a growing body of research vindicates his impulse to self-medicate with sweat.

One recent study found that exercise boosts “executive control” — that is, the ability to resist distraction and stay on task. Another study found that kids who participated in physical activity for just 30 minutes before school every day exhibited significantly lower inattention and moodiness, both at school and at home.

Physical activity is particularly important for kids who have trouble staying focused, but it benefits every child, says Harvard psychiatrist and author John Ratey, an expert on the brain-boosting benefits of exercise. "Kids with ADHD and other learning issues may get a bigger bang for the buck from vigorous exercise, but science shows that it boosts tests scores for all kids," Ratey says. "And it reduces discipline problems significantly, too."

So it’s ironic that as a society we’re heading in the opposite direction. As writer James Hamblin observed in The Atlantic, the cautious calls for additional research on the benefits of exercise stand out in stark contrast to the exuberant — and growing — distribution of ADHD drugs to children.

Between 2007 and 2011, ADHD prescriptions increased from 34.8 million to 48.4 million. “The pharmaceutical market around the disorder has grown to several billion dollars in recent years while school exercise initiatives have enjoyed no such spoils of entrepreneurialism,” he writes.

Hamblin also notes the illogical inverse relationship between mounting evidence of exercise benefits on health and learning — and languishing investments in school exercise programs. Many districts and schools around the country have cut both physical education and recess for budgetary reasons and to increase time for back-to-basics academics, according to a report by the Institute of Medicine.

Looking back, I think we dodged a bullet. I don’t think my son has ADHD — or maybe he just falls on the milder end of the spectrum. But under different circumstances, he might have received (as he briefly did) an ADHD diagnosis and spent years taking stimulants. Instead, he figured out something important about himself, a lesson that will serve him his whole life.

Now in his first semester of college, he knows that as long as he exercises he’s able to put in long hours reading and studying without climbing the walls. He recently spent days preparing for a comparative government midterm, taking meticulous notes and carving out a few hours every day to study. As he described his study routine and the A he received on the exam, I could hear new confidence in his voice, confidence I’d seldom heard him express about any matter related to school.

For some kids, medication can bring relief and productivity they might never enjoy without it. But I wonder how many kids are like my son. Given all the evidence, shouldn’t a daily, structured exercise program be the very first line of treatment — before we pass out the pills?


Connie Matthiessen is a San Francisco writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones, Health, San Francisco, WebMD, and other publications. She has three children (who provide a close-up perspective on great and not-so-great schools) and two chubby cats.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Roundtable on the Redesigned SAT Wednesday, November 12 at Summit

From Summit Educational Group

October 22, 2014

NOTE: Just in from our friends and neighbors at Summit Educational Group, to whom we often refer clients.

In the Spring of 2016, the SAT will undergo some major changes. Though these changes may seem far in the future, we have already started hearing questions from families who have a student in the class of 2017:
  • How will these testing changes affect their student?
  • Should they plan to take the ACT instead?
We will review all that is known about the new SAT as well as discuss the ways to determine the best plan for college admission testing at this roundtable.

When:   7:00 – 8:30 pm Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Where: Summit Educational Group
                  90 Bridge Street, Suite 200
                  Newton, MA 02458

This program is free and open to the public.

Register HERE.

For Some Children with Autism, Even a Toothbrush Is a Challenge

From The New York Times' Parenting Blog

By K.J. Dell'Antonia and Catherine Saint Louis
October 20, 2014

Talk to any parent with a child with autism spectrum disorder and they’ll tell you that small events, like haircuts and dentist visits, can cause untold amounts of stress. As described in For Children With Autism, Opening a Door to Dental Care, finding a dentist willing to work with the family is a key to success.

But dental cleanings happen only twice a year. What counts as much, if not more, towards dental health is whether a parent can brush a child’s teeth twice a day. Children with moderate to severe autism may not be willing to cooperate with a parent wielding a toothbrush—and many parents would call that a spectacular understating of the challenges they face in establishing an every day routine of parent brushing, and eventually, where possible, teaching the child to take over that responsibility.

Here, from parents and professionals, are a few tips for getting a lifelong habit launched right:
  • Start early. Many dentists encourage parents of all children to accustom a child to the brushing sensation on gums even before the first teeth appear. Once a child is diagnosed with autism, getting him used to the idea of the toothbrush’s approach as young as possible becomes even more important. As with dental visits, don’t wait.
  • Go electric. You may have a very small window of brushing opportunity. An electric toothbrush helps you make the most of that time.
  • Start small. Karen Raposa, dental hygienist and parent of a child with autism, suggests “baby steps. If your child isn’t comfortable with the toothbrush, or the electric toothbrush, right away, that’s O.K.. Start with one tooth, for one second. Three or four days later, you might be able to do two seconds. It’s fine to take it slowly.”
  • Reward. “Bribery, bribery, bribery,” said a parent on Facebook. Ms. Raposa put it a little more tactfully, suggesting a small reward every time a child allows the brush in his mouth, particularly in the beginning, or when introducing the electric toothbrush.
  • But not with candy. In this context, skipping the candy reward is obvious. But many children who are on the spectrum get rewarded when they finish a task at school, and sometimes those rewards are candy. Check with your school or program, and if candy is a frequent prize, ask that it be limited or eliminated, and suggest (or provide) nonfood rewards that will work for your child.
  • Offer choices. All children like to have some control. You can have a selection of toothpastes for a child to choose from, or a variety of heads for the electric toothbrush, or allow the child to choose where in the mouth the brushing begins.
  • Set up the routine. Let your child know what will happen, and in what order, using pictures as well as words. Create a picture schedule of exactly what will happen, whether it’s a brush in the mouth, then a reward, or the eventual longer routine: Pick the toothpaste. Pick the toothbrush head. Turn the brush on. Open mouth. There are apps that make creating these schedule boards easier, says Ms. Raposa, like Custom Boards, which allows you to search for pictures or use your own.
  • Watch the toothpaste. The ribbon of toothpaste portrayed in ads is way too much, says Ms. Raposa, “particularly for children who may not be able to spit it out.” A smear, she says, is enough. When children graduate to brushing on their own, one parent suggests a wall-mounted toothpaste dispenser for those who may not be dextrous enough to manage the tube.
  • Make the ending clear. Brush for “a count of 10,” or sing a song — the same song — nightly, ending the brushing when the song is done, or use a toothbrush with a timer. This lets a child anticipate when a parent will finish brushing, and later, know how long to brush himself.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lively Letters - New Reading Program Presentation Thursday, November 6th

From the Framingham SEPAC

October 20, 2014

"Lively Letters" is an evidence-based reading program recently introduced into the Framingham Public Schools as a complement to their established Wilson Reading program; some 75 educators there have already received training at the elementary level.

Lively Letters trains students in the critical skills of phonemic awareness, letter sound associations, and the ability to decode (read) and encode (spell) words fluently.

Attend this free workshop to learn more about the program and how you can participate at home in the process of teaching your child to read. Materials will be available to purchase.

When:   7:00 - 9:00pm, Thursday, November 6, 2014

Where:  King Building, Demarais Room
                   454 Water Street, Framingham, MA 01701

Look HERE for more information. RSVP HERE.