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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Interventions Can Salve Unseen Anxiety Barriers

From Sage Journal's Phi Beta Kappan

By Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA
and Jerome J. Schultz, Ph.D.
November 26, 2014


Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA
Teachers who understand anxiety and its effect on a student's learning and behavior, and use a few common strategies in different and more effective ways, will be less frustrated and more effective in their work with anxious or emotionally fragile students.

What may appear as a student’s defiance or procrastination often is hidden anxiety or stress. Teachers can employ several strategies to help such students move forward in their learning.

Take a poll of teachers’ greatest concerns. Most likely they’ll put “troubling behaviors” at the top of the list. The National Education Association cites “problem behaviors” as one of the top five reasons teachers leave the profession prematurely (Kopkowski, 2008).

Our recent literature search found multiple articles, similar in tone and content, promising to help teachers deal with negative classroom behaviors that interfere with teaching and learning. They focus on improving teacher-student relationships, creating behavioral expectations and consequences, establishing clear learning goals, outlining assertive behavior that leads to greater control, and establishing a positive, collaborative, and respectful classroom climate.

It’s hard to find fault with these familiar building blocks of a well-managed classroom. But even seasoned, talented educators may not be sufficiently prepared to address the needs of students suffering from anxiety. Anxiety disorders are alarmingly prevalent among U.S. children and adolescents: 31.9% of teens have had an anxiety disorder during their school years (Merikangas et al., 2010). With other disabilities, including ADHD and autism also increasingly prevalent, overburdened teachers are overwhelmed.

Anxiety — and accompanying chronic worry — can result in an increasing variety of negative behaviors. These create major impediments to a student’s learning, to the learning of others, and to a teacher’s ability to teach effectively. Heroic teachers handle this challenge with little to no training in mental health and behavioral principles.

School systems identify the need for social-emotional learning, but put other professional development initiatives first, such as advancing the use of technology in the classroom. In short, an iPad is no substitute for iUnderstand Myself.

Leaving teachers to learn by instinct on the job puts students with mental health or behavior issues at risk for negative outcomes that include leaving school, academic failure, poor social adjustment, and a disproportionate number of suspensions and detentions.

While the right dose of stress aids learning, intense and unrelenting stress or chronic anxiety depletes psychological energy. Cognition suffers and behavior worsens. To understand this, let’s look at what’s happening in the brain.

Jerome J. Schultz, Ph.D.

A Neurobiological View

Linguist and education researcher Stephen Krashen conceived the “affective filter hypothesis” to explain how students can learn a second language more efficiently. The affective (or emotional) filter hypothesis holds that learners’ ability to acquire language is constrained if they experience negative emotions such as fear or embarrassment, or when their “filter is up” (Krashen, 2003).

In Krashen’s view, many factors can activate the affective filter, including low self-confidence, low motivation, stress, and anxiety. The Krashen hypothesis can be applied to any student whose anxiety is impeding learning, and its use becomes obvious when we examine what’s going on in the anxious brain.

Stress and excessive anxiety (here defined as worrying about something over which we believe we have little or no control) impairs the brain’s ability to process, acquire and store new information. The part of the brain’s limbic system known as the amygdala is generally regarded as a fear sensor. In the frightened brain, PET and fMRI scans reveal the physiological effect (increased radioactive glucose and oxygen use) of intense anxiety or stress. In this reactive state, new information is prevented from reaching the cerebral cortex (in particular, the prefrontal cortex) where higher-level processing and memory storage occur.

In the face of fear, the primitive part of the brain — the mid-brain — takes over to keep us safe from perceived threats. That triggers a complex chain of chemical events, causing the prefrontal cortex to actually deactivate in the service of survival. In essence, the anxious brain is sending the message that “you don’t have to think about this, you just have to get outta here!”

When students feel trapped in situations over which they have little or no control, they go into the “fight, flight, or freeze” mode that we see in any organism experiencing extreme stress (Schultz, 2011). This neurobiological reframing offers a plausible alternative interpretation of the negative, unproductive behaviors that even the best teachers see as a major challenge — and which we feel has not been addressed in the mainstream literature dealing with classroom management.

When viewed from a survival perspective, it’s easy to understand that much of the negative behavior seen in the otherwise well-run classroom is the protective, fear-avoiding mechanism of students who don’t want to experience the shame and embarrassment they often feel in school. Students with specific learning disabilities as well as those with unimpaired learning who set unrealistically high standards for themselves can be affected by this dynamic.

Teachers and others often misread these protective behaviors as willful, oppositional, or defiant, or as the lack of motivation. Too often, these negative behaviors are misinterpreted as symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Trying to teach a child to relax in the midst of high anxiety is like trying to teach someone how to swim when there are sharks in the water.

Looking at negative behaviors through a neurobehavioral lens provides a different and more helpful way to interpret the irritating, aggressive, or even hostile behaviors that frustrate/frighten even the best teacher. Before offering practical strategies based on this approach to help students who don’t benefit from the typical approaches to behavior management, let’s examine why these methods haven’t been effective for this group of anxious learners.

Rewards and Consequences

Behavior plans for students with challenging behaviors typically include rewards or consequences designed to increase expected behaviors. (“Do your homework all week, and you’ll earn extra time on the computer … If you don’t finish your math, you’ll stay in for recess.”) This approach can be ineffective for students with anxiety because it emphasizes and rewards consistently regulated behavior and performance — the exact skill many of these students lack.

Requiring a quiet voice all day, in every subject area, is an inflexible approach based on unrealistic expectations. Virtually all students may exhibit inconsistent behavior that fluctuates with their emotional state. As anxiety and mood shift, so does a student’s ability to attend, behave appropriately, and do schoolwork. Maybe he can write a two-page essay in the morning but anxiously struggles to produce a coherent sentence that afternoon. She might act appropriately during a spelling quiz but launch into a tearful tantrum when asked to do something even easier.

Faced with this confusing change of emotions, the teacher is likely to react by using a common but ill-suited intervention like reminding students of rewards and consequences. “Do this or else” or even “Do this and you’ll get … ” approaches can have the effect of backing an anxious student into a dark and depressing corner.

Ross Greene (1998) often says students would behave if they could. We agree: Students misbehave because of an underdeveloped skill. If the student can’t behave, this may indicate she isn’t able to behave, which is why the incentive doesn’t help. Reminding her that she’ll miss recess unless she behaves doesn’t produce positive results. As if anxiety-generated fluctuations in the ability to behave weren’t enough of an impediment, many anxious students also have underdeveloped skills in areas such as self-regulation, positive thinking/thought stopping, self-monitoring, executive functioning, and flexible thinking. Weakness in any of these skills increases his inability to behave according to expectation.

