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Monday, February 19, 2018

Sleep Hygiene and Sleep Debt


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

For many students, teachers, and families in Massachusetts (and several other states throughout the country), this week marks a vacation and a time for rest. In that spirit, this week on NESCA News & Notes, we are highlighting the importance of good sleep hygiene for children, a vital element of wellness, mental health, and learning. Check out this short TEDx talk by Roxanne Prichard of the University of St Thomas about the importance of sleep for children. Highlights of the talk include:
  • Sleep is an essential for a healthy brain
  • United States school children are ranked 1st among nations with academic problems directly attributable to sleepiness
  • A 2014 Sleep in America poll found that fewer than 1 in 5 teens is getting the minimum amount of recommended sleep

Benefits of a good night’s sleep include:
  • Better regulated vital systems including growth and immune responses
  • Better memory and ability to retain new information
  • Boosts mood

Tips for good sleep health (according to the CDC):
  • Be consistent. Make sure your child goes to bed at the same time each night and gets up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends (as much as possible)
  • Make sure the bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature
  • Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smart phones, from the bedroom
  • Avoid screens 30 minutes before bedtime. Promote reading, drawing or another quiet, non-screen activity to wind down
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and sugar right before bedtime
  • Make sure your child is getting some exercise. Being physically active during the day can help a child fall asleep more easily at night.

So how much sleep does a child need?


For more information on Dr. Roxanne Prichard as well as sleep hygiene, visit the following web sites:
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 therapeutic support to youth with a range of mood, anxiety, social and behavioral challenges. Her approach is child-centered, strengths-based, creative and compassionate.


Monday, February 12, 2018

Acupuncture and its Role in Treating Anxiety


By: Holly Pelletier, L.Ac.
Licensed Acupuncturist, NESCA

Whether or not you’re familiar with acupuncture, you may be wondering what role it could possibly play in the field of mental health. Most people associate acupuncture with the treatment of pain conditions, and although it has gained recent popularity and prevalence in our little corner of the world, it is often only given a portion of the credit it deserves when it comes to the scope of treatment possibilities. 

Acupuncture is a branch of Chinese medicine based upon a meridian system that runs throughout the entire body. On the meridians, there are acupuncture points that can be accessed through different means such as needling, acupressure, or by using a warming herb called mugwort. The purpose of using these points is to move blockages of energy, blood, or fluids (i.e. lymph) in the body. By using different needling techniques and various point combinations you can either add to a deficient area or move an excess one. 

How does acupuncture work with anxiety and other mental health concerns? To explain fully, we can look at it from two different perspectives: 

The first is a more traditional “western” approach where we look at things on a biochemical level. Acupuncture points are specific areas beneath the surface of the skin that have high concentrations of nerve endings, mast cells, lymphatic vessels and capillaries. When an acupuncture needle is inserted into a point, it stimulates the sensory receptor, which in turn stimulates the nerve and transmits impulses to the brain. In this sense, it can be viewed as a “feedback loop” that directly affects your brain, your hormones, and your glands. So, the relaxed feeling you get after an acupuncture session is real, it is not just a placebo or “in your head”. The needles directly adjust imbalances in the body and allow the person to begin the healing process with a “blank slate." This unique aspect, specific to acupuncture, is extremely powerful because it allows the body to access its own, innate power to heal itself. 

The second approach is the stance of Chinese medicine, which frames anxiety as a symptom of something out of balance. If everything was functioning as it should, there would be no symptoms, we would live pain and stress free every single day of our lives. When something is “off”, tiny sensations start surfacing that at first may seem like nothing at all - a foggy head, fatigue, or tight shoulders. But as time goes by, symptoms worsen and the imbalance becomes larger, making it harder to reverse. 

Zooming in even closer to examine just the anxiety is helpful as well. Anxiety comes in all forms. If you have only seen or felt it one way in yourself or your child, it may surprise you that there is a wide array of symptoms that can show up when someone experiences anxiety. Some may have digestive upset while others get headaches or a racing heart, and others may have trouble breathing or dissociate from the world around them. Often, a person is treated for anxiety and given the same medication as someone else, regardless of their symptoms. Rather than treating someone for anxiety and having one specific point protocol or herbal approach, acupuncture treats those symptoms associated with the anxiety instead. For instance, the headaches, or the palpitations that signal stress to the body. Therefore, each person is looked at individually and each case/course of treatment is completely unique. 

As mentioned above, acupuncture is only a part of a much larger system of medicine. Other branches of the system include nutrition, meditation, herbs, and Qi Gong to name a few. Incorporating these other aspects allows the patient to not only feel better temporarily, but to possibly relieve the anxiety fully. 


