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What Are Executive Function Skills?

Many of us have heard executive functioning used in terms of our children at school and at home. But what does it mean? Executive Function Blog

Executive Function – a Definition

Executive functions are necessary for goal-directed behavior. When we use the phrase “executive functioning skills,” we are describing a set of cognitive skills that control and regulate other behaviors and abilities. Our thought processes influence attention, memory and motor skills. (minddisorders.com).

Executive functioning skills help us to learn and retrieve information, plan, organize, manage our time, and see potential outcomes and act accordingly. When these processes work without difficulty, our brains do these tasks automatically, often without our awareness.

High Executive Function

In children and adults, those with high executive function skills are able to:

  • Initiate and stop actions
  • Make changes in behavior
  • Plan for the future
  • Manage time wisely
  • Anticipate possible consequences
  • Use problem-solving strategies
  • Use senses to gather information

For instance, the ability to initiate and stop actions may include working on a project for school or studying for an allotted time. Monitoring ones changes in behavior includes being able to act appropriately in a given situation and alter that behavior as needed. Planning for the future and managing time may include not procrastinating due to understanding the consequences of doing so.

Low Executive Function

When one is deficient in executive function skills, it may be difficult to plan and carry out tasks. The person may seem unable to sustain attention and feel overwhelmed by situations others find easier to navigate.

People with deficits in this area may also have comorbid diagnoses (meaning they go together). These include, but are not limited to: Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder, Autism, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Executive functioning deficits may run in families (learningdisabilities.about.com).

So, a child with executive functioning deficits may be able to pay attention to a lesson, until something new is introduced that requires a shift in their attention or that divides their focus. Children lacking in executive functioning skills also may have issues with verbal fluency.

Additionally, a child (or adult) with low executive function may have social problems. Executive functioning skills allow us to anticipate how others might feel if we do or say something. Those with low executive function may have difficulty interacting with others. Because they sometimes do not think things through before saying them, people with executive functioning deficits may blurt out inappropriate or hurtful comments, leading others to avoid them.

Working with your child, a therapist, and creating structure at home and accommodation plans at school are all ways to provide help for your child.

Increasing executive functioning skills will enable her to become a more organized, less stressed and less frustrated individual as she grows into a world of ever-increasing pressures.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, and Hinsdale! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation Skills for My Child

Children aren’t born with executive functioning or self-regulation skills, rather their brain has the capacity to develop them. As a result, these skills that support a child’s capacity to learn, grow and develop can be inhibited by a number of factors including stress, environment, relationships, or delays. They can blossom and develop more fully with support from adults and the environment around them. Some children require more focused support to better develop executive functioning and self-regulation skills. Support can be through Early Education Opportunities and/or more formal intervention and support like Occupational Therapy, Behavior Therapy or Mental Health Services. blog-executive-functioning-main-landscape

How to Identify on Track Development for Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation Skills

Positive Engagement in School

  • Your child has a positive experience at school, cooperates with expectations and meets expectations most days.
  • Your child completes their work in a timely manner and typically understands the material.
  • Your child’s school work is typically organized and can be located easily.
  • For younger children, they attend school most days without difficulty. They can share what happens at school each day and can tolerate when things change.

Pro-social Skills

  • Your child can get along with others, can initiate interaction and negotiate play appropriately.
  • Your child typically understands and follows routine expectations and rules.
  • Your child typically responds to redirection without difficulty.
  • Your child can communicate his needs, wants, or wishes appropriately and effectively.
  • Your child can take responsibility for their actions and can understand the consequences.
  • For younger children, they engage in turn-taking, sharing, and show emerging empathy for others if they get hurt or sick.

Healthy and Safe Choices

  • Your child makes safe choices when interacting with others across settings (home, school, and in the community).
  • Your child can recognize and understand the importance of rules and safety.
  • Your child can make healthy choices for themselves (balanced eating, exercising or participating in activities that make them feel good).
  • Your child can access and utilize help when needed.
  • For younger children, they can talk about the rules at home and school. They can cooperate with important routines like sleeping, eating and toileting.

Communication and Coping Skills

  • Your child can express their needs, wants, and feelings verbally and effectively.
  • Your child can typically communicate or express their frustration or anger in a safe, appropriate manner.
  • Your child can accept support or help from others.
  • Your child can advocate for themselves appropriately.
  • For younger children they can ask for help, ask for their needs with words or gestures, and can calm down with adult support.

How to Promote Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation skills

  • Provide a visual guide for routine and rules at home.
  • Make expectations clear and concise; talk about what happened if expectations are not being met.
  • Provide 1 or 2 step directions when giving instructions.
  • Spend time together for multi-step activities like art, a puzzle or baking activity; talk about the steps needed.
  • Encourage and praise hard work and persistence especially when trying something new or challenging.
  • Use first/then statements i.e. First we put the toys away, then we can have snack.”
  • Take time for calm and quiet activities together i.e. reading, taking a walk and coloring.
  • Model how to calm down or take deep breaths when upset.
  • Model healthy living and safe choices.
  • Develop Family Rituals that provide time to reflect and share about thoughts, feelings, and experiences (i.e. Highs and lows from the day over dinner, 3 best parts of the day on the drive home, marking off days on a calendar to look forward to a family outing).
  • Talk and share about feelings. Be willing to share your own.

Resources:

http://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/executive-function/ 

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

Social Work

stop procrastinating

Help Your Child STOP Procrastinating

We are all guilty of that last minute Hail Mary to finalize a report or satisfy a deadline. Even during the times when you are confident you will be ahead of the curve, life happens and best laid plans fail. Teach, and practice, these helpful strategies to avoid procrastination.

Tips to Help Your Child Stop Procrastinating:

  1. Sit down with your child and organize all the work that needs to be completed.Help Your Child Stop Procrastinating Arrange these tasks in an A, B, C manner where A’s are of the utmost priority that need to be achieved right away and B’s and C’s are not as pressing. Once the A’s are completed, then the child can move on to the lesser important items. You can do this on a daily or weekly basis.
  2. Break down tasks on to visual schedule. Add daily tasks to a visual calendar so that the child can see what he is responsible for doing. If an assignment lasts longer than one day to complete, like writing a paper or studying for test, break down this task across several days in smaller time increments. Upon completion of this task, the child can cross off the assignment to garner a sense of satisfaