Adolescent Test Anxiety: Tips to manage stress and when to seek treatment

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We are approaching the time of year when many teens are preparing for standardized tests like the SAT and ACT, an experience that can be stressful for many adolescents.  While most students have taken a variety of standardized tests throughout their education, the SAT and ACT are often viewed differently because of their role in the college application process. In addition, these tests are a reminder of an impending transition to greater independence, which can lead to additional reasons for anxiety.

There are many courses, books, and programs focused on improving one’s SAT and ACT scores; however, the teens emotional experience is often overlooked.  A consideration for one’s emotional wellbeing, including strategies to manage anxiety, is a vital component for success on these upcoming exams and more broadly as you support your teen in preparing for college and growing independence.

Keep it in perspective

While it's true that the SAT and ACT tests will likely be an important factor in your child's overall admissions package, they're just that: one important factor.  College admissions officers emphasize that they holistically evaluate each applicant. That means they focus on factors beyond test scores, including high school grades, extracurricular activities, an applicant’s personal statement, and recommendations from teachers and counselors.  An increasing number of colleges are even becoming “test flexible,” which means students can submit alternatives to the SAT or ACT. Other schools are “test optional,” which means they do not require standardized test scores at all.

As a parent, you can help your teen keep perspective, even when it may seem he or she is not listening to your advice.  The less tangible interactions, including how we talk about upcoming tests to other adults when our teens may overhear and our own signs of stress, can impact a teen’s feelings about standardized tests.  While you may be conscious about how you talk to your teen directly about the upcoming college board exams, it is also important to be aware of how the broader environment, both at school and at home, is impacting your teen.

Consider your teen’s learning style

Taking tests is a skill, and these tests, in particular, require strategies.  There are many types of test prep options—courses, books, practice tests, flash cards—designed to help students prepare for these exams.  When working with your teen to consider what approach he or she may utilize, it’s important to consider his or her learning style, attentional capacity, and interests.  Some teens learn best in a group setting, while others prefer learning from books and videos in a more individualized setting. While students may be preparing for the same test, individuals learn and process information differently; therefore, the preparation needs to be tailored to the teen’s learning style, stress level, and readiness.  Listen to your teen. If test prep is increasing his or her stress level, take a step back and work with your teen to consider how best to proceed.

Strategies to manage stress

Sleep—Countless studies find a significant correlation between kids’ sleep and test performance.  The biggest sleep disturbers for most teens are computers, cell phones, texting, and TV. Have your teen unplug at least 30 minutes before going to sleep.  Also, watch out for the amount of caffeinated or energy drinks your teen ingests. Some teens consume caffeine in the evening to study; however, if it reduces the quality of his or her sleep, it can have a negative impact on his or her test performance.  Besides performance on tests, caffeine and limited sleep exacerbate symptoms of anxiety.

Deep breathing—Slow, purposeful breathing can calm one’s body and mind.  Try this technique with your teen: breathe in slowly to a count of three, then exhale slowly to a count of three. Repeat the deep breathing pattern at least three times.  While this may feel unnatural at first, regular practice (e.g., nightly before bed) will make this strategy feel more comfortable and effective.

Journaling, drawing, and more —Encourage your teen to journal, draw, or express his or her worries in a way that enables him or her to process and express how he or she is feeling.  For some teens, this experience helps clear one’s head and lower stress levels. Similar to deep breathing, these strategies become more effective over time and can be used in a variety of situations.    

When to seek professional support

Stress, like many emotional experiences, is on a continuum.  A moderate amount of stress can motivate and encourage individuals to prepare and work hard.  However, too much stress can negatively impact performance, and when severe, it can become debilitating.  Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, there can be “too much”, “too little”, and “just right.”  My goal is to work with children and teens to help them learn how to manage the stressors of everyday life and spend more of their time in this “just right” effective zone.  

If your teen is spending most of his or her time in the overstressed zone, consider how this is impacting his or her daily life and wellbeing.  Ask yourself, how long has this been an issue; is it situational or ongoing? Are symptoms of stress and anxiety negatively impacting your teen’s daily life at school, at home, and/or with peers?  Are there secondary consequences (e.g., sleep or eating disturbance, mood concerns, irritability)? If so, it may be time to seek the support of a mental health professional, such as myself, to help your teen learn to manage his or her anxiety.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me for more information at 703-825-0502.

Shira Gottlieb, Psy.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Gottlieb is a licensed clinical psychologist. She received her B.A. in psychology, with a minor in neurobiology, from Harvard University, and her Psy.D. from the George Washington University. Dr. Gottlieb utilizes an integrative approach to therapy, incorporating both CBT and Family Systems techniques. Treatment goals are discussed with the child/adolescent and family, and are developed with the individual child's needs in mind. For more information on Dr. Gottlieb please visit her website at http://www.gottliebchildpsych.com/


The Importance of Building a Strong Relationship with Your Child’s Teacher

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We are at least two months into the school year, and you probably recently attended or are about to attend fall parent-teacher conferences.  You may have heard wonderful observations about your child and/or you may have learned that he or she needs additional support. Maybe you are considering testing for attention issues or a learning disability to provide insight into your child’s strengths and challenges.  Your child’s teacher is still fairly new to you, and you may be wondering how to navigate your relationship with him or her, especially if your child is struggling in class. Keep in mind, it is imperative that you create a partnership with your child’s teacher (and possibly support staff at school), especially when there are difficulties in the academic setting.

The success of a student with attention and learning challenges, or other special needs, often depends on an open and trusting relationship between his or her parents and teachers.  The start of a new school year provides a great opportunity to build a productive and cooperative relationship. With this in mind, here are some topics you may want to discuss to help the teacher get to know your child in a more comprehensive light.  

  1. Start by sharing your child’s strengths. What are some of his or her talents, interests and hobbies?  This may seem counterintuitive if you are used to focusing only on challenges. However, understanding a child’s strengths can provide direction for intervention, while also broadening the teacher’s perspective on your child.  If sustained attention is a concern, taking a strengths-based approach can help grab your child’s interest and keep him or her more engaged in the classroom setting. Furthermore, focusing on strengths can increase self-esteem and improve self-efficacy, the feeling that one is capable of completing a task or reaching a goal.

  2. Talk about your child’s personality. Is he or she shy or typically outgoing? Is he or she hesitant about change or eager to try something new?  Some children present differently in various settings, and listening to your child’s teacher about how your child presents in class may shed light on his or her worries or academic self-confidence. 

  3. Share any concerns you may have about the new school year. What areas are the most difficult for your child? Are there teaching methods or settings that have worked well for your child in the past? Are there any past issues that may impact the current school year?

Strategize Successfully

Now that everyone has been acquainted with each other, the next step is to strategize and brainstorm with your child’s primary general education teacher, any special education teachers, school counselor, and anyone else who will be part of his or her school team. Be sure to discuss any past strategies that have worked well for your child.

Communication is key!

Set up clear lines of communication with everyone involved. Communication can get complicated when there are multiple parties, and being proactive can save you and your child’s teacher from frustration down the road.  Communication strategies might include daily behavioral check-lists, weekly progress reports, a homework review system, and methods of sharing notes and feedback. While it is helpful to get frequent feedback, remember the teacher has an entire classroom of children to manage.  Develop plans that are realistic, informative, and sustainable.

Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate

Let your child’s teacher know from the start that you want to be on the same team with both the school staff and your child.  Share about how you have been working with your child at home, as well as any additional support that your child may be receiving.  This is a great time to connect your teacher with various other professionals who may be in your child’s life (e.g., a psychologist, tutor, or speech therapist).  If you can, volunteer in your child’s classroom or chaperone a field trip. Volunteering in the classroom provides a glimpse into your child’s school experience and also helps build a positive relationship with the teacher and school.  Don’t forget to thank him or her for all he or she does to provide support for your child. By working together, you, your child’s teacher, and additional school staff can join forces to support your child’s development.

Shira Gottlieb, Psy.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Gottlieb is a licensed clinical psychologist. She received her B.A. in psychology, with a minor in neurobiology, from Harvard University, and her Psy.D. from the George Washington University.  Dr. Gottlieb works with children and adolescents, and their families, to provide comprehensive neuropsychological and psychoeducational assessments to better understand the individual child or adolescent’s attention capacities, learning profile, emotional functioning, and behavioral presentation. For more information on Dr. Gottlieb, please visit her website at http://www.gottliebchildpsych.com/


“Acing” Your Child’s Parent-Teacher Conference: How to work together and get the most out of this important meeting.

