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Thursday, February 28, 2013

How Parents Can Be Advocates for Their Children

From NCLD.org - The National Center for Learning Disabilities

By the NCLD Editorial Team
February 22, 2013

Parents are often the best educational advocates for their children, especially children with a learning disability. True advocacy is a largely positive process, which should build on your child's strengths and challenges. As your child's best advocate, you are in a unique position to implement positive changes.

The following tips can help parents advocate for their children in a constructive way.

Know the rules. All public schools abide by specific laws and regulations under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which requires a free, appropriate, public education for all students and can provide access to special services for children with learning disabilities who qualify for such services.

The criteria for eligibility varies from state to state, but all schools must adhere to a minimum federal standard. To find out the laws in your state and your rights as a parent, contact your local school district office, local parent training and information center, or state Department of Education.

Get to know the people who make decisions about your child's education. Connect with educators and administrators in both casual and formal settings. Talk with your child's teacher on a regular basis. If possible, volunteer in the classroom and help out with school functions. If you have concerns or problems that a teacher can not or will not address, be willing to follow the chain of command through the school, and if necessary, to the district office.

Remember that you as a parent have the right to request that the school evaluate your child if you think he or she may have a learning disability. Be sure that your request is in writing. This written request will put a required process into motion that will allow you to work with the school on behalf of your child to know if there is a need for special education support and services.

Keep records. Parents should maintain an organized file of educational records and assessment information. Take notes during telephone and face-to-face meetings, and ask for people's full names and contact information when communicating by phone or by email. In addition, keeping less formal examples of children's academic progress, such as homework papers, artwork, and writings, may be useful in establishing patterns and documenting both abilities and challenges.

Gather information. Read books and articles on learning, attend conferences, and join a parent support group or affiliate organization in your area. Get comfortable with education acronyms and jargon. Ask professionals lots of questions, and don't be afraid to ask for clarification if their answers are confusing or complicated.

Communicate effectively. Come to meetings prepared, and know the specific outcomes you want. Be clear, calm and direct when speaking and put things in writing whenever possible.

Listen, and take time to think about pertinent information. Consider when documentation or data might help your case, and present it in an orderly and readable format. While assertiveness and persistence are crucial, anger and aggressiveness can work against you and can damage important relationships.

Know your child's strengths and interests and share them with educators. By highlighting a struggling child's capabilities and talents, you not only help professionals know your child as a whole person, you can also assist in identifying learning accommodations.

Emphasize solutions. While there are no miracle cures or magic bullets for learning disabilities, it's important to stress the positive, and to help identify ways to improve your child's experience. Once appropriate programs have been identified and agreed upon, make every effort to encourage follow-through.

Focus on the big picture. Simply put, don't sweat the small stuff. Knowing the specifics of a law may be important on one level, but constantly arguing technicalities can ultimately waste time and prevent positive relationships from forming. Try not to take things personally, and always consider both sides of the story. Details are important, but don't let them get in the way of negotiating the best educational experience for your child.

Involve your child in decision making as early as you can. Learning disabilities are a lifelong issue. Mastering self-advocacy is one of the keys to becoming a successful adult. Resist the natural urge to pave every road for your child, and respect and support your child's need to take informed academic risks.


Adapted from a publication by the Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities.

Out-of-the-Box Advocacy: Talk LD on Facebook and Twitter

From NCLD.org - The National Center for Learning Disabilities

By Lyn Pollard, Parent Contributor
January 30, 2013 3:07 PM

When I began my journey as the mother of two children with learning disabilities, I quickly realized that the conversation about my kids’ unique needs was missing. It was missing from my chats with friends, from conversations with parents at our local park, from the parenting magazines I was reading, and from announcements on our school's website.

That’s why I started looking for ways to talk about my amazing children in a way that would help others understand and accept them.

One of the ways I do that is through Facebook and Twitter.

True, it takes a certain measure of confidence to “put it out there” on social media, and some parents may not be ready to share about their child’s diagnosis or the struggles and triumphs they’re facing. If you’re open to sharing, though, social media is both empowering and encouraging like no other medium I’ve found.

Here are some tips to get you started, or to enhance what you’re already doing on social media:


Follow the Leader

Do you want to learn more about AD/HD, dyslexia, or learning disabilities in general? Twitter offers tons of information! The breadth of info available, though, can make it seem overwhelming. Don’t worry: If you’re interested in specific topics, it’s fairly easy to consolidate the “Twitter-verse” into a space that’s comfortable for you.

If you don’t have a Twitter account, sign up now—it only takes a minute or two. Once you’ve logged on, type in a search term and “Follow” the folks who are tweeting about what you want to know (@LDorg was one of the first on my list!). Then, follow the people or organizations they’re following, and perhaps the people who are following them. It’s a quick way to start building your community.

Tweet All About It

After spending some time observing your community’s messages via your Twitter feed, maybe you’re ready to jump in and take advantage of the 140 characters to share and encourage others.

“Favorite” articles or comments that you love, retweet to show your support, and tweet directly at people with questions and comments. When you tweet, make sure to include the “@” or “handle” of the organization or person you’re tweeting about and, if you’d like, the hashtag (more on this below) of the message’s topic. For example:

“So excited that my #Dyslexic son made honor roll! He’s an inspiration to our entire family! @BrightonSchoolTX @LDorg #LDProudToBe #Dyslexia”

A simple tweet can share a simple, personal truth and help recognize the organizations that support your kids and causes you care about.

Hash Away

Hashtags are another great way to follow conversations about very specific topics. Type “#” followed by the specific topic that interests you in the search box, click on the magnifying glass, and tweets from others interested in the topic will appear.

