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Monday, October 20, 2014

Neuropsychologist Stacey M. Rice, Ph.D. Joins NESCA as Post-Doctoral Fellow


October 17, 2014

Please welcome Stacey Rice, Ph.D., who has joined NESCA as a Post-Doctoral Fellow.

A 2005 graduate of Rutgers University, she holds a Master of Arts degree in Child Advocacy from Montclair State University and a Master of Education degree in School Psychology from the University of Florida, where in 2013 she also earned her doctorate.

Most recently, she has been a post-doctoral fellow at Mass. General Hospital for Children at North Shore Medical Center, working in their Neurodevelopmental Center and Outpatient Mental Health Clinic.

There, she performed complete psychological, neuropsychological and cognitive evaluations to assess, diagnose and inform treatment for learning, behavioral and psychological disorders. Rice also provided individual psychotherapy using various evidence-based interventions.

In addition to having had specialized training in psychological projective testing, Rice is also experienced in working with children and adolescents with significant psychiatric diagnoses (mood, conduct and thought disorders) as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). An Accredited School Suicide Prevention Specialist, she is also certified in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  

Want to Ace That Test? Get the Right Kind of Sleep

From The New York Times Blog "Motherlode"

By Benedict Carey
October 16, 2014

Jillian Dos Santos studies at her home in Columbia, Mo.
In 2013, she successfully advocated for a later start times at
her high school.Credit Dan Gill for The New York Times

Sleep. Parents crave it, but children and especially teenagers, need it.

When educators and policymakers debate the relationship between sleep schedules and school performance and — given the constraints of buses, sports and everything else that seem so much more important — what they should do about it, they miss an intimate biological fact: Sleep is learning, of a very specific kind.

Scientists now argue that a primary purpose of sleep is learning consolidation, separating the signal from the noise and flagging what is most valuable.

School schedules change slowly, if at all, and the burden of helping teenagers get the sleep they need is squarely on parents. Can we help our children learn to exploit sleep as a learning tool (while getting enough of it)?

Absolutely. There is research suggesting that different kinds of sleep can aid different kinds of learning, and by teaching “sleep study skills,” we can let our teenagers enjoy the sense that they’re gaming the system.

Start with the basics.

Sleep isn’t merely rest or downtime; the brain comes out to play when head meets pillow. A full night’s sleep includes a large dose of several distinct brain states, including REM sleep – when the brain flares with activity and dreams – and the netherworld of deep sleep, when it whispers to itself in a language that is barely audible.

Each of these states developed to handle one kind of job, so getting sleep isn’t just something you “should do” or need. It’s far more: It’s your best friend when you want to get really good at something you’ve been working on.

So you want to remember your Spanish vocabulary (or “How I Met Your Mother” trivia or Red Sox batting averages)?

Easy. Hit the hay at your regular time; don’t stay up late checking Instagram. Studies have found that the first half of the night contains the richest dose of so-called deep sleep — the knocked-out-cold variety — and this is when the brain consolidates facts and figures and new words. This is retention territory, and without it (if we stay up too late), we’re foggier the next day on those basic facts.

I explained this to my daughter, Flora, who was up until 2 a.m. or later on many school nights, starting in high school. She ignored it, or seemed to. Learning Arabic is what turned her around, I think. She wants to be good at it, and having to learn not only a new vocabulary but also a completely different writing system is, in the beginning, all retention.

“I started going to bed earlier before the day of Arabic tests, partly for that reason,” Flora said (when reached by text). “But also, of course, I didn’t want to be tired.”

And you want to rip on the guitar, or on the court, right?

Just as the first half of a night’s sleep is rich with deep slumber, the second half is brimming with so-called Stage 2 sleep, the kind that consolidates motor memory, the stuff that aspiring musicians and athletes need. This is not an excuse to sleep through Period 1. Rather, it’s a reason not to roll out of bed too early and miss the body’s chance to refine all those skills learned while kicking a soccer ball off the garage or practicing dance moves.

For an older, teenage student, these two learning stages of sleep offer something more: a means of being tactical about sleep, before an important test or performance. If it’s a French test, then turn off the lights at your normal time, and get up early to study. If it’s a music recital, do the opposite: stay up a little later preparing, and sleep in to your normal time in the morning. If you’re going to burn the candle, it’s good to know which end to burn it on.

