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Monday, March 31, 2014

6 Common Myths About ADHD

From NCLD.org
The National Center for Learning Disabilities

By Amanda Morin
February 19, 2014

With all the misconceptions about ADHD, it’s hard to know what’s true and to feel understood and supported. Separating myth from fact can help you feel more confident in your ability to help your child.

Myth #1: ADHD isn’t a real medical condition.

Fact: The National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and the American Psychiatric Association all recognize ADHD as a medical condition. Research shows that it runs in families, meaning it might be genetic.

If your child has ADHD, you know how real it is and how big an impact it can have on everyday living. There are
ways to help keep it from becoming the focus of your child’s life—or yours.

Myth #2: All kids with ADHD are hyperactive.

Fact: Even parents who have a child with ADHD may think this one is true—if their child has hyperactivity as a symptom. But not all kids with ADHD do.

There are three types of ADHD, and one of them—ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Type (also known as ADD)—doesn’t have an impact on activity levels. Kids with this type of ADHD may appear daydreamy or off in their own world.

If your child is hyperactive, there are strategies you can try at home along with
therapies and medications that can help.

Myth #3: ADHD is the result of bad parenting.

Fact: People who don’t know your family, or much about ADHD, may attribute your child’s behavior to a lack of discipline. They don’t realize that the inappropriate comments or constant fidgeting are signs of a medical condition, not of bad parenting.

There are things you can do, however, to have a
positive impact on your child’s behavior.

Myth #4: Only boys have ADHD.

Fact: While it’s true boys are about twice as likely as girls to be diagnosed with ADHD, that doesn’t mean girls don’t have ADHD. They’re just more likely to be overlooked and remain undiagnosed. Attention issues can look different in boys than in girls—girls tend to be less disruptive in class.

If you’ve noticed for at least six months that your child is easily distracted and unfocused, or if the teacher describes your child as “daydreamy,” consider talking to your pediatrician about the possibility of ADHD.

Myth: #5: ADHD is overdiagnosed.

Fact: Studies show that ADHD is actually underdiagnosed in minority populations in the U.S. One reason ADHD might seem overdiagnosed to some people is that awareness of the disorder has been growing since the 1990s, when it became recognized under special education law as a condition that affects learning. There are also a lot of celebrities with ADHD who have brought ADHD into the public eye.

If you suspect your child has ADHD or has been
misdiagnosed with it, talk to your child’s doctor.

Myth #6: Kids with ADHD will outgrow it.

Fact: ADHD is a lifelong condition. The symptoms may change as your child gets older and learns ways to manage them, but that’s not the same as outgrowing them. As many as 80 percent of kids with ADHD will continue to have symptoms throughout adolescence and adulthood.

That statistic might be scary, but it doesn’t mean your child’s life will be a constant struggle. With love, understanding and support, many kids with ADHD live happy, successful lives.


Amanda Morin is an education and parenting writer who uses her experience as an early interventionist and teacher to inform her writing. Her work appears on many parenting websites and she is the author of two books, including The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Free Talk May 19th: Neuropsychological Testing - Using the Results to Understand Your Child’s Learning Needs

Presented by the Holliston SEPAC and PTSA

March 30, 2104

Neuropsychological Testing 
Understanding Test Results and Using Them
to Understand Your Child’s Learning Needs

Reva S. Tankle, Ph.D., a pediatric neuropsychologist with NESCA, a private child and adolescent neuropsychology group practice in Newton, will discuss how to interpret and understand test results, and explain how parents and teachers can use that information to support a student's educational progress.

Rescheduled - New Date

When:   7:00pm Monday, May 19, 2014

Where: Adams Middle School Auditorium
                   323 Woodland Street, Holliston

This program is free and open to the public. No advance registration is required.

Not a School-Sponsored Event

Keep Calm and Think Critically: The CDC's 1 in 68 Autism Numbers

From The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism

By Shannon Des Roches Rosa

March 28, 2014


Order "The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism" HERE.

"...the resource we wish we'd had when autism first became part of our lives: a one-stop source for carefully curated, evidence-based information from autistics, autism parents, and autism professionals."

Yesterday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) held a media briefing to announce and discuss readjusted estimates for autism prevalence: 1 in 68 children. But what does that estimate actually mean? Well, that takes some critical analysis, digging, and sifting, which we'll walk you through, starting with the CDC's Dr. Colleen Boyle's opening statement:

"CDC estimates that one in 68 children has been identified with autism. This estimate is based on information collected from health and special education records of children who are eight years old and living in 11 communities in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, north Carolina, Utah, and Wisconsin in 2010. These data are from CDC-sponsored autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network. The new estimate exceeds previous overall estimates, roughly it’s 30 percent higher than our last estimate of one in 88 children.

To better understand the why, there's an urgent need to do more research. Also, an urgent need to put these findings to work for children and families. More is understood about autism than ever before, but these numbers are an important reminder of the need for answers and to use CDC's data to help children now."

Unfortunately, many news outlets seemed to stop there, which is why you've probably seen sensationalistic headlines such as "Why Did Autism Surge 30%?" and "CDC Confirms Dramatic Increase in Autism Rates."