If you have any questions about acupuncture and want to see if you or your child would be a good candidate, please contact our acupuncturist, Holly at: hpelletier@nesca-newton.com

To read Holly’s Blog with simple ways to incorporate Chinese Medicine in daily life, visit: http://holisticallyinspiredblog.blogspot.com/

About the Author:

Holly Pelletier, L.Ac. is a licensed acupuncturist who practices part-time at NESCA. Holly Pelletier has been working with children of varying ages, in many different capacities since 2004. Prior to treating kids with acupuncture, she worked as a teacher, coach, and mentor. She exceptionally enjoys working with children and acupuncture because of their speedy response time and genuine excitement about this form of medicine. Holly has a very gentle technique and has specific training in non-insertive acupuncture styles, which does not require needling directly into the skin. In additions to working with children, Holly is also very passionate about working with issues involving women’s health, nutrition/herbs, neurological disease, and psychological challenges such as anxiety and depression.

For more information on our acupuncturist, Holly visit: http://www.hpelletieracu.com/


Monday, February 5, 2018

Supporting the Twice-Exceptional Children in our Lives



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


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 therapeutic support to youth with a range of mood, anxiety, social and behavioral challenges. Her approach is child-centered, strengths-based, creative and compassionate.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Transition Webinars By Asperger/Autism Network (AANE)

Moving into Your Own Place: Making a Plan

Webinar with Nataliya Poto

Monday, February 5, 2018
7:00-8:30 pm (EST)
Free


Are you thinking about moving out of your parents’ house and into your own place? You may feel both excited and anxious. You may wonder how to find the right living situation, and whether you’re ready to live on your own.
This workshop offers practical strategies and tips on how to prepare for this big milestone in your life. We’ll help you develop a step-by-step plan by:

  • Clarifying your specific situation, resources, and preferences.
  • Assessing external factors that could affect your choices.
  • Identifying sources of helpful information and support.
  • Setting realistic, achievable goals.

Moving into your own place: Nataliya S. Poto, M.A. is the Director of LifeMAP Coaching Programs at the Asperger/Autism Network (AANE). Mrs. Poto conceptualized LifeMAP unique coaching approaches into the AsperCoach curriculum which is offered annually to independently practicing Asperger coaches from all over U.S. and South America. In addition to leading the LifeMAP team, Mrs. Poto continues to serve as an active LifeMAP coach herself, successfully assisting clients with their goals in the areas of higher education, career development, employment, personal growth, relationship-building, independent living and more.



Find a Career That is Right for You

Webinar with
Tom Bergeron

Tuesday February 13, 2018
6:30-8:00 pm
Free


There are many factors in deciding on a career path. What are my interests? What is my working style? Are there jobs in the industry I’m interested in? How well do they pay? How does being on the spectrum affect my decision? The path to most careers is through a college education, but with education costs skyrocketing it makes sense to evaluate careers options before entering college, not after graduation. There is even the possibility of exploring careers that require training, but not a degree.
 
This webinar explores ways to identify careers that are a good match. It highlights strategies for landing the right job beyond “getting the degree.” The webinar will also highlight a few organizations that are making a concerted effort to hire individuals on the spectrum.
 
Finding a career that is right for you: Tom Bergeron is the co-founder of InventiveLabs, a career (and business) incubator focused on college-aged adults with dyslexia, ADHD, and/or ASD. The Lab runs a hands-on program helping individuals find their path forward by exploring career and school options, or maybe even starting their own business. Tom has worked at various start-up companies helping to bring new products to market. He uses the skills he learnt in business to help individuals find their “market fit”. Tom experienced many challenges in school, but by charting his own path he found success in business. He noticed the traits that hold some individuals back in school can actually be their advantage in the workplace. He is now committed to helping the next generation find their path forward and launch their careers.



Forget Failure to Launch:
How to Support Teens and Young Adults in Creating a Balanced Life Outside of the House

Webinar with
Kathleen Pignone

Wednesday February 28, 2018
1:00 - 2:30 pm
Free


In this workshop you will learn how to:
  • Create a 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
  • Learn skills necessary for engaging in decision making and daily activities independent of parents
  • Access key community resources

Forget failure to launch: Kathleen Pignone, M.Ed. is a Transition Specialist at NESCA. She currently works closely with young adults and their families to plan life after high school. Ms. Pignone performs transition assessments, supports students directly through community coaching and consults with schools, parents and outside agencies around transition related issues. Prior to working at NESCA, Kathleen worked at Bay Cove Academy (BCA), where she developed individualized transition plans for students, provided assessment and created innovative programming related to long-term employability and career success for students, and trained professionals in the areas of career development and transition services. In addition to her 15-year tenure at BCA, Kathleen has worked as an Education Specialist at the MA DESE and a Vocational Rehabilitation Consultant.


