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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Praising Kids: How Proper Praise Helps Children, Part Two




From the Blog "Singletons" - The World of Only Children

By Susan Newman, Ph.D.
July 11, 2013

Praising Kids: “Good Job!” Doesn’t Cut It Anymore, Part One discusses the problems with over-the-top, glowing praise that focuses on stroking your child’s ego instead of constructive praise that teaches him what it means to do a good job. By focusing on a child’s efforts, not on the child himself, you help build a child’s self-esteem.


When Praise is Good

Before you throw out praise, let’s look at when it’s good:
  • Praise is good if it's realistic. When praise is consistently reality based, you give your child a fair yardstick with which to judge himself.
  • Praise is good if it's earned. “The yard looks wonderful; you did an excellent job of collecting all the leaves!” Or: “Thank you for helping clean up the corner of the garage, it looks really organized and tidy thanks to you.” Earned praise reinforces your child’s effort and is encouraging. 
  • Praise is good when it's specific. The more specific, the better. Specifics are more instructive than blanket praise; specifics teach your child that she is in control of what she can accomplish. It also helps keep a child from believing that he is infallible which in turn will prepare him future criticism, disappointments or losses.
  • Praise is good used sparingly. When you repeat a compliment too frequently, constant, arbitrary praise gets tuned out in the same way that yelling does.

So if the right thinking is to moderate praise, how do you make your child feel valued? How do you build his self-confidence?

Six Paths to Effective Praise

With sweeping praise “out,” here are praise approaches you can implement easily:

1.) Encouragement. Encouragement is effective because it: a) allows you to select a characteristic or behavior you want to develop or foster in a positive and constructive way, and b) lets you call attention to the process; you support the process and make progress in building your child’s confidence. When she comes home with a poor grade on a test, you might say: “I like the effort you put into studying. Maybe a bit more next time, you think?”

You are praising the process, not the outcome. You are making her responsible.

2.) Mirroring. If you are consistently responsive, your child is more likely to be confident. It can be a trick on a skateboard, a gymnastic feat, a piano piece mastered or almost mastered, a tennis match won or almost won. Let her know that you see her and recognize her accomplishments, large and small. Ask to see her collection of dolls, or rocks, or something similar. Observe and talk about how orderly it is; how well she’s protecting it. Or ask, “Where did you find all these things?”

Your undivided attention is worth more than platitudes shouted from another room. Showing an interest in what’s he’s interested packs more of a punch than simply saying, “What a fabulous collection.” It positions your child as an expert — what a confidence boost!

3.) Listening. Most of us are over-scheduled and distracted — often too distracted to give children what they need. They need you to acknowledge them and give them an honest assessment of what they’re doing. Take time to listen, and make sure your children know you’re listening. Listen to complaints and be empathetic. Don’t immediately take your child’s or the teacher’s side, for instance. Hear his point of view.

Allowing your child to explain tells him you value his point of view and observations. Being heard is a powerful motivator.

4.) Rewarding. Focus on the direction your child is moving in. You might say: “You improved so much since your last report card. Aren’t you proud of yourself? You should be.” When your child is memorizing a poem or words for a spelling test, you might say: “You almost had it. You’ll get it.” And when your child succeeds (a grade improvement; a sports milestone, for example), you might say: “You got an A! You just proved to yourself that you should never give up.”

You are teaching your child to internalize her abilities and to eventually be able to evaluate herself accurately.

5.) Reinforcement. You might say: “I like the song you sang for grandma and grandpa. Would you sing it for me now?” Or, you might ask your child to retell a joke or ask for instruction: “The dog seems to respond so well to your training. Show me how you get him to do that, please.”

Reliving bright moments reminds children of their “strong suits.” You are telling your child she has something worthwhile to offer and share with you. Showing a genuine interest allows a child to relive accomplishments—and this kind of response can cultivate diligence and determination.

6.) Questioning: You might say: “How did you choose the colors for that picture? What did you use to make those lines? It’s so unusual, interesting, real, pretty, cheerful…”

You’re asking about the process—making your child think about how he created his work or tackled a project and what he might do next time.

When you combine these techniques and use them regularly, you put your child on a direct, merited path toward self-confidence.

Isn’t that what praise is for in the first place?

Related: Praising Kids: “Good Job!” Doesn’t Cut It Anymore, Part 1

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NESCA (Neuropsychology and Education Services for Children and Adolescents) is a pediatric neuropsychology group practice in Newton, MA whose senior clinicians and allied staff evaluate and treat a wide range of complex learning, developmental and emotional disorders. Seeking to identify and empower the best in each child, they also address special education issues and school placements, often observing children in their classrooms and participating in TEAM meetings. NESCA has served clients from throughout the U.S. and more than twenty other countries.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Praising Kids: “Good Job!” Doesn’t Cut It Anymore, Part One







From the Blog "Singletons" - The World of Only Children

July 10, 2013

Blanket, positive praise becomes “white noise”—empty words with little meaning.

Think about your partner’s or a friend’s repetitive praise: “You look great.” It’s nothing special, right? Even “I love you” loses its impact after a while when repeated too often with no eye contact or physical connection.

In many ways, generalized praise has the same effect on children who eventually come back at you with, “Oh, Mom, you always say that.” Too much of “you’re the best” is not helpful or constructive.

After decades of thinking that most praise is good, new studies spotlight exactly how praising children for simply being themselves — with no accompanying feedback on how they’ve performed or how they worked to accomplish tasks — can be detrimental.

The new consensus: When praising children, limit generalized praise and up specific feedback. It might mean the difference between setting your child up for problems and building him up for eventual success.

The Problem with Hollow Praise

When you say, “good job,” “beautiful painting,” or “great performance” to a child, the comments become “white noise,” or empty words with little meaning — eventually platitudes not even heard. While it may seem like the mark of a loving parent to do so, praising your child expansively not only devalues the praise, but also prevents her from actually knowing what doing a “good job” means.

Praising in glowing terms — especially if it comes after less-than-perfect behavior or performance — can actually send a message that he or she doesn’t need to try harder to improve. Children who don’t receive specific feedback may come to feel they’re entitled to praise no matter what they do. They start to believe that they can coast along, assuming credit will come anyway. When it doesn’t, they will be unprepared to cope.

In her study, “Mothers' Daily Person and Process Praise: Implications for Children's Theory of Intelligence and Motivation,” the University of Illinois’ Eva M. Pomerantz used interviews to assess mothers’ praise in response to children’s success in school over a period of 10 days.

The results: “the more mothers used person praise (i.e., ‘You are smart.’ and ‘You are a good kid.’), the more children held an entity theory of intelligence and avoided challenging work in school six months later, which prior findings suggest undermine achievement.”

Person Praise vs. Process Praise

Furthermore, when you praise a child who is not doing as well as she could, she ultimately learns to believe she doesn’t have to do better to be accepted. She can coast or she feels entitled, expecting that everything should be coming her way whether she strives for her best or not.

Another problem with too much praise is that you are not training your son or daughter to deal with criticism and failure. You run the risk of having your child dissolve when he fails his first test or gets a C; when he isn’t invited to a party or included in a get-together with friends; when he doesn’t get into the college of his choice.

He will think, “I’m great — that’s what my parents told me my whole life, so what’s wrong with me?”

You cheat your child when compliments are hollow. Recent findings reinforce these points; Scientists at the University of Chicago and Stanford University discovered that the kind of praise a parent gives a child influences attitudes toward difficult tasks later on.

The researchers describe two types of praise: “Person” praise (which includes those unspecific phrases like “You’re awesome!”) and “Process” praise, which revolves around more valuable specific feedback on a child’s actions and accomplishments.

The authors found that having more “process” praise will better mold a child to have more perseverance in approaching and solving tough challenges.

Constructive praise with specifics and emphasis on performance encourages a child to strive and work harder. What does constructive praise sound like? Read Part 2

Resources 
  • Gunderson, E. A., Gripshover, S. J., Romero, C., Dweck, C. S., Goldin-Meadow, S. and Levine, S. C. (2013), “Parent Praise to 1- to 3-Year-Olds Predicts Children's Motivational Frameworks 5 Years Later.” Child Development. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12064
  • Pomerantz, Eva M.; Kempner, Sara G. (11 Feb. 2013), “Mothers' Daily Person and Process Praise: Implications for Children's Theory of Intelligence and Motivation.” Developmental Psychology. doi:10.1037/a0031840
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NESCA (Neuropsychology and Education Services for Children and Adolescents) is a pediatric neuropsychology group practice in Newton, MA whose senior clinicians and allied staff evaluate and treat a wide range of complex learning, developmental and emotional disorders. Seeking to identify and empower the best in each child, they also address special education issues and school placements, often observing children in their classrooms and participating in TEAM meetings. NESCA has served clients from throughout the U.S. and more than twenty other countries.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Is Your Child's IEP Up to the Test?

From www.ADDitudeMag.com - Living Well with Attention Deficit

by Chris Zeigler Dendy
May, 2012

She's bright and she works hard, but your child may still find it tough to show what she knows at exam time. Help set her up for success with these test-taking accommodations.

Jake has a high IQ, but he has a problem showing what he knows on tests. His parents are frustrated and his guidance counselor warns Jake monthly that he may be retained unless his test grades improve — and soon. Jake is feeling so much pressure that he will say anything to get out of going to school.

Because students with ADHD have learning problems that make some types of tests harder for them, modifying the style of testing and the way that tests are graded can help. Even when these students know the material, they may not do well because of slow processing speed, problems expressing themselves in writing, and poor memory.

From D's to B's

Test modifications have been a lifesaver for many students with ADHD. In fact, kids say that receiving extended time on tests, or doing special projects or extra homework in place of tests has helped them go from failing grades to, in some cases, the honor roll. If you have a son or daughter like Jake, talk with the special-ed team about adding some of these accommodations to his IEP:


Find alternative times for completing a test. Include a study hall in the student's schedule, to be used for several purposes: finishing tests, doing make-up work, receiving assistance, or collecting the right books and homework assignments to take home. Another option is give the test before or after school or during lunch hour.

Select a good test location. Students need a quiet place, without traffic or others talking. Sitting them in the back of the classroom while the teacher is instructing the rest of the class is too distracting. The student can finish the test in the library or the guidance office. Or, if your child has a tutor, let the tutor monitor all or a portion of the test at an agreed-upon location.

Modify the format of the exam. Tests requiring recognition instead of cold recall are usually easier for kids with ADHD and LD. Students with ADHD do better with a format that provides word cues to jog their memory. Multiple-choice or true-false questions are more ADD-friendly, as are oral exams or open-book tests. Let a student use a small laminated card that contains secondary facts, such as formulas, acronyms, rules for conjugation in foreign languages, or grammar rules, to trigger his memory during tests.

"Kids say that receiving extended time on tests or doing special projects or extra homework in place of tests has helped them go from failing grades to, in some cases, the honor roll." 

Some test-taking tips can't be written into an IEP, but parents and teachers can drill them into their ADHD students:
  • Read test directions twice
  • Do the test sections worth the most points first
  • Check the back of the question sheet for additional questions; our kids sometimes don't turn over the page.
Other Test Tips

Talk with the IEP team about grading techniques that don't punish a student's learning deficits or memory lapses on tests.

Don't take off points for misspelling on tests requiring writing, unless spelling is the subject being tested.

Allow students to earn extra credit, especially in the classes in which he has failing grades on tests. Creative projects may include: videotaping an interview with a war veteran for history class; creating a scrapbook on a related topic in social studies; cutting out articles or pictures from newspapers or magazines on topics relating to a book being read in English class; or correcting errors made on tests.

Have a student make up work. An impaired sense of time prevents some kids from completing tests. Allow the student to make up work while developing a plan to correct the problem.

How to Achieve on Achievement Tests

Here are some accommodations to consider when your child is taking a standardized test:
  • Offer extended time to complete the test 
  • Administer the test in shorter sessions, perhaps over several days
  • Allow frequent breaks
  • Mark answers in the test booklet, not a separate answer sheet
  • Increase the size of the answer bubbles
  • Change the time of day for giving the test
  • Simplify language in the directions
  • Highlight verbs in the directions
  • Provide a calculator, word processor, or a dictionary or spell-checker
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NESCA (Neuropsychology and Education Services for Children and Adolescents) is a pediatric neuropsychology group practice in Newton, MA whose senior clinicians and allied staff evaluate and treat a wide range of complex learning, developmental and emotional disorders. Seeking to identify and empower the best in each child, they also address special education issues and school placements. NESCA has served clients from throughout the United States and more than twenty other countries.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Importance of Teaching Mindfulness

From KQED's Mind/Shift - How We Will Learn

By Aran Levasseur
April 9, 2012

Think of sitting quietly in a spartan room. There are no TVs, computers, smartphones, books, magazines or music. If you’re like most people, this probably sounds like a recipe for boredom. In our culture, we avoid moments of “not-doing” because we don’t associate boredom with having any value. And our aversion to boredom and not-doing have been amplified in our hyper-connected age.