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It’s that time of year again—fall parent-teacher conferences are around the corner.  For parents of children struggling academically, behaviorally, socially, or emotionally, this can be a challenging meeting.  Whether your child is having a smooth or difficult experience in school thus far, it is important to make the most of your parent-teacher conference.  This is a time to collaborate with your child’s teacher, especially if your child is struggling, to help your child work toward success. With this in mind, here are a few items to consider.  

Share Your Observations of Your Child and His or Her Needs

First of all, parent-teacher conferences are not merely a time for the teacher to give you information about your child.  This is a great opportunity for you to share your concerns, as well as your child’s strengths, as they relate to the school setting.  Tell the teacher what things motivate your child, what he or she likes and dislikes, and his or her strengths and weaknesses. This is also a time to develop a partnership with the teacher, considering how situations at home (e.g., a divorce, illness, or new baby in the family) may be impacting your child at school.  If homework is particularly challenging for your child—and results in defiance, tears, or other issues—tell the teacher so you can start working on a plan to alleviate stress and focus on what needs to be accomplished.

Cover More Than Academics

Most likely, your child’s teacher will focus on your child’s academic performance.  While this is important and the primary goal of most schools, there is so much more that your child needs to succeed.  Your child spends more than half of his or her awake hours interacting with a variety of peers and adults at school. “Soft skills” (e.g., how one works with others, emotion regulation, ability to compromise) can be some of the most important skills throughout development.  Therefore, be sure to ask about how your child is doing socially and emotionally, including how he or she interacts with peers, what your child’s mood is typically like, or if there are any concerns at recess or lunch. Each of these areas can affect your child’s academic performance, as well as his or her wellbeing more broadly.

One of the most important items to cover will be how your child behaves in class.  Don’t dismiss it if the teacher tells you that your child has a hard time sitting still, struggles with group work, or appears to be “zoning-out.”  While these behaviors can be due to a variety of internal difficulties (e.g., anxiety, learning challenges, attention issues, social struggles), noting these behaviors can lead to conversations, additional observations, and possible next steps to understanding your child and how to best support his or her needs.     

Academics and Special Needs

While it can be challenging, try to listen carefully and nonjudgmentally as the teacher talks to you about your child’s academic performance.  When it comes to standardized testing and other assessment results, ask the teacher to explain what your child’s performance means in practical terms.  Typically, schools are looking at normative data, comparing your child’s academic performance to grade-level expectations. However, it is equally if not more important to consider your child’s performance across tests or subject areas, comparing your child to him or herself.  Are there gaps or inconsistencies in your child’s performance? Use this time as an opportunity to begin discussing how these discrepancies can be understood, and what types of support may be recommended.

When There are Concerns

If your child is experiencing challenges at school, do your best to keep an open mind.  Try not to blame your child, yourself, or his or her teacher. Rather, think of it as though you are all on the same team.  You now have more information about your child’s experience at school, and gathering information is the first step toward positive change.  This is the time to be proactive rather than waiting until problems become more severe or engrained. Figure out the best way to stay in touch with the teacher so you can follow up on specific issues or concerns.  If necessary, work to develop an action plan involving your child’s teacher and school.

Depending on the issue, it may be time to reach out to a professional in the community for support.  If attention and learning challenges and/or social-emotional issues are persistent and causing significant concern, it may be time to consider neuropsychological or psychoeducational testing.  A comprehensive evaluation brings a depth of understanding, providing information about your child’s strengths and challenges, as well as recommendations and direction for how best to provide support and accommodations.  As a child psychologist who specializes in neuropsychological and psychoeducational testing, I’m committed to working with the child, family, and school system to provide a comprehensive assessment with the child’s unique needs in mind.  This includes follow-up support, working with the family and school to put the results into a tangible action plan, with the goal of helping your child succeed to his or her full potential.