These proclamations completely ignore the CDC's Dr. Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp's comments, later in the briefing, that essentially autistic people have always been here -- the CDC is just getting better at identifying them; plus the CDC's understanding of just who qualifies as autistic has changed over time:

"I would just like to add that we recognize now that autism is a spectrum, so I think in the past we thought of children as being severely affected, meaning children with intellectual disability, children who were nonverbal, children with a host of co-occurring conditions, that was the picture of autism, I think, about ten years ago. Our understanding has evolved now to the point that we understand that there are children with higher IQs and children who perhaps are even not receiving special education services.

So, our understanding of autism has changed over time, and I think that our numbers may be reflective of some of that, as well."

The 1 in 68 estimate is not surprising. The criteria for autism diagnoses have not just changed over time but changed to be more inclusive over time (Asperger's, added to the DSM in 1994, was folded into Autism Spectrum Disorders in 2013). Anthropologist Roy Richard Grinker studied autism rates in Korea in 2011, and concluded that a more realistic autism prevalence was 1 in 38.

This means that the CDC's 2012 estimate of 1 in 88 was already a lowball. As are the new numbers, most likely.

But, again, what do the numbers mean? Ideally, better identification and better estimation of numbers means better identification and estimation of needs and supports. The CDC was also clear that they had identified disparities in exactly who gets identified, who gets overlooked, and why. From KQED's California Report/State of Health writer Rachel Dornhelm:

"...the prevalence seems to vary in different communities and among children of different races. The CDC found white children are far more likely to be identified with autism, even though scientists don’t believe the rates are truly different between whites, Hispanics or blacks. That means that the discrepancy lies in the diagnosis and services available in different communities."

TPGA science editor Emily Willingham elaborated on the racial and cultural factors affecting diagnoses, while reemphasizing the CDC's awareness of under diagnosis, at About.com Pediatrics:

"From the data, it looks like a lot of sociocultural factors enter into the values. Given the huge variability from site to site and the ethnic differences, recognition and service availability are probably factors. Dr. Boyle referred repeatedly to the evolution of our understanding of autism and used the large percentage of children included in these values who have average to above-average intelligence as an example of that. Unlike numbers from a decade ago, these values include children who previously might not have been recognized as autistic."

The under diagnosis is not just limited to racial and geographic factors. Julia Bascom of The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) noted the problematics of the CDC's not including autistic people over age 21:

"The lack of any data on adults represents a serious gap in CDC's efforts. When the United Kingdom conducted an adult prevalence study, it found the same rate of autism in adults as children, helping to debunk public hysteria over a so-called 'autism epidemic'."In the same statement, ASAN's Ari Ne'eman confirmed that the increased prevalence rate should reinforce evidence-based expectations rather than cause alarm. ASAN also asserted that "considerable efforts are still needed to make diagnosis and services available to all."

To summarize, primary takeaways from the CDC report are:
  • The CDC is getting better at identifying the autistic people who have always been here;
  • Better estimates of autism prevalence will ideally lead to better supports and services;
  • There is still much work to do, especially in under served communities and ethnic groups.

The simplicity of these takeaways was lost on many, especially "autism epidemic"-focused organizations, many of whom have been quoted in subsequent articles as legitimate autism resources. Which really needs to stop happening.

But while it is distressing to read articles incorporating opinions from groups whose mission is to eradicate rather than support autistic people like my son, I realize that not all readers or reporters know how to evaluate autism resources for trustworthiness.

So, with the CDC's report in mind and April's Autism Awareness stampede fast approaching, I recommend reading and sharing TPGA's own guidelines on identifying autism pseudoscience, and the article from Ken Riebel of Autism News Beat, "To reporters on the eve of Autism Awareness Month." And heed Ken's advice:

"Keep your stories simple and focused. Unless you are familiar with the autism news beat, the more you venture into the weeds, the more likely you are to leave your readers with the wrong impression."

Any questions?

Stop Penalizing Boys for Not Being Able to Sit Still at School

From The Atlantic

By Jessica Lahey
June 18, 2013

This year's end-of-year paper purge in my middle school office revealed a startling pattern in my teaching practices: I discipline boys far more often than I discipline girls. Flipping through the pink and yellow slips--my school's system for communicating errant behavior to students, advisors, and parents--I found that I gave out nearly twice as many of these warnings to boys than I did to girls, and of the slips I handed out to boys, all but one was for disruptive classroom behavior.

Something is rotten in the state of boys' education, and I can't help but suspect that the pattern I have seen in my classroom may have something to do with a collective failure to adequately educate boys. The statistics are grim.

According to the book Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys: Strategies That Work and Why, boys are kept back in schools at twice the rate of girls. Boys get expelled from preschool nearly five times more often than girls. Boys are diagnosed with learning disorders and attention problems at nearly four times the rate of girls. They do less homework and get a greater proportion of the low grades. Boys are more likely to drop out of school, and make up only 43 percent of college students.

Furthermore, boys are nearly three times as likely as girls to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Considering 11 percent of U.S. children--6.4 million in all--have been diagnosed with a ADHD, that's a lot of boys bouncing around U.S. classrooms...

Read the entire article HERE.


Jessica Lahey is an English, Latin, and writing teacher in Lyme, New Hampshire. She writes about education and parenting for The New York Times and on her site, Coming of Age in the Middle.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

What's Wrong with Grit?

From Greater Good
The Science of a Meaningful Life

By Vicki Zakrzewski
March 20, 2014

Schools are exploring how to foster—and even grade—perseverance and passion. But before we take grit too far, we need to remember how little we know about it.

