Saul Rosenthal, PhD

HEALTH PSYCHOLOGIST

As part of this blog, I’m publishing the transcripts from my podcast. I hope you find them a useful adjunct to the show. Please listen, leave comments, and rate it on iTunes, Spotify, Google, or wherever you found it!

Guest: Becki Lauzon, CRC
Read what Becki has to say about choosing a transition program, and watch her on Facebook Live. If you live in Massachusetts (or want a good model, here’s some information about transitioning and available transition services in Massachusetts.
Link to the show: Episode 11

Saul: Welcome to episode 11 of Life in the Time of Corona, a podcast exploring the many ways to stay healthy and sane and the strange times. I’m Dr. Saul Rosenthal, a developmental and clinical health psychologist.

In the United States, spring has now turned into summer. Normally this is time of significant transitions. Students finish school, graduates get ready to start university or new jobs, families plan summer holidays. This year is very different. With the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve all been staying in place as we figure out what comes next. Finally restrictions are beginning to lift and we are emerging now into a new world of uncertainty.

Now all of these things got me to thinking about transitions. We are all transitioning to a new normal while trying to figure out what that even means. I really wonder about the young people who are supposed to be starting new jobs or new schools in the next few months. Before the pandemic, that was challenging enough. Now I can’t even imagine what it means.

To help us figure it out we’re joined by Becki Lauzon. She’s a certified rehabilitation counselor and endorsed as a transition specialist through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in Massachusetts. For almost 20 years she has worked with young people to help them succeed as they enter higher education and the workforce. She is currently counselor at the Neuropsychology and Education Services for Children and Adolescents program. Becki, thank you so much for joining us today.

Becki: Thank you for having me.

Saul: So one of the things I’ve been asking everybody who comes on here are what are some of the biggest changes you’ve been going through or making these past few months?

Becki: As far as work or in my personal life?

Saul: Either or both.

Becki: Okay, so I think personal life-wise, it’s been quite a balance of… so I started NESCA in February which was prior to Covid starting and so it’s been definitely a shift for me going from working in the office to working remotely and as a mother of two children having to deal with home schooling as well as balancing the working from home, has been a challenge, as I’m sure many people have experienced. But I think also looking at it from a professional way, having worked in transition for so many years… transition is such a community-based profession, so typically it’s for students ages 18 to 22. Obviously in Massachusetts we start transitional planning at age 14, but when really hitting those key years when students are older, it’s a very community-based and collaborative effort and with all of the changes due to Covid, there have been so many opportunities that students usually benefit from that have been taken away and it’s forced everyone who works in the field of transition to really become creative and think outside the box.

Saul: Now in typical days, whatever that means, what are the challenges that people transitioning normally face, whether they’re transitioning to higher education or to the workforce?

Becki: So typically it’s really getting yourself prepared. So I look at it as two different groups… so you have students you have been on an academic track and are working towards getting their high school diploma, and then are either preparing to go off to college or work, and then you have those students who are not working towards a diploma but are working towards a certificate of completion, and are in the special education system until the age of 22. So typically, prior to Covid, if I were to speak as if Covid never happened, the main issues for those students who are going from earning their high school diploma on to the real world, is deciding if they’re ready. A lot of times when students are on a diploma track, they’re focusing on academics throughout their four years of high school, and a lot of times come junior or senior year, families and students run into the issues of… are they ready… are they ready to go on to college and be independent and be successful?

And there’s been a large increase in the amount of students over the last several years in Massachusetts who are not ready and have chosen to not accept their diploma and do basically what’s called a 5th year, transition year, gap year… people call it all different things. And that year is really geared towards exploration, so I always considered it a bridge year, so it was a time for students to really look at that bridge from high school and academics to the adult world. Academically they may be completely ready to go on to a four-year or two-year college. However in other areas whether it’s socially, emotionally, functionally, they’re not really ready. So typically, students that are not really ready work with their school districts or transition programs to… whether it’s take a part-time college class and see if college is the right thing for them, or do some different internships, to see if career or maybe a trade is the right thing… so that’s typically, prior to Covid, what would happen and then for students who are in special ed and receiving those services until the age of 22, those four free years are really used to work on a variety of skills. So independent living, functional academics, which is much different than regular academics, so it’s looking at banking, budgeting, can you count change, can you use a debit card… those types of things… doing community-based internships, travel training is a big thing, so if students didn’t want to get their driver’s license, practicing using public transportation… doing part-time jobs, going out to Dunkin’ Donuts, going and ordering in a restaurant… so based on everything I just said as you can tell, a lot of it is community-based and all of those things, since Covid, have really either been shut down… or even as the world is starting to reopen… and there are still a lot of restrictions… and now it’s almost the focus on individuals who have sensory issues, explaining to them, “You have to wear a mask”, why you have to wear a mask. If you’ve been home for the last several months and haven‘t had to wear a mask, how are you going to do that if you go back out and start working at your job that you had prior to Covid. So Covid has really put a large hole into transition for so many students… whether they are students, like I said, who were on a diploma track or a non-diploma track.

