From Paper to Practice: Helping our Children develop Excutive Functioning Skills!
Jennifer Cardinal, Ph.D.
Peg Dawson ED.D NCSP and Richard Guare (Neuropsychologist and BCBA D) are in the forefront in helping us understand Executive Functioning Skills. As a psychologist (NCSP) in private practice, with many years of experience in the school system, I meet with young patients every week whose primary symptoms exhibit as EF deficits in areas such as working memory, emotional control, initiation, attention, planning and organization inhibition, self-monitoring, motivation and flexibility.
I see what Dawson and Guare highlight, the fact that EF problems are associated with several mental health and developmental disorders (depression, ADHD, autism etc.) Parents express great frustration to me at the lack of interventions they see in the schools related to EF. For instance, children who are receiving interventions for a learning disability often receive academic support but little focus on their exacerbating EF deficits. I also see children with autism and or ADHD who have no learning disabilities per se but are not really learning due to their lack of EF skills.
How is a child benefitting from the curriculum (including special ed) when they cannot focus, self-monitor, regulate, adapt, follow-through or problem solve? For those who take the attitude that their child or student should be old enough to “be independent” or “responsible” remember, those words reflect expectation that are directly linked to EF skills. For all intents and purposes the child’s deficient EF equals their “disability”. Common interventions or accommodations like “reduced work, extended time, check for understanding” can be helpful but are often just words on paper as the student does not have the skills to self-advocate for implementation and there is typically no real plan to guide the educator through the related coaching and teaching strategies that move the student to actual skill development. A great resource I recommend parents review before meeting with their child’s educators, is the article “Executive Skills: The Hidden Curriculum” be Dawson and Guare
When advocating for your child be sure to highlight elements of their “effective intensive intervention” which includes, defining the target behavior, implementing environmental modifications, teaching the skill explicitly through modeling and consistent rehearsal, meeting with a “coach” daily, providing visual reminders of expectations, and rewarding the student’s increasing independent use of skills through progress monitoring.
One other thing to add is to make sure you and your child’s team are in consistent contact (trackers, email)! Key members of the school team include the school psychologist, special and regular ed teachers, behavioral specialists(BCBA) and supportive administrators.
Don't be afraid to use your own executive functions like problem solving, and initiation to be the "squeaky wheel parent" in ensuring interventions that really help your child and go from "words on paper" to Actions in Practice! Our children deserve the self confidence and sense of mastery that comes from strong Executive Functioning!