Grit is all over the news these days—the “latest fad in schools, ” according to author Alfie Kohn. With research suggesting that grit is linked to academic success, many policy makers, school leaders, and educators are crossing their fingers that this might be the silver bullet needed to give a boost to struggling students.

Yet a closer examination of the actual research on grit reveals that there are many missing pieces to the grit puzzle. And if we’re not careful, encouraging our students to be “gritty” or, perhaps even worse, grading them on their level of grit—as they do at KIPP charter schools—may do more harm than good.

Leading grit researcher Angela Duckworth defines grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” In a nutshell, her research has found that students with high levels of grit are more successful in both academic and non-academic pursuits.

But there’s a lot more to grit then just identifying a goal and going for it. Before a school races to make grit a key factor in student success, here are a few important things to consider:

1.) We don’t know how to teach it, and Duckworth is the first to admit this. So how can schools expect students to develop something that they’re not sure they can teach and students can learn, let alone grade them on it? It’s an unfair proposition for both students and teachers alike.

Part of the challenge is that it’s not known whether a person’s level of grit can change. Grit is understood by researchers to be a stable personality trait, possibly part of the trait of “conscientiousness.” What this means is that a person’s level of grit generally remains the same over time.

Yet while developmental psychologists agree that a child’s personality becomes more stable as he or she goes through certain developmental stages, research on personality traits in adults suggests that these traits may actually change gradually over the lifespan. However, much is predicated on other factors, such as environment, the process of identity development, and interactions with other people.

In other words, we can change—but the questions remain: when, how, how much and how fast?

So without a deeper understanding of child development, it is unrealistic to assume we can teach a student to increase his or her level of grit in a math class over the course of a semester and then maintain that level for the remainder of his or her school career. And, unfortunately, most teachers and school leaders do not have a strong grounding in child development, as shown in a recent report on teacher preparation programs by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

Still, some researchers who are trying to figure out if grit can be taught suggest that we look at children’s motivation. This leads us to the next point.

2.) Grit requires passion for long-term goals. Not a lot of students come to school with this in place. So the next question is whether or not schools can help students create these goals. And the answer is… maybe.

Researchers who created a program to help students cultivate hope found that the first step was having students figure out what goals were important to them—not to their parents or their teachers. Otherwise, students had a hard time staying motivated to reach their goals.

And not just any goal will do. One study found that students who score higher in grit linked their personal goals (“I want to become an engineer”) with outcomes that benefit the greater good (“because it will help people”). This same study showed that helping students define what the authors called “beyond-the-self” outcomes at the beginning of a semester led to a higher GPA. Whether or not this meant that students raised their grit levels is unknown—again, the research is just not there yet.

But for students who may come into our classrooms with high levels of grit—and even for those who don’t—helping them shape their goals to serve more than just themselves may help motivate them to achieve those goals, especially when school seems tedious.

3.) The interplay of grit and emotions. Grit involves two psychological resources: self-discipline and self-control, both of which require the ability to manage emotions and thoughts. Yet the research on grit rarely, if ever, mentions the importance of emotions—and this is where the dark side of grit comes in.

According to a U.S. Department of Education report on grit, “persevering in the face of challenges or setbacks to accomplish goals that are extrinsically motivated, unimportant to the student, or in some way inappropriate for the student may potentially induce stress, anxiety, and distraction, and have detrimental impacts on students’ long-term retention, conceptual learning, and psychological well-being.”

In other words, encouraging or forcing students to be “gritty” may, in some situations, do more harm than good.

Leading emotion researcher Richard Davidson tells us that emotions and cognition work together in a very seamless way to help us persevere on tasks. And yet when the going gets tough and emotions like fear or anger arise, many of us lack the emotional intelligence to know how to deal with those emotions.

Research states that there are two ways we regulate our difficult emotions: cognitive reappraisal or suppression.

Cognitive reappraisal means that we reframe the situation that caused the negative emotion. For example, a student who does poorly on a test may reframe the situation as an opportunity to learn from mistakes and improve. People who use this method generally have more positive emotions, closer relationships, and overall well-being.

Emotion suppression means just that: pushing away rather than dealing with difficult thoughts and emotions. Long term, this method of emotion regulation can lead to higher levels of negative emotions, anxiety, and depression. People who regularly suppress their emotions also have fewer close relationships and social support.

And, pertinent to education, researchers have found that emotional suppression is higher amongst adolescents than adults.

This forces us to ask the question: Are students who demonstrate high levels of grit—particularly when pressured by parents and teachers—dealing with their emotions in a positive or negative way? And what about students with a history of complex trauma, who may use emotional suppression as a method of survival?

What happens when schools grade them on their ability to push through their personal challenges to succeed academically without giving them the resources for how to do that?

The research on grit does not provide any answers yet, especially considering that the majority of studies have only been conducted with high-performing students at elite schools.

It is up to parents and teachers to help students find healthy ways to manage their emotions, so that this potential dark side of grit does not rear its ugly head.

In the end, I doubt that grit is just a “fad.” Even though we may not know a whole lot about it yet, we do know that it plays an important role in helping us achieve what we want out of life.

But it’s only one piece of the puzzle of human development. Cultivating other qualities such as meaning and purpose, empathy, compassion, hope, forgiveness, and gratitude are also part of being human—and, given their long history, probably aren’t going away anytime soon.