Many organizations create hashtags. Project Eye-to-Eye, an organization that connects LD college mentors to younger LD students, coined #LDProudToBe. The National Center for Learning Disabilities started #LDChat, a forum where you can ask questions about LD.

Here are some of my other favorites related to learning disabilities and differences:


Give these a try and comment below to add the LD hashtags that you use the most!


 A Little Help from Your Friends

You already know that your Facebook friends love to see pictures of your kids’ birthday parties. Have you considered that they might also love to hear about how you’re advocating for your child with disabilities?

Think of Facebook as your personal platform to garner support from the people you already know and love. Once you start to share, you may be surprised to discover that many of your friends are going through the same trials and triumphs with their own children.

The Value of Community

Take some time to discover the value of the Facebook community for people who are facing similar trials.

One example is the Facebook page for The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia, a film that raises awareness about how people with dyslexia have unique talents and strengths that often lead to success. The Big Picture’s page is covered with comments from children and adults with dyslexia, parents, teachers, and friends. They share details about their personal experiences, and the result is a truly engaged and inspiring online community.

Post It

Following organizations on Facebook keeps you in the know regarding who’s talking about topics you care about. Along with organizations that support people with learning disabilities, like NCLD, I follow my local school district and elementary school. If there’s a topic I’m curious about, I post directly on my school district’s (ISD) wall and ask about it.

For example, our ISD had scheduled a dyslexia-education meeting for parents, but hadn’t posted about it online or sent much information to parents via the schools. After posting on our ISD’s page and asking if more information could be distributed about the meeting, I not only received an immediate response from our communications director, but the meeting was announced on the district’s website and a district-wide email was sent within days.

No Comfort Zone

Out-of-the box advocacy isn’t always comfortable, but advocacy rarely is—especially if you’re new to it. But stepping out of your comfort zone—if even just a little bit, with a simple tweet or post—could lead to exciting results, like sparking conversation about LD in your community and beyond.

About Lyn Pollard

Lyn Pollard is a freelance writer, parent advocate, and the mother of two kids who learn and play differently. A former journalist and change management consultant, Lyn writes, talks and tweets about advocacy, literacy and safe schools for kids with learning disabilities and special needs. Check out her piece in the New York Times.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Must-See TV: Neurodiversity - The Next Frontier for Civil Rights?


By Joshua Chaffee
February 13, 2013

A school in New York City is expanding the definition of diversity, and putting kids of varying developmental ability side-by-side in the classroom. The IDEAL School of Manhattan is breaking new ground on inclusion education, creating an environment where students with developmental disabilities are never pulled out of class, and are taught the same lessons as students without special needs.

Correspondent Alex Wagner visited the IDEAL School and discusses the idea of “neurodiversity” with the NOW panel.

The Ideal School in New York City represents a
new frontier in education where kids with mental
and physical disabilities are learning alongside
students with no special conditions, providing
each student with a unique education plan.

What Genetics Tells Us About Anxiety: Not Much

From The Huffington Post "Healthy Living" Blog

By Stanton Peele
February 25, 2013

"...quick genetic answers for complex behavioral responses and personality types are very hard to come by, no matter how much we long for them."

For several days this month, one of the most emailed articles in the New York Times was "Why Can Some Kids Handle Pressure While Others Fall Apart?" The article purports to explain why some children fold under the pressure of taking tests. It begins with the case of Noah Muthler, a third-grader in a gifted class, in anticipation of his first standardized exam.

According to his mother, "He was crying in my arms the night before the test, saying: 'I'm not ready, Mom. They didn't teach us everything that will be on the test.'"


Recommended: Read the Entire New York Times Magazine Article "Why Can Some Kids Handle Pressure While Others Fall Apart?" HERE.


Wow, a single gene can explain that! This is the COMT gene: "This gene carries the assembly code for an enzyme that clears dopamine from the prefrontal cortex. That part of the brain is where we plan, make decisions, anticipate future consequences and resolve conflicts."

The prefrontal cortexes of those with slow-acting enzymes are flooded with too much dopamine under stress.

What parent isn't concerned with this research? In today's highly-competitive environment, this finding could mean the difference between school success and school failure. In a test carried out with Taiwanese students, those with slow-acting enzymes scored 8 percent lower than those with the fast-acting enzymes.

Hmmm, does an 8 percent performance deficiency jibe with the case of Noah, the article's signature example (who is opting out of taking PA's state exams from now on)?

For one thing, Noah's enzymes were not actually tested. Moreover, Noah has an older brother in eighth grade, Jacob, who according to his mother "isn't the least bit unnerved by the same tests." Isn't it strange that, reflecting a single gene's operation, two brothers react in opposite ways?

The article explains the inherited nature of the dopamine-clearing enzyme difference:

Because we all get one COMT gene from our father and one from our mother, about half of all people inherit one of each gene variation, so they have a mix of the enzymes and are somewhere in between the Warriors and the Worriers.

About a quarter of people carry Warrior-only genes, and a quarter of people Worrier-only.

Could Jacob and Noah have inherited two opposite COMT genes from the same parents?

Researchers have been studying the gene in relation to post-traumatic stress disorders among military veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. "While the studies are ongoing," an early result is "Even some Navy SEALs have the Worrier genes, so you can literally be a Worrier-gene Warrior. In Kennedy's sample, almost a third of the expert pilots were Worriers -- a larger proportion than in the general population."

Wait a second, run that by me again?