What about math tests? I hate those.

Math tests strain both memory (retention) and understanding (comprehension). This is where REM sleep, the dreaming kind, comes in. Studies find that REM is exceptionally good for deciphering hidden patterns, comprehension, and seeing a solution to a hard problem. If the test is mostly a memory challenge (multiplication tables, formulas), then go to sleep at the usual time and get up early for prep. But if it’s hard problems, then it’s REM you want. Stay up a little later and get the full dose of dream-rich sleep, which helps the brain see hidden patterns.

“Mom, I’m tired of studying – I’m going to have a nap.”

By all means. Napping is sleep too, and it’s a miniature version of a full night’s slumber. An hourlong nap typically contains deep sleep, REM and some Stage 2. One caution: napping can interfere with some children’s sleep schedule, and it’s important to make sure day sleep doesn’t scramble the full serving at night. But the central point is that a sensation of exhaustion during a period of work is the brain’s way of saying, “O.K., I’ve studied (or practiced), now it’s time to digest this material and finish the job.”

If a child can nap without losing a handle on his or her natural sleep rhythm, then let it happen.

The upshot is that, for any young student who wants to do better — in school, in sports, in music or even in the social whirl (yes, that’s learning too) — knowing the science of sleep will help them respect slumber for what it is: learning consolidation. Of the best and most natural kind.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Advantages of Dyslexia (and Why E-Readers Help)

From the Framingham SEPAC

October 17, 2014

Las Ventajas de la Dislexia
(y por qué ayudan E-readers) (Spanish)

As Vantagens da Dislexia
(e por que ajudam E-readers) (Portuguese)

Although dyslexia presents difficulties when it comes to reading, research has shown that there are advantages associated with dyslexia, and that these may be linked to the difficulties with reading.

Here, we will discuss the research on the advantages in dyslexia, and talk about how to turn these advantages into useful assets by using computer tools such as e-readers.

When:   7:00 - 9:00pm Monday, October 27, 2014

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

Presenter: Dr. Matthew H. Schneps is the founding director of the Laboratory for Visual Learning, Professor of Computer Science at UMass Boston, and a visiting Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he carries out research to investigate how differences in the visual neurology of attention and working memory shape learning. A scientist with dyslexia, Schneps received his Ph.D. in physics from MIT in 1979.

For 35 years he carried out research in STEM education at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, where he led close to $40 million in funded science education programs. There he produced hundreds of hours of award-winning television programs on STEM education, including the widely acclaimed video A Private Universe (famous for scenes of Harvard graduates struggling with the concept of seasons).

In recent years Schneps has focused on research in neuroscience, examining how smartphones and other emerging computer devices can be used to manage attention, to help people with dyslexia. He is the recipient of the George E. Burch Fellowship in Theoretic Medicine at the Smithsonian Institution, and winner of the Science Prize for Online Resources in Education from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


Quality of Words, Not Quantity, Is Crucial to Language Skills, Study Finds

From The New York Times

By Douglas Quenqua
October 16, 2014

"It’s not just about shoving words in. It’s about having fluid conversations around shared rituals and objects, like pretending to have morning coffee together or using the banana as a phone. That is the stuff from which language is made.”

Deisy Ixcuna-Gonzalez, 16 months old, is in a new
literacy development program in Providence, R.I.
Credit Katherine Taylor for The New York Times

It has been nearly 20 years since a landmark education study found that by age 3, children from low-income families have heard 30 million fewer words than more affluent children, putting them at an educational disadvantage before they even began school. The findings led to increased calls for publicly funded prekindergarten programs and dozens of campaigns urging parents to get chatty with their children.

Now, a growing body of research is challenging the notion that merely exposing poor children to more language is enough to overcome the deficits they face.

The quality of the communication between children and their parents and caregivers, the researchers say, is of much greater importance than the number of words a child hears.

A study presented on Thursday at a White House conference on “bridging the word gap” found that among 2-year-olds from low-income families, quality interactions involving words — the use of shared symbols (“Look, a dog!”); rituals (“Want a bottle after your bath?”); and conversational fluency (“Yes, that is a bus!”) — were a far better predictor of language skills at age 3 than any other factor, including the quantity of words a child heard.

 Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek is the lead author of a study that
points to the importance of high-quality communication
with young children. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

“It’s not just about shoving words in,” said Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University and lead author of the study. “It’s about having these fluid conversations around shared rituals and objects, like pretending to have morning coffee together or using the banana as a phone. That is the stuff from which language is made.”

In a related finding, published in April, researchers who observed 11- and 14-month-old children in their homes found that the prevalence of one-on-one interactions and frequent use of parentese — the slow, high-pitched voice commonly used for talking to babies — were reliable predictors of language ability at age 2. The total number of words had no correlation with future ability.

The idea that quality of communication matters when it comes to teaching children language is hardly new.

“Our field has been pretty consistent in recognizing all along that there has to be quality and quantity,” said Dr. Hirsh-Pasek. Even the 1995 study that introduced the notion of the 30-million-word gap, conducted by the University of Kansas psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, found that parental tone, responsiveness and use of symbols affected a child’s I.Q. and vocabulary.

But this year’s studies are the first time researchers have compared the impact of word quantity with quality of communication. The findings, said Dr. Patricia K. Kuhl, a director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington and an author of the April study, suggest that advocates and educators should reconsider rallying cries like “close the word gap,” that may oversimplify the challenges facing poor children.

“I worry about these messages acting as though what parents ought to focus on is a word count, as though they need a Fitbit for words,” she said, referring to the wearable devices that tally steps.

The use of the word “gap” may be counterproductive, said Dr. Hirsh-Pasek. “When we talk about gaps, our natural tendency is to talk about filling them,” she said. “So we talk about the amount as if we’re putting words inside the empty head of a child.”

“But in the same way that you can’t drop the shingles and the siding for a house on the ground, you need to have the foundation there first if language isn’t going to just roll off the child’s back and become background noise.”

For the new study, Dr. Hirsh-Pasek and colleagues selected 60 low-income 3-year-olds with varying degrees of language proficiency from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, a long-term, wide-ranging study of 1,300 children from birth to age 15.

Other researchers reviewed video of those children at age 2 in play sessions with their parents. The researchers watching the video were unaware of how the children would later develop.

“We were able to ask whether those interactions held any clues accounting for the differences we saw at age 3,” said Dr. Hirsh-Pasek, who was an author of the long-term study. “It turned out we were able to account for a whole lot of the variability later on.”

Quality of communication accounted for 27 percent of the variation in expressive language skills one year later, she said. The results were not significantly changed when the researchers controlled for the parents’ educational level.

But those who urge parents to talk to their children more say that increased quantity of language inevitably leads to better quality.

“It’s not that one mother is saying ‘dog’ and the other is saying ‘dog, dog, dog,’ ” said Ann Fernald, a psychologist at Stanford. “When you learn to talk more, you tend to speak in more diverse ways and elaborate more, and that helps the child’s cognitive development.

Dr. Ferald, author of a 2013 study that found a vocabulary gap between affluent and poor children as young as 18 months, is a scientific adviser to Providence Talks, a program in Providence, R.I., that outfits children with devices that record the number of words they hear each day.

“People emphasize the quantity because that’s what you can measure,” she said. But she noted that the program also sent counselors into children’s homes to more closely evaluate their exposure to language and teach parents how best to communicate with children.

Still, Ann O’Leary, director of Too Small to Fail, a joint effort of the nonprofit Next Generation and the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation that focuses on closing the word gap, acknowledged that messages to parents could do more to emphasize quality.

“When we’re doing these campaigns to close the word gap, they do capture the imagination, they do get people understanding that we do need to do a lot more talking,” she said. “But we also need to be more mindful that part of what we need to do is model what that talking looks like.”

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Making Things Possible: Cotting School Conference Saturday, November 16th

From Cotting School

October 17, 2014

NOTE: By all means, read the brochure for this conference, which promises to be both interesting and extremely valuable. The workshop topics and speakers, including NESCA staffers Kelley Challen and Hannah Gould, are outstanding!

You're Invited!

