I recently attended a workshop on Executive Function given by Sarah Ward, M.S., CCC/SLP of The Center for Executive Function Skill Development. She is amazing. I also attended her workshop last fall and was blown away. Amazing practical strategies! Tons of helpful information to absorb and implement.
When I heard Sarah Ward was coming to town again, I knew I had to attend.
I remember the first time I heard about Executive Function. We had taken Lily to our Children’s Hospital for a psych eval and they had me fill out the BRIEF, the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function. That was a revelation. Almost every question described Lily.
Suddenly, it clicked. This is why she never turns in her field trip permission slips, never knows what homework she has, doesn’t want to start on it, is the only kid who doesn’t know that this is Spirit Week and today is Crazy Hair Day? This is why we have to explain what’s going to happen next all day long so she doesn’t have a meltdown, why the smallest change in plans makes her freak out or why everything makes her freak out?
Her scores showed that Lily had clinically significant executive function problems, which can be common with ADHD. That’s when I started my quest to find out more about helping her learn executive function skills and also, unfortunately, began my struggle to explain executive function issues to her school district.
Abridged Executive Controls Skills Checklist (a handout from the workshop)
Compared to peers, this child…
Begins homework/jobs with little or no prompting
Devises solutions to solvable problems; doesn’t just ‘hope they’ll go away’
Sets a specific time to act (Says “I’ll do it after school”, & does)
Independently pursues hobbies and activities of personal interest
Can analyze a situation from multiple perspectives before taking action
Able to have fun with available toys/diversions
Can adjust to a typical behavior in a friend (“Justin’s grumpy because he’s sick”)
Transition times rarely incite tantrums/excessive anxiety
Can adequately block distractions when needed
Can tolerate boring or repetitive activities
Can read a book or listen to one being read
Doesn’t make you feel rushed to finish a conversation before s/he “spaces out”
Consistently brings all homework/school notices home
Keeps personal belongings organized and accessible
Bedroom basically neat; messes confined, not “chaotic”
Uses school book bag/locker effectively
Is rarely short of time to complete projects
Is able to coordinate multi-step projects in order, i.e. draw, cut, paste
Considers consequences of actions
Notices factors that could impact plans, i.e. checks weather before dressing
Able to retain information long enough to apply it to new learning challenges
Can remember and talk about what was learned in school that day
Recalls procedural steps, doesn’t ‘stare blankly’ when asked to ‘get started’
Is comfortable accepting ‘memory responsibilities’ (i.e. chores, dues, projects)
Picks up on important social cues such as taking turns during play with peers
Uses appropriate vocal volume in conversation
Rarely ‘crosses over the line’ of acceptable behavior
Accurately attributes the reactions of others to his/her own behavior
Able to shrug off or quickly recover from minor disappointments
Seldom overreacts to words or behavior of peers
Able to use imagination, reason or logic to cope with adversity
Emotions do not overwhelm reasoning skills or impair problem-solving
You know that whole sink or swim thing? Well, we couldn’t stand by any longer and watch them let our 2E daughter drown. Lily was attending a middle school we’ll just call CYA Academy. The turning point was an IEP meeting in which the teachers and staff took turns explaining to a crowded room why Lily’s poor grades were her own fault. If she would study harder and turn in her work, she wouldn’t have D’s & F’s. Lily shrank in her chair, her head bowed, humiliated. I felt sick to my stomach.
After the meeting, our advocate admitted this school was a lost cause. They had no intention of really helping her… it was time to find another swimming pool, so we packed up our pool toys and left.
After much searching, we found another pool, one that really seems to understand twice-exceptional students, and so far, Lily is floating along just fine. In fact, more than fine, she’s swimming a flippin’ 400IM with the weight of her learning challenges still strapped to her.
Funny how that happens when you find a pool that welcomes all learners and lifeguards who want to save lives and have the skills & strategies to pull it off. Lily knows that at her new school the teachers are there to support her when she gets tired or feels weak, but they’re also there to encourage her to swim as far and as fast as she can.
After just 4 weeks at her new school, the transition IEP meeting was like visiting Opposite Land. Lily smiled, participated, giggled and added her suggestions and thoughts. She could see that her teachers and the staff liked her, enjoyed her personality and ‘got’ her. Every concern was met with agreeable and thoughtful discussion. It was a partnership, everyone working together to try to help her succeed. It was so weird, but wonderful!
Tonight 10-year old Zoolander was helping me with dinner when she casually shared this analogy comparing her brain & thoughts to spaghetti squash.
It does help explain how it feels to have difficulties with written expression.
What would you do if you saw a child drowning? Jump in and save her? Call for extra help? Toss her a life preserver at least?
Or would you stand on the pool deck and shout to the child, “YOU’RE OLD ENOUGH– YOU SHOULD KNOW HOW TO SWIM BY NOW! IF YOU WOULD JUST KICK YOUR LEGS AND MOVE YOUR ARMS, YOU COULD SWIM TO SAFETY!”
What if you were told that the child whose head is starting to dip dangerously below the surface, had something wrong with her that prevented her from learning to swim as quickly as other children her age? The support of a life jacket could help her stay afloat long enough for an experienced adult to teach her to swim.
But at this pool, the use of life jackets or any other flotation device is discouraged. In fact, this pool would prefer that only children who can swim well jump into the water. They hope that the kids who need help swimming find a different pool somewhere else.
The drowning child, who is actually a very good athlete, is using all her strength to keep from sinking, but she becomes more and more distressed as she grows tired of the effort it takes to stay above water.
When her worried parent sees the situation and tries to alert the lifeguards, the guards don’t seem alarmed that the child is drowning. In fact, they point out to the mother, “See, if only your child would learn to swim. We told her she should learn how to swim. If she would just try harder she could save herself.” They shrug. “She must not want to save herself.”
The more the mother urges the lifeguards to help, the more reluctant they are to rescue the child. Finally, fed up with the insistent mother and the lazy child, the lifeguards turn their backs, knowing that they’ve done everything they could.