Those who have a pure "worrier" gene that means that they can't clear stress-related dopamine are more likely to become Navy SEAL pilots? Here's the explanation for that finding: "Those with Worrier-genes can still handle incredible stress, as long as they are well trained."

Haven't those who become expert Navy SEAL pilots undergone a large number of stress-testing type situations? Wouldn't they have been washed out long ago -- not even gotten started -- on the process of becoming SEAL pilots if they responded like Noah to tense testing situations?

Yet, at the end of this selection process, Worriers are overrepresented among those in the most stressful occupation one can imagine.

Yes, quick genetic answers for complex behavioral responses and personality types are very hard to come by, no matter how much we long for them.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tips for Parenting a Child With ADHD: Three Things You Need to Know to Improve Your Child's Behavior

From About.com

By Keath Low
February 21, 2013

Kids with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often do not respond as well to traditional parenting techniques. It is important for parents to know about the strategies and interventions that tend to work best in helping children with ADHD develop and maintain positive behaviors.

Parents of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often experience considerable stress in their parenting roles. Raising and loving a child with ADHD can tax even the most patient of parents, as it can be very frustrating when a child is easily distracted, forgetful, disorganized, impulsive, moody, attention seeking or in constant motion.

Symptoms of ADHD often lead to chronic problems at home, yet kids with ADHD typically do not respond well to traditional methods of discipline.

As behavior problems at home persist, parents may begin to question themselves, feeling inadequate and inept in their ability to discipline and maintain control at home. These insecurities can become even more pronounced when others give "well meaning" but off the mark advice, or make judgments about what you should be doing differently.

The parent-child relationship can also suffer when non-compliance and misbehavior become everyday occurrences at home. Raising a child with ADHD can bring up all sorts of complicated emotional feelings. Frustration, anger, guilt, helplessness, and worry are just a few.

Educating yourself about ADHD, and the unique ways it impacts your child, can make a huge difference in reducing stress at home. It will also guide you toward effective parenting strategies and interventions that will help your child better manage his or her behavior, reducing behavior problems and increasing overall success and joy! Below are three things you need to know to improve your child's behavior.

1. Children With ADHD Need to Have External Structures in Place

Children with ADHD need to have external structures in place to help better manage ADHD-related deficits. All kids benefit from a structured environment with regular routines, clear expectations, and consistent consequences. Many children are able to structure things around themselves and develop good habits on their own.

Children with ADHD, however, struggle with the ability to self-regulate, plan, organize, and control responses and behaviors. Though they may know what they need to do, their inattention, impulsivity, or hyperactivity often prevents them from effectively carrying out the task.

Parents, caregivers, teachers and other involved adults can help a child with ADHD be more successful by providing extra "scaffolding" and supports.

A first step in building the foundation of this scaffolding is to create an environment that has well-defined, clear rules and expectations for the child's behavior and specific, consistent consequences for compliance with these rules. It is also essential that the expectations you identify are achievable and realistic for your child, so that he or she experiences success.

2. Children With ADHD Need Immediate and Frequent Feedback About Behavior

It can be frustrating for parents when a child repeats the same negative behavior again and again. Kids with ADHD often do not learn from past experiences. Instead, they tend to live in the moment rather than being able to slow down and redirect their thoughts to consider future consequences. "Now" is in the forefront of their minds.

In order to teach new skills, parents must respond to their child in the moment — in the "here and now."

Children with ADHD require immediate reinforcement of good behavior, and immediate feedback and consequences for misbehavior. Any delay in feedback decreases the effectiveness of rewards and punishments. It's important for parents to understand that kids with ADHD need more supervision and monitoring as compared to children without ADHD.

Not only do they need immediate feedback around their behavior, they also need more frequent feedback in order to shape appropriate behavior.

3. Children With ADHD Need Powerful, Positive Reinforcement and Incentives

Children without ADHD tend to respond well to verbal praise and social reinforcement, and these forms of positive reinforcement are often enough to encourage compliant behavior for these kids.

Children with ADHD, however, need even more powerful reinforcement and incentives in order to stay motivated and on track. These incentives often include material rewards, but that's not to say they don't need praise. Certainly, they do — and they need a lot of it!

Kids with ADHD benefit when you pay positive attention and point out to them when they are displaying compliant and pro-social behaviors. In addition, they often need more significant and stimulating incentives to develop and maintain positive behaviors.

Kids with ADHD tend to misbehave more frequently than children without ADHD. Because they struggle so much to control their behaviors, it isn't uncommon for these kids to become bombarded with negative consequences.

Unfortunately, once this pattern starts, it can grow into a vicious cycle: misbehavior by child, leading to punishment by parent, leading to negative feelings in child, leading to more misbehavior, leading to more punishment.

It's important for parents to use incentives and rewards before punishment — positives before negatives — because positives teach the child the behaviors you want to see. Be sure to reinforce progress toward goals, rewarding your child as he or she makes positive steps, including approximations that are done well.


Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D., Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents; Guilford Press.

About Keath Low

Keath Low, M.A. received her degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She earned her master's degree in child and adolescent counseling psychology from Boston College. A psychotherapist, Low holds a clinical appointment with the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at the University of North Carolina.

She works with children with ADHD and their families, and with families dealing with the disruptive behaviors that accompany oppositional-defiant and conduct disorders.

In addition to individual and family therapy, child and family assessments, treatment planning, behavior modifications and social skills training, Low has lead parenting groups and provided clinical supervision to other therapists and social workers. She has experience working with preschool and school systems, classroom teachers, psychiatrists, pediatricians, and other professionals who interact with children and families dealing with ADHD.