Saturday, November 15, 2014
8:30am - 4:00pm

Parents, Educators and Professionals Welcome

Informative Workshops and Panel Presentations
Expert Speakers and Dynamic Topics
Community Resources and Vendor Expo

~ FREE Admission ~
(Lunch Included)

Download the Brochure

Register Here

Questions? Please Email Bridget Irish at

Cotting School
453 Concord Avenue
Lexington, MA 02421



NESCA Director of Transition Services Kelley Challen will be leading the following workshop:

ABCs of Agencies

A brief overview of state agencies that offer support to children, youth, and adults with special needs. While particular attention will be paid to Chapter 688 and adult service eligibility, discussion will include supports available throughout the lifespan and how you can make immediate use of free community resources.

Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS,
Director of Transition Services, NESCA


NESCA Yoga Therapist Hannah Gould will demonstrate her remarkable new Yoga Connects curriculum:

Yoga Connects

Yoga Connects Yoga is non-competitive, adaptable to all learning styles and levels of physical ability, and can be practiced individually or in social settings. As young people transition into adulthood, it is essential to find ways to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle and to have an outlet for stress and restless energy.

This workshop features Yoga Connects: a unique visual yoga curriculum developed by the presenter. Yoga Connects makes yoga meaningful and effective for young people with developmental challenges.

This workshop will include a chance to participate in a Yoga Connects session, so come prepared for gentle movement - no yoga experience is necessary!

Hannah Gould, M.Ed, RYT,
Therapeutic Yoga Program Coordinator, NESCA

IQ and Executive Function Skills: The Engine and the Fuel

From the Beyond BookSmart Blog
on Executive Functioning Strategies

By Jackie Stachel
October 17, 2014

"Sustained attention and effort, mindful choices about how to use time, and the ability to tolerate sometimes unpleasant tasks are the key ingredients for being a productive student."

Executive Function skills are self-management skills that help us achieve goals. It’s how we manage our emotions and attention, organize and plan our work and time, and reflect upon and revise our tactics as circumstances change. These skills are critical for meeting the challenges of school demands and later, as an adult, our professional and personal lives.

Essentially, Executive Function skills help us be productive. And that’s the distinction between Executive Function skills and intellect. A person with a high IQ can be capable of understanding or discussing complex concepts, but be nearly incapable of producing an essay, completing a set of problems, or finishing a research paper.

Why? It’s not because he isn’t smart enough, it’s because he can’t effectively marshall his efforts toward a specific end result.

Think of IQ as the engine in a car and Executive Function skills as the oil, fuel, belts and hoses that make it run effectively. That perfectly restored 1969 Pontiac GTO with a 330 horsepower engine has plenty of potential to cruise down the highway on a sunny Saturday, but see how far you get with faulty spark plug wires.

When it's a student who is not running on all cylinders, there could be many potential reasons for that ineffectiveness. Let’s explore a few possibilities:
  • Maybe it’s attention-related. She gets distracted, then hyper focused on 20 other cool topics when she sits down to gather relevant research for a paper. Before you know it, 4 hours have elapsed and no notecards have been completed, and that outline is way behind schedule.
  • Maybe it’s related to emotional regulation, our ability to maintain an even keel in the face of frustration or boredom. Perhaps he really hates the assignment, thinks it’s stupid, and is angry at the teacher for imposing the task. He may find reasons to delay getting started, or rationalize avoiding it altogether. It’s not that he doesn’t understand the material, it’s his emotional reaction to the task demands that forms the barrier to productivity here.
  • Maybe it’s organization that’s the issue. If a student has trouble pulling together information and then imposing a structure on it, she is sacrificing productivity. With an essay, for example, organization pertains to what to include in an introduction, how to use your thesis to guide how you construct your body paragraphs, and how to write a conclusion that both summarizes the evidence and then takes it to the next level. That bright student may have all the information accurately in her head, but if she lacks a method to get those ideas cohesively in written form, there’s no product to pass in to the teacher.
  • Maybe a bright student is ineffective because he can’t manage his time or prioritize his efforts. He may stay up until midnight perfecting a single low-stakes assignment, leaving untouched the others that influence his grade far more. Or he may grossly underestimate how long an assignment will take, play video games until 11:00pm and then realize that the physics lab report due the next day is way more complicated and time consuming than he had imagined.
Now you see why we, as Executive Function coaches, don’t put our emphasis on being “smart.” Pure intellect doesn’t equal productivity.