More Information
  • Not available on these dates? Webinars will be recorded. Registrants will receive the video link and a copy of the presentation two business days after the session ends.

  • Upon registration, a confirmation email will be sent with instructions on how to access the online event

  • Registration closes 24 hours before the webinar start time

To cancel your registration prior to the start of the webinar, please contact Joanne.Jensen@aane.org

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Pre-Employment Transition Services - What Are They and Who Is Eligible?



What are MRC Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS)?
How Could They Help Your Child on an IEP?

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

On July 22, 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) was signed into national law. The goal of the act is to help job seekers, including vulnerable populations such as individuals with disabilities, to access education, training, and support services enabling them to be successful in finding and sustaining employment.

In response to this act, Massachusetts developed a comprehensive workforce development plan involving a number of programs and partners including The Vocational Rehabilitation Program which spans across Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) and Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB). One important aspect of this plan is that MRC must spend at least 15% of its Title I budget on pre-employment transition services (Pre-ETS) for students ages 16 to 22 with disabilities. 

Whereas students historically did not begin involvement with MRC Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services until the age of 18 or until exiting high school, many students on IEPs are now eligible for support at the age of 16 while enrolled in high school. Given that paid employment in high school is a predictor of both college success and adult employment, the opportunity to engage with MRC VR services in high school is an exciting opportunity!

Each Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Office has contracted with local providers in order to offer services benefiting students in the following areas: Job Exploration Counseling; Workplace Readiness Training, Work-Based Learning Experiences; Counseling on Enrollment in Transition or Postsecondary Educational Programs; and Self-Advocacy/Mentoring Instruction. Often these services include activities like interest assessment, worksite tours, "soft skills" training, travel training, and paid internships.

Also, every public high school has an MRC liaison who often has office hours within the school. These liaisons are able to offer many direct services within the school setting including providing group education and attending IEP meetings when appropriate.

Transition services as part of an IEP process are designed to support students developing skills and making progress towards their postsecondary employment goals. However, educators may not be as familiar with employment trends and entry-level work skills as vocational rehabilitation specialists. The opportunity for a student to work with MRC VR counselor in conjunction with their IEP team creates a wonderful opportunity to make progress toward high school completion requirements while simultaneously preparing to become an employable adult.

To learn more about MRC and Pre-Employment Transition Services, please visit the following links:
Students with visual impairments may additionally be interested in Pre-ETS services through Mass Commission for the Blind (MCB) VR services:
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 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.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Mindful or Mind Full? Can You and Your Child Be More Present?


Mindfulness Activities For Caretakers and Youth

Pediatric Neuropsychologist
NESCA

Mindfulness is an area of psychology that continues to gain popularity in our culture and in therapeutic practice. By definition, mindfulness is the practice of being conscious or aware of our current state without judgement. That is, focusing our awareness on what is happening in this very moment related to our feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. We ignore what was happening in the past and what could happen in the future by being present in this moment. While this seems like a simple concept, in our distracted world of technology and instant gratification this can be difficult to put into practice. Too often we lose sight of the present and our current experiences, as our mind races and analyzes what just happened or what could happen, giving rise to anxiety. 

Research suggests that the benefits of mindfulness include improved emotional regulation by decreasing rumination and improving attentional capabilities. There is also emerging evidence that mindfulness can decrease emotional reactivity which can have a positive impact on interpersonal relationships. Other positive benefits include improvements in sensory processing as well as sensitivity to internal stimuli. 

Below is a list of mindfulness-based activities that can get you and your child started on the journey of being more present in the moment and begin reaping the benefits of a mindfulness practice. For more information or to explore therapeutic options at NESCA that utilize mindfulness strategies please read about our therapeutic services

  • Breathing: Have the child breathe in for three seconds, hold their breath for three seconds, and then breathe out for three seconds. For younger children, the very act of focusing on this activity will ground them to the moment. For older children and teens, there might be more instruction like having the child focus on how the breath feels coming in, holding it in their lungs, and finally blowing out through their nose or mouth. 
  • Seeing the world: Ask the child to spend a minute looking around the room while being silent with the goal of finding things in the room that have never been noticed before. After one minute, the child should be asked to share the most interesting thing that they see now but have not noticed before. 
  • Feeling objects: Provide the child with an object or series of objects and ask them to spend a minute just noticing what the object feels like in their hand. Guiding them to attend to the texture, temperature, size, shape, etc. Afterwards, ask the child to share what they noticed. 
  • Listening: Ring a bell or other chime-like noise that provides a long trailing sound. Ask the child to indicate when they can no longer hear the sound. After the ringing ends, ask the child to listen to any other sound they hear for the next minute. 
  • Emotional acceptance: Young children tend to be more "in the moment" than most when it comes to emotional experience. When a child is expressing an emotion, rather than tell them “You’re okay,” validate their emotional experience and let them know it is okay to be angry, sad, etc. Then follow with asking your child how their body feels when they are in this emotional state. This process can help children to be more in touch with their bodies and begin to recognize how their emotions feel in their body to create greater emotional awareness. 