Free Parent Workshop March 4th: Infusing Social-Cognitive Tools, Techniques and Strategies Throughout the School Day

Sponsored by the Arlington Public Schools and SEPAC

Presented by Pamela Ely, M.S. CCC-SLP, founder and CEO of The Ely Center, LLC, in Newton, MA. Ely is a specialist in Social-Cognitive tools for teachers and students.

Do you have a child who…
  • Keeps blurting out all the answers
  • Interrupts
  • Repeats themselves
  • Gets upset when they don't know something
  • Doesn't let you know when they don't understand
  • Is socially awkward
  • Has trouble working in groups
Isn't on an IEP or 504 plan, but still struggles with executive functioning skills:
  • Planning
  • Organizing
  • Self-Control

When:     6:30 pm – 9:00 pm, Monday, March 4, 2013

Where:   Ottoson Middle School Cafeteria (directly off lobby)
                  63 Acton Street, Arlington, MA 02476
                  (781) 316-3745

 Content will include:
  • How sensory needs, executive function skills, & language processing abilities affect individual students' learning;
  • A detailed description of the "buzz" phrases that support students with social-cognitive inefficiencies
  • How to facilitate Social Cognition in all settings of the child's day;
  • Methods to improve efficient communication and accelerate learning;
  • Tools and handouts that can be used at school and at home;
  • Question & Answers about fostering successes, identifying & facing challenges, and developing strategies to improve Social Cognition and other social communication skills.

About Pamela Ely
Pamela Ely is the Chief Executive Officer/Owner of The Ely Center in Newton, MA, who together with Elsa Abele conceptualized the idea of a center-based holistic approach to social communication development that meets the varied needs of clients. She is a Speech-Language Pathologist with over 10 years experience in the public schools as well as within more clinical settings.

A consultant to several school districts in Massachusetts, Ely works collaboratively with school personnel to enhance their knowledge and understanding of autism spectrum disorders and other neurological challenges that result in Social Thinking ® and other communication skill deficits.

She trains staff in the use of various diagnostic protocols and treatment techniques for identifying and facilitating language processing and social-communication issues for all students. In the fall, 2011, Pamela completed a mentor training program with Michelle Garcia Winner, CCC-SLP, at Think Social ® in San Jose, CA.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Transition Tuesday Series Starts Tomorrow

To Register, Please Call 617-658-9800!

Our Transition Tuesday series starts tomorrow evening, with a talk about the importance of starting early by NESCA's new Director of Transition Services, Kelley Challen, M.Ed., CAS.

We still have seats, for this session only or the entire series.

The cost is only $15 per individual session or $60 for the full series of five. We accept all major credit cards for advance registration by phone, or cash (exact change please!) and personal checks at the door. To register, please call Amanda Renzi at 617-658-9800 or email nesca@nesca-newton.com.

All sessions will take place in the lower lobby of our building at 55 Chapel Street in Newton, from 7:00 – 9:00pm. There is ample free, off-street parking in the lot opposite the main entrance, marked with a blue, Chapel Bridge Park banner.

Having Your Child Tested for Learning Disabilities Outside of School

From ReadingRockets.org

Via LDOnline.org
January 21, 2013

Children who struggle with reading often need extra help. This help usually comes from the school, but some parents choose to look outside the school for professionals who can assess, diagnose, tutor or provide other services.

The following article provides information on how to find the right person for your child.

Who you choose to work with your child is a key decision. A professional who provides a good diagnosis that reveals your child has a learning disability (LD) or ADHD, for example, can be a gateway to services that open doors to learning and a more fulfilling life for a student.

A good tutor can help your child learn reading strategies or catch up in school.

You can find the names of professionals to choose from in local phone books, from a list provided by the school, or from people you know. LDOnLine also lists professionals in its Yellow Pages.

Although you definitely want to work with someone who makes you and your child feel comfortable, that's not enough. Here are some questions to ask and points to keep in mind when deciding which professional to choose.

Are you licensed or certified?

Many professionals can suspect LD and/or ADHD, but not all are licensed or certified to diagnose these disorders.

When you go to a person in private practice (i.e., someone who is not employed by the school system), it's important to determine if the professional has the needed license to be in private practice and to make the diagnosis of LD or ADHD. Most states require the license of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and lawyers to be in clear view in their offices.

What areas do you specialize in?

Ask the person, "What is your area of expertise?" This could include learning disabilities, ADHD, speech and hearing, legal issues, behavior modification, education, emotional concerns, family counseling, and more. Consider which experience and expertise is most appropriate for your child's situation.

What age range do you specialize in?

The person could specialize in working with preschoolers, children, adolescents, or adults. It's important to choose a professional who is used to working with children of your son's or daughter's age.

What are your fees?

Ask the person what his or her hourly rate is and how an hour is defined. Some use a 45 or 50 minute hour (this is so they have time to write notes about the session). You may also want to ask whether appointments can be broken up into smaller blocks, what happens if you miss a scheduled appointment, whether there is a sliding fee scale, and if a payment plan can be set up.

Will you accept my insurance or HMO coverage?

Not all professionals will take insurance and not all insurance will pay for the professional's fee. If money is an issue, you need to know upfront if your insurance or HMO will pay for the professional's fees and whether the professional will accept your insurance. Also ask if the office will submit bills to the insurance company or if you will need to do so.

Will I get a written report?

If you need a written report for an upcoming meeting with the school, make sure the person will be able to meet your deadline. Determine how long it usually takes to get a written report and whether the cost of the report is included in the estimated charge.

Will you coordinate with the school?

Ask if the person will go to the school for meetings if needed and how that time will be billed. Find out if the person will coordinate the work he or she is doing with your child with what your child's classroom teacher is doing in school.