Vicki Zakrzewski, Ph.D., is the education director of the Greater Good Science Center.

Giving Up on 4-Year-Olds

From The New York Times

By The Editorial Board
March 26, 2014

A new report released by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, examining the disciplinary practices of the country’s 97,000 public schools, shows that excessively punitive policies are being used at every level of the public school system, even against 4-year-olds in preschool.

This should shame the nation and force it to re-evaluate the destructive measures that schools are using against their most vulnerable children.

Black students, for example, are suspended at three times the rate of white students. Minority children with disabilities fare worst of all; the race effect is amplified when disability comes into the picture. More than one in four minority boys with a disability — and nearly one in five minority girls — receive an out-of-school suspension. Students with disabilities make up 12 percent of the student population, but 25 percent of those are either arrested or have their disciplinary cases referred to the police.

This is distressing enough when it happens to adolescents. But the new data show that disparate treatment of minority children begins early — in preschool. For example, black children represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment but nearly half of all children who receive more than one out-of-school suspension.

The fact that minority children at age 4 are already being disproportionately suspended or expelled is an outrage. The pattern of exclusion suggests that schools are giving up on these children when they are barely out of diapers. It runs counter to the very mission of early education, which is to promote school readiness. It harms children emotionally at an age when they are incapable of absorbing lessons from this form of punishment.

And, it places those children at greater risk of falling behind, dropping out or becoming permanently involved with the juvenile justice system. Federal civil rights officials do not explain why minority preschool students are being disproportionately singled out for suspension.

Regardless of the causes, there are ways to combat this crisis. Walter Gilliam of Yale University, who has studied the expulsion problem extensively, has suggested several ways to minimize it. Among other things, Mr. Gilliam has called for: limiting enrollment to 10 students per preschool teacher (preferably less) so that teachers have adequate time with the students; making sure that those teachers work reasonable hours; and giving them access to children’s mental health consultants who can assist them with the occasional difficult case.

Young children with challenging behaviors should not be thrown out, but should be assessed to see if a more therapeutic environment might better suit their needs. The goal should be to do everything possible to bring them into the mainstream.

The Obama administration has taken some steps to end practices that disproportionately and unjustifiably subject minority students to suspension, expulsion or even arrest for behavior that should be dealt with by the principal. It has ramped up civil rights investigations and forced some districts to modify their policies.

Earlier this year, it issued extensive guidance to school districts on how to recognize and avoid discriminatory practices, and it called for more training for teachers in classroom management. School districts need to re-examine how they discipline students, especially the youngest and most fragile in their care.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Latest CDC Estimate: 1 in 68 Children Identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder

From the CDC - Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

March 27, 2014

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 68 children (or 14.7 per 1,000 eight-year-olds) in multiple communities in the United States has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Latest snapshot shows proportion of children
with autism and higher IQ on the rise.

This new estimate is roughly 30 percent higher than previous estimates reported in 2012 of 1 in 88 children (11.3 per 1,000 eight year olds) being identified with an autism spectrum disorder. The number of children identified with ASD ranged from 1 in 175 children in Alabama to 1 in 45 in New Jersey.

The surveillance summary report, “Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder among Children Aged 8 Years – Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States, 2010,” was published today in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Researchers reviewed records from community sources that educate, diagnose, treat and/or provide services to children with developmental disabilities. The criteria used to diagnose ASDs and the methods used to collect data have not changed.

The data continue to show that ASD is almost five times more common among boys than girls: 1 in 42 boys versus 1 in 189 girls. White children are more likely to be identified as having ASD than are black or Hispanic children.

Levels of intellectual ability vary greatly among children with autism, ranging from severe intellectual challenges to average or above average intellectual ability. The study found that almost half of children identified with ASD have average or above average intellectual ability (an IQ above 85) compared to a third of children a decade ago.

“Community leaders, health professionals, educators and childcare providers should use these data to ensure children with ASD are identified as early as possible and connected to the services they need,” said Coleen Boyle, Ph.D., M.S., director of CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

The report also shows most children with ASD are diagnosed after age 4, even though ASD can be diagnosed as early as age 2. Healthy People 2020, the nation’s 10-year health objectives, strives to increase the proportion of young children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental delays who are screened, evaluated, and enrolled in early intervention services in a timely manner.

“The most important thing for parents to do is to act early when there is a concern about a child’s development,” said Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp, M.D., chief of CDC’s Developmental Disabilities Branch. “If you have a concern about how your child plays, learns, speaks, acts, or moves, take action. Don’t wait.”

If you suspect that your child may have ASD:
  • Talk to your child’s doctor about your concerns.
  • At the same time, call your local early intervention program or school system for a free evaluation. It’s never too late to get help for your child.

CDC’s Learn the Signs. Act Early. program has joined with others across the federal government to promote developmental and behavioral screening through the Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive campaign, which was launched Thursday. The program will help families look for and celebrate milestones; promote universal screenings; identify delays as early as possible; and improve the support available to help children succeed in school and thrive alongside their peers.

“More needs to be done to identify children with autism sooner,” said Boyle. “Early identification is the most powerful tool we have right now to make a difference in the lives of children with autism.”

