Category Archives: Emotional Regulation

My EF Idol

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…

INITIATING ACTION
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

FLEXIBLE THINKING
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

SUSTAINING ATTENTION
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”

ORGANIZATION
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

PLANNING
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

WORKING MEMORY
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)

SELF-AWARENESS
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

REGULATING EMOTIONS
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

Excerpted from No Mind Left Behind: Understanding and Fostering Executive Control-The Eight Essential Brain Skills Every Child Needs To Thrive.

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A Tale of 2 Drop-offs: Anxious & Excited

Just dropped the girlies off at Camp.  Overnight for 2 weeks.  Their flurry of packing has demolished the house.  But I don’t mind.

You see, WT (World Traveler) husband is in Brussels for a week for work, so I’m all by myself!  Whoot!  I have stocked up and am looking forward to eating cereal for dinner and bon bons for breakfast and anything else I feel like doing!

Reading books, yes!  Exercising, yes! Sleeping, yes!  Cooking, no!  (Well, our stove is broken anyway.) Nagging, no!  Yelling, no!  Acting as the frontal lobe for everyone else in the family, N-to-the-O!

The drop-off just demonstrated for me again, the differences between my children.  Sometimes I know Lily’s world so well, that I forget that it’s not ‘normal’, until I see Zoolander in the same situation and realize again that her reactions are more like other kids’.

Actually, that’s how we finally realized that Lily was different than other babies.  After Zoolander was born, we were surprised to discover, “Ohhhh, that’s how babies are supposed to act!  You mean, you can actually follow the instructions in those baby books and they work??!!  Holy crap, THIS is a piece of cake!”

Photo by Zoolander

Both the girls’ counselors came to our car to help with the luggage.  Without question I knew that I would go with Lily to her cabin first, to help her transition.  Of course, she was anxious.  Zoolander was on her own with a stranger.  Of course, she didn’t care.

I helped Lily make her bed and there was one other girl in the cabin.  I overheard the girl tell the counselor that she attends ‘Suchandsuch Academy’, a private school that specializes in educating Twice Exceptional students and students with learning differences.  Hmmmm.  Maybe Lily will pick up on that.  She usually does.  She has told me before, “Mom, that girl/boy is like me.”

Last summer, the one girl she really made friends with at camp, turned out to be in her Gifted and Talented class this year.  [An aside–Just read an interesting post at Asynchronous Scholars’ Fund about helping Gifted kids ‘find their tribe’.]

Anyway, a gaggle of her cabin-mates arrived loudly and Lily instantly retreated, turned away, wouldn’t make eye contact, didn’t introduce herself.  I sensed it was time for me to split, before she wanted me to help her out of this social situation.  I quickly left, but wished I had given her a better pep talk beforehand–reminding her specifically how to be friendly.  It makes my stomach hurt thinking about it.

But I know that the counselors will include her and help her warm up.  The young counselors always seem to know what to do and how to handle her.  And that’s just one of the reasons why we spend the money to send Lily to this amazing camp that encourages campers to be themselves and to respect others for their differences, so that she can practice her social skills in a safe place.

Photo by Zoolander

As I walked down the road approaching Zoolander’s cabin, I could see her standing on the balcony waving wildly.  When I walked up, she was jumping up and down she was so excited and talking, talking, talking, “Mom, isn’t this awesome.  I love this balcony.  I got a top bunk.  I was worried about that, but I got a top bunk and it has a shelf where I can put my stuff.  Remember my friend I met last year? She’s going to be here and she’s in my cabin and isn’t that so great.”  Zoolander didn’t even notice when I left.

The Gift of Creativity

A 2E Volcano–The Emotion of Writing

I called home to tell the girls I’d be late because I had haircut appointment after work.  Lily was immediately not happy. When I made a joke about how much she must want to see me, she got mad and launched into some angry explanation about some sentences she had to write and she needed me to help her and now she was never going to get done!

When I suggested that she start without me, she got even more upset.  I mentioned to her that these seem like the ‘volcano’ feelings that Dr. K talks about.


I hadn’t seen Lily this upset about writing in awhile.  Up until this year, she would get angry and frustrated almost every time she had to write something. It was torture for everyone involved.  She couldn’t even start writing a sentence by herself and often I scribed for her, helping prompt her along the way.

Now I know that part of this writing difficulty is caused by her Executive Function deficits in planning and task initiation, which seem to be fairly common in people with ADHD or Dyslexia.

Lily has trouble sequencing her thoughts and getting them down on paper. There’s a huge discrepancy between what goes in her brain and what comes out in written expression, which is, of course, frustrating for her.  Although this article on written expression and Executive Function focuses on the bipolar child, there’s some great info in it for all students who struggle with writing.

This year, in 6th grade, Lily has really improved in this area and usually she is able to work on writing assignments by herself.  When I got home tonight though, she kept trying to put off working on her writing.
 
Finally, when I asked a few more questions, she launched into another tirade about a test that she had to take at school and she had to write sentences for her answers and usually she doesn’t have to write the answers and she had to write sentences to support her answers and she got all the answers right but missed points because she didn’t know how/didn’t have time to write the support sentences.

I asked if her frustration with that writing earlier in the day had anything to do with her frustration with writing tonight and she said she thought that it did.

Next thing I know she’s in the office, in the dark, sitting focused at the computer, typing her science analysis answers in a wacky font.  Probably took her 30 minutes total and then she was perfectly happy, at least until she realized she still had to write down her chapter notes for her Lit Circle.

Then came a mini-rant on how difficult it is to write notes while she’s reading.  I reminded her that the teacher said it can just be a few notes she jots on a Post-It after she reads.  So, after giving me a long, detailed verbal description of her chapter in The Golden Fleece, she scribbled down a few notes, which she then typed on the computer using a giant Greek font and titled with Jason’s name translated into its Greek spelling.

I think a lot of time, when faced with a writing assignment, she is just overwhelmed by a wave of emotion–frustration is what she’s used to–and then it usually it subsides quickly.  Just have to keep working on making her aware and giving her the tools to use self-talk to quiet the volcano.

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