To learn more about mindfulness and practice techniques, check out:
About the Author:

Dr. Amity Kulis joined NESCA in 2012 after earning her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, with a concentration in Children, Adolescents and Families (CAF). She completed post-doctoral training in pediatric neuropsychology with an emphasis on treating children with developmental, intellectual, learning and executive functioning challenges. She also has extensive training psychological (projective) testing and has conducted individual and group therapies for children of all ages. Before joining NESCA, Dr. Kulis worked in private practices, clinics, and schools, conducting comprehensive assessments on children ranging from toddlers through young adults. In addition, Dr. Kulis has had the opportunity to consult with various school systems, conducting observations of programs, and providing in-service trainings for staff. Dr. Kulis currently conducts neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments for school aged children through young adulthood. She regularly participates in transition assessments (focusing on the needs of adolescents as they emerge into adulthood) and has a special interest in working with complex learners that may also struggle with emotional challenges and psychiatric conditions. In addition to administering comprehensive and data driven evaluations, Dr. Kulis regularly conducts school-based observations and participates in school meetings to help share her findings and consultation with a student’s TEAM. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Transition Planning: The Missing Link Between Special Education and Successful Adulthood



What is Transition Planning and Why Does it Matter?

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

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) is the law that guarantees students with disabilities an equal opportunity for a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). For professionals and parents supporting youth with special needs, and for the children we love, this is a powerful law. IDEA 2004 guarantees that no matter what a young person's struggles, they have the right to learn and grow and be provided with the specialized instruction necessary for their individual progress.

While many people are aware that IDEA 2004 guarantees the right to special education for academic learning, the concept of "transition services" is still catching on. In addition to requiring that public schools educate our students, IDEA 2004 mandates that special education services are designed to meet a student's unique needs and to prepare them for further education, employment and independent living. According to this influential federal law, it is not enough that students be included in learning core academics (reading, writing, math, science, history). Rather, we are mandated to ensure that students with disabilities make progress toward being able to manage learning, working, and daily living activities in their postsecondary adult lives.

In December, I was excited to see the Huffington Post (see link below) publish an article emphasizing the importance of transition services and the challenges for students both during and after public education if this part of special education is 'forgotten.' The article was written by Sarah Butrymowicz and Jackie Mader and published in partnership with The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focusing on inequality and innovation in education. The authors profiled two young people who participated in public special education: Kate and Peter.

Kate's educational program did not include meaningful transition services (e.g., career planning, homework activities) and was primarily driven by parent goals rather than person-centered activities. The initial outcome for Kate after special education was unemployment; after two years, her parents secured work for her using their own personal networks but not in an area of true interest or strength. Kate's father summarized, "It was my absolute goal to have her not fall off the map. It's unfortunate, she kind of has."

Peter, however, was an active participant in his Individualized Education Program (IEP) process. While career testing indicated possible aptitude in food services, Peter wanted to be a Supreme Court justice and his team supported his enrollment in community college courses utilizing his school's dual-enrollment program. With this experiential learning activity, Peter realized he was not interested in college and changed his goal, enrolling instead in vocational technical classes related to office administration. When Peter finished high school, he immediately went to work in an office and continued to full time employment as an administrative assistant at a nonprofit organization.

For so many students with disabilities, experiential learning is a critical component of their development of career, classroom, community living, and home living skills. This is best achieved when students have a collaborative IEP team and good transition services. Butrymowicz and Mader interviewed 100 parents, students, advocates and experts across the country and found that the best transition planning requires several things:

  1. An accurate and thoughtful assessment of a student's abilities and interests
  2. Clear, measurable goals related to his or her postsecondary aspirations
  3. Appropriate support and services to help them achieve their goals

NESCA has provided person-centered transition services since 2009 and this article beautifully captured what we see every day in our work. What I love about being a transition specialist is helping young people to find their voices, to figure out what they love most, and to create small successes that can ultimately build into a meaningful postsecondary adult life. While many parents and educators I work with can find team meetings challenging or stressful, this is often my favorite part of the job -- working collaboratively with the student, parents, educators, and community members to think creatively and build a unique strength-based transition plan.

Article:

Butrymowicz, S., and Mader, J. (2017). This 'Forgotten' Part of Special Education Could Lead To Better Outcomes For Students: Many former special education students struggle to find good-paying jobs, and high schools are partly to blame. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/special-education-transition_us_5a341a65e4b0ff955ad2b810 

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 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.