Shira Gottlieb, Psy.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Gottlieb is a licensed clinical psychologist. She received her B.A. in psychology, with a minor in neurobiology, from Harvard University, and her Psy.D. from the George Washington University.  Dr. Gottlieb works with children and adolescents, and their families, to provide comprehensive neuropsychological and psychoeducational assessments to better understand the individual child or adolescent’s attention capacities, learning profile, emotional functioning, and behavioral presentation. For more information on Dr. Gottlieb, please visit her website at http://www.gottliebchildpsych.com/


August Anxiety: How to help your child prepare and manage back to school jitters

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It’s late August, the time of year when parents often feel excited about their kids going back to school!  It’s a time of learning about new teachers and buying school supplies. However, many of the children that I work with have conflicted feelings about going back to school.  Whether they are returning to the same school they’ve been attending for several years, or going into middle or high school for the first time, this transition is a significant adjustment.  

The end of summer can be a time of high anxiety for many kids.  At a bare minimum, they will have to adjust to a new teacher and classroom of students, new topics to learn, and new schedules to follow.  The good news is, there are things you can do, as a parent, to help your child feel prepared for the upcoming academic year. Additionally, there are signs to keep an eye out for to see if your child is experiencing significant anxiety, and may need the help of a counselor or psychologist to manage the emotional stressors, and transition to the new school year.    

To begin with, let’s take a moment to consider the “typical” school experience in contrast to summertime.  This can help parents understand what aspects of the transition may be anxiety provoking for your child. The school setting is a structured experience with short bursts of unstructured time (e.g., lunch, recess, passing period for older students).  This schedule is not something students have control over, rather they learn to follow bells and schedules. While some children thrive in this setting, others need more time to transition, struggle with feelings of loss of control, or can be sensitive to the loud, energetic, crowded, unstructured times (e.g., lunch).  This is very different from most children’s experience over the summer, when he or she likely had a more relaxing schedule and may have attended camp where there is often more choice and alignment between the child’s interests and the activities.

For some children, academics (the primary goal of school), is an added stressor, beyond the social and logistical challenges stated earlier.  As a student, particularly in middle and high school, your work is routinely evaluated. Some children and teens experience worry and anxiety about judgement, especially on tests, papers, or presentations.  This performance anxiety can be challenging and distracting in the school setting. For these students, the school environment can be a stressful place.

With these potential challenges in mind, let’s consider some things you, as a parent, can do to help your child prepare for going back to school.  

Begin conversations with your child.  Ask about what he or she expects from the new school year, and discuss any specific worries your child may have.  Do your best to listen and validate his or her experience, before jumping to solutions, or trying to convince your child that his or her concerns are, “nothing to worry about.”  This often leaves children frustrated, feeling that their parents “don’t care” or “just don’t get it.” Let your kids know that their feelings are normal and starting something new can be difficult at any age!   

Many children with school anxiety, worry about what their new teacher will be like, how they will find their classes, and, more generally, they fear the unknown.  For these students, orientations and school walk throughs—which may be part of a pre-planned back to school program or individualized—can be very helpful. This allows the child to become familiar with the new setting, thus decreasing anxiety and helping the child feel prepared for the new year.  

For some children, shopping for school supplies can help them feel a sense of control and excitement for the new academic year.  For these children, picking out supplies provides a sense of ownership over their materials and their learning. At home, you and your child can work together to set up specific areas that promote learning and organization.  This may include a location for backpacks and papers, and a distraction-free zone for homework. Once again, many children respond best when they are a part of this planning, helping to build a sense of self-efficacy and competence.   

Anxiety often stems from a fear of the unknown, or a sense of anticipation about something we may feel is out of our control.  Therefore, preparing now, as discussed above, can help your child prepare for a successful, and less stressful, transition back to school!

As a child psychologist, I want to briefly mention some of the signs that may indicate it is time to seek professional help.  Please feel free to go back to some of my former blog posts for more information on a particular topic.

If your child’s behavior caused chronic trouble in school last year, or disrupted family life during the academic year, it is important to monitor his or her behavior, and seek support early in the new year, before these patterns become further engrained.  Disruptive, explosive, or defiant behavior (referred to as “externalizing behaviors”) can be related to underlying anxiety, low mood and irritability, trauma, or frustration from undiagnosed learning problems. Other children become quiet, and may isolate themselves, avoid peers, or seem uninterested in activities they used to enjoy (referred to as “internalizing behaviors”).  These quieter changes are often also related to underlying social-emotional challenges.