Sustained attention and effort, mindful choices about how to use time, and the ability to tolerate sometimes unpleasant tasks are the key ingredients for being a productive student.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Practical Perspectives, Positive Lives: AANE's Annual Conference October 25th

The Asperger/Autism Network

October 17, 2014

Asperger Syndrome Connections 2014
AANE's Annual Conference for Those Interested
in AS/ASD and Related Profiles

We are pleased to welcome back Simon Baron-Cohen, Winnie Dunn, and Michael Forbes Wilcox, who will speak to us about current research in the field of autism, proven approaches to managing sensory processing in everyday life, and the joys (as well as sorrows) of living as an adult with Asperger Syndrome.

When:   8:30am to 5:00pm EDT, Saturday October 25, 2014

Where: Joseph B. Martin Conference Center
                77 Avenue Louis Pasteur
                Boston, MA 02115

Driving Directions. Public transportation: the Conference Center is accessible via the D and E Line subways and the #47, CT2, and 8A buses. For more information, see or Free parking is conveniently located at the venue’s garage.

Fees:  AANE member/person: $100; Nonmember: $150
             Additional person (at the same address):
             $75/non-professional; $100/professional

Register Now!

Registration fees include morning coffee, box lunch, and parking at the venue. An additional $25 fee applies for late registrations postmarked or received by AANE after 10/15.

Keynote Speakers

Simon Baron-Cohen, Ph.D. - Why Is Autism More Common in Males? A Review of Research into Prenatal Sex Steroid Hormones in Autism

Simon Baron-Cohen is director of the Autism Research Centre (ARC) at Cambridge University. He is author of Zero Degrees of Empathy and The Essential Difference: Men, Women and the Extreme Male Brain as well as editor-in-chief of the online open access journal Molecular Autism. His current research is testing the “extreme male brain” theory of autism at the neural, endocrine, and genetic levels.

Simon has been awarded prizes from the American Psychological Association, the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BA), and the British Psychological Society (BPS) for his research into autism.

Winnie Dunn, Ph.D., OTR, FAOTA - Focus on Strengths: Imagine the Possibilities

This session will explore the principles of strengths-based approaches and the evidence supporting this method. It will examine ways to implement strengths-based approaches in everyday practices.

Sensory Processing Patterns and Their Impact on Everyday Life

Sensory processing is an underlying factor in the human experience. Research indicates that people have particular sensory processing patterns, which are related to their choices in everyday life. This session will review the patterns and examine how they affect routines of a person’s life.

Impact of Strengths-Based Contextual Interventions

This session will review the methods and findings from an intervention study that employed strengths-based and authentic environment interventions with families that have a child with autism. It will examine the implications of these findings for future practice when serving individuals and their families.

Winnie Dunn is Professor and Chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy Education at the University of Kansas. She is an internationally known expert for her studies about sensory processing in everyday life.

Widely published, she is notably the author/coauthor of all of the Sensory Profile measures, which capture people’s responses to sensory events in everyday life; the Sensory Profile 2 has just come out with a new standardization and validity testing for children birth to 15 years.

She has received the top academic honors in her field as well as awards for innovative and engaging teaching. Her book Living Sensationally: Understanding Your Senses, received the Seal of Excellence from the Children of the New Earth magazine for parents, professionals and other caregivers.

Michael Forbes Wilcox - Growing Old Disgracefully: Adventures of an Activist Aspergerian

Growing up autistic: To grow up being autistic in an alien world means never fitting in. Taking on typical expectations is a surefire formula for feelings of failure. Not being able to do everything is okay; there isn’t time anyway. Not seeing boundaries is liberating; anything is possible. Not seeing boundaries is dangerous; neurotypicals have rules. Expect to be different. It is a blessing and a curse. Endless joy and endless sorrow will be your companions forever.

Michael Forbes Wilcox was born in 1946 and raised in western Massachusetts, before the concept of “special education” came about. Although he did well in school and made friends easily, his transition to adulthood was difficult. He eventually married and completed college and went on to a very successful career as a world-renowned quantitative investment specialist.

This success belies the difficulty he had with executive functions; he overcame many of his own limitations through self-created accommodations. In 2005, he read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night and suspected that he might have autism. In 2007, at the age of 61, he received a clinical diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. Today he serves on many boards and committees involved with disability advocacy.


NESCA will be an exhibitor at this conference, which Transition Specialist Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS helped to organize.