Effective behavior interventions for students with this constellation of challenges should emphasize two pivotal components:
  • Teaching skills - flexible plans emphasizing reinforcement for skill development and practice of underdeveloped skills, rather than consistent behavior performance;
  • Prevention - adequate identification and support for anxiety-provoking activities and situations (Minahan, 2014).

If we help students learn self-calming strategies, like deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness, we may avert behavior incidents. When we objectively collect data to systematically examine what happened before the incident, we begin to see patterns in anxiety-provoking situations or events that contribute to the student’s anxiety. This best-practice approach helps us better understand inappropriate behavior and the role anxiety plays.

Ninety percent of every behavior plan should be dedicated to prevention and skill building (Minahan & Rappaport, 2012). Until the student can consistently apply these skills, they’ll require accommodations and environmental modifications to keep them feeling safe and competent.

Anxiety — and accompanying chronic worry — can result in an increasing variety of negative behaviors.

Don’t Throw Out Those Tokens!

So where does this leave the teacher who’s been trained in the traditional reward-and-punishment model? Without an alternative, they may be unclear about how to reinforce the behavior of an anxious student.

Here’s a simple formula: Go ahead and use positive reinforcements like points or tokens, but don’t focus on anxious students’ behavior performance. Use these incentives to positively reinforce students when they practice or use appropriate social skills, or use learned strategies to reduce anxiety in difficult moments.

This approach enhances the student’s ability to cope with anxiety and makes practicing these new skills enjoyable and rewarding. Remember: Underdeveloped skills — not willfulness, opposition, or negativity — cause many negative behaviors in anxious students (Minahan & Rappaport, 2012).

Get Started and Keep Working

Teachers obviously are concerned about students who don’t produce work or avoid even the simplest of tasks. Anyone who has procrastinated on writing a report can identify with the instinct to avoid a task perceived as difficult. For anxious students, avoiding a task is the flight part of the “fight, flight, or freeze” anxiety response. It’s often a result of the student’s anxious thinking, “I’m horrible at this! If I try this, I’m going to look dumb.”

Ever stand next to a chilly swimming pool, afraid to jump in? The first thing you do is check the temperature with your toe. Too often, teachers focus on the production of a product rather than the student’s inability to get started. The ability to initiate is often the primary barrier. Since most students can jump into new assignments without fear, teachers typically give the class a task and then help those who can’t seem to get it in gear. Usually a slight prod or encouraging word is all it takes to get a student engaged.

But what about students who are frozen in fear when confronting a new task they think is too different or difficult? How can we help them get over their initial panicked reaction to a task and take the temperature of the academic water?

Here’s our approach. We figure you’ve got about a minute to get highly anxious students engaged in the task with a sense of confidence — the natural enemy of anxiety. Focus your attention on these students — the most likely to crash on liftoff — and help them get started. If you have a lot of needy students and no time to help them all, consider giving a warm-up or waiting activity, like a crossword puzzle, until you can get to them. Say something like, “I believe you can do this, but if it seems too hard or if you have questions for me, then get your brain ready by doing the warm-up. I’ll get to you very soon.”

Making this an option for all students makes anxious students feel less self-conscious, and buys you enough time to head off embarrassing meltdowns that make recovery difficult.

Being Proactive

Effective teachers are expert at zeroing in on students who seem upset, then de-escalating their worries with gentle suggestions and words of encouragement. Anxious students tend to crash and burn when they perceive a task is too challenging. If a student has a history of rapid escalation of negative affect, catching it early is one of the easiest ways to head off challenging behavior. You must be on high alert with these students, noting seemingly insignificant behavioral changes, like a shift from sitting calmly to fidgeting, from talking respectfully to getting snippy, or from working hard to putting their head down on the desk. Any of these signs can signal a meltdown. Strategic interventions can lead to positive outcomes.

What’s great about these interventions is they’re easy to do and cost nothing! Simply asking, “How’re you doing right now?” is a great way to help a student contain and manage anxiety. This question conveys that you care about her. If the answer is “not so great,” you can intervene immediately. That’s a great comfort to an emotionally fragile student.

Thought journals are another way to check in with the student throughout the day. By using a small notebook to write brief notes, you or the student can initiate the correspondence. Giving the student a private, personalized way to let you know he’s worried about something can be less anxiety provoking than verbal interaction.

While the right dose of stress aids learning, intense and unrelenting stress or chronic anxiety depletes psychological energy.

Having a student complete a check-in sheet when she comes into school is an effective way to get a read on the student’s level of anxiety as she walks through the door. You can then create or suggest individualized interventions or support to quell the anxiety. Similarly, you might want to do a check-out before dismissal, giving the student the chance to reflect on today and plan for a better tomorrow.

Reducing Resistance to Writing

Writing is required in almost all subject areas, so it’s understandable for teachers to be concerned if students balk when asked to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Students who don’t believe they have what it takes to be a good writer also have difficulty with the executive functions required for planning and executing a written assignment. Many students are debilitated by “all-or-nothing” thoughts around writing: “I’m the worst writer,” “I hate writing.” Once he’s adopted this thought pattern, his anxiety usually rises along with avoidant behavior.

Teachers can work to replace these unproductive, debilitating thoughts with a more realistic and optimistic frame of mind. The How I Feel about Writing sheet is one strategy to help reduce all-or-nothing thoughts and statements (Minahan, 2014). Using this approach, you can deconstruct writing into small components (e.g., writing lower case letters, sharpening a pencil, etc.).

Then, have the student rate his feelings about each (e.g., “I like it,” “OK,” or “I don’t like it”). Include components that will garner a neutral or even positive response, as well as those that engender a negative rating.

The goal of this exercise is to get students to see writing as “OK” and “I like it,” rather than staying in the “I don’t like it” category. When a student says, “I hate writing,” take out the sheet and encourage him to reframe his response: “Actually, you like writing, but you’re still learning how to spell and think of an idea. That’s the hard part that’s getting you stuck. Let’s review your strategies.”

Underdeveloped skills, not willfulness, opposition, or negativity, cause many negative behaviors in anxious students.

Another strategy is to have the student rate the difficulty of a writing assignment before and after the activity (e.g. on a scale of 1 to 5, easy to difficult) (Schultz, 2012). Before the activity, the student might rate it very hard due to her anxiety-fueled perception. After the activity, she very likely will have a more accurate perception and assign a lower number. In the future, if a student says a particular activity will be too hard, teachers can resort to a similar activity that the student has agreed is “not that hard.”

Comparing the stress-inducing task with a similar one the student performed puts the whole self-rating construct into perspective. “It’s interesting you think this is a 5. Look, yesterday you thought this assignment was going to be a 5, and it turned out to only be a 3! Let’s see what happens with this assignment.”