It’s been said that the currency of the Net is attention. As connectivity penetrates the furthest reaches of our lives, all of us, but schools in particular, need to treat attention as a skill to be cultivated.

A torrent of stimulation is just a click or touchscreen away, ensuring that even the slightest trace of boredom can be mitigated through constant screen connectivity. As beneficial as this perpetual connectivity can be, neuroscience has been uncovering some detrimental side effects.

Recent brain imaging studies reveal that sections of our brains are highly active during down time. This has led scientists to imply that moments of not-doing are critical for connecting and synthesizing new information, ideas and experiences. Dr. Michael Rich, a professor at Harvard Medical School put it this way in a 2010 New York Times article: “Downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body.”

“Downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body.”

According to a report from the University of California, San Diego, in 28 years — from 1980 to 2008 — our consumption of information increased 350 percent, while our downtime continues to shrink.

In the midst of this multimedia blitzkrieg, the importance of mindfulness and focused attention is rising. If we can’t cultivate mindfulness and focused attention while sitting quietly in a room, then how can we expect to bring these qualities of mind into turbulent circumstances — both on and offline

Fractured Attention,  Fractured Mind

The average American consumes 34 gigabytes of content and 100,000 words every single day, according to the 2008 report from U.C. San Diego. To put these numbers in perspective, one gigabyte is a symphony in high-fidelity sound or a broadcast quality movie.

Our colossal consuming habits are not only crowding out essential neurological downtime, but they’re creating a chemical addiction that has interest in little else. When we consume media — from watching TV to surfing the Net, and from playing videogames to using social media — we’re triggering the brain chemical dopamine. Dopamine creates a “high,” and we are wired to do what it takes to maintain this elevated state. When the dopamine levels decrease, we begin to look for diversions that will restore the high.

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In the absence of stimulation, and the corresponding dopamine high, we’re likely to feel bored. As a result, many of us become stimulation junkies and incessant multitaskers. In the New York Times article, Attached to Technology and Paying the Price,” Matt Richtel wrote,

“While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress … And scientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist. In other words, this is also your brain off computers.”

The Antidote: Mindfulness

Living in a connected age is double-edged. While policy and regulation have their place within this matrix, it seems that human agency should be the keystone. Therefore, for the body politic to walk the edge between being empowered by our connectivity or hindered by it requires a steady dose of mind training.

Research at Duke University underscores why. Researchers found that more than 40 percent of our actions are based on habits, not conscious decisions. Unconscious habits and assumptions aren’t destiny, but if we don’t bring them into focus then the force of these habits will continue to chart our course.

The practice of mindfulness is a time-tested antidote to operating in autopilot.

“Mindfulness practice,” according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer of mindfulness-based stress reduction, “means that we commit fully in each moment to be present; inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody as best we can an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now.”

While the technique of mindfulness isn’t hard, developing a disciplined practice can feel like an Olympic challenge — which is where education comes in.

Mind Training in Schools

The direction in which education orients a person, to paraphrase Plato, will determine their future in life. While educational aims should be varied, an underlying goal should be in focusing student awareness in a metacognitive direction. If schools hope to prepare students for our hyper-connected world, it reasons that training students to be proficient with digital tools is only part of the equation.


Students must also be mindful of how digital tools and perpetual web connectivity are shaping their brains, perceptions and habits. To that end, several studies have demonstrated the power of mindfulness mediation in schools to improve executive functioning, reducing stress, anxiety and aggression.

In his book, Techgnosis, Erik Davis also sees another value in integrating mind training into schools:

“The contemporary rise of attention deficit disorder, a condition seemingly linked to the ubiquity of media nets, only underscores how much we need to treat attention as a craft, at once a skill to be learned and a vessel in flight. But the name of this chronic syndrome also contains a clue.

For it is precisely disorder that we need to learn to pay attention to, because in that turbulence lies our own future manifold. The mind is an instrument, and we practice scales so that we may improvise with spontaneous grace.”

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Aran Levasseur has an eclectic background that ranges from outdoor education to life coaching, and from habitat restoration to video production. He taught middle school history and science for five years, where he integrated technology into his classes to enhance his teaching and student learning.

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This article was originally published by PBS MediaShift, covering the intersection of media and technology. Follow @PBSMediaShift for Twitter updates, or join us on Facebook.

Friday, July 26, 2013

What’s Wrong with Testing?

From Smart Kids with LD

By Marcia Eckerd, Ph.D.
July 8, 2013

"To truly determine 'what’s wrong,' an examiner must consider the process, administer tests in specific areas, and collect clinical observations. Only then can appropriate help be provided."

Why we evaluate children is simple: Someone feels that something might be wrong, and they want to know what that something is. Often parents with bright children have to fight for testing because their children perform at grade level even when achieving below the level of their abilities.

The expectation is that testing will provide the answers to why a child is struggling. Unfortunately that’s not always the case. Interpreting test results is not the exact science we’d like it to be. A child who is obviously struggling can test normal due to a variety of factors, none of which are usually accounted for in the evaluation process.

Confounding Factors

Situation: Testing is administered in a one-on-one setting, examining skills that are demonstrated within a few hours per session. By the nature of this setup, problems with organization, initiating work, stamina, and time management are not measured other than in behavioral checklists.

A student’s ability to pick out and remember salient information is minimally assessed, as is the ability to recall this information when needed without prompts. This testing situation is unavoidable, but the result is that much testing yields few numbers about problems that are critical for some children.

Scores: There can be significant problems in the way scores are understood and reported. As an example, the WISC-IV (IQ test) is not a test but a battery of tests. People often look at the Full Scale IQ as critical (“His IQ is not as high as you thought”) instead of seeing it for what it is: an averaging of 12 numbers.

A child who performs at an average level on all tests gets the same full scale IQ as a child who is superior on some tests, average on some, and does poorly on others.

You can learn more looking at the Index Scores for Verbal Comprehension, Perceptual Organization, Working Memory, and Processing Speed, but again, these are averages of the component subtests. The evaluator has to look carefully at what we call the scatter, or lack of consistency among the tests.

She must also look at the process: How is the child achieving these numbers? Does he quit easily, or persevere? Does he need to talk his way through to an answer, or is he on the right track but fails to elaborate adequately? Is he impulsive? Does he miss easy items and get harder ones?

This critical information isn’t evident in the numbers. A child who does well on harder problems and misses easy ones may not really engage until he’s challenged; another child might simply have reached the limit of his ability.

What is clear, is that two children with reports showing the same numbers may have very different issues.