Seeking therapy or counseling for children can be very helpful for both externalizing and internalizing behaviors.  A mental health professional, like myself, can work with you and your child to address the underlying issues, as well as potential behavioral concerns.  If you or your child’s teachers suspect that attention and learning challenges are a piece of the puzzle behind your child’s behavior, you may want to seek testing to provide insight into your child’s strengths and challenges.  Early intervention can help your child experience success in the new academic year! Please don’t hesitate to contact me for more information at 703-825-0502.

Shira Gottlieb, Psy.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Gottlieb is a licensed clinical psychologist. She received her B.A. in psychology, with a minor in neurobiology, from Harvard University, and her Psy.D. from the George Washington University. Dr. Gottlieb utilizes an integrative approach to therapy, incorporating both CBT and Family Systems techniques. Treatment goals are discussed with the child/adolescent and family, and are developed with the individual child's needs in mind. For more information on Dr. Gottlieb please visit her website at http://www.gottliebchildpsych.com/

 

Preparing for Middle School — Navigating preadolescent challenges and considering when to seek help

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The transition from elementary school to middle school can be a very challenging time for tweens, both socially and academically. The signs of young adolescent moodiness can make you, as a parent, want to “nag” or “pry.”  Alternatively, some parents step back thinking, “it’s just a phase” or “it’ll pass.” While a temporary increase in moodiness and a greater tendency to push back against parents and adults is typical, some tweens experience more significant challenges.  Now is not the time to leave your pre-teen to deal with his or her challenges alone. Rather, it’s important to monitor your child’s mental health and provide guidance and support. Sometimes, this requires professional help, particularly at an age when your young adolescent may not be as open with you, the parent.     

Moodiness and Irritability

For many tweens and teens, puberty begins during the middle school years.  Hormone levels increase, which can lead to mood swings and a general sense of irritability.  Six months ago, your child was an upbeat kid, and now he or she is changing before your eyes, both physically and emotionally.  As a parent, it can be hard to predict which presentation you will get on a particular evening. This increased moodiness can disrupt the entire household and may even have an impact on younger siblings.  

Meanwhile, your young adolescent is dealing with his or her own body changes and development, something he or she has no control over.  Some adolescents develop earlier or later than others, which can be socially difficult for young adolescents on either end of the continuum.  At this age, tweens and teens often become more physically self-conscious and vulnerable to feeling embarrassed. For many adolescents, these feelings naturally pass over.  For others, this is a time when self-harming behavior (e.g., cutting), experimentation with drugs (e.g., juuling) or alcohol, and disordered eating may occur. It is important to monitor your child during this time of change, offering support and seeking professional help, as needed.  When these challenges are caught early and addressed appropriately, you can mitigate risk and improve long-term outcome.

Social Pressure to Fit In

One of the main issues that arises in early adolescence is the drive to fit in with one’s peer group, which causes many youngsters to feel socially insecure.  This is a time when instances of teasing, exclusion, rumors, and social bullying increase. While these behaviors have been part of adolescence for many decades, today’s teens have a new platform for teasing and social bullying—social media and electronic communication more broadly.  This platform makes it easier for teens to hide these issues from adults, while also giving bullies a wider reach. While some of these behaviors have become accepted as “normal” for a preteen to navigate, it is important to watch for signs of anxiety and depression resulting from social pressure and peer bullying.  If you see these signs, it may be time to call a professional for help.

Executive Functioning and Learning Issues

While many learning challenges are identified in elementary school, a number of bright children are able to manage during the early years of their education.  Then, middle school begins and the child no longer has one consistent teacher who can provide support and advocate for his or her needs. He or she must manage a day with six different teachers and sets of expectations.  The academic demands increase, homework becomes more demanding, and the amount of personalized attention decreases. All of this is occurring amidst the social and emotional changes described above. No wonder middle school is a difficult time for many young teens!     