After several days, maybe weeks, teachers will have helped challenge the student’s irrational idea that writing is extremely difficult and move her from an “I can’t” to an “I can” mindset. A brain that believes it can do something is often a brain that’s right.

In Summary

Teachers who understand anxiety and its effect on a student’s learning and behavior and who use a few common strategies in different and more effective ways will be less frustrated and more effective in their work with anxious or emotionally fragile students. Guiding a student successfully through unexpected and emotionally charged moments will help both gain confidence.

When students learn that taking a deep breath or counting to 10 is more effective and pleasant than yelling or crying, they become more productive and successful. When they learn to monitor their emotions, negative thoughts, and unproductive behaviors during class, they’re more likely to independently initiate and complete work.

Confidence leads to competence, and competence reduces anxiety. It’s a complex formula with what we think is a fairly simple solution.

Jessica Minahan is a behavior analyst, special educator, and director of behavioral services at NESCA (Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents, in Newton, Mass.) She is an adjunct professor at Boston University and author of The Behavior Code Companion (Harvard Education Press, 2014) and coauthor with Nancy Rappaport of The Behavior Code (Harvard Education Press, 2012).

Jerome J. Schultz is a former public school teacher of children with emotional disorders and currently a clinical neuropsychologist at Harvard Medical School. He is author of Nowhere to Hide: Why Kids with ADHD and LD Hate School and What We Can Do About It (Jossey-Bass, 2011).

  • Greene R.W. (1998). The explosive child: A new approach for understanding and parenting easily frustrated, chronically inflexible children. New York, NY:Harper Collins. Google Scholar
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Saturday, November 29, 2014

10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12

From the HuffPost Parents Blog

By Cris Rowan
October 1, 2014

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics state infants aged 0-2 years should not have any exposure to technology, 3-5 years be restricted to one hour per day, and 6-18 years restricted to 2 hours per day (AAP 2001/13, CPS 2010).

Children and youth use 4-5 times the recommended amount of technology, with serious and often life threatening consequences (Kaiser Foundation 2010, Active Healthy Kids Canada 2012). Handheld devices (cell phones, tablets, electronic games) have dramatically increased the accessibility and usage of technology, especially by very young children (Common Sense Media, 2013).

As a pediatric occupational therapist, I'm calling on parents, teachers and governments to ban the use of all handheld devices for children under the age of 12 years. Following are 10 research-based reasons for this ban. Please visit zonein.ca to view the Zone'in Fact Sheet for referenced research.

1.) Rapid Brain Growth - Between 0 and 2 years, infant's brains triple in size, and continue in a state of rapid development to 21 years of age (Christakis 2011). Early brain development is determined by environmental stimuli, or lack thereof. Stimulation to a developing brain caused by overexposure to technologies (cell phones, internet, iPads, TV), has been shown to be associated with executive functioning and attention deficit, cognitive delays, impaired learning, increased impulsivity and decreased ability to self-regulate, e.g. tantrums (Small 2008, Pagini 2010).

2.) Delayed Development - Technology use restricts movement, which can result in delayed development. One in three children now enter school developmentally delayed, negatively impacting literacy and academic achievement (HELP EDI Maps 2013). Movement enhances attention and learning ability (Ratey 2008). Use of technology under the age of 12 years is detrimental to child development and learning (Rowan 2010).

3.) Epidemic Obesity - TV and video game use correlates with increased obesity (Tremblay 2005). Children who are allowed a device in their bedrooms have 30% increased incidence of obesity (Feng 2011). One in four Canadian, and one in three U.S. children are obese (Tremblay 2011). 30% of children with obesity will develop diabetes, and obese individuals are at higher risk for early stroke and heart attack, gravely shortening life expectancy (Center for Disease Control and Prevention 2010). Largely due to obesity, 21st century children may be the first generation many of whom will not outlive their parents (Professor Andrew Prentice, BBC News 2002).

4.) Sleep Deprivation60% of parents do not supervise their child's technology usage, and 75% of children are allowed technology in their bedrooms (Kaiser Foundation 2010). 75% of children aged 9 and 10 years are sleep deprived to the extent that their grades are detrimentally impacted (Boston College 2012).

5.) Mental Illness - Technology overuse is implicated as a causal factor in rising rates of child depression, anxiety, attachment disorder, attention deficit, autism, bipolar disorder, psychosis and problematic child behavior (Bristol University 2010, Mentzoni 2011, Shin 2011Liberatore 2011, Robinson 2008). One in six Canadian children have a diagnosed mental illness, many of whom are on dangerous psychotropic medication (Waddell 2007).

6.) Aggression - Violent media content can cause child aggression (Anderson, 2007). Young children are increasingly exposed to rising incidence of physical and sexual violence in today's media. "Grand Theft Auto V" portrays explicit sex, murder, rape, torture and mutilation, as do many movies and TV shows. The U.S. has categorized media violence as a Public Health Risk due to causal impact on child aggression (Huesmann 2007). Media reports increased use of restraints and seclusion rooms with children who exhibit uncontrolled aggression.

7.) Digital Dementia - High speed media content can contribute to attention deficit, as well as decreased concentration and memory, due to the brain pruning neuronal tracks to the frontal cortex (Christakis 2004, Small 2008). Children who can't pay attention can't learn.

8.) Addictions - As parents attach more and more to technology, they are detaching from their children. In the absence of parental attachment, detached children can attach to devices, which can result in addiction (Rowan 2010). One in 11 children aged 8-18 years are addicted to technology (Gentile 2009).

9.) Radiation Emission - In May of 2011, the World Health Organization classified cell phones (and other wireless devices) as a category 2B risk (possible carcinogen) due to radiation emission (WHO 2011). James McNamee with Health Canada in October of 2011 issued a cautionary warning stating "Children are more sensitive to a variety of agents than adults as their brains and immune systems are still developing, so you can't say the risk would be equal for a small adult as for a child." (Globe & Mail '11).

In December, 2013 Dr. Anthony Miller from the University of Toronto's School of Public Health recommend that based on new research, radio frequency exposure should be reclassified as a 2A (probable carcinogen), not a 2B (possible carcinogen). American Academy of Pediatrics requested review of EMF radiation emissions from technology devices, citing three reasons regarding impact on children (AAP 2013).

10.) Unsustainable - The ways in which children are raised and educated with technology are no longer sustainable (Rowan, 2010). Children are our future, but there is no future for children who overuse technology. A team-based approach is necessary and urgent in order to reduce the use of technology by children. Please reference below slide shows on www.zonein.ca under "videos" to share with others who are concerned about technology overuse by children.