Saul: Well so many of these services you are talking about require…. like you said, it requires community. Whether it is the kids on the, sort of, diploma track who need to have some bridge to more independence, whether that’s through travel or internships or working… or these kids who are more on the certificate track where they need to be out the community in order to learn how to function… and now you’ve got all these other things you need to teach them… wearing masks and why one does that, and how to tolerate that, particularly if you have sensory integration issues. You know, in some ways with the pandemic, it’s almost felt like nobody’s been transitioning anywhere… we have kind of been stuck and obviously that’s not true but it makes me wonder though what are some of the unique challenges to transitions or some unique issues you’ve been facing with your kids, that as they go to transition or try to transition, even though we’re all stuck in place?

Becki: Sure, so a lot of the individuals that I currently work with and previous students that I worked with, have gone through a lot of the same issues. So for students who are turning 22 or have turned 22 during the Covid times, it’s not your typical transition to adulthood. And for families and students going from receiving special ed services for 18, 20, 22 years… to the adult world is scary in general even pre-Covid, so now these families are facing the fact that their students are aging out the day before they turn 22 and they have nowhere to go, and that just adds so much more stress for families. Day programs, community-based day programs, are not open, and families typically are able to take tours and go visit them and things like that prior to turning 22 and really having a plan in place… and that is not happening right now.

There are several students I’ve worked with that are in residential settings and their families have not been able to go and see them. They’re not able to leave, and then you have other residential programs that are closing. So there are families scrambling to plan for students that have lived in residential settings for multiple years that they don’t know what’s going to happen to them and unfortunately there really aren’t any straightforward answers right now.

And for the other students, you know, the real big thing is the college piece and the work piece. So in the past a lot of students have benefited from support on a college campus, having somebody there to help them get set up disability services, get their accommodations, navigate a college campus… that can’t happen right now because as we know, everything has been remote and many colleges in Massachusetts are remaining remote learning for the fall. So you know, I’ve worked with many students that fully embrace online learning and thrive with it but others who need that in-person college learning. And that’s going to be quite an issue… people who are visual or hands-on learners… doing that online is not going to provide the same experience that it would doing it in person. And for students who might have any fine motor issues or other things that will impact their ability to access a course online, that’s another big piece and just the communication… emailing back and forth with the professor… those are all things that can be tricky. So that’s kind of that college area and where I’m seeing the biggest struggles right now, and the same with students who can’t go out and visit colleges.

I’ve worked with a lot of families and suggested using… there are some websites out there to do virtual college tours… so that is a way at least for students to start looking and looking at, you know, what programs the campuses have, how big are the campuses… those types of things, but unfortunately that’s really the only way to do it right now. And then the students that are more on the vocational track who were used to being able to go out and do things such as informational interviewing or job shadowing, so students can look at a variety of different careers and get a sense of what interests them, and they’re not able to do that right now and even though in Massachusetts, there are many businesses and places that have started to reopen, they’re not allowing people to come in and intern or volunteer because of safety and other things… and having to lay off other workers… so it’s definitely… those to me are the biggest struggles and… I mean there are so many others… so vocational and education are kind of the two big areas of transition but there are all those other skills that students are not able to learn right now, like I mentioned before, the travel training. You can’t get on the local “T” without wearing a mask, with, you know, all of those safety precautions that… we used to go out and do so freely without even thinking about it. I tend to look back and think… wow, we took advantage of so many things and didn’t appreciate how easy they were to do. And now… just even taking our students to the grocery store or taking the students to learn how to cross a crosswalk. Things are just so different right now and students are not able to get the exposure to those things like they used to be able to.

Saul: Yeah, it’s kind of like there’s this combination of everything is either on hold or everything is changing so much without an end in sight and this is the time of our lives when we really want to be figuring things out kind of getting to some of the endpoints and goals… I mean after you’re in school for all those years or starting a new job, you want things to be settling down. So for everyone, this is just such an unsettling time, but for kids who really need that extra support even in the sort of “typical times”… I mean I can’t even imagine what it’s like for these kids… they’re not kids… these young adults.

