Jenny is a bright 10th grader with good standardized test scores. However, her behavior at home and school can be challenging. She frequently seems off-task and disorganized. Despite her intellect, she is unable to follow directions and has trouble starting and then finishing projects. She also has trouble controlling her emotions and conceptualizing future plans.
Sam is a 7 th grader who did well in elementary school. He always had lots of friends, and excelled academically. His report card was always good and teacher/parent conferences were a pleasure to attend. However, upon entering middle school, Sam’s grades became inconsistent and he seemed less engaged in his studies preferring instead to play video games for long periods of time. Homework is a nightly struggle to start and then complete.
Sarah is a “social butterfly.” She has a lot of friends. In class, she is frequently distracted by noise. She often initiates “off topic” conversation in the classroom. Teachers feel that Sarah could do a lot better academically if only she gave better effort. They describe her as “lazy” and “uninterested in school.”
James works hours and hours on his homework. He typically spends large amounts of time trying to memorize facts and figures. By the end of the night, he is exhausted and often feels defeated. In class, he is often the last one to finish his work and sometimes rushes to complete assignments.
What picture do you have of Executive Functioning?
"My parents and my former faculty members would be surprised that I'm standing here. While my name appeared on several lists in the dean's office, none of them was the dean's list my parents wanted." — Steve Croft, 60 Minutes Correspondent during a college graduation speech.
What Parents Often See At Home… Bright, but seemingly unmotivated child Child who seems to know the rules, but does not follow them routinely. Child is forgetful Child who has a short fuse and can get easily frustrated. Child who does not start a task in a timely manner; does not stop a task when asked; has difficulty transitioning from one task to another. Child who seems young for the grade (immature thinking and behaving; but bright). Child who seems to miss the obvious.
What are Executive Functions? Neuroscience literature - “Refers to the brain-based skills required to effectively execute, or perform, tasks and solve problems.” Typically, students have an array of executive functioning skills and weaknesses. Executive Functions are different from intelligence. What is needed…to design strategies and train students to use the strategies. --Guare and Dawson, 2013
Executive Functions are Brain Functions The CEO: The Frontal Lobe Security Chief: The Amygdala Executive Secretary: The Hippocampus
The CEO: The Frontal Lobe Attention: Decides what is worth attending to. Concerned with reasoning, planning, parts of speech, movement Modulates behavior and emotion Decision Making: Monitors, evaluates and adjusts accordingly.
The Security Chief: the Amygdala Fight or flight response Screens for danger Vital aspects of decision-making – “gut reactions” “Emotional” Brain
The Executive Secretary: the Hippocampus Hippocampus files memories in the appropriate place. Important for memory retrieval Three types of memory: Short term or working memory, long-term memory and procedural or skills memory
Development of Executive Skills Begin in infancy and continue to develop into young adulthood Frontal lobe undergoes pruning (increased efficiency) in early adolescents Grey matter or thinking part of brain continues to thicken in adolescents. Prefrontal brain continues to develop (full myelination may not occur until the early 30’s) ---Dr. Jay Giedd, NIMH, 2014
Executive Skills… Skills in Cognition (Thinking) Time Management Organization Planning/Prioritizing Working Memory Metacognition Skills in Doing (Behavior) Task Initiation Sustained Attention Emotional Control Response Inhibition Flexibility Goal Directed Persistence Dawson and Guare, 2010
Practical Impact of EF issues 1. Specific academic challenges: writing essays, remembering what is read (comprehension), memorizing information, and completing complex math. 2. Essential related skills: organization, getting started or finishing work, remembering tasks and due dates, completing homework or long-term projects in a timely manner, processing information in an efficient and timely manner, having good time awareness and management, self talk to direct behavior, using weekly reports or planning ahead for the future. --Dendy, 2012
Motivation versus EF What might look like a lack of motivation really might not be… Getting to the root of the problem…Parent as Detective Does your child simply not understand what is being asked of him/her? Lack of comprehension. Does your child know what to do, but not how to do it? Lack of skill. Motivation is an aspect of executive functioning but involves emotion, attention and behavior.
So What is a Parent to do???? Difficulties with Executive Functioning are not excuses, but rather explanations
#1. Be the Facilitators of General Brain Health Sleep Nutrition (high protein, low fat) Exercise Supplements (Omega 3 fatty acids)
#2. Make the Relationship the Primary Consideration Maintain the Attitude of: It’s Me + You versus The Problem What questions Not Why – What do you need to finish the paper? What can I do to support you in finishing your work? Avoid messages of You = Problem “You do not care about your grades! Finish your work NOW or there will be no TV (computer) for the next week! REMEMBER: Rules – Relationship = Rebellion -Rhodes, CHADD, 2010
“Be careful not to leave your relationship with your child on the altar of academic performance.” --Russell Barkley, 2012
#3. Wait Less, Cue More If your child is not working within 5 minutes after start time…Investigate. “What do you need to get started? What resources do you have? Let’s do one together to get things rolling.” Remember wait time only works when the child knows what to do, but is slow in doing it (i.e., a handwriting issue). Remember issues with working memory – Your child saw the presentation at school and understood it, but now, back at home, they do not remember it at all. What cues can you provide – review notes with them, call a friend to discuss, read a section of the textbook.
#4. Yak Less, Cue More Provide Visual Cues and Explicit Visual Instructions. Short, clear directions when giving directives (less talking!) Have your child repeat the directions/steps if needed. Reduce demands with frequent check-ins. Cueing devices (parent, peer, alarm watch, visual cues, post its). Natural cues in environment (medication next to toothbrush).
#5. Support Working Memory Find a way to “support” without “doing” Be the scribe and allow your child, at times, to dictate the information Brainstorm essay ideas using post-it notes Use Graphic Organizers Use the textbook to help discuss and organize the information – Get the Big Picture.
#6. Take on the Role of Time Keeper Ritualize Certain Routines – Have Child Part of the Process Create Playlists to help with Time Use Devices – Time Timer – devices that provide a visual and auditory stimulus are best. Help with estimating time for each task. Give a prompt for how much time is left.
#7. Be the Monitor of Technology. Finding a balance between useful apps to help and other distractions. Evaluate both internal and external distractions (removing external distractions does not necessarily remove internal). Careful of “task switching” Use of “technology breaks”
#8. Make Organization an On- Going Routine Set aside time to organize and prioritize at start of homework – Estimate time. Weekly “Clean Sweep” Save all papers in an accordion file – End of year make a Reference Notebook. Create a Launching Pad
#9. Be the Social “coach” Use the “social autopsy” to help your child understand. Find something outside the academic realm that your child enjoys doing and let them do it!
#10. Be the Ultimate Advocate and Listening Ear Acknowledge Effort and Support Attempts Children with EF issues are easily overwhelmed Short fuses or NO fuses are common Temper or tears take over. Problem solving skills can be difficult once an eruption or anxiety takes over. Remember Adrenaline stimulates neurochemistry so once episode is over and your child is calm – use the time and neurochemistry – to problem solve with your child about what can de done differently the next time. Don’t Drop the Rope Theory