The following Technology Use Guidelines for children and youth were developed by Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist and author of Virtual Child; Dr. Andrew Doan, neuroscientist and author of Hooked on Games; and Dr. Hilarie Cash, Director of reSTART Internet Addiction Recovery Program and author of Video Games and Your Kids, with contributions from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society, in an effort to ensure sustainable futures for all children.

Technology Use Guidelines for Children and Youth

Friday, November 28, 2014

Education Lingo Every Parent Should Know

From EducationandBehavior.com

By Rachel Wise
August 6, 2014

As a parent, you may hear certain unfamiliar terms while attending school meetings or talking to your child’s teacher or principal. Sometimes educators are so used to these words and phrases they forget that you might not know what they mean.

You may also hear your children saying some of these words, but when you ask them to explain further they may have trouble providing an accurate definition.

Below is an alphabetical list to help you out. If your child attends private school or school outside of the U.S., these terms may not be relevant to you.

Educational Terms

Accommodations: Students with disabilities, such as ADHD, a learning disability, an intellectual disability, autism or an emotionally-based disability might be given certain allowances not typically provided to general education students. The purpose of accommodations is to provide students with disabilities an equal opportunity to perform as well as their peers.

Examples of accommodations are:
  • allowing the student to take tests in an alternate location (outside of the regular classroom);
  • seating the student away from distractions (e.g., away from the door, window, pencil sharpener, etc.);
  • having test directions read allowed to the student;
  • having an individual behavior support plan;
  • allowing the student extended time to complete assignments and tests
  • providing the student with a copy of class notes, etc.
Students with accommodations generally have legal documents such as a 504 plan or IEP (both of which are discussed below) that outline the accommodations being made for the student.

Chapter 15/504 Plan: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination based upon disability. According to Section 504, the needs of students with disabilities must be met as adequately as the needs of students without disabilities. If your child has a medical diagnosis of a physical or mental condition or disability, but does not meet criteria for special education, he/she may be eligible for a 504 plan.

The disability must “substantially limit one or more major life activity such as: learning, speaking, listening, reading, writing, concentrating, caring for oneself, etc.” in order to be eligible for a 504 plan. The 504 plan, created from input from the parents, teacher(s), school records, and sometimes the student, outlines specific accommodations your child is entitled to to meet his/her needs so she can perform to the best of her ability. For more on accommodations, see our definition above.

Common Core: The Common Core, created in 2009, specifies math and English/language arts/literacy goals for students, such as what they should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. Governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, two territories (Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands), and Washington D.C. set forth these standards based on the best state standards already in existence, experience from academic experts, and feedback from the general public.

Due Process: When parents disagree with the recommendations of the school district for their child, regarding special education services, they are entitled to attend a due process hearing to resolve the dispute. Before the hearing, school districts offer mediation (discussed below). If the dispute cannot be resolved through mediation or if the parents refuse mediation, a due process hearing is the next step.

At the hearing, the parent and district present evidence through documents and witness testimony to a hearing officer. Attorneys are generally present as well. If the parent or district still does not agree with the outcome, they can appeal the decision and go to the state or federal court.

Educational Advocate: Educational advocates are knowledgeable about special education laws, services schools can provide for children with disabilities, and keep up with changes in regulations. Educational advocates often attend school conferences, review educational records for students, and attend IEP (discussed below) meetings or other school-based meetings related to the welfare of the student.

The main purpose of the advocate is to ensure the school is providing the student with all the possible accommodations, modifications, and services to help the student succeed.

To find an educational advocate for your child, contact your school district or check out Disability Resources: Where to Find Help in Your State.

Educational advocates understand the laws that affect children with disabilities and special needs and keep up with changes in regulations. In addition to knowing the laws, advocates should know about services schools can provide.

Advocates – See more at: http://www.healthcentral.com/adhd/c/1443/54835/educational-advocate/#sthash.AaWeD7bm.dpuf

Educational advocates understand the laws that affect children with disabilities and special needs and keep up with changes in regulations. In addition to knowing the laws, advocates should know about services schools can provide. Advocates often attend school conferences, review educational records and meet with the student, parents and school personnel and make suggestions on possible accommodations and modifications to help the child succeed.

Specifically, an educational advocate can help by:
  • Attending meetings at school to represent the student and the parents.
  • Review school records and make sure all records are made available to the parents.
  • Determine problems interfering with the educational needs of the child.
  • Develop and suggest strategies for both school and home to help the child succeed.
  • Become part of your child’s educational team.
  • Develop goals and monitor progress to help ensure the child’s success.
  • Ensure the school is held accountable and follows the laws by providing services for the child.
  • Provide parents with information and options if the school and parents cannot come to an agreement.
See more at: http://www.healthcentral.com/adhd/c/1443/54835/educational-advocate/#sthash.AaWeD7bm.dpuf

Evaluation: Different types of evaluations can take place in the school setting. A psycho-educational evaluation, completed by a school psychologist, is used to determine if your child has a disability and if he/she is eligible for special education services.

Psycho-educational evaluations consist of measures such as an IQ test, an academic achievement test, a review of your child’s school records, input from your child’s teacher, input from you (the parent/guardian), classroom observations, and in some cases functional behavior assessment (used to determine what is motivating your child to display certain behaviors at school and what strategies may help), and questionnaires completed by parents and teachers called rating scales (these scales can measure behavior, self-help skills, levels of attention and/or hyperactivity, etc.). The school psychologist will select the rating scale(s) appropriate for your child).

Other types of evaluations that take place in a school are:

Speech evaluations: (completed by speech/language therapists to determine if your child needs help with his pronunciation of words or use and understanding of language)

Occupational therapy evaluations: (completed by occupational therapists to determine if your child needs additional assistance in developing fine-motor skills (hand strength). Occupational therapy is meant to help children in areas such as developing proper pencil grip, legible handwriting or self-help skills that require hand strength (e.g., fastening buttons, connecting zippers, etc.).

Occupational therapists may also work with children to develop visual-perceptual skills-the ability to take in visual information and integrate it with other senses (for example, children with visual-perceptual difficulties may have trouble visualizing how similar letters are rotated different ways (e.g. b, p, d).

Children with sensory needs such as children who need to move their body frequently (bounce, rock back and forth, etc,) chew on things, or those who may need assistance with understanding the position of their own bodies in space may also receive occupational therapy services.

Physical Therapy Evaluations: (completed by physical therapists to determine if your child would benefit from therapy to help him/her get around the school environment more effectively). Examples would include students who have trouble walking, sitting up without support, or propelling themselves in a wheelchair.

Parents can request evaluations by talking to the principal, guidance counselor, teacher, or school district administrators. The school can also recommend to the parent that their child gets an evaluation. In either case, parents must give written permission for an evaluation to take place. The school will provide the permission form for the parent to sign.