Many adolescents struggle with planning, organization, time-management, self-monitoring, and initiating tasks—all aspects of executive functioning.  For some individuals, these challenges catch up with them in middle school when they are no longer able to compensate for these weaknesses and manage on their own.  For others, they may have been receiving support via an IEP or 504 Plan in elementary school (e.g., for ADHD, a learning disability, or high functioning autism formerly known as Asperger’s); however, he or she now has new or different needs.  This is an important time to watch for changes in your teen’s academic performance. Often, when grades begin to falter at this age, there is a complex set of challenges going on, underneath the academic difficulty, that needs to be addressed.  Psychoeducational and neuropsychological testing can help identify these of challenges and guide recommendations and support.

If you are concerned about your young adolescent’s behavior, I encourage you to contact me for assistance.  I look forward to working with you and your tween or teen during this time of transition. Please don’t hesitate to call me at 703-825-0502.  

Shira Gottlieb, Psy.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Gottlieb is a licensed clinical psychologist. She received her B.A. in psychology, with a minor in neurobiology, from Harvard University, and her Psy.D. from the George Washington University. Dr. Gottlieb utilizes an integrative approach to therapy, incorporating both CBT and Family Systems techniques. Treatment goals are discussed with the child/adolescent and family and are developed with the individual child's needs in mind. For more information on Dr. Gottlieb please visit her website at http://www.gottliebchildpsych.com/

What to Expect at Your First Individual Education Program or 504 Plan Meeting

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Last month, we looked at what it means when your child’s testing results indicate that he or she would likely benefit from an Individual Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan.  While eligibility is a team decision made during a meeting with school staff, I am committed to helping families navigate this process to get the best support for their child or adolescent.  Therefore, my neuropsychological and psychoeducational testing services do not end with the feedback meeting.  Rather, I consult throughout the IEP/504 Plan process, including attending meeting(s) at your child’s school.  To that end, let’s consider what to expect at the first IEP meeting with your child’s team.  

The process begins with an eligibility meeting during which your child’s educational team (including you) will review the IEP eligibility criteria.  This includes selecting a code, or the category that best describes your child’s challenges.  These terms can be confusing as there is educational and bureaucratic jargon involved.  For example, your child may have diagnoses of both ADHD (which falls under the code “Other Health Impairment”) and Dyslexia (which is included under the code “Learning Disability”).  I meet with parents in advance to discuss which label best fits their child and how it may affect services and priorities.  It is important to gather information and ask questions at the eligibility meeting, and I am available to help parents navigate this process. 

Next, if your child is determined eligible for an IEP, the special education lead (or another designated member of the school support team) will prepare a rough draft of your child’s first IEP for you to review in advance of the second meeting.  We can discuss this via phone, and I do my best to clarify and explain what the document means for your child.    

A team is necessary to put the IEP in place, and the school is required to have certain people participate.  The team may include: a special education teacher; a general education teacher (most likely your child’s current teacher); the principal or vice principal (or a district administrator like the special education department chair); a school psychologist; and you, the parent(s).  Additionally, the meeting may include an occupational therapist, school counselor, and other support staff.  Adolescents, typically beginning in high school, may be invited to attend a portion of these meetings.  You are also permitted to invite an advocate, such as myself or an educational consultant, to provide support and guidance during these meetings.  You will be asked to sign multiple agreements throughout this process, and the school is required to provide you with your child’s rights and safeguards in relation to special education.  If you are looking at a 504 Plan for your child, the meeting will likely be smaller and less formal; however, there will still be multiple contributors involved.  

During the second meeting, you will learn more about the school’s plan to help your child access the curriculum.  It is important to take your time and ask questions at this meeting as decisions will be made about the amount of support (i.e., the number of hours per week) and types of assistance (e.g., “pull out” or push in” special education) your child will receive.  The IEP document will discuss your child’s present levels of performance (commonly referred to as “PLOP”), areas of need, specific goals, proposed number of support hours, and types of accommodations.       

While the process can sometimes be frustrating, it is designed to protect the needs of children with a disability or condition that prevents them from accessing the curriculum and succeeding at school.  My attendance at these meetings can be extremely beneficial for families as I am able to explain the testing results to the team in-person, provide support and guidance to parents, and work alongside the school to develop the best IEP or 504 Plan for your child.  I look forward to helping you navigate this system through providing advocacy, support, and guidance in order to get your child the services he or she needs to succeed.    