For additional information on:
  • Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network and this report, visit www.cdc.gov/autism.
  • Developmental milestone checklists and other resources to help families track their child’s development, visit www.cdc.gov/milestones.

Teaching Persistence: How to Build Student Stamina

From The Science of Learning Blog

By Norene Wiesen
January 14, 2014

Teaching persistence in the classroom is an important part of setting up learners to succeed. Students who have mastered persistence are able to work through challenges, deal constructively with failures and adversity, and achieve the goals they have set for themselves.

It’s a lot like running a marathon. The runners who make it to the finish line are the ones who persist in showing up for practices and trainings, learn to anticipate slumps and pace themselves, engage in positive self-talk during tough times, take steps to effectively prevent and treat injuries, and adjust expectations to fit reality – even if “finishing” means having to crawl the last mile.

Like a runner who has not trained to run longer distances, learners can’t persist in their learning if they haven’t developed the stamina they need to keep going when things get tough.

Teaching persistence depends on first developing student stamina as a way of conditioning learners to handle sustained effort.

To help learners build stamina and persistence, it’s important to create the right learning environment:

Help Learners Develop a Growth Mindset. Learners need to know that they have the ability to grow and change, and that effort is the key. Praise them when they focus their efforts toward specific, clearly defined goals.

When you say things like, “Those extra 10 minutes of reading each day are paying off – you are decoding unfamiliar words much more easily now,” you help learners make the connection between effort and achievement.

The goal is for learners to become intrinsically motivated to engage in effortful learning now and in the future.

Push a Little Bit – and Know When Enough is Enough. Sometimes learners just need a little bit of encouragement to get past a hurdle. A few supportive words, like, “Think of how good you will feel when you finish those last two addition problems and you know you did the whole worksheet all by yourself!” can make all the difference.

On the other hand, a learner may need to know that it’s okay to take a break and come back to a particular task when he’s feeling less frustrated. In that case, it’s important that the learner really does come back and complete the work to get the experience that he truly can “do more” when he persists.

Model Persistence. Most learners love to hear personal stories from their teachers. Telling your learners about your weekend plumbing project that didn’t go as planned – and how you got through it and completed it – is a great way to help learners see that everyone feels like giving up sometimes. It also models for them how to overcome those feelings and reach a goal – without coming off as preachy.

Teach Positive Self-Talk. Some learners need a lot of help knowing what to say to themselves to stay motivated. If a learner’s typical internal dialogue consists of statements like, “This is too hard,” or “I don’t know how to do this,” it may come as a revelation to discover that there are other options.

Giving learners specific wording, like, “I know I can do this if I keep at it,” or, “If I’m really stuck I can ask a friend or my teacher for help,” can begin to change the way they think and act when faced with a challenge.

Expect More. Let learners know that you have high expectations and that you have confidence that each and every one of them can meet those expectations. Be sure they have access to the tools they need to be successful, and that they know how to use them.

Make the Most of Technology. Online tools like the Fast ForWord program can help learners make the connection between effort and achievement. The Fast ForWord program gradually builds learner stamina for enduring increasing degrees of cognitive load. The exercises develop reading and language skills at the same time as they boost memory, attention, processing, and sequencing ability.

It gives learners immediate feedback on their performance and automatically adjusts the difficulty level for just the right degree of challenge. Fun reward animations help learners see when they have achieved a goal to help them stay motivated.

Call Out the Brain. It’s never too early – or too late – to teach your students about how the brain learns. Introduce the concept of brain plasticity – the idea that the brain changes in response to how it’s used – as a way of reinforcing the idea that learning is achieved through focused, sustained effort.

Help them understand that every brain is capable of making dramatic changes and leaps in learning.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat. Students learn persistence in the same way that they learn sight words or multiplication tables – through repetition. Strategies like modeling persistence, connecting effort to achievement, and pushing students to do a little more than they think they can aren’t a one-time deal.

But when repeated over time, the cumulative effect will likely be increased stamina, improved persistence, and intrinsic motivation for ever greater learning.

For Further Reading

Thursday, March 27, 2014

CDC Telebriefing Today at Noon: CDC Releases New Autism Spectrum Disorder Data

From the Centers for Disease Control

March 27, 2014

The CDC will host a telephone-only media briefing today to discuss the MMWR (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report) surveillance summary on the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders. Delivering the briefing will be Coleen Boyle, Ph.D., M.S., director of the CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

The public is invited; one need not be in the media to participate.

When:   Thursday, March 27 (Today!) at 12:00 noon, ET

Dial-In: Media - (888) 795-0855
                   Non-Media - (800) 369-1917
                   International - (1-630) 395-0353

Passcode: CDC MEDIA

Important Instructions: If you would like to ask a question during the call, press *1 on your touchtone phone. Press *2 to withdraw your question. You may queue up at any time. You will hear a tone to indicate your question is pending.

A transcript of this discussion will be available following the briefing at CDC’s website: www.cdc.gov/media.

9 Terms to Know If Your Child Struggles With Executive Functioning Issues

From NCLD.org
The National Center for Learning Disabilities

By Amanda Morin
February 5, 2014

Here are nine key terms and phrases professionals use to describe executive functioning skills and the way your child thinks and learns.

The many different ways your child’s brain automatically makes sense of things. When experts refer to cognition or to cognitive skills, they mean how your child thinks, knows, remembers, judges and problem-solves.