Guided Reading: Guided reading is a teaching strategy in which the teacher meets with students in small groups to help them develop their reading skills. The teacher literally guides them as they read a new book together. Students are usually grouped according to their guided reading level.

The teacher helps students become more independent readers by explaining and encouraging the use of context clues, reviewing letter and sound knowledge, and helping students learn how to make sense of what they are reading. The goal is to teach students how to become efficient, independent readers.

Guided Reading Level: A student’s guided reading level tells the teacher what grade level books to use with a student in the guided reading lesson. Students are grouped according to what level they are on. Student’s levels are assessed trough standardized leveled book assessments, such as the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark assessment, the Developmental Reading Assessment, or the Rigby PM Benchmark assessment.

IEP: IEP stands for Individualized Education Program. When a child is found to have a disability (e.g., ADHD, autism, intellectual disability, learning disability, emotional disturbance, speech language impairment, visual impairment, hearing impairment, traumatic brain injury) and the school team determines that the child needs special education services to meet his /her academic, behavioral, and/or social-emotional needs, an IEP is created for the child.

The IEP consists of information such as the child’s current performance; his/her specific academic, behavioral, or social-emotional goals; the level/intensity of services the child will receive; accommodations; the level of participation in state and district-wide tests, how progress will be measured; and transition services (for students 14 and older) such as what are the student’s goals/plans for after high school.

IDEA: IDEA stands for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The definition directly from idea.ed.gov is as follows:

“The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities."

There are 13 disabilities listed under IDEA which include: autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, developmental delay, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment, including blindness.

Infants and toddlers with disabilities (birth-2) and their families receive early intervention services under IDEA Part C. Children and youth (ages 3-21) receive special education and related services under IDEA Part B.

Inclusion: An inclusion classroom is generally the same size as a regular education classroom. The class population is mixed with kids with and without special education services. The children with special education services all have IEP’s; however, the intention of inclusion is that the kids do not know who receives special education services and who does not. There are two teachers in the room co-teaching; a special education teacher and a regular education teacher. In some cases there is a special education assistant or para-professional rather than a special education teacher.

The teachers in the classroom help all the students; however, it is the job of the special education teacher to ensure that the student’s IEP’s are implemented and followed correctly. Students often break into small groups for more intensive instruction.

Intervention: Many times schools will try interventions with students who have more intensive academic or behavioral needs than the average student. The purpose of the interventions is to try to improve the child’s academic performance or behavior without utilizing special education services. Many times a school will try interventions before suggesting that a student receive an evaluation for special education. For students who are already in the process of receiving an evaluation, it is best practice to keep interventions going during the evaluation process.

To illustrate some examples, a child who is having trouble reading may work in a small group with a literacy teacher, using a research based reading program, in addition to receiving reading instruction from the regular classroom teacher. Students with behavioral needs may have an individualized behavior plan to try and improve their behavior in class.

Leveled Literacy Intervention: Fountas and Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) is a research-based reading intervention. The instructor implements the intervention with students in small groups. LLI is used with students who have the most reading difficulty in their grade. LLI supports reading and writing with engaging books on the students level and systematic lessons. The goal of LLI is to help students achieve reading skills on their grade level.

LRE: IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as discussed above) requires schools to place students in the least restrictive environment (LRE). This means that school districts must educate students with disabilities along with nondisabled peers in the general education classroom, with appropriate supports, in their home school, unless the student’s IEP specifies otherwise.

For some students, the parents and school team determine that more intensive support is required such as a smaller classroom setting with more school staff for all or part of the school day. The placement decision needs to be made based on the students individual needs, but in all cases the school should strive for the least restrictive environment.

When servicing a student with disabilities in the general education classroom, supports can include modification to the general curriculum, assistance of a special education teacher or paraprofessional on a full or part-time basis, special education training for the general education teacher, and other aids such as notetakers and computerized devices.

Mediation: When parents and the school district disagree on the outcome of a school-based evaluation or services/recommendations in the IEP (such as goals, student placement, and accommodations), a mediation meeting can take place. Mediation is voluntary and is facilitated by a neutral mediator. The goal of mediation is to help the parents and district come to an agreed upon decision without having a formal hearing.

Mediation is voluntary. Parents have the right to wave mediation and go straight to due process.

Peer Tutoring: Peer tutoring is a school based intervention to assist students who are struggling academically. Peers performing well academically are chosen to assist the students having difficulty. In some cases similarly performing peers are chosen to tutor each other under the structured guidance of a teacher. Peer tutoring can lead to academic gains for the students involved as well as enhance social relationships. For more on this topic, I recommend reading Using Peer Tutoring to Facilitate Access.

Regrouping: Regrouping is when you ‘carry’ a number in an addition problem or ‘borrow’ a number in a subtraction problem.

Shared Reading: In shared reading, teachers read a book multiple times with the class over several days. A large version of the book is often placed in front of the class so all students can see it at the same time. The purpose of reading the same story several times is to improve comprehension, fluency, vocabulary, and decoding (sounding out) skills.

A common strategy the teacher uses during shared reading is pausing to ask students for predictions such as what they think will happen next. This is done to get students to think about what they are reading, which helps with comprehension and interpretive/higher-level thinking skills (e.g., thinking about what might be implied in the story without having actually read it, reading between the lines, etc.) Children might volunteer or be asked to read parts of the story either individually or with other students.

Specially Designed Instruction: Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) refers to the specific teaching strategies and methods that will be used to implement the goals and accommodations in a child’s IEP (discussed above). IDEA requires that SDI’s be listed in the child’s IEP.

Standardized Testing: Standardized tests have been used in American schools since for over a century. They became even more prevalent after 2002’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) required yearly standardized testing in all 50 states. The definition of a standardized test is a fair and objective measure of students ability or achievement.

Standardized tests that measure academic achievement are generally given to all students when they reach certain grade levels to measure their academic skills against the rest of the nation, in that same grade. Some students with severe disabilities are not required to take standardized tests or take a test more appropriate to their academic level.

Opponents of standardized group testing say that these tests are not truly fair and objective, and force teachers to teach a limited curriculum that coincides with the test questions. Opponents also say that “teaching to the test” gets in the way of guiding students to be innovative and think critically.

Individually administered tests given in school such as IQ tests, achievement tests, some speech/language assessments, etc. are also considered standardized tests and compare students to their peers nationwide. For more on how these might be used see the “evaluation” definition above.

School Psychologist: As a psychologist in the school setting, school psychologists have a variety of responsibilities which can differ depending on the grade level they work with or district they work for.