Becki: Right. No, I always say kids, even though they’re young adults… and I think too, there is also a majority of students out there who might have one-to-one aides, or might be nonverbal and have mobility issue… toileting… all of these types of things, and you know, I think of the parents… that now are the one-to-one aides at home, and they’re dealing with behaviors, they’re dealing with outbursts, because for so many students you know, you can only read so many social stories with some of your students to help them understand what Covid is… but…

Saul: And don’t make sense anymore, the stories all have to be updated.

Becki: Right, and it just… there’s also… like I said, there’s the population of students who are career and college focused but then there’s also that other population of students who are planning until 22 and then going on to adult day programs that are kind of stuck in limbo right now, and families are now forced to be that one-to-one support, the behavioral support, and it’s causing a lot of regression in a lot of students.

Saul: Just at the time when they not only ought to be, but really want to be moving ahead… they’re regressing.

Becki: Exactly.

Saul: With some of the young adults that I’m working with who have learning issues particularly if they are very visual learners, the Zoom learning or the tele-video learning has been very difficult for them. So I can imagine… you know, you talked about virtual college tours or virtual interviews… just how much harder it is because they are not picking up enough cues… it’s so limited what we can do with the audiovisual. I mean we’re incredibly lucky to have it, but when you need multiple cues and aren’t able to pick it up, it’s just so much harder for these young adults. So we don’t really know what the new normal is going to look like either at school or at work. I know you’ve been doing a lot of Facebook-live interviews, giving advice for transitioning even in quarantine. Are there some things you could share with us today?

Becki: Sure. So one of the big things that a lot of parents had asked is, “How can we either keep up with these transition skills or introduce new transition skills to street children or young adults when they’re at home?” So I did a series of Saturday morning podcasts that… or not podcasts… Facebook live videos… that can be found on NESCA’s Facebook page. But they really talk about different things you can do around the house to help your student. So it varies again based on the student’s current level of functioning, how independent they are, so I really tackled some very basic things, to middle and higher level. Again, some of it is being creative, but I try to pull together some easy things that parents could find within their home and didn’t have to spend a lot of time preparing.

So for example, some very basics are coin sorting… a lot of parents have jars of coins in their house and for some students that are either working on sorting skills or even money-management, identifying coins, being able to just set up a model for your students to put down a penny, nickel, dime, quarter on the table and then have your student match all of the coins into that. Things such as… one of my favorite examples was Tupperware containers… so many of us have those reusable Tupperware/Ziploc containers in our house but tend to lose the tops and the bottoms and not be able to match them. So again a very basic skill but an independent living type skill… so have your students put those together, clean out the cabinet, go through sorting silverware…

Saul: And very useful for us at home to have those things done.

Becki: Right. Exactly, and that’s the other thing… you know, I’ve worked with some families that have talked about their child might be able to already do laundry independently, so what’s the next level step? So I worked with one family on getting one of those handheld steamers, because ironing was kind of a safety concern, and they introduced that new skill of using the handheld steamer, trying Swiffer Wet-Jet, Swiffer Dry Pads, vacuuming, making your bed, sorting socks was another big one that families really enjoyed because, again, it’s contributing to the household but it’s keeping the students engaged in some functional activities.

We also shared some other things around executive functioning and organizational skills and having students work with their families every Monday to put together a schedule and this is what they’re going to do for the week and, you know, encouraging the parents not to prompt them to do it, but to see if they’ll reflect on their schedule and how independent they can be. Going to the grocery store if that is something that you’re doing as a family during Covid, give your individual child the list and see if they can navigate the store… can they read the above, you know, the aisle signs… can they order loud enough at the deli that the deli person can hear them. Can they do the full shopping trip from start to finish and pay the order? Again, I know it’s tricky for a lot of families during this time, that are working and things like that to build in some of those other skills, but the more… even cooking is another one… so many students work on cooking skills and this is a time when maybe where everyone’s home… you can supervise your child and help them cook, or even if it’s you know, make a bowl of cereal, make a sandwich… those types of things. So those are some of the really basics… again, I go into more in-depth ideas, especially around some free resources for laundry skills with visuals, different videos and ideas for… even though people can’t go out and do job tours or informational interviews right now, I’ve shared some different websites in my Facebook-lives and in some of my blogs around how students can still research jobs while they’re at home.

Saul: And I’ll link to those Facebook-lives, and blogs and some of the other resources in the show notes, the episode notes, for today.

You were just talking about a lot of skills that I think primarily are focused on, kind of functional living, or day-to-day living… Any thoughts about the young adults who are about to start a new job or start a new school?