Emotional Control
Your child’s ability to connect what she thinks and knows to how she feels and reacts. Poor emotional control might cause your child to overreact or respond inappropriately to things that upset her. For example, if she loses her video game time because she didn’t finish her chores, she may have a tantrum because her siblings still have their game time.

Flexible Thinking
Your child’s ability to think of alternate ways of doing things, integrate new ideas into existing thinking, and abandon what isn’t working to try a new approach. If your child has difficulty seeing other viewpoints or gets stuck on ideas even if they’re not the best plans, experts might describe her as a “rigid thinker.”

The ways your child gathers and stores information to use in the future. When experts talk about organization, it’s not just about lining things up or putting them away. They’re also referring to how your child stores and manages information in her brain so she can pull it out of her “mental filing cabinet” when she needs to use it.

Your child’s ability to keep track of her performance on a task, assess how it measures up to a goal, and catch and correct mistakes. Without self-monitoring skills, your child may set the dinner table without noticing that she’s putting the silverware in the wrong place and then be surprised when the table doesn’t look like it should.

Task Initiation
Your child’s ability to get started on an activity and come up with ideas or problem-solving strategies on her own. For example, your child may not be able to initiate the task of cleaning her room because she can’t figure out the first thing to do or any of the steps after that.

Working Memory
Your child’s ability to hold onto information in order to complete a task or activity. Working memory is a combination of auditory and visual-spatial memory, and relies on attention skills, too. If your child has weak working memory skills, things may “slip her mind” or be “right on the tip of her tongue.”

Visual-Spatial Working Memory
Your child’s ability to use her “mind’s eye” to hold onto visual information long enough to use it. Visual-spatial memory is like a camera in your child’s brain. It can take snapshots to help her do things like search through laundry to find a sock that matches one you’ve shown her.

It helps her recall where new things are and where she is in relation to them—for example, finding the bathroom in the middle of the night at a friend’s house without bumping into walls.

Auditory Working Memory
Your child’s ability to hold onto information she hears long enough to use it. It’s what helps her remember the five words she just read so she can understand how they fit together in a sentence. It’s also what helps her remember a phone number someone just said to her long enough to dial it.


Amanda Morin is an education and parenting writer who uses her experience as an early interventionist and teacher to inform her writing. Her work appears on many parenting websites and she is the author of two books, including The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

From a Child with Autism: An Open Letter to the IEP Team About Play

From The Friendship Circle Blog

By Penina Rybak
March 19, 2014

For this post I wanted to do something a little different. Here is a letter to an IEP team about play, from the perspective of a child with autism.

Dear Grownup(s) in My Life,

I know you. I know what you’re doing. You're doing many important things for me, and you are more important to me than you’ll ever know. You will soon sit down together for the annual event known as the IEP Meeting.

You will come together to evaluate my performance this past year. How I did in therapy, on all those tests and observations, and in class; whether I am enrolled in a self-contained one or a mainstreamed one.

You will talk about my behavior, my strengths and challenges, and my “current level of functioning”. You’ll inadvertently make comments about where I am vs. where you thought I’d be by now. Where you all hoped I’d be.

That’s OK. I frequently wish I were further along too. I may not consistently show it but I see you. I hear you. I love spending time with you and want to make you proud. I really try to make progress, each and every day, in my own way. I try to show you, sometimes inappropriately, what it takes for me to do so. Sorry about that!

I wish you could understand how hard I’m working on things. I wish you’d know some of the things I’d love to have, that would better help me progress and make sense of this thing you call learning…..

So I have 4 ideas and suggestions for you to think about:

1.) Play IS learning for me.

It answers the WHY of many of questions I have. That I wrestle with. It’s why my play can be repetitive, aggressive, and even surprising. It’s how I practice the roles and rules I see around me and internalize all the related vocabulary for future reference. Please play more with me, and take my lead when you can. Please make it about the process, not the end product.

Please consider reading these books to learn more:
2.) Play IS developing my personality.

My learning style (visual/auditory/tactile) affects HOW I learn, and HOW I show what I know. Please give me choices and watch what I gravitate towards. Please take notes. Honoring my preferences means honoring my inner landscape and empowering me to share more of it with you. Please help me do so while developing self esteem and opinions.

Please consider discussing and sharing these links:

3.) Play IS teaching me about Time.

….and that it passes for all of us. Toy selection is crucial to my understanding of WHEN. Because toys that are easy to hold/manipulate, fun, comfortable re: textures and size, and safe (more wood based, less plastic based) will hold my attention longer. I’ll be able to learn about Causality (cause & effect) and first/last. I’ll be able to better understand and remember consequences. I’ll be able to more frequently “share a moment” with you that becomes several. This will allow me to experience time passing, and retain more experiences and vocabulary words for later recall.

Please consider buying toys from these vendors:

4.) Play IS orienting and socializing for me.

Thinking “outside the box” about free style, unstructured play opportunities away from the table or mat, will help me learn the WHERE of it all. Of different spatial relationships, self regulation techniques, and social communication skills I need to generalize. So that I can transition from Me>We which I know you want. So that I can learn to make associations, explore, and enhance my independence and ability to self-soothe and problem solve.

Please consider playing with me in the kitchen while cooking/baking something together, in the bathtub, outside in the leaves/grass, when setting/cleaning tables, sorting/folding laundry, and waiting for the bus. Please consider giving me a few specific, easy to complete, and relevant chores for “teachable moments”.