Examples of duties performed by the school psychologist include:
  • working with a team of other school professionals (e.g., teachers, administrators, instructional support staff, guidance counselors) to design interventions for struggling students;
  • holding social skills or other counseling groups;
  • providing individual counseling to students;
  • holding staff and parents trainings on child development and positive behavior support; and, conducting psycho-educational testing to assist in determining if students meet criteria for specific disabilities (e.g., ADHD, learning disabilities, emotional disturbance, intellectual disabilities, autism) and are eligible for special education.
Tracking: Tracking is a process when students are separated by class based on their academic achievement. Above-average students are placed together, below-average students are placed together, etc. Tracking is also sometimes called streaming or phasing in certain schools.

Many schools have stopped using tracking or have started to phase it out. Opponents of tracking say that students in lower track classes develop negative feelings about themselves, the process for selecting students for tracks is biased and perpetuates socio-economic and racial inequities, and less experienced teachers are often assigned lower track classes.

Those in favor of tracking say that it makes it easier to tailor curriculum and instruction to meet students specific needs.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

From our NESCA "Family" to Yours 

Two Years Post-Newtown: What’s Changed? What Needs to Change?

From Special Education Today
A Special Ed Law Blog from Kotin, Crabtree & Strong

By Robert K. Crabtree, Esq.
November 24, 2014

"Educate fully and with open hearts and hands; support and treat those who are severely troubled; reduce access to the means of violence against oneself or others. Can we make this happen in this fractured political culture of ours?

At this Thanksgiving time, can we at least imagine such a thing?"

The Office of the Child Advocate for the State of Connecticut has issued a report outlining major factors contributing to the murder of children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut two years ago.

Although the Yale Child Study Center had evaluated the young man who committed that atrocity and recommended mental health services and special education services for him, the responses of both his mother and the special education staff at the school were found to be tragically inadequate to address the emotional issues that made him a pariah at school and resulted in his avoiding school completely.

The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc. (“COPAA”), a national organization with its eye on issues and initiatives that are important to our field, has used the findings in this report to advocate for additional funding for the federal mandate in IDEA. They have issued a compelling statement using the findings in this report to advocate for additional funding for the federal mandate in IDEA.

We join COPAA in urging that you let your federal legislators know how critical it is to increase funding for special education services, which include services for emotional disabilities and related services. We add to their plea a request that you let both local and national lawmakers know of your support for increased funding of ALL public education, as we attempt to understand and avoid the conditions that give rise to such desperate violence.

Along with full funding for services under IDEA should come much-expanded funding and meaningful options for children with serious mental health disorders. As many special education lawyers and advocates have also experienced, in recent years our caseloads have seen a major increase in the numbers of students afflicted with severely debilitating emotional challenges that prevent those students from being able to access an education.

The Kafkaesque maze of bureaucratic blind alleys, inconsistent and often contradictory criteria of eligibility for services, and battles between school districts and state agencies over which agency, if any, must provide the key day and often residential services and supports necessary to address the student’s needs is exhausting, incomprehensible and too often fruitless for parents who struggle, often literally, to save their children’s lives.

While underfunded government agencies battle over who, if anyone, should meet the needs of a student at risk, the student’s risk all too often becomes a tragic reality.

Exacerbating the difficulties families and their advocates face in securing meaningful services, there is an ever-decreasing supply of resources in the Commonwealth to support children in crisis, and even less to help children who need longer-term treatment. See the heartfelt plea by the Parent/Professional Advocacy League (“PPAL”) for more immediate baseline funding to make more program beds available for kids with severe mental illness, in a year when funding has disappeared far earlier than usual.

Part of the reason for declining resources, we are finding, is that recent state-level administrative decisions have led to a combining of beds available for troubled children between two previously independently supported agencies – the Department of Children and Family Services (“DCF”) and the Department of Mental Health (“DMH”) – in single group homes or other facilities.

Where resources were previously made available separately to DCF and DMH for kids in crisis – agencies whose clients’ needs and profiles are frequently incompatible to the degree that sharing residential space can be dangerous – the administrative decision to combine resources both reduces available beds and increases the risks to children already at risk. (Please note that we do applaud efforts by state agencies to work together for the good of children, but in this case we feel that the combining of beds works against the interests of children in need.)

I would add to COPAA’s and PPAL’s statements an additional plea: A society that makes the means of lethal violence so easy to acquire is making a tragic choice. As difficult as it may be to stand up to the knee-jerk absolutism and to ignore the carrots and sticks of national and local lobbyists for open access to weaponry, legislators need to find a way to stop the madness.

To me it is obvious that the imposition of intelligent restrictions on access to the means of such violence should be part of any efforts to reduce the numbers and magnitude of events like those at Newtown and Columbine.

Educate fully and with open hearts and hands; support and treat those who are severely troubled; reduce access to the means of violence against oneself or others. Can we make this happen in this fractured political culture of ours? At this Thanksgiving time, can we at least imagine such a thing?


Robert Crabtree is a partner in the Special Education & Disability Rights practice group at Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP in Boston, Massachusetts.

Just Released: CBHI Early Childhood Mental Health Toolkit

From the CBHI
Childhood Behavioral Health Initiative

November 25, 2014

We are excited to share the release of the Early Childhood Mental Health Toolkit from our partners at the Department of Public Health and the Boston Public Health Commission.

Available at ecmhmatters.org, the Early Childhood Mental Health Toolkit: Integrating Mental Health Services into the Pediatric Medical Home is a comprehensive collection of tools and tips for incorporating early childhood mental health personnel and practices into the pediatric primary care setting.

Topics addressed include:

The model is based on a partnership between a family partner and early childhood mental health clinician. Knowing many practices may not have the capacity to create or fill these positions in the current healthcare environment, BPHC has structured the toolkit to be used by primary care practices with or without dedicated early childhood mental health staff.

We encourage you to share this resource, and other resources found on ecmhmatters.org with your provider network. In the Families & Friends section are social marketing resources, including printable posters and flashcards to help engage parents and providers in conversation about social and emotional health.

A small change at the pediatrician’s office can make a large difference for a child. Integrating early childhood mental health concepts, services, and systems into the pediatric medical home helps to transform primary care, making the medical home a resource for the physical and mental health of a young child and a source of support for the entire family.

Thank you for everything you do.

Emily Sherwood, Director
Children’s Behavioral Health Interagency Initiatives

Teacher to Parents: About THAT Kid (The One Who Hits, Disrupts and Influences YOUR Kid)

From The Washington Post Education Blog
"The Answer Sheet"

By Valerie Strauss
November 14, 2014

NOTE: Amy Murray is the director of early childhood education at the Calgary French & International School in Canada. The following post, which appeared on her blog, Miss Night’s Marbles, and which I am republishing with her permission, is a powerful open letter directed to parents about THAT kid, the one other kids go home and talk about, the one who is violent, curses and gets angry in class, the one who parents worry will hurt, disrupt and perhaps influence their own children.