Shira Gottlieb, Psy.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Gottlieb is a licensed clinical psychologist. She received her B.A. in psychology, with a minor in neurobiology, from Harvard University, and her Psy.D. from the George Washington University.  Dr. Gottlieb works with children and adolescents, and their families, to provide comprehensive neuropsychological and psychoeducational assessments to better understand the individual child or adolescent’s attention capacities, learning profile, emotional functioning, and behavioral presentation. For more information on Dr. Gottlieb, please visit her website at http://www.gottliebchildpsych.com/

IEPs and 504 Plans: What they mean for your child’s success

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As a child psychologist, I’m committed to empowering children with learning disabilities to succeed in school. Dealing with a learning disability is a journey, and I am dedicated to supporting my clients and their parents during this time period and beyond. I want your child to get the help he or she needs to succeed in school, and I know that’s what you want as well. My neuropsychological and psychoeducational testing services don’t end with our feedback meeting.  I don’t consider my job to be done once the evaluation results are provided to you.

At the testing feedback meeting, I’ll answer any questions you may have, and I may recommend seeing a pediatrician or a psychiatrist if a medication consultation is indicated. I’ll provide strategies for you to employ at home with your child, and resources for you to get more information. We will review the type of services, ways of teaching, assistive technology, and other support that may benefit your child. We will also go over what happens at the first Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan meeting with your child’s school support team.

Let’s take a look at these two terms: IEP and 504 Plan.  Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is designed to help students with physical, mental, or emotional impairments in public schools (or publicly funded private schools) using accommodations that can be carried out in the classroom. These 504 Plans ensure that students will be treated fairly at school.

Examples of accommodations in 504 plans include:

  • Preferential seating
  • Extended time on tests and assignments
  • Reduced homework or classwork
  • Verbal, visual, or technology aids
  • Modified textbooks or audio-video materials
  • Behavior management support
  • A modified testing setting  

The goal of 504 Plans is for students to be educated in regular classrooms, along with the accommodations or educational aids they may need.

A 504 Plan is different from an IEP. The main difference is that a 504 Plan modifies a student's educational program in a regular classroom setting. A 504 plan is monitored by classroom teachers. A student with an IEP, as part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004), may receive individualized educational services in a special or regular education setting, depending on the student's need. IEP programs are delivered and monitored by additional school support staff, and parent approval is required.

As you can already tell, the IEP/504 meeting is often quite complicated and can be overwhelming for parents. One of the things that makes my practice unique is the extra steps I take to support you and your child beyond the testing phase. One of these steps is accompanying you and your child to his or her IEP/504 meeting. This way, I can speak to my testing findings and recommendations; consult with teachers, special education staff, and administrators; and provide support for you and your family. I also make myself available to consult with therapists, teachers and others on an as needed basis.

My role is to help you, as parents, navigate the educational system and embark on a path to success for your child.  I've participated in a variety of meetings at the elementary school, middle school, and high school level in multiple school districts. I have also visited many schools in the area for child observations, which is a component of my testing process for young children.  Through these visits, I not only learn about the particular child I am observing, I also become familiar with the different school settings and administrations.

I’m committed to making sure you understand your child’s results and am here to help you navigate the next steps. I look forward to working with you and your child. Next month, we will look at what to expect from the first IEP/504 meeting and how to prepare for it.

Shira Gottlieb, Psy.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Gottlieb is a licensed clinical psychologist. She received her B.A. in psychology, with a minor in neurobiology, from Harvard University, and her Psy.D. from the George Washington University.  Dr. Gottlieb works with children and adolescents, and their families, to provide comprehensive neuropsychological and psychoeducational assessments to better understand the individual child’s attention capacities, learning profile, emotional functioning, and behavioral presentation. For more information on Dr. Gottlieb please visit her website at http://www.gottliebchildpsych.com/

Childhood Anxiety: Recognizing the difference between stressful circumstances and clinical anxiety

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Springtime is a wonderful time of year; however, it can also be a stressful time for children and teens of all ages.  For younger kids and preteens, it’s the time of year for state mandated testing in schools, which can certainly raise stress levels.  For teens, it is the time of year when seniors hear back from colleges and many juniors begin the college application process. These adolescents are confronted with major decisions about their future, a source of worry and anxiety for many.  For those seniors waiting to hear from colleges, it can be a time of anticipation and apprehension.