Tests: And then there are the tests themselves, which may be flawed. For example, The Woodcock Johnson Tests of Achievement-III (WJ-III) is commonly given as an achievement test in schools. The reading tests on the WJ-III involve reading single words, speed in reading single sentences and filling in a single missing word in a passage of a few sentences. This will pick up a child who doesn’t understand how to decode words, is a slow reader, or has slow graphomotor skills, but it doesn’t address the challenges of reading chapter books.

There is no measure for inferential understanding, predicting outcomes, or depth of comprehension.

The writing subtests on the WJ-III look at spelling, speed in writing simple sentences, and the ability to write single sentences to explain something, fill in information, or mimic the style of a writer. There is no need to organize writing, identify main ideas, elaborate or integrate ideas. A child who does poorly on the WJ-III has real problems, but a child who tests as average or even above may still struggle to produce grade-level work.

Testing should be extensive and process-oriented enough to address why a child struggles. It’s not useful to suggest that he shouldn’t struggle if he does. Standard school testing usually picks up children with poor basic skills, but children with higher order or more subtle problems may be missed.

To truly determine “what’s wrong,” an examiner must consider the process, administer tests in specific areas, and collect clinical observations. Only then can appropriate help be provided.

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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.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What Makes a Gifted Student?

From the OpenColleges.edu.au Blog "InformEd"

By Carrie Wible
July 10, 2013

Parents and grandparents often look for signs that their children and grandchildren are gifted. After all, who doesn’t like to brag about their children? When moving to our new two story home when my twins were 19 months old, I was extremely worried about the stairs. I was frightened out of my mind when they insisted on walk-crawling up the stairs, but was delighted when they understood right away how to slide back down on their stomachs. I decided that my twin boys must be advanced!

Unfortunately, walking up the stairs is not a sign of giftedness for my children, as the normal time for a child to walk up stairs is 18 months. However, one of the boys walked on tiptoes at 20 months which qualifies him to possibly be advanced. Too bad that advancedness does not apply to his getting his own blankie from another room or getting into the bathtub without incident.

Consider the following parental and grandparental claims:
  • “Andrew is going to be gifted,” says his father, as three year old Andrew sings along with the radio in tune, while clapping to the beat.
  • “Susie is gifted,” her mother states as four year old Susie recites her alphabet, lists numbers one to thirty, and then does a somersault.
  • “Tommy is extremely gifted,” beams his grandmother as seven year old Tommy finishes a Lego castle containing 300 pieces.
  • “Andrea is off the charts in giftedness,” says her father confidently, as ten year old Andrea plays Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” from memory on the piano. 

Which of the above children might actually be considered gifted? You may be surprised that it is Andrew, the three-year-old. Singing in pitch and clapping along to the beat at an early age is a sign of giftedness.

While the other scenarios are impressive to some, they are not indicative of an advanced child.


What is Giftedness?

The technical definition of gifted is “having great natural ability“, but there is much more to it than that. It is more difficult to define than one would imagine. The main idea behind giftedness is that the child leads the direction of what they want to experience, rather than someone else.

"The main idea behind giftedness is that the child leads the direction of what they want to experience, rather than someone else."

If at 20 months my tiptoe walking son had been coached, coaxed, and led to walk that way by myself or my husband it would not necessarily be a sign of giftedness because he could do it. His doing it on his own out of natural curiosity or ability is what would make him gifted.

“Gifted” May Not Mean What You Think It Means

Many parents and even teachers equate giftedness with good grades, high test scores, and better behavior than other students. While this may be a sign of giftedness, these parameters could leave many gifted students unidentified.

Students who are unruly, have attention issues, lacks good grades, or have no interest in completing homework or participating are not generally thought of as being gifted over others who behave the opposite. Chew on this: when Albert Einstein was a young boy, he was thought to be dumb and was set apart from other students.

While high scores and good grades can be an indicator of giftedness, there is more to earning that label. While many test students for good memory skills or the ability to analyze data, children also need to be creative and proactive in their interests.

What Skills Do Gifted Students Possess?

Being gifted means a student has certain qualities and skills that enable them to think on their own without help. Many people have good memory, the ability to interpret ideas and data, are creative, are practical, and interested in many things, but this does not make them gifted alone.

Students with higher level functions will be able to create or think of something they want to do, analyze how to go about it, have the understanding of what they need to be successful, and then pursue it. They can understand what needs to be fixed or changed in order for their idea to work.

While the ideas presented above make for obvious giftedness, some students are higher in some levels than others. For instance, my sixteen-year-old son is a remarkable verbal wordsmith. Since he was a toddler he has spoken very well and has an extensive vocabulary. He and I would hold real conversations about various ideas when he was just in Kindergarten.

While he has amazing verbal ability, he does not know how to write it down. He has great ideas, knows what he wants to do, what the outcome should be, the problems that could arise and how to fix them. The next step to implement his ideas is where he falters. He can tell me his whole plan, then will sit down at the computer and stare.

This does not make him any less gifted, it just shows that not all gifted people have the same talents and skill levels as others.

How Does One Become Gifted?

Contrary to popular belief, being gifted is not always luck of the draw.

Genetics do play a large part in being gifted, definitely. It has been thought that the brain of a gifted person can actually process information faster. However, one’s surroundings are equally important. Nature and nurture are at work as some traits are genetic and others are learned.

It is important for parents and teachers to actively participate in a child’s life in order to see what they are interested in. Whether or not the parents themselves are considered gifted, the environment a child grows up in can enhance or develop their abilities.

A personal example would be that my mother’s side of the family is very musical. There are a few band directors and music majors, and everyone on the immediate side played a musical instrument at one time.

With all these musical genes, it would stand to reason I would have an affinity for music, too. It turns out I did, but with the aid of my mother to cultivate it. If my mother had not bought me that little metal fife when I was in 4th grade, I may never have been the flute player I am today.

Even more importantly, had she not dug out her old, dusty clarinet a few years later, I may never have been inspired to get a degree in music. Being gifted in music, it is likely that I would have desired to seek it out for myself, but the environment in which I lived aided me greatly.

Neurology of the Gifted

The brain is a complex organ full of nerves, neurons, and the chemicals that allow us to communicate, which are called neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters move along an intricate highway of branches called dendrites. The dendrites seek other neurons at points in the brain called synapses. Having more branches and points in the brain allow us to have a better capabilities to learn.

The more the brain is used, the more neurons are activated, which makes more dendrites and helps the brain to function at an even higher level. Gifted students are thought to have more compact areas of synapses where their talent lies.

Being in the right environment to stimulate the neurons is also a large part of the brain being able to develop the more complex root-system those that are in gifted minds.

