Misty is a nine year old girl. Her teachers say she is smart, but she can't seem to "get it together". It takes her an hour to come down the stairs ready for school and this is only after her mom has called her 10 times and even with this, she usually has to run back up to put on her shoes. Several times a month one of her parents drops off her homework at school that somehow didn't make it into her bag. Her locker is disorganized and cluttered. At home she sometimes has trouble following through on things her parents ask her to do. She may not "completely" get her room clean, getting distracted half way through. She sometimes gets excited and impulsively interrupts conversations, not even aware that she does it. Other times, she is shy an anxious in new situations. Her parents are at a loss. She is a good reader, is solid with math, and loves science and history. With all of this, why does she keep making C's? Why is school, why is LIFE such a struggle?
The answer lies in Executive Function skills. Execute function can be either simply or very complexly defined. Researchers have been studying these skills for decades. Below is my own definition.
Imagine yourself, or your child, as a company. Like a company, we are multifaceted, complex creatures with many "functions". With all of this complexity, someone needs to be in charge. This "someone" resides in the front part of your brain, just behind the forehead. This part of your brain is responsible for management of you-incorporated. It is your "executive" or your "manager". It's responsibility is to keep you, or your child functional. Keep in mind that this is the last part of the brain to fully mature (around the age of 25 for most people). It is, however, possible to identify when someone has delayed executive functioning for their age level. So with that, below is a brief job description of our frontal lobe.
Without a frontal lobe, we would all be a ship without a captain.
So what do you do if you suspect your child has a problem with executive function? It first helps to define the problem. You can make a list of the particular challenges you see. For example, your child may have challenges with time management,organization, and impulse control. Once you have defined the challenge, find ways to help your child practice these skills in a non-threatening, non-judgmental environment. For example, impulse control can be practiced when playing a basic game of "Simon Says", or "Mother May I", followed by coaching of the skill in a more naturalistic environment. Every child is different, and you know your child best. Setting up practice situations that fit your child's needs and personality can do wonders!
Feel free to contact me if you would like to talk further!
It is my mission to help families find educational solutions for their children!
Tabletop Role Playing Games, which for decades have been seen mostly as an adult hobby, a way to make imaginative play acceptable for adults. Over the years though, I have personally watched it greatly benefit teenagers with Asperger s and high functioning autism. It requires them to practice social skills in a safe and controlled environment while still experiencing consequences to their choices within the game. During these games, the player, who designs a character that they pretend to be, has to make decisions for that character. The player has to interact with others players and make predictions about outcomes. Because "theory of mind" can be a challenge for these young adults, they have to exercise these skills as they work with the other team members to accomplish a task. There are many role playing systems out there and settings can vary from science fiction, to fantasy, to post apocalyptic. The sky is the limit when it comes to role playing and it can open up doors for so many kids.
Over the years I have clocked thousands of hours working one-on-one with kids on the autism spectrum, addressing academic and cognitive challenges. During this time, I have learned many things. While the foremost thing I have learned is that every individual with an autism spectrum disorder, is just that, an individual, I have also learned a few "tools of the trade" that I have found to work with a good percentage of my clients with autism.
1) Have an Agenda or Schedule- Kids on the autism spectrum often have trouble tracking time passively, a minute may feel like an hour, especially when doing something challenging. Making a list of tasks to complete and checking them off is a simple way to do this for a higher functioning individual, while a younger, or lower functioning kid would benefit from a consistent visual schedule that can be adorned with smiley faces or stars. It is amazing how effective this is in helping a kid to complete tasks.
One sideline tip...some kids that need more control, let them pick the order of completion, but you pick the tasks.
3) Allow kids Time to Process- Kids on the spectrum often have challenges processing spoken language, and may, in general, have slow processing speed. It is not uncommon for a kid to respond to a question up to two minutes after the question was asked. Continuing to prompt for the question during the wait time, for some kids, actually makes the processing more difficult. It is important, however, to be sure that distraction hasn't taken hold. One way to help this is, if your child can read, by writing the question down.
2) Use a Visual Timer- A timer can be helpful if a kid needs to focus for a specific amount of time with a specific intensity. Individuals often respond to timers in two ways, with anxiety, or by buckling down. A visual timer has little or no ring tone and instead shows the time completed using a visual cue, such as a ring around the timer filing in with a red stripe. The ipad clock app has a very mild ring and a visual element. Timers are also helpful to bring a kid back to work after breaks.
7) When it Comes to Handwritten Work, Less is More- Busy worksheets with multiple math problems can be overwhelming, even if your child has mastered the skill. Write out the same problems on a marker board, cut the worksheet into strips, or cover up some of the problems so only some are visible. Also, find different ways for them to express their knowledge, such as matching games with note cards or fun iPad apps.
4) Integrate The Student's Interests- You may be completely sick of hearing about the Transformers or microwaves, or weather patterns, whatever the intense interest is for your child on the spectrum. That said, the best way for any of us to be productive is for us to be productive in an area that is interesting. Use The Transformers to teach word problems or vocabulary words like "metamorphosis", or use a microwave to teach prepositions...put the popcorn in, on, under, and by the microwave.
6) Plan Breaks- Some kids on the spectrum can work for extended periods of time if they have a couple of 5 minute breaks to stretch their legs and play. Be sure that these breaks have finite time limits and that it is clear that once they are done, it is time to return. Putting the breaks on a visual schedule can be very helpful.
5) Teach In Short Snippets- More is not always best. It is better to schedule an hour with 12 different short tasks than one long task. This will keep your student from shutting down. More can be taught in 5 minutes about compound sentences than in 30 minutes of doing a long worksheet on the skill.
8) Don't Assume- Especially when working on reading comprehension, don't assume that just because something is an "old hat" concept to you, that it is to your child. It is amazing how often the concepts we take for granted, such as the idea that it snows in winter, not in summer, is lost. Many times, the best thing that you can do to help a child understand what they read is to help them understand the world. It is difficult to comprehend something you read if you don't have a certain amount of background knowledge on the subject.
9) Use Visual Media- Show pictures of what you are reading before you read about it, watch videos that mirror the concept you are teaching. Some people think that it is cheating to teach a concept before someone reads about it, but in this case, you are priming the your child for comprehension and success.
10) Be Sensory-Friendly- If a kid needs a sensory seat cushion, a weighted blanket, or to stand up in order to complete the tasks, allow for these things. They will help with focus and let you get more out of study time.
I would love to talk with you further about the work that I do with kids on the autism spectrum. I love to find creative educational solutions for families! Feel free to contact me!
To provide useful information to families regarding educational strategies, interventions, and tools.