What range of services do I need?

Think about if you need someone to just do testing, if you need someone who can also work with the school, and if your child needs a few sessions or many.

What information can I gather to help with the diagnosis?

Look for your child's school records, work samples, past assessments, and teacher comments, all of which may help the professional gain information on how to assess or help your child.

How should I explain this to my child?

Ask the person for advice on how you can talk to your child about his or her need for testing, counseling, or educational intervention.

Do I want to interview more than one professional to determine the best one for my child's needs?

Yes. Unless you have a strong recommendation from a close friend or from the school, it is wise to interview more than one person before making a decision.

Related links

For information on testing for learning disabilities, go to:

Understanding and using your child's test results:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Challenge of Measuring Executive Functions

From Smart Kids with LD

By Marcia Eckerd, Ph.D.
February 19, 2013

Executive functions have been likened to an orchestra conductor. The conductor doesn’t play the instruments, but he decides which instruments are needed, cues them, and integrates the sound to produce Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

In cognitive terms, executive functions include the ability to initiate work, plan and organize, set goals, generate problem-solving strategies, and demonstrate cognitive flexibility, emotional self-regulation, and self-monitoring.

The “instruments” in the “orchestra” include skills such as reading, spelling, math, language and visual-spatial processing, verbal and non-verbal reasoning, visual-motor skills, sequencing, memory, etc.

If there are deficits in underlying skills, executive functions will be impaired. On the other hand, all the “instruments” or underlying skills may be working, but the “conductor” may not be able to do his job.

Why Is Measurement Important?

Executive functions have a huge impact on school performance, especially once children enter middle school, when independent functioning is taken for granted. How often do we hear that “A 6th grader should be able to….”?

The problem is that some 6th graders (or high school students) may have delays in executive functions, which continue to develop throughout adolescence.

Some children may have problems such as ADHD or NLD, which impact executive functions; others may have executive function problems that weren’t noticed previously because elementary school is usually structured.

The question is how can we measure these functions to better understand the problem? Standard test batteries in schools correlate poorly with executive functions. Because the tasks on tests are structured, they don’t require the initiation, ongoing effort, and organization needed for independent work.

In real life, information has to be prioritized and multiple demands must be integrated simultaneously, sustained in memory, and managed over time.

A child can score high on standardized tests, yet have deficits in executive functioning. When that happens, the erroneous conclusion often drawn is that the student is not doing as well as expected because of poor motivation, effort, or parenting.

If the usual tests don’t do the job, how do we specifically measure executive functions? Other measures exist, but still don’t tell everything we need to know. Assessment needs to be “process-oriented,” showing how the student achieves his results, not just bottom-line numbers.

Multiple findings are needed to support conclusions.

What Measures Are Used?

The Woodcock-Johnson III Cognitive Tests (WJ-III) or the NEPSY (for younger children) are often used to measure executive functions. Several WJ-III cognitive subtests require concept formation and cognitive shifting. They are of limited use in that they also rely on underlying skills.

Since there’s no time limit, a student can struggle through and score adequately even though he might not be able to perform these functions in a “real-life” time frame.

The NEPSY has measures that assess impulsivity and impulse control, but it doesn’t capture organizational functions reliably.

The Wisconsin Card Sort is another test of concept formation and cognitive flexibility, but it is limited and being used less often. Even tests of working memory look only at the ability to retain and manipulate information for less than a minute, an okay comparison to memory needed to do a math problem, but a poor measure of the working memory needed to take notes in a lecture.

What Are Some Better Tests?

The Rey Osterrieth Complex Figure is a good test of creating an organizational schema. The Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System differentiates underlying functions such as visual-motor skills, sequencing, verbal fluency and inhibition from cognitive flexibility in using these functions. It looks at concept formation and measures the ability to use initial abstraction to problem-solve, as well as the ability to use feedback to improve performance.

A good measure of executive functions in real life is the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functions (BRIEF). Parents and teachers fill out a scale that examines eight indexes of executive functions. The BRIEF provides feedback as to how well executive functions are used at home and school. A psychologist, approved mental health provider or school professional can order the BRIEF, so parents may have to request it specifically.

The author is an evaluator, consultant, and therapist who specializes in working with children with NLD.

She is also on the faculty of the Norwalk Hospital Pediatric Development and Therapy Center in Norwalk, CT.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Physical Activity Really Does Enhance Cognition

From MNT - Medical News Today

February 19, 2013

Exercise doesn't only strengthen your heart and muscles - it also beefs up your brain. Dozens of studies now show that aerobic exercise can increase the size of critical brain structures and improve cognition in children and older adults.

University of Illinois Psychology Professor Art Kramer, a nationally recognized expert on the role of physical fitness on cognition, discussed these brain-changing outcomes at a session of the 2013 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston.

Kramer is the director of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the U. of I.

"Populations throughout the industrialized world are becoming increasing sedentary as a result of the changing nature of work and leisure activities," Kramer said. "As a result of these societal changes, increases in diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers are increasing. Physical activity serves to reduce susceptibility to these diseases."

"Increased physical activity also has direct, and relatively rapid effects on cognition and brain health," he said. "Such results have now been reported, over the course of several decades, in animal studies of physical activity."

Studies in humans, many conducted in Kramer's lab, also show that regular exercise, such as walking three times per week, also increases brain power.

Kramer presented research from his own lab and others that demonstrates that older adults who participate in fitness training and physical activity benefit from significant improvements in their brain structure and function.

He detailed how scientists use both behavioral measures and non-invasive neuroimaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), functional MRI, event-related brain potential, and event-related optical signals to assess cognition.