You can get more ideas here:
Thank you for all that you do for me, try to do for me, and will be doing for me as time goes on. I hope your IEP Meeting goes well and that my letter helps. I hope I get to play more, and truly can’t wait to find out what’s in store for me next!

Love, Your Student

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

NESCA's Secure Online Intake Fact Sheet Down Temporarily

March 26, 2014

A week ago today, we reported that our website had been hacked.

Unfortunately, one significant problem has just surfaced that's related to that intrusion, and to our haste in making repairs to get our website back online. Accomplishing what the hackers had not, we accidentally disabled our secure intake fact sheet, which as a new client you would ordinarily access by clicking on the far-right tab of the menu bar at the top of our home page.

Go there now and instead, you get this:

The intake fact sheet has been
removed for maintenance.
We apologize for the inconvenience.
Not for very much longer, we hope! We are reprogramming as this is written.
Until we're done, to make an appointment, please call Amanda Renzi at 617-658-9800 or Melissa Jensen at 617-658-9812.
We are indeed sorry for any inconvenience! Embarrassed, too!

The 4th Annual Special Education School Fair: March 28, 2014

From Massachusetts SPED Child and Teen

The 4th Annual Special Education School Fair, organized by the Special Needs Advocacy Network (SPaN), is for special education administrators, out-of-district coordinators, special education advocates, attorneys, therapeutic and clinical evaluators and other service providers, but parents are welcome to attend after 12:30 pm.

NESCA will be an exhibitor.

When:   10:00am - 3:00pm, Friday, March 28, 2014

Where: The Best Western Royal Plaza Hotel
                 181 Boston Post Road W.,
                 Marlborough, MA

Admission: $50 payable at the door (pre-registration closed).

Representatives from more than 60 special education schools from across the region will be available to discuss how their unique programs address various students’ academic, cognitive, social, emotional, behavioral, clinical, therapeutic, physical, sensory, medical, adaptive living and vocational needs.

You can see the list of participating schools and disability service providers at SPaN's Exhibitor Page. For more information, visit SPaN's Event Page or call 508- 655-7999.

Self-Regulation Strategies for Students With Learning Disabilities

From The Science of Learning Blog

By Carrie Gajowski
March 18, 2014

When a student with a learning disability struggles academically, it’s logical to think that the issue is related to the student’s deficit in a specific ability. And while that may be true, there might be more to it. Students with learning disabilities often encounter academic difficulties, at least in part, because they don’t have effective strategies for working through challenges.

One effective tool that students can use to improve academic performance, regardless of ability, is self-regulation. Self-regulation is the process by which students take charge of their own learning, monitoring their behavior and progress and making adjustments along the way to get from idea to execution. It’s the transformation of thought into purposeful action.

Here are several strategies teachers can introduce for use in the classroom and at home:

Setting Goals

Goal setting is an important part of self-regulation and can be foundational to other self-regulation strategies. When used effectively, the process of goal setting gives students an opportunity to observe their own behavior and pinpoint areas for improvement. It helps students identify what they need to do, lets them see how they are progressing, and motivates them to act productively.

Students should set goals for themselves that are specific and challenging, but not too hard. A goal should be quickly attainable so students can experience a sense of accomplishment and move on to tackle the next one.

For example, when two students are struggling with homework, each might need to set a different goal to see improvement. The first student might identify time management as a problem and decide to cut out a leisure activity in order to achieve the goal of completing homework before dinnertime each day that week.

The second student might realize that he needs to bring his class notes home from school every day so he has the information he needs to achieve his goal of completing all of his homework assignments for the week.


Students self-monitor by asking themselves whether they have engaged in a specific, desired behavior. Building on the goal-setting examples above, our students might ask themselves, Am I using my time in the right way to complete my homework by dinnertime? Or, Did I put all of my homework assignments in my backpack to take home?

Students may find it helpful to self-monitor for behaviors like paying attention, staying on task, following strategy steps, and meeting performance expectations such as completing all homework problems or spelling 8 of 10 spelling words correctly.


Self-instruction is also sometimes called “self-talk” and is part of normal development for many younger children. It can also be quite powerful when used by students of any age to purposefully self-regulate and direct learning behavior. For example, a student who is struggling to comprehend a challenging text might think, I need to look up the definitions of these unfamiliar words and read this page again.

Students can use self-talk to remind themselves to focus their attention, to take positive steps when faced with difficulties, to reinforce positive behaviors, and more. Teachers can model effective self-talk, but should allow each student to create and use her own statements.

A little advance planning can be helpful here. Coming up with the right phrase in the heat of the moment – when focus has been lost or frustrations are running high – is unlikely to help. But taking a little time to write out some useful statements before starting a new project or beginning a homework assignment can enable students get themselves out of a tight spot.


Self-reinforcement occurs when a student chooses a motivating reward and then awards it to himself when he achieves a milestone. Self-reinforcement can be used over shorter and longer timeframes and can tie into goals. Our student who has identified time-management as an issue, for example, might decide, I can go to the movies on Sunday because I finished all of my homework before dinnertime every night this week.

Self-reinforcement can also work well in the classroom. Teachers and students can select rewards together and teachers can let students know how to earn them. Once a student has met the criteria for a reward, she can award it to herself – say, by selecting a sticker for her journal after completing the day’s writing assignment and getting her teacher’s approval.