Murray is also the co-founder of #Kinderchat (www.kinderchat.net), a twitter-based global community for educators of young children. She is a speaker and trainer on learning through play, self-regulation, behavior management, and the use of technology within the classroom.

Dear Parent:

I know. You’re worried. Every day, your child comes home with a story about THAT kid. The one who is always hitting, shoving, pinching, scratching, maybe even biting other children. The one who always has to hold my hand in the hallway. The one who has a special spot at the carpet, and sometimes sits on a chair rather than the floor. The one who had to leave the block center because blocks are not for throwing. The one who climbed over the playground fence right exactly as I was telling her to stop. The one who poured his neighbor’s milk onto the floor in a fit of anger. On purpose. While I was watching. And then, when I asked him to clean it up, emptied the ENTIRE paper towel dispenser. On purpose. While I was watching. The one who dropped the REAL ACTUAL F-word in gym class.

You’re worried that THAT child is detracting from your child’s learning experience. You’re worried that he takes up too much of my time and energy, and that your child won’t get his fair share. You’re worried that she is really going to hurt someone some day. You’re worried that “someone” might be your child. You’re worried that your child is going to start using aggression to get what she wants. You’re worried your child is going to fall behind academically because I might not notice that he is struggling to hold a pencil. I know.

Your child, this year, in this classroom, at this age, is not THAT child. Your child is not perfect, but she generally follows rules. He is able to share toys peaceably. She does not throw furniture. He raises his hand to speak. She works when it is time to work, and plays when it is time to play. He can be trusted to go straight to the bathroom and straight back again with no shenanigans. She thinks that the S-word is “stupid” and the C-word is “crap.” I know.

I know, and I am worried, too.

You see, I worry all the time. About ALL of them. I worry about your child’s pencil grip, and another child’s letter sounds, and that little tiny one’s shyness, and that other one’s chronically empty lunchbox. I worry that Gavin’s coat is not warm enough, and that Talitha’s dad yells at her for printing the letter B backwards. Most of my car rides and showers are consumed with the worrying.

But I know, you want to talk about THAT child. Because Talitha’s backward B’s are not going to give your child a black eye.

I want to talk about THAT child, too, but there are so many things I can’t tell you.

I can’t tell you that she was adopted from an orphanage at 18 months.

I can’t tell you that he is on an elimination diet for possible food allergies, and that he is therefore hungry ALL. THE. TIME.

I can’t tell you that her parents are in the middle of a horrendous divorce, and she has been staying with her grandma.

I can’t tell you that I’m starting to worry that grandma drinks…

I can’t tell you that his asthma medication makes him agitated.

I can’t tell you that her mom is a single parent, and so she (the child) is at school from the moment before-care opens, until the moment after-care closes, and then the drive between home and school takes 40 minutes, and so she (the child) is getting less sleep than most adults.

I can’ tell you that he has been a witness to domestic violence.

That’s okay, you say. You understand I can’t share personal or family information. You just want to know what I am DOING about That Child’s behaviour.

I would love to tell you. But I can’t.

I can’t tell you that she receives speech-language services, that an assessment showed a severe language delay, and that the therapist feels the aggression is linked to frustration about being unable to communicate.

I can’t tell you that I meet with his parents EVERY week, and that both of them usually cry at those meetings.

I can’t tell you that the child and I have a secret hand signal to tell me when she needs to sit by herself for a while.

I can’t tell you that he spends rest time curled in my lap because “it makes me feel better to hear your heart, Teacher.”

I can’t tell you that I have been meticulously tracking her aggressive incidents for 3 months, and that she has dropped from 5 incidents a day, to 5 incidents a week.

I can’t tell you that the school secretary has agreed that I can send him to the office to “help” when I can tell he needs a change of scenery.

I can’t tell you that I have stood up in a staff meeting and, with tears in my eyes, BEGGED my colleagues to keep an extra close eye on her, to be kind to her even when they are frustrated that she just punched someone AGAIN, and this time, RIGHT IN FRONT OF A TEACHER.

The thing is, there are SO MANY THINGS I can’t tell you about That Child. I can’t even tell you the good stuff.

I can’t tell you that his classroom job is to water the plants, and that he cried with heartbreak when one of the plants died over winter break.

I can’t tell you that she kisses her baby sister goodbye every morning, and whispers “You are my sunshine” before mom pushes the stroller away.

I can’t tell you that he knows more about thunderstorms than most meteorologists.

I can’t tell you that she often asks to help sharpen the pencils during playtime.

I can’t tell you that she strokes her best friend’s hair at rest time.

I can’t tell you that when a classmate is crying, he rushes over with his favorite stuffy from the story corner.

The thing is, dear parent, that I can only talk to you about YOUR child. So, what I can tell you is this:

If ever, at any point, YOUR child, or any of your children, becomes THAT child…

I will not share your personal family business with other parents in the classroom.

I will communicate with you frequently, clearly, and kindly.

I will make sure there are tissues nearby at all our meetings, and if you let me, I will hold your hand when you cry.

I will advocate for your child and family to receive the highest quality of specialist services, and I will cooperate with those professionals to the fullest possible extent.

I will make sure your child gets extra love and affection when she needs it most.

I will be a voice for your child in our school community.

I will, no matter what happens, continue to look for, and to find, the good, amazing, special, and wonderful things about your child.

I will remind him and YOU of those good amazing special wonderful things, over and over again.

And when another parent comes to me, with concerns about YOUR child…

I will tell them all of this, all over again.

With so much love,


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

More Transition Services from NESCA: Community-Based Skills, College Selection and Pre-College Coaching


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

November 24, 2014

Announcing a range of new services, and in Marilyn Weber, an important addition to our transition team...

Community-Based Skills Coaching

Community-Based Skills Coaching is a time-limited, intensive service focused on developing essential adaptive and practical independent living skills in real-life environments. This is critical for individuals needing to generalize skills taught in the classroom and/or who learn best experientially.

This type of skills coaching is suitable for any student seeking experience outside the walls of a high school environment and also may be an important component for an individual taking part in a fifth year, postgraduate or gap year experience.

Individuals participate in one-on-one Community-Based Skills Coaching three hours per week for eight weeks, focused on specific individualized goals in three areas: continued learning, vocation, and community life.

Skill development may include executive functioning, interpersonal skills, self-advocacy, self-care/hygiene, meal planning and preparation, money management, shopping, travel training, engaging in volunteer and community service work, establishing healthy fitness routines, nutrition, and other skill areas critical for successful independent adult life.