He concluded his presentation with a dissection of the gaps present in human and animal cognitive and brain health literature, and described how future research can remedy this.


University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Physical Activity Really Does Enhance Cognition." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 19 Feb. 2013.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Reminder: Transition Tuesday Session I February 26!

Space Remains Available - Enroll Now!

To Register, Please Call 617-658-9800.

Our five-part Transition Tuesday series kicks off again February 26th, with a talk about the importance of starting early by NESCA's new Director of Transition Services, Kelley Challen, M.Ed., CAS. Space remains available, for this session and in the series as a whole.

The cost is only $15 per individual session or $60 for the full series of five. We accept all major credit cards for advance registration by phone, or cash (exact change please!) and personal checks at the door. To register, please call Amanda Renzi at 617-658-9800 or email nesca@nesca-newton.com.

All of the sessions will take place in the lower lobby of our building at 55 Chapel Street in Newton, from 7:00 – 9:00pm. There is ample free, off-street parking in the lot opposite the main entrance, marked with a blue, Chapel Bridge Park banner.
This material will be of value to the parents of adolescents and young adults with disabilities--and professionals working with them--seeking to make successful transitions from high school into post-secondary education and into the workplace.

The Hidden Potential of Autistic Kids

From Scientific American

By Rose Eveleth
November 30, 2011

"...many think their potential extends beyond science to all professions, given the right chances."

When I was in fifth grade, my brother Alex started correcting my homework. This would not have been weird, except that he was in kindergarten—and autistic. His disorder, characterized by repetitive behaviors and difficulty with social interactions and communication, made it hard for him to listen to his teachers. He was often kicked out of class for not being able to sit for more than a few seconds at a time.

Even now, 15 years later, he can still barely scratch out his name. But he could look at my page of neatly written words or math problems and pick out which ones were wrong.

Many researchers are starting to rethink how much we really know about autistic people and their abilities. They are coming to the conclusion that we might be underestimating what they are capable of contributing to society.

Autism is a spectrum disease with two very different ends. At one extreme are “high functioning” people who often hold jobs and keep friends and can get along well in the world. At the other, "low functioning" side are people who cannot operate on their own. Many of them are diagnosed with mental retardation and have to be kept under constant care.

But these diagnoses focus on what autistic people cannot do. Now a growing number of scientists are turning that around to look at what autistic people are good at.

Researchers have long considered the majority of those affected by autism to be mentally retarded. Although the numbers cited vary, they generally fall between 70 to 80 percent of the affected population.

But when Meredyth Edelson, a researcher at Willamette University, went looking for the source of those statistics, she was surprised that she could not find anything conclusive. Many of the conclusions were based on intelligence tests that tend to overestimate disability in autistic people. "Our knowledge is based on pretty bad data," she says.

This hidden potential was recently acknowledged by Laurent Mottron, a psychiatrist at the University of Montreal. In an article in the November 3, 2011 issue of Nature, he recounts his own experience working with high-functioning autistic people in his lab, which showed him the power of the autistic brain rather than its limitations.

Mottron concludes that perhaps autism is not really a disease at all—that it's perhaps a different way of looking at the world that should be celebrated rather than viewed as pathology.

Having grown up with two autistic brothers—Alex, four years younger than I, and Decker, who is eight years younger—Mottron's conclusion rings true. As I watched them move through the public schools, it became very clear that there was a big difference between what teachers expected of them and what they could do.

Of course, their autism hindered them in some ways—which often made school difficult— yet it also seemed to give them fresh and useful ways of seeing the world—which often don't show up in the standard intelligence tests.

That is because testing for intelligence in autistic people is hard. The average person can sit down and take a verbally administered, timed test without too many problems.

But for an autistic person with limited language capability, who might be easily distracted by sensory information, this task is very hard.

The most commonly administered intelligence test, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) almost seems designed to flunk an autistic person: it is a completely verbal, timed test that relies heavily on cultural and social knowledge. It asks questions like "What is the thing to do if you find an envelope in the street that is sealed, addressed and has a new stamp on it?" and "What is the thing to do when you cut your finger?"

This year Decker was kicked out of a test much like WISC. Every three years, as he moves through the public school system, his progress is re-evaluated as a part of his Individualized Education Plan—a set of guidelines designed to help people with disabilities reach their educational goal.

This year, as part of the test, the woman delivering the questions asked him, "You find out someone is getting married. What is an appropriate question to ask them?"

My brother's answer: "What kind of cake are you having?"

The proctor shook her head. No, she said, that's not a correct answer. Try again. He furrowed his brow in the way we have all learned to be wary of—it is the face that happens before he starts to shut down—and said, "I don't have another question. That's what I would ask." And that was that.

He would not provide her another question, and she would not move on without one. He failed that question and never finished the test.

A test does not have to be like this. Other measures, like Raven's Progressive Matrices or the Test of Nonverbal Intelligence (TONI), avoid these behavioral and language difficulties. They ask children to complete designs and patterns, with mostly nonverbal instructions. And yet they often are not used.

The average child will score around the same percentile for all these tests, both verbal and nonverbal. But an autistic child will not. Isabelle Soulieres, a researcher at Harvard University, gave a group of autistics both WISC and the Raven test to measure the difference between the two groups.

Although she expected a difference, she was surprised at just how big the gap was. On average, autistic students performed 30 percentile points better on the Raven test than on WISC. Some kids jumped 70 percentile points. "Depending on which test you use, you get a very different picture of the potential of the kids," she says. Other studies have confirmed this gap, although they found a smaller jump between tests.