Levels Can Vary

Knowing what skills are involved is helpful, but recognizing giftedness can sometimes be difficult. As evidenced by my excitement over my twins walking up the stairs, we can sometimes jump the giftedness gun as the wonderful thing the child did is actually developmentally on time.

The following is a list of scenarios that are a sign of giftedness:
  • Students that can weave an original and complex story with rich characters and an interesting plot.
  • A child that can draw a picture to scale or with the appropriate dimensions.
  • A student that makes up games. Games require analytical skills, trial and error, and hypothesizing, which are all advanced skills.
  • Using a toy differently than it was made for.
  • Drawing a picture or telling a story accurately from memory.
  • Singing on pitch and clapping to the beat of music.
  • Speaking early with good grasp of grammar
  • Advanced vocabulary

For a longer list of signs, click here for an article on Gifted Kids.

Giftedness Can Lead to Frustration

Often, being gifted while sounding positive and remarkable can be frustrating. If a student is lacking in creativity, analytical, or practical skills, it can hurt the area in which they excel. A highly creative person unable to apply know-how to complete his task will feel like a failure. A person with high analytical skills but nothing to apply them to will feel unfulfilled.

A highly creative person unable to apply know-how to complete his task will feel like a failure.

Also, a gifted person with no outlet can become depressed, angry, and feel like they have failed. Because they do not know why these emotions are erupting, they may be embarrassed that they cannot help themselves and lash out or isolate themselves.

Because of their gifts or talents, many children also feel ostracized from other peers. They can be seen as “different” and are treated as such. Non-gifted students may envy their gifted classmates and treat them negatively, too.

It is important as parents and teachers to help develop skills in their children and students, gifted or not, at an early age. With my three year old twins, I gleefully turn the tables on them and ask them “Why?” all the time. When one yells: “I don’t wanna take a bath!” I ask: “Why not?” They will usually say: “Because!” to which I ask: “Because why?”

Questioning leads to their analyzing the problem, verbalizing it to me, and helps me understand their issue. Then I can allay their fears, assert my parental momliness, or redirect their attention to something else. Anything to get those little muddy, sandy, and markered up little bodies in the bathtub.

How to Help Develop the Skills

It is easy to tell someone what they need to do to help their children’s minds expand and grow; it is another thing to try to implement it. It is important to ask your child many questions. Questions that have a more complex answer than “yes” or “no”. If the children are watching a television program, rather than watch it quietly with them, pause it and ask what is going on in the story.

Even a three-year-old can tell you “Elmo lost Blanket down Oscar’s can and needs go find it.”

When taking younger children to a grocery store, ask questions about the food you are buying. Why are carrots better for you than cookies? Where do the vegetables come from? What animals eat bananas? Older children can be asked to determine the better buy for different items. Ask them to compare one brand’s ingredients over another.

Whether at home, in a classroom, or anywhere you are with students and children, there is always something you can ask to get them thinking analytically. Prompting their memory and asking them to make up ideas will help build their skills. When playing outside, begin a game of pretend, and let them use their imagination.

The Gender Issue

This is the “Teacher’s Beware” section. While it may not apply to you and your classroom, it has been researched and shown that teachers can be biased. While this may not be news, because we all have our biases, teachers need to be cognizant if theirs are showing.

Teachers can often fall into the gender trap when it comes to gifted students. Boys are thought to be more logical, while girls are more creative. Gifted boys can be domineering, while gifted girls can be shy. Gifted girls try to downplay their attributes, while gifted boys are more forceful about theirs.

This is not an absolute, but when thinking of your own classroom, do you categorize your students in this way? If not, do you categorize them in other ways?

Female teachers have been noted to have a tendency to brush off girls, not boys, who are more analytical. Male teachers find girls to be emotional but still react more favorably than female teachers. Gifted students are not always treated fairly in the classroom. Whether consciously or subconsciously, it shows a disparity between the sexes that can be very obvious.

The same is said for those who are not considered gifted; are teachers treating them differently, too?

We all want our students to succeed, but it is possible that our own prejudices can be more harmful than helpful to students. While the above mentions that gifted girls are often not treated the same by their female teachers, sometimes the opposite can be true. Sometimes teachers can favor their own gender over others.

Rethink Your Idea of What a Gifted Student Looks Like

When asked to imagine a gifted student, we all have a different idea of what he or she looks like. I immediately think of a seven year old piano prodigy, while someone else might think of a great artist. Most likely we equate giftedness with excellent grades and behavior, but those students are actually pretty rare.

Gifted students come in all sizes, colors, ages, and with various talents. They also have different attitudes, home environments, and socioeconomic status. Do not dismiss Cindy because she cannot sit still, and do not automatically include Shawn because he always gets A’s on his math test.

We must not forget as teachers to look for gifts in all the students and cultivate the skills they may possess.


Carrie Wible is an educator, writer, musician, and mother living in Northeast Ohio. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from Kent State University, a teaching certificate in grades 1-8 from Youngstown State University and a Masters in Teaching and Learning with Technology from Ashford University. Carrie has been teaching music lessons and has taught in the classroom for a combined total of 25 years. Connect with her @carriewible or +CarrieWible.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Silencing the Extra Chromosome Responsible for Down Syndrome

From the University of MA Medical School

By Jim Fessenden
July 17, 2013




Scientists at UMass Medical School are the first to establish that a naturally occurring X chromosome "off switch" can be rerouted to neutralize the extra chromosome responsible for trisomy 21, also known as Down syndrome, a genetic disorder characterized by cognitive impairment. The discovery provides the first evidence that the underlying genetic defect responsible for Down syndrome can be suppressed in cells in culture (in vitro). This paves the way for researchers to study the cell pathologies and identify genome-wide pathways implicated in the disorder, a goal that has so far proven elusive. Doing so will improve scientists' understanding of the basic biology underlying Down syndrome and may one day help establish potential therapeutic targets for future therapies. Details of the study by Jiang et al. were published online in Nature.


Scientists at UMass Medical School are the first to establish that a naturally occurring X chromosome “off switch” can be rerouted to neutralize the extra chromosome responsible for Trisomy 21, also known as Down Syndrome, a genetic disorder characterized by cognitive impairment.

The discovery provides the first evidence that the underlying genetic defect responsible for Down syndrome can be suppressed in cells in culture (in vitro). This paves the way for researchers to study the cell pathologies and identify genome-wide pathways implicated in the disorder, a goal that has so far proven elusive. Doing so will improve scientists’ understanding of the basic biology underlying Down syndrome and may one day help establish potential therapeutic targets for future therapies. Details of the study by Jiang et al. were published online in Nature.