Becki: So for individuals who are… maybe have already applied to college and are prepared to start in the fall… my first recommendation would really be if you’ve received any types of accommodations during your time in high school, is to research the student support services or disability services. Every college calls the services something different… but to really research those… and see what is available to you. If you haven’t already connected with student services in a college campus setting make sure you do. Even though colleges aren’t required to provide you all of the accommodations in your IEP it is important that you share all that documentation with them.

Previously I was an adjunct professor at a college and it was interesting to see because when a student is in high school, teachers are automatically required to provide any accommodations on an IEP. It’s a whole different world in college and even though students would register with disability or student services on a college campus, they still had to individually reach out to all of their professors. So I think that’s really important especially this summer if you’ve already started to receive information on your courses or when you do receive that information, that you take the time to reach out to each of your professors and talk about what support you have in high school and what you think would be helpful in college. Again, if… you know, it’s going to be tricky if it’s mainly remote learning, trying to learn about the platform that the school uses. Some colleges use blackboard, some use other different types of things. So try to take a tutorial and learn how to navigate and work those online platforms before the semester starts.

I think for students who are going into the world of work, if they’re looking for jobs right now, I think it’s important for everyone to understand that obviously this is not the best job market or economy to be looking for your first job in. But, there are places out there that are hiring and my hope is once Massachusetts continues to reopen and states reopen, that we’ll see an increase. I have, when I’ve been out and about in the community, I have seen hiring signs… it’s few and far between but there are still things out there and I think if you’re really out there looking it’s important not to get discouraged because this is not your typical time… the typical process you would go through if you were searching for a job.

Another really good thing to look at is if you are not able to find a paid job at this point, even though there are different health and safety restrictions on businesses there might still be places, come the fall, that are willing to have unpaid interns or people interview them and see what they do for work. So I think making sure your resume is ready, practicing filling out job applications, and a tip that I used to use with a lot of my students and clients when they were applying for jobs is create a spreadsheet, because you don’t want to apply to the same place multiple times. So being organized and again it goes with those executive functioning skills… create a Word document or Google document and write down the place you applied, the date you applied, and then write down the response. If you haven’t heard anything in a week, call and follow-up, but make sure you write that down and keep track of it because that can also help when you start to get discouraged and think, “No one’s hiring, I can’t get a job.” But if you’re able to visually look at all of the places that you reached out to, that can help.

Saul: Well, we’re definitely living in a time when there are even more than the normal number of challenges for young people as they are transitioning into sort of the adult world and the adult responsibilities. I really appreciate you coming here to share some of these useful resources to people who need them. As we’re wrapping up, there are a few “one thing” questions that I like to ask. So what is one thing that people should take from our discussion?

Becki: I think the number one thing… and this is something also something I’ve said to some parents… is that this is a very unpredictable time and for individuals who have disabilities and families who are going through supporting individuals, the unknown and uncertainty is incredibly scary without Covid, and I think it’s even scarier now but I think it’s important for those families to understand that there are many individuals out there who are working hard and trying to figure out next steps and think outside the box and think creatively and really help as much as they can in order to help families feel a little bit more comfort in these situations.

Saul: So it’s scary but there are resources and supports out there. So what is one thing that you’re doing to take care of yourself?

Becki: That is a great question. I think one thing I have started doing is taking morning walks with my two girls… trying to just forget about everything for 30 minutes a day and go for a walk. But as you know and everyone listening knows, it is very tricky to forget about everything that’s going on and kind of put everything on the back burner for a couple minutes, but I think that’s so important.

Saul: And what is one thing that you think this coronavirus experience has changed forever?

Becki: I think that it’s changed our taking advantage of all of the normal things. I think before, we always took advantage of going to the grocery store quickly, going out to eat, going to work… all of those things and you know, coronavirus has taking that away from all of us and my hope is that at some point we will get back to some type of new normal but I think that fear will always be there… that could this happen again… and my overall thought would be that it’s taught we not to take anything for granted.

Saul: Let’s hope more of us can also learn that. This is Life in the Time of Corona. You can subscribe to the show at iTunes or wherever you get podcasts. Please rate the show and leave comments. Find out more at my websites SaulRosenthalPhD.com and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @DrSaulRosenthal. Becki Lauzon is a certified rehabilitation counselor practicing at the NESCA program. She specializes in supporting young adults as they enter higher education and early careers. Becki, thanks so much for joining us.

Becki: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

Saul: And thank you listeners, I look forward to continuing the conversation on Life in the time of Corona.

July 15th, 2020

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