The “high functioning” autistic children, with the least severe version of the disability, were not the only ones to score higher. Soulieres conducted a study recently at a school for autistic children considered intellectually disabled. Using the Raven test, she found that about half of them scored in the average range for the general population.

"Many of those who are considered low-functioning—if you give them other intelligence tests, you will find hidden potential," she says. "They can solve really complex problems if you give them material that they can optimally process."

What this means, she says, is that schools underestimate the abilities of autistic children all across the spectrum. The widespread use of the WISC in schools has helped set expectations of autistic kids too low—assuming that they will not be able to learn the same things that the average child can. Based on the test results, people come to the conclusion that autistic children cannot learn, when perhaps they do not learn the same way other people do.

The hidden potential of autistic people seems to fall in common areas—tasks that involve pattern recognition, logical reasoning and picking out irregularities in data or arguments. Soulieres describes working with an autistic woman in her lab who can pick out the slightest flaws in logic. "At first, we argue with her," Soulieres laughs, "but almost each time, she's right, and we're wrong."

Recognizing these talents, rather than pushing them aside to focus on the drawbacks of autism, could benefit not just autistic people, but everyone else as well. Mottron chronicles how much better his science got by working with his autistic lab partner. I got far higher marks on my homework than I would have without Alex, even though his corrections were sometimes infuriating.

And many think their potential extends beyond science to all professions, if given the right chances.

Just because a test says someone has potential, that does not mean it is easy to realize. My brother Decker’s teachers are convinced—and tests confirm—that he has hidden potential. But in class, he often falls behind when trying to listen to instructions and gets frustrated when trying to catch up.

"It doesn't mean that it's easy for them in everyday life, or that it's easy for their parents or teachers," Soulieres says. "But it shows that they have this reasoning potential, and maybe we have to start teaching them differently and stop making the assumption that they won't learn."

More and more people are starting to wonder what gems might lie hidden in the autistic brain. And if my brothers are any indication, if we keep looking, we will find them.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ask An Expert: What is a Neuropsychological Evaluation?

From The Autism Consortium Blog

By Lisa Nowinski, Ph.D.
February 19, 2013

Question from a parent:

I've heard about neuropsychological evaluations, but I'm not sure what they're for, or whether my child needs one.


“Neuropsychological Evaluation” is a term that is used to describe a battery of tests that measure a child’s cognitive skills and overall brain functioning. They include formal evaluation of skills such as intelligence, visual perception, language, memory, learning, attention, and executive functioning.

A neuropsychological evaluation should be completed with a psychologist who has had special training in neuropsychology and, as appropriate, training in autism and developmental disabilities. 

Almost every child with a neurodevelopmental disorder will at some time require a neuropsychological evaluation. Because an autism spectrum disorder impacts your child’s developmental trajectory, it is important to monitor his or her progress closely.

For children who have had a developmental regression, or who have another complicating medical factor such as a seizure disorder, ongoing neuropsychological evaluations are often an essential part of care.

Children as young as 4 or 5 years old can complete neuropsychological testing. Some young children will complete neurodevelopmental evaluations with a neuropsychologist who specializes in early development.

What's the difference between the testing a psychologist does, and the type of testing a neuropsychologist does?


Many psychologists complete some psychological evaluation as part of their work. Psychological evaluations refer to the assessment of a child’s social, emotional, and behavioral functioning.

Unlike neuropsychological evaluations, psychological evaluations may not have an explicit focus on cognition or how a child’s brain is working. A psychologist may see your child for a diagnostic evaluation or for therapy, and be able to obtain the needed information without neuropsychological testing. In more complicated cases, a neuropsychologist may be able to help you determine what aspects of your child’s brain functioning are contributing to specific challenges.

Once we know what contributes to your child’s challenges, we can help you to plan the appropriate intervention and support your child’s success.

What will a neuropsychological evaluation look like? What will my child be asked to do?


Evaluations can take place over single or multiple visits. Most neuropsychologists will want to speak with you and meet with your child before they begin formal testing. This first visit is an opportunity for you to share your specific questions or concerns (for example, Why is it so hard for my child to follow instructions? How can I help my child with school or homework?)

Many children with autism spectrum disorders do best once they are familiar with a new environment. This first visit allows your child to meet the neuropsychologist and familiarize him or herself with the office.

It is important to share previous evaluations and pertinent medical and school records with your neuropsychologist.

On the day of the formal testing, be sure that you child has had a full night’s rest and eats a healthy breakfast. Arriving a few minutes early will allow your child to settle in, without feeling rushed. From your child’s perspective, testing will seem like a series of games or activities. Depending on their age and skill level, this will include puzzles, races, and questions. Testing can last up to several hours.

Together with your neuropsychologist, you may decide to break the evaluation into several smaller sessions, if needed. Throughout the day, your child will be allowed breaks and it is always a good idea to bring preferred activities to support your child’s optimal performance if necessary.

After the evaluation, your neuropsychologist should prepare a written report that includes the results of the evaluation, as well as some information about what the results mean and what to do next. Specific treatment and educational recommendations are often included.

 It may be helpful to share this report with your child’s teachers, IEP team, and doctors.

My child is nonverbal. Can she be tested?


Yes, absolutely! Nonverbal children have many other skills that are important to understand. School evaluations for nonverbal children are often limited to parent-report and observations, which do not fully capture a child’s underlying cognitive skills. In this case, it is especially important for you to find a neuropsychologist who has extensive experience working with nonverbal children and young adults.

Are these kinds of evaluations covered by insurance? Where do I find an evaluator?