As a parent, how can you tell whether your child or teen is experiencing heightened levels of stress due to temporary circumstances versus if he or she has clinical levels of anxiety and should see a therapist?  When parents ask me, I tell them to consider the length of time and the impact of the stress on your child’s life. How frequently does he or she experience this anxious behavior? How long have the worries been a concern?  To what extent do their worries negatively affect your child’s life?

Many children and teens suffer from debilitating worry.  Recent national polls have found that 1 in 8* children suffer from anxiety.  Many kids miss school, social activities, and a good night’s rest due to ongoing worrying.  With this in mind, what signs should parents be looking for? Anxiety can present through physical, emotional, and behavioral signs, and the following list provides common indicators for each of these categories.   

Physical Signs of Anxiety

  • Your child complains frequently of headaches or stomachaches, for which his or her pediatrician has found no medical reason;

  • If your child’s eating habits have changed significantly, including an increased or a decreased appetite.  Again, you should first seek out your pediatrician to rule out any physical reasons for this behavior; however, if those are ruled out and your child is still not eating properly, it could be a sign of anxiety;

  • He or she starts to shake or sweat during mildly stressful situations, such as school testing or performances; and

  • Your child has trouble falling or staying asleep through the night.

Emotional Signs of Anxiety

  • Your child cries often, especially in response to seemingly minor issues;  

  • Your child is extremely sensitive to feedback, even when the content is not critical in nature;

  • He or she is irritable regularly, without any clear reason;

  • Your child is afraid of making even minor mistakes;

  • He or she has regular panic attacks or is afraid of having panic attacks (Panic attack symptoms may include sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, a choking sensation, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, fear of losing your mind, fear of dying, skin flushing, a racing heartbeat or heart palpitations, feeling that danger is nearby, and feeling an intense need to escape the situation.);

  • Your child has phobias (e.g., bees, dogs, shots) or exaggerated fears (about things like natural disasters) that prevent him or her from participating in activities or interfere with his or her daily life; and

  • Your child has frequent nightmares about losing a parent or loved one or is obsessing about death in general.

Behavioral Signs of Anxiety

  • Your child asks “what if?” constantly, and it’s related to terrible things happening. For example, “What if an earthquake happens?” or “What if a robber breaks into our house?”;

  • Your child avoids participating during circle time or other class activities at school every day;

  • If your child refuses to go to school on a regular basis;

  • When your child avoids social situations with peers after school or on weekends that he or she used to enjoy (e.g., extracurricular activities or birthday parties);

  • If your child constantly seeks approval from parents, teachers and friends, and reacts negatively to any form of constructive criticism; and

  • Your child frequently says “I can’t do it!” without a real reason.

If your child is showing the aforementioned signs on a regular basis, I urge you to seek mental health support for him or her.  There will always be stressors in life, and you can’t protect your child from everything. However, therapy can help your child learn to manage his or her anxiety and continue to function in life, even when stressed or worried.  It is important to keep in mind that untreated anxiety tends to get worse over time. When a child—and sometimes the whole family—works to avoid triggering situations, the worries only grow more powerful. The best way for children and teens to conquer anxiety is to learn to face and master their fears.   

If you are concerned about your child’s anxious behavior, I encourage you to contact me for assistance.  I look forward to working with you and your child to provide strategies and support. Please don’t hesitate to call me at 703-825-0502.
 

Shira Gottlieb, Psy.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Gottlieb is a licensed clinical psychologist. She received her B.A. in psychology, with a minor in neurobiology, from Harvard University, and her Psy.D. from the George Washington University. Dr. Gottlieb utilizes an integrative approach to therapy, incorporating both CBT and Family Systems techniques. Treatment goals are discussed with the child/adolescent and family, and are developed with the individual child's needs in mind. For more information on Dr. Gottlieb please visit her website at http://www.gottliebchildpsych.com/