Purposeful Learning

Becoming a better self-regulator isn’t a panacea for academic difficulties, but students with learning disabilities who learn effective self-regulation strategies will have some advantages. They will have tools in their toolbox that they can try out in a variety of situations before seeking outside help, or when help is not immediately available. They will understand how their behavior influences their results. And they will understand that their learning is a purposeful, active process in which they play the leading role.

Best of all, these self-regulation strategies benefit all learners, not just those who are struggling. Why not give them a try?


Reid, R., Lienemann, T.O., & Hagaman, J.L. (2013). Strategy Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities, (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.

Self-Regulation. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://cehs.unl.edu/csi/self.shtml

Related Reading

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5 Reasons Why Every Parent Should Be Familiar with Executive Function

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Coming June 21st - Parenting without Panic: A Pocket Support Group for Parents of Children and Teens on the Autism Spectrum

From AANE.org
The Asperger's Association of New England

March 25, 2014

Brenda Dater, MPH, MSW is Director of Child and Teen Services at the Asperger's Association of New England, our neighbors and close collaborators in nearby Watertown, MA. She has written an impressive new book, "Parenting without Panic - A Pocket Support Group for Parents of Children and Teens on the Autism Spectrum (Asperger's Syndrome)."

While Parenting without Panic won't be officially released by Jessica Kingsley Publishers until June 21st, you can pre-order it now from Amazon for $16.57, a significant, 17% savings from its suggested retail price.

Advance praise: "Ever wish that parenting a child or teen on the autism spectrum came with instant access to a support group? Brenda Dater has provided parents with exactly that. In this book she draws on her extensive experience as a support group leader and parent of a child on the spectrum to offer trusted advice and tried-and-tested solutions to parents' top concerns, all in an accessible and easy-to-read format.

Filled with the voices of other parents in the same situations, the book covers everything from the first steps to take after diagnosis, to advocacy and disclosure, behavior, building independence and resilience, making friends, holidays and vacations, homework, supporting siblings, how to garner support from extended family and friends, and how parents can look after their own wellbeing.

This book extends the vital lifeline of a support group to parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum everywhere." 

Study: Kids' Screen Time May Affect Their Well-Being

From LiveScience
via The HuffPost

By Rachael Rettner, Senior Writer
March 17, 2014

The amount of time kids spend watching TV or playing electronic games may affect their well-being in early childhood, including mental health factors like their risk for emotional problems, a new study from Europe suggests.

For girls in the study, each additional hour spent playing electronic games or using a computer on weekdays at age 4 was linked with a two-fold increase in the risk of emotional problems at age 6.

And for both boys and girls, each additional hour of weekday TV watching was linked with an increase in the risk of poor family functioning (such as the child not getting along well with parents).

Too Much of a Good Thing? 7 Addictive Educational iPad Games

However, the study did not look at whether parents watched TV with their children, and did not consider the content of the TV and electronic games the children played, all of which could affect the results.

Experts say that parental monitoring of children's media use may help mitigate some of the adverse outcomes seen in this and other studies, said Dr. Daniel Coury, a behavioral specialist at Nationwide Children's Hospital, who was not involved in the study.

"Parents should be involved with monitoring the media that their children are watching," Coury said. For example, if children are allowed to watch TV, parents should try to watch with them so that they can put the shows in context and make sure the content is appropriate for the child's age, Coury said.

In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children limit screen time (the hours spent in front of a TV, computer or other screen for recreational purposes) to no more than two hours per day. (And TV is not recommended for children under age 2.)

Making sure that children adhere to these limits, when feasible, may have concrete benefit for kids, Coury said. A second study published in the same journal suggests that parents' monitoring of their child's media use may help reduce the risk of obesity so often tied to activities like TV watching.

Kids and Screen Time

Previous research on the link between electronic media use and children's well-being has been mixed, and most studies have considered only TV viewing (ignoring use of other forms of media.)

The new study analyzed information from more than 3,600 European children ages 2 to 6 years old, who the study followed for at least two years. Parents answered questions about their child's well-being, including queries about the child's self-esteem, social networks, emotional problems (being worried/unhappy) and peer problems (being picked on/bullied or being "rather solitary").

The link held between electronic media use and some aspects of well-being (such as emotional problems for girls) even after the researchers took into account the family's socioeconomic status and the child's well-being at the study start.

However, some researches criticized the study's design. Alexis Lauricella, a researcher at the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University in Illinois, noted that the questionnaires used in the study were designed for older children, so it's not clear whether using them with younger children is appropriate.

"Considering the very young age of these kids, I worry about the accuracy of parent-report regarding things like 'peer problems,'" for which parents indicated whether their child was "rather solitary," etc., Lauricella said.

Setting Limits

The second study, conducted in the United States, found that less monitoring of a child's media use (specifically, less monitoring by the mother) was linked with a higher body mass index (BMI) in the child at age 7.

The findings held true even after the researchers took into account other factors that could affect obesity risk, such as the parent's BMI and level of education.

"Our results suggest that interventions aimed at parental supervision and control of child media exposure may promote healthy child weight development during middle childhood," said the researchers, from the Oregon Social Learning Center.

Both studies are published in the March 17 issue of the journal JAMA Pediatrics.