Specific short-term goals are set by the client and coach in collaboration with family members prior to the first coaching session. Overall well-being and familiarity with community resources are a focus for every participant.

Moreover, our coaches will work collaboratively with agency representatives and accompany clients to meetings with them as appropriate, on behalf of eligible individuals who will be receiving ongoing support from adult human service agencies such as the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) and/or the Department of Developmental Services (DDS).

Community-Based Pre-College Coaching

NESCA is pleased to offer Community-Based Pre-College Coaching packages carefully designed to help students develop concrete skills and knowledge critical for managing the transition from high school to college. Designed to meet the needs of a student intending to participate in a postsecondary two- or four-year college program, each package offers focused skill development based on the client’s current participation with their college process.

Individuals participate in Pre-College Coaching during four two-hour sessions and focus on skill development in one of the following key skill development areas:
  • College Aware – Students participating in this package learn about the variety of colleges available in postsecondary life and how college participation differs from high school. Familiarity with college resources, websites, facilities, vocabulary and schedules are key outcomes for participants.
  • College Search – Students taking part in this service develop key skills required for engaging in the college search process. Basic skills like using search engines and reviewing print resources are introduced. Additional college search strategies including making the most of a college tour, talking with disability support staff, interview skills, personal disclosure and sitting in on a class or arranging an overnight are explored and practiced.
  • College Ready – The College Ready package is designed to support critical skill development required to successfully transition to college life. Based on individual student needs, skill development in fundamental areas including organization, problem solving, campus etiquette, self-advocacy, personal money management, self-care, emotional health/wellness, leisure activities, travel skills, and phone and email etiquette may be addressed. Target skills will be selected in consultation with the student and family. While this service is similar to NESCA’s Community-Based Skills Coaching service, the process is abbreviated, focusing specifically on skill development necessary for the college environment.
  • College Accepted – After being accepted to college, students are ready to work on nuanced skills specific to being a thriving college student. Skill development focuses on a selected college program and an individual student’s needs related to that environment. Targeted skills may include practice registration, purchasing textbooks and supplies, completing necessary paperwork and meeting with college support professionals, having a roommate, learning to use campus resources and personal safety.

Each Pre-College Coaching session takes place in local community settings including at least one local college tour. For families needing support with College Selection, NESCA offers a short-term service designed to prepare a student and family to select an appropriate college environment; when appropriate, College Selection also occurs as part of Transition Planning and Consultation.

College Selection Consultation

Searching for a suitable post-secondary setting that affords opportunity for success is a difficult process for students with learning disabilities and/or autism spectrum disorders. Through short-term consultation, NESCA’s transition specialists support students (and their families) in the development of a college planning timeline, creation of college lists, learning how to explore a college online, planning college visits, researching support services and more.

Importantly, transition specialists are able to visit colleges with students to help them get the most from their experience, reality-test “fit,” and investigate beyond the official presentation. While NESCA does not provide ongoing college counseling, consultation with a transition specialist is an ideal way to start the college selection process.

How Do I Get Started?

Prior to participation in Community-Based Skills Coaching or Pre-College Coaching, a one-hour intake evaluation with parent(s), the individual, and the coach is required to determine appropriateness for the service and specific goals. The fee for the intake is $250.

Families interested in scheduling should complete the Intake Fact Sheet available on-line at www.nesca-newton.com. In cases where an individual is not a fit for the desired service, referrals to appropriate community providers will be provided.

What is the Cost?

Community-Based Skills Coaching is charged at a flat rate of $3000 and includes eight three-hour coaching sessions.

Community-Based Pre-College Coaching is charged at a flat rate of $1250 and includes four two-hour coaching sessions.

For each program, progress is monitored closely and continually throughout participation and weekly overview emails are provided to the client and family.

Written program summaries are available for an additional fee.

NESCA is happy to negotiate contracts with public schools willing to participate in the cost of coaching as part of an individual education plan.

Who provides coaching at NESCA?

Marilyn Webber, Transition Specialist - NESCA is pleased to welcome Marilyn Weber, a seasoned transition advocate working with adolescents and young adults. Ms. Weber joined NESCA in Fall, 2014 in order to offer Community-Based Skills Coaching services as well as short-term consultation to families and professionals.

Ms. Weber brings decades of experience working in schools and community agencies as a job developer, job coach, work study coordinator, school to careers coordinator, transition coordinator, parent and professional trainer, and Parent Consultant. She received her advocacy training through The Federation of Children with Special Needs (FCSN), Wrightslaw and OSEP/COPAA’s SEAT program with a practicum at FCSN.

Ms. Weber was the Partnership Director for DRYVE, a youth career center funded by the Workforce Initiative Act. She is a member of Massachusetts Advocates for Children Autism Advisory Committee and Transition Coordinator Subcommittee which recently passed “An Act Relative to Students with Disabilities in Post-Secondary Education, Employment and Independent Living.” She is the proud mother of a young adult with Autism.

Sandy Storer, MSW, Transition Specialist - Social Worker and LEND Fellow Sandy Storer, MSW provides community-based pre-college coaching and college selection services at NESCA. In her 2008-2009 LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities) Fellowship at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center of the University of Mass. Medical School, Ms. Storer conducted an in-depth investigation of the issues that impact students with Asperger’s Syndrome in the transition to post-secondary education, and beyond.

Ms. Storer holds degrees from Northwestern and Boston Universities, and received additional, intensive training in family systems therapy and family therapy at The Family Institute of Cambridge. She has practiced privately as a counselor, coach and consultant for middle and high-school students with Asperger's Syndrome, autism, non-verbal learning disability and related disorders, and has extensive experience in public and private school settings, including 12 years as school social worker at Clarke Middle School in Lexington, MA, where she specialized in helping students with autism spectrum and related disorders.

She also worked in Disability Support Services at Northeastern University, and taught family therapy at MetroWest Mental Health Association, Framingham, MA, where she treated families and individual clients.

Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, Director of Transition Services - Community-Based Skills Coaching and Pre-College Coaching at NESCA are overseen by Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, Director of Transition Services. Ms. Challen received her Master's Degree and Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Initially trained as a school guidance counselor, she completed her practicum work at Boston Latin School focusing on competitive college counseling. She began facilitating social, life, and career skill development programs for transition-aged youth in 2004.

Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Challen founded an array of programs for teens and young adults at MGH Aspire, and spent time as Program Director of the Northeast Arc's Spotlight Program, where she often collaborated with schools to develop in-district social skill and transition programming. She is also co-author of the chapter "Technologies to Support Interventions for Social-Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personal Style, and Self-Regulation" for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism.

While Ms. Challen has special expertise in working with students with Asperger's Syndrome and related profiles, she provides transition assessment, consultation, planning, and programming support for individuals with a wide range of learning and developmental needs.