Neuropsychological evaluations are often covered by insurance companies; however, your insurance may limit how often you can see a neuropsychologist. Be sure to contact your insurance company directly to verify your plan benefits. Some plans do not cover testing for a primary diagnosis of autism.

In addition, many neuropsychologists perform additional educational and academic assessments that are not covered by insurance. There may be an additional fee for this.

Although there are many neuropsychologists practicing in the greater Boston area, the best way to find an appropriate evaluator is to ask your child’s treatment team for a specific recommendation. It is important that you see a neuropsychologist who is attuned to the specific cognitive, social, and behavioral presentation of autism spectrum disorders, even if your child does not yet have an official diagnosis.

Lisa Nowinski, Ph.D. is a clinical neuropsychologist and licensed clinical psychologist at the Lurie Center for Autism at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children. Dr. Nowinski holds joint appointments at Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital’s Center for Neurodevelopmental Services. She is also an instructor at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Nowinski joined the Lurie Center for Autism after completing her training and postdoctoral fellowship in pediatric neuropsychology at Massachusetts General Hospital and her graduate training at the University of California Santa Barbara.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

You Need to Know about NICHCY’s Disability Fact Sheets

From Special Education Advisor

By Elaine MulliganProject Director
National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY)

February 4, 2013

When a child is first diagnosed with a disability, parents must learn a lot in a short time if they want their child to receive the best services. Finding that information can be challenging, but NICHCY is here to help.

Has your child been classified as having an “Other Health Impairment”? NICHCY’s fact sheet can help clarify what that means. Has your child experienced a Traumatic Brain Injury?

NICHCY’s fact sheet can help you understand how that disability affects learning.

NICHCY’s Disability Fact Sheets are our most popular web pages. Each fact sheet includes a definition, causes, characteristics, how common the disability is in school-age children, educational considerations, and helpful organizations for further information.

Most also include supports broken down by age group, tips for teachers, tips for parents and a story of a child with the disability.

The fact sheets are a great starting point for anyone who is living or working with a child who has a disability. Many are also available in Spanish—easy to read, easy to share.

What fact sheets does NICHCY offer?

Here are the fact sheets available to you at NICHCY:

In the list above, we’ve identified which fact sheets are available in Spanish with an asterisk. Our most visited fact sheets are Intellectual Disability, Emotional Disturbance, Speech and Language Impairments, and Other Health Impairment.

Why turn to NICHCY’s fact sheets?

Sure, there are great resources available on specific disabilities from medical sources, disability-specific advocacy organizations, and education professionals. But there are also (more than) a few less-than-accurate sources online that can be distracting and difficult to wade through.

NICHY does the work of collecting the reliable information you need to get started, and we put that info all in one place.

NICHCY presents accurate information that is written specifically to meet the needs of parents and educators, and we include links to trusted sources of information so you can continue gathering information effectively.

How can you use these?

First and foremost, the fact sheets are a starting point for building your own knowledge. They’re also great to share with family members. If your child has recently been identified with a disability, it can be exhausting to repeatedly explain the condition to aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Share a fact sheet instead and empower that person to learn on his or her own.

You can even share this additional information at IEP meetings. Share these facts sheets with your child’s teacher and other adults with whom your child interacts with at school. The “Education Implications” and “Tips for Teachers” sections are excellent practical resources for general educators.

NICHCY’s materials are always copyright-free, so you can share them freely either in print or electronically. Help yourself!

About Elaine Mulligan

Elaine Mulligan is the Project Director of the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY), a federally-funded project that provides information to the nation on disabilities in children in youth; programs and services for infants, children, and youth with disabilities; IDEA, the nation’s special education law; and research-based information on effective practices for children with disabilities.

NESCA's Crisp New Look

Many thanks to Nancy Dobos of Dobos Design in Wellesley!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Transition Tuesday Series Starts 2/26!

Session I - Tuesday, February 26th - Enroll Now!

To Register, Please Call 617-658-9800.

Our Transition Tuesday evening workshop series kicks off again in just one week, on Tuesday, February 26th, and space remains available. The cost is only $15 per individual session or $60 for the full series of five. Seating is limited. To register, call Amanda Renzi at 617-658-9800 or email nesca@nesca-newton.com.

All of the sessions will take place in the lower lobby of our building at 55 Chapel Street in Newton, from 7:00 – 9:00pm. There is ample free, off-street parking in the lot opposite the main entrance, marked with a blue, Chapel Bridge Park banner.
This material will be of value to the parents of adolescents and young adults with disabilities--and professionals working with them--seeking to make successful transitions from high school into post-secondary education and into the workplace.
Program Schedule
February 26 - But She’s Only 12! Better Start Early...
Led by NESCA's new Director of Transition Services Kelley Challen, Ed.M., C.A.G.S., supported by experienced educational advocates serving as small-group discussion leaders.

March 5 - Using the TPF to Your Child’s Best Advantage
Veteran Educational Advocate Marilyn Weber presents, after which we will again divide into small discussion groups, each facilitated by an educational advocate and a NESCA clinician.

April 2 - Comprehensive Transition Assessment
NESCA Drs. Jason McCormick and Kate DellaPorta  present The Blueprint for Transition Assessment, our modular, individualized approach to thorough transition assessment.

April 9 - Special Education & Transition
Special Education Attorney Michelle Moor, Esq. discusses state and federal laws relating to transition, after which we will again break out into small, advocate-led discussion groups.

April 30 - Schools with Strong Transition Programs
A panel discussion with representatives from at least six schools and agencies (TBD) with outstanding transition programs. NESCA Director Ann Helmus, Ph.D. moderates.