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
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.
What’s that I hear? Is that the sound of little girls crying? Why yes!
It must have been the first day of school in the Brainhugger household.
Why, do you ask, would two girls, grades 4 & 7, both gifted, come home from school and cry?
Perhaps because they are Twice Exceptional students and have learning differences that make them anxious and scared to go to school and wary of the classroom, where they’re afraid their deficits will be revealed.
Yes, that must be it… 2E– the reason for the crying that gives me a knot in my stomach and the reason that the next 9 months of the school year will be fraught with ickiness at our house.
End of summer is approaching. Dread. The hummingbirds will leave and the school buses will arrive, and this year we have to pay for them… 100 bucks per student to ride the bus.
The sight of school supplies piling up in the stores makes my tummy feel yucky. We have exactly 3 weeks.
Can you say, umm… The Gates of Hell?
(How handy that WT took 4000 pictures of this sculpture, before I beat him to death with a baguette.)
Guess what? Funny thing… Rodin wasn’t exactly big on school himself and not everyone ‘got’ him. Some of his most famous work was criticized and rejected because Rodin’s style and themes weren’t traditional. Sound familiar?
Anyway, soon we’ll be meeting with Lily’s team at school to talk about our plan to support her executive function deficits and teach Lily more organizational skills.
I feel like I’m cramming for an exam. I read for pleasure on the plane to Paris. I just couldn’t bring myself to think about the start of school yet. But now, I need to get down to some serious research.
I have a few books about organization I’ve started reading in preparation. I’m looking for some really practical, concrete suggestions & tips that will get us from home to school and back every day.
I’m not sure I can make it through another school year like last year. But I feel that, because of our mediation with the school district at the end of last year, we’re finally going to have some specific supports in place to make 7th grade easier on all of us.