“The last decade has seen great advances in efforts to correct single-gene disorders, beginning with cells in vitro and in several cases advancing to in vivo and clinical trials,” said lead author Jeanne B. Lawrence, Ph.D., professor of cell and developmental biology. “

By contrast, genetic correction of hundreds of genes across an entire extra chromosome has remained outside the realm of possibility. Our hope is that for individuals living with Down syndrome, this proof-of-principal opens up multiple exciting new avenues for studying the disorder now, and brings into the realm of consideration research on the concept of ‘ ‘chromosome therapy’ in the future.”

Humans are born with 23 pairs of chromosomes, including two sex chromosomes, for a total of 46 in each cell. People with Down syndrome are born with three (rather than two) copies of chromosome 21, and this “Trisomy 21” causes cognitive disability, early-onset Alzheimer’s disease; and a greater risk of childhood leukemia, heart defects and immune and endocrine system dysfunction. Unlike for genetic disorders caused by a single gene, genetic correction of a whole chromosome in trisomic cells has been beyond the realm of possibility, even in cultured cells.

Harnessing the power of the RNA gene called XIST, which is normally responsible for turning off one of the two X chromosomes found in female mammals, UMMS scientists have shown that the extra copy of chromosomes 21 responsible for Down syndrome can be silenced in the laboratory using patient-derived stem cells.

The natural function of the XIST gene, located on the X chromosome, is to effectively silence one of the two X chromosomes in female cells, making expression of X-linked genes similar to that of men, who have just one X chromosome. The large XIST RNA is produced early in development from one of the female’s two X chromosomes, and this unique RNA then “paints” the X chromosome and modifies its structure so that its DNA can’t be expressed to produce proteins and other components. This effectively renders most of the genes on the extra chromosome inactive.

Jun Jiang, Ph.D., instructor of cell and developmental biology at UMMS, came to work with Dr. Lawrence in 2009 and began a research project to insert the XIST gene into one chromosome 21 – supported by NIH funding for high-risk, high-impact work. The concept grew out of earlier studies by Lawrence and colleague Lisa Hall, Ph.D., research assistant professor of cell and developmental biology, that suggested the possibility that the chromosome-silencing effect of XIST might be replicated in an extra chromosome 21 in trisomic cells. They worked to do this in induced pluripotent stem cells derived from fibroblast cells donated by a Down syndrome patient because stem cells have the special capacity to form different cell types of the body.

Their work showed that the large XIST gene could be inserted at a specified location in the chromosome using zinc finger nuclease (ZFN) technology, a key tool provided by collaborators at Sangamo BioSciences, Inc., a biotechnology company based in Richmond, California. Furthermore, RNA from the inserted XIST gene effectively repressed genes across the extra chromosome, returning gene expression levels to near normal levels and effectively silencing the chromosome.

This finding opens multiple new avenues for translational scientists to study Down syndrome in ways not previously possible. Determining the underlying cell pathologies and gene pathways responsible for the syndrome has previously proven difficult, because of the complexity of the disorder and the normal genetic and epigenetic variation between people and cells.

For example, some prior studies suggested that cell proliferation in Down syndrome patients may be impaired, but differences between people and cell lines made it difficult to conclude this definitively. By controlling expression of the XIST gene, Lawrence and colleagues were able to compare otherwise identical cultures of the Down syndrome cells, with and without expression of the extra chromosome. What they showed is that the Down syndrome cells have defects in cell proliferation and in neural cell differentiation, both of which are reversed by silencing one chromosome 21 by XIST.

“This highlights the potential of this new model to study a host of different questions in different human cell-types, and in Down syndrome mouse models,” said Lawrence. “We now have a powerful tool for identifying and studying the cellular pathologies and pathways impacted directly due to over-expression of chromosome 21.”

“Dr. Lawrence has harnessed the power of a natural process to target abnormal gene expression in cells that have an aberrant number of chromosomes,” said Anthony Carter, Ph.D., of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which partly supported the study. “Her work provides a new tool that could yield novel insights into how genes are silenced on a chromosomal scale, and into the pathological processes associated with chromosome disorders such as Down Syndrome.”

New discoveries made using this approach could one day identify new therapeutics for chromosome disorders like Down syndrome.

“In the short term the correction of Down Syndrome cells in culture accelerates the study of cell pathology and translational research into therapeutics, but also for the longer-term, potential development of ‘chromosome therapies,’ which utilize epigenetic strategies to regulate chromosomes, is now at least conceivable. Since therapeutic strategies for common chromosomal abnormalities like Down Syndrome have received too little attention for too long, for the sake of millions of patients and their families across the U.S. and the world, we ought to try,” said Lawrence.

Lawrence and colleagues will now use this technology to test whether chromosome therapy can correct the pathologies seen in mouse models of Down syndrome.

Monday, July 22, 2013

10 Things I Wish Someone Told Me About Parenting a Child with Special Needs

From The Huffington Post Parents Blog

By Liane Kupferberg Carter
February 22, 2013

There's no way you'd spot us in a crowd. We don't have a secret handshake. But somehow, special needs parents always manage to find each other. Maybe it's that unmistakable look of exhaustion and resolve many of us wear. Whatever it is, I've been part of this family for 20 years.

Even after all this time, I still sometimes stop myself and ask, "How in the world did I get here?" When my son was initially diagnosed with autism and epilepsy years ago, I didn't know anyone else with a child like him. That was back in the dark ages, before the Internet. There were no websites or blogs to turn to for information and support.


There was so much I didn't know, and so much I was desperate to learn; I could have used advice from a seasoned elder.

Now I'm that mom. The one with some mileage on her. There's no road map to navigate raising a child with special needs, but here are some pointers I wish I'd had when I first set out on this journey.

1.) You are the expert on your child. No one else. Not your child's doctor, his teacher, his neurologist and certainly not your Great Aunt Gussie who raised 10 kids of her own. Listen respectfully to them, but remember they are experts in their own spheres, not yours. All of them -- therapists, family, friends-go home at the end of the day. You are in it for the long haul, and you know your child better than anyone.

2.) You are parenting a person, not "treating" a cluster of "symptoms." When your child is first diagnosed, you're going to hear a lot about the deficits -- all the things your child isn't doing. Don't lose sight of the fact that behind the "special needs" label there is the same wonderful child you had before the diagnosis, who needs your guidance and love.


There's a saying so popular in the autism community that it is practically a cliché: "Once you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism." Your child is unique. Yes, you will get all caught up in searching out treatments and therapies, but please take the time to enjoy him right now, because he won't be a child forever. Don't let your fears of the future rob you of the pleasures of the present.

3.) People will stare. This will eat at you in the beginning. It's natural to feel uncomfortable, resentful, even mortified. It is also a natural instinct for people to look at anything that's a little out of the ordinary. Your child's quirky behaviors in public may draw attention, and what if they do? Stop worrying about it so much. Who cares what strangers think?


And I can promise you this: You will learn to never, ever judge any other parent whose kid acts up in public.

Eventually, you will figure out how to handle people's inappropriate questions. I'll never forget how taken aback I was at a wedding 15 years ago when my husband's uncle abruptly asked, "Is there any hope for your son?"

Sometimes, people may imply that you just aren't trying hard enough. Or they will offer unsolicited advice or press the latest miracle cure on you. Worst of all, they will talk about your child right in front of him. Don't let them. And don't you do it either. Your child may not be verbal (yet), but his ears are working just fine.

4.) Take care of yourself. Really. I'm not talking about a trip to Canyon Ranch. A study released a couple of years ago found that autism moms have stress levels similar to combat soldiers. I know there's nothing you wouldn't do for your child, but you count too and you're no good to anyone if you don't stay healthy and strong. Physically and mentally. Medication is there for a reason. No, not for your child. For you. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Because as all special needs parents know, we need to live forever.

5.) You will meet some of the best people you never wanted to know. Other special needs parents will not only validate your feelings and prop you up, they'll be your best source for information. They are the ones who really, really get it. Embrace those fellow travelers-they're your lifeline. Especially the wise-cracking ones. Your sense of humor will save you.

6.) You and your partner/spouse/significant other are a team. Your child has no one else who loves him more. No question, having a child with a disability is stressful, but it's imperative that you work together. Feelings can run high; you may each react differently to the diagnosis or disagree on treatment. Don't focus on what might have been; focus on what you have together. Check in with each other frequently; keep talking about what you are feeling and experiencing.

7.) Focus on your other children. When a child is diagnosed with a significant developmental problem, it affects the life of every single person in the family. It can be a big adjustment for siblings. Find ways-frequently-to give them your undivided attention. Let them express the full range of their feelings, in their own words.

8.) There will be people who tell you that autism is a gift. Or that God singled you out to be a special needs parent for a reason. Don't believe them. You weren't singled out or chosen. What you are doing is rising to meet challenges, and simply doing what every good parent does: giving your child everything he needs to thrive. My son has many abilities and strengths; he can be warm and funny and empathetic; he has an amazing memory; he's a whiz with video games. But I'm not going to lie: Those early years with him were hard and scary. So is reaching the age of 20. His disability isn't a gift. What is a gift is the joy he and his older brother bring to our lives.

9.) Celebrate your child's achievements, regardless of how they stack up against those of siblings, peers, relatives, fuzzy memories of your own youth or dreams you may have had for your child before he was born. Because there will be many. We waited years to hear our son's first sentence, and it was a gem: "Mommy, snuggle me." Your child is going to surprise and delight you, and you will never take any of those hard-won milestones for granted.

10.) You will learn with utter certainty what matters most. Parenting a child with special needs will teach you about patience. Humility. Determination. Resilience. Acceptance. You will love your precious, beautiful child more fiercely than you ever thought possible.


About the Author

Liane Kupferberg Carter’s articles and essays have appeared in more than 40 publications, including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, Parents, McCall’s, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Skirt!, and many literary journals. She is a columnist for Autism After 16, and is working on a family memoir. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Novel Method to Defuse Rowdy Teens: Yoga-Based Breathing

From PsychCentral.com

By Rick Nauert, Ph.D.
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

July 10, 2013

UCLA scientists report that use of yoga-based breathing practices can help teens relieve stress and impulsivity.

Scientists studied the effect of the Youth Empower Seminar, or YES! — a workshop for adolescents that teaches them to manage stress, regulate their emotions, resolve conflicts and control impulsive behavior.

The intervention was in response to a Los Angeles school board vote to ban suspensions of students for “willful defiance” and included a directive for school officials to use alternative disciplinary practices.

The decision was controversial, and the question remains: How do you discipline rowdy students and keep them in the classroom, while still being fair to other kids who want to learn?

A team led by Dara Ghahremani, Ph.D., developed the workshop to help teen manage stress and regulate their emotions including impulsive behavior.

Impulsive behavior includes acting out in class, drug or alcohol abuse, and risky sexual behaviors — acts that get adolescents in trouble.

The YES! program, run by the nonprofit International Association for Human Values, includes yoga-based breathing practices, among other techniques, and the research findings show that a little bit of breathing can go a long way.

The scientists report that students who went through the four-week YES! for Schools program felt less impulsive, while students in a control group that didn’t participate in the program showed no change.

The study appears in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“The program helps teens to gain greater control over their actions by giving them tools to respond to challenging situations in constructive and mindful ways, rather than impulsively,” said Ghahremani, who conducted the study at the UCLA Center for Addictive Behaviors and UCLA’s Laboratory for Molecular Neuroimaging.

“The program uses a variety of techniques, ranging from a powerful yoga-based breathing program called Sudarshan Kriya to decision-making and leadership skills that are taught via interactive group games. We found it to be a simple yet powerful approach that could potentially reduce impulsive behavior.”

Ghahremani noted that teens are often just as stressed as adults.

“There are home and family issues, academic pressures and, of course, social pressures,” he said. “With the immediacy and wide reach of communication technology, like Facebook, peer pressure and bullying has risen to a whole new level. Without the tools to handle such pressures, teens can often resort to impulsive acts that include violence towards others or themselves.”

Impulsive behavior, or a lack of self-control, in adolescence is a key predictor of risky behavior, Ghahremani said.

“Substance abuse and various mental health problems that begin in adolescence are often very difficult to shake in adulthood — there is a need for interventions that bring impulsive behavior under control in this group,” he said. “Our research is the first scientific study of the YES! program to show that it can significantly reduce impulsive behavior.”

For the study, students between the ages of 14 and 18 from three Los Angeles–area high schools were invited to participate, between spring 2010 and fall 2011. In total, 788 students participated — 524 in the YES! program and 264 in the control group.

The program was taught during the students’ physical education courses for four consecutive weeks. Students were asked to fill out questionnaires to rate statements about their impulsive behavior — for example, “I act without thinking” and “I feel self-control most of the time” — directly before and directly after the program. The students who did not go through the program also completed the questionnaires.

The YES! program is composed of three modules focused on healthy body, healthy mind and healthy lifestyle. The healthy body module consists of physical activity that includes yoga stretches, mindful eating processes and interactive discussions about food and nutrition.

The healthy mind module includes stress-management and relaxation techniques, including yoga-based breathing practices, yoga postures and meditation to relax the nervous system, bring awareness to the moment and enhance concentration.

Group processes promote personal responsibility, respect, honesty and service to others. In the healthy lifestyle module, students learn strategies for handling challenging emotional and social situations, especially peer pressure.

Mindful decision-making and leadership skills are taught via interactive games. Students also create a group community-service project, applying their newly learned skills toward that goal.

“There is a need for simple, engaging interventions that bring impulsive behavior under control in adolescents,” said Ghahremani. “This is important to the public because impulsive behavior in adolescents is associated with many mental health problems and, when left unchecked, can result in violent acts, such as those resulting in tragedies recently observed on school campuses.

“The advantage of this program over approaches that center around psychiatric medications is that it develops a sense of responsibility and empowerment in teens, allowing them to clarify and pursue their goals while fostering a sense of connection to their community.

Although some medications can help control impulsive behavior, they often come with unpleasant side effects and the risk of medication abuse. Moreover, approaches that rely on them don’t necessarily focus on empowering kids to take control of their lives. ”

Non-pharmacologically–based programs like YES! for Schools that increase self-control are important to explore since they offer concrete tools that students can actively apply to their everyday lives with noticeable results, Ghahremani said.

To follow up on results from this study, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has awarded Ghahremani and his colleagues a grant to examine the effects of the YES! program by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the brain circuitry that is important for self-control and emotion regulation.

The project also aims to examine how the YES! program can reduce cravings among teen smokers.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Ann Helmus: Please Welcome Director of Transition Services Kelley Challen

A Letter from NESCA Director Dr. Ann Helmus

July 18, 2013

I am as delighted as I know you will be to welcome Kelley Challen into the NESCA community!

As many of you know, NESCA’s transition model was developed in 2009 by Transition Specialist Sandy Storer. During Sandy’s tenure at NESCA, we developed a thorough, person-centered and individualized protocol administered by a team of highly-experienced  clinicians.

As our community increasingly sought help around this critical stage of life development, we learned that its need for transition services far exceeded the support a part-time specialist could provide. Accordingly, we actively sought out Kelley, and are excited to have brought her on board full-time.

NESCA is committed to providing high quality transition services, and thrilled that Kelley’s presence will allow us to offer planning and consultation to an increased number of families.

Additionally, the hiring of a Director of Transition Services with substantial experience in program design and development will enable us to add new services to our repertoire (e.g. supporting schools looking to develop in-house programming) as well as to provide leadership to an expanding transition team.

Please join me in wishing Kelley every success in her new role!

Ann A. Helmus, Ph.D.

Transition Assessment, Planning and Consultation Services at NESCA

Some Frequently Asked Questions

Transition is the process, ideally beginning at age 14 if not sooner and extending through high school graduation and beyond, by which an adolescent or young adult masters the life skills necessary to function independently in post-secondary school or the workplace. NESCA provides transition assessment, planning, consultation and support coordinated by Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS.

What do we mean by transition?

·        Transition in this context is the process of progressing from one life stage to another. The movement from secondary school to college and beyond, into the workplace, can be exciting but daunting. Our society has, in practice, addressed transition arbitrarily as an individual event coinciding with the completion of high school. At NESCA, we have redefined transition as a process that anticipates this milestone but extends beyond it, because ideally, the work should begin early and continue well beyond the event.

 What is transition planning and consultation?

·        Transition planning and consultation involve understanding and nurturing an individual’s post-secondary vision, and helping that student and his or her family identify resources, services, skills and strategies necessary to realize it. Young adults clearly benefit from the development of a long-term relationship dedicated to the construction of a solid bridge to adulthood that remains supportive beyond completion of secondary school.

 Why do we need this?

·        The transition from high school into college, vocational training, employment and/or independent living is a big shift and is stressful for every student, but for those with disabilities it can be that much more challenging. Research suggests that students who have participated in active planning toward realization of their own vision experience more success and satisfaction as young adults. It is important to remember that skills necessary for living a fulfilling and independent life go well beyond academic success.

 Why should we begin now?

·        Learning to cross the street, attend a sleep-over, buy one's own ice cream cone and make a phone call are all early steps toward transition. The list of skills to be mastered is infinite (aren't we all still working on something?) and prioritized based on the student's vision, but the more skills a student can truly master before making the transition, the easier it will be for everyone. In whatever novel situation follows high school, the more automatic a skill is, the more easily it will transfer to a new routine and setting.

 How does this differ from the process in the public schools that sets IEP goals and produces the Massachusetts Transition Planning Form (TPF)?

·        We collaborate with families and schools to optimize the use of the TPF, to assure that it is closely aligned with the student's vision and IEP goals. However, transition planning often needs to go much further. Transition services at NESCA complement school-based programs and remain available to a student through the entire transition period.

 Does NESCA perform transition assessments?

·        Yes. Highly individualized assessment is a very important aspect of the planning process. In many cases, neuropsychological evaluation will serve as the starting point from which other formal and informal assessment needs, including specialized aptitude testing and community-based observation, will be identified. This process is ongoing.

 Who benefits from transition planning and consultation?

·        This is a highly personal decision for each family and there is no age too early or too late. Massachusetts mandates that schools address transition goals beginning at age 14, but there are advantages to beginning to address transition even earlier. This allows a student and his or her family to enter into the school conversation fully prepared and with a better-defined vision to guide their work. It also allows the family to incorporate the long-term vision into their lifestyle and parenting decisions. Transition planning and support can also be provided for students later in the transition process as well as for those who have already completed high school.

 Who provides transition planning, consultation and case management at NESCA?

·        Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services. She has been facilitating group programs for children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders since 2004. She received her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Before joining NESCA, she was Program Director for the Northeast Arc’s Spotlight Program, where she oversaw drama-based programs for youth ages 6-22 with Social-Cognitive Deficits. Challen also spent four years at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Aspire Program (formerly called YouthCare) where she founded an array of life and career skills programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome.

 Who are the other members of NESCA’s transition team?

·        Neuropsychologists Jason McCormick, Psy.D. and Kate DellaPorta, Psy.D perform transition assessments in closely coordination with Kelley Challen. For more than a decade, Dr. McCormick has specialized in working with adolescents and young adults, particularly young men, with Asperger’s Syndrome, and is renowned in the field. Dr. DellaPorta performs community-based assessments, and addresses the emotional needs of students in transition through counseling psychotherapy. The nature and extent of their involvement are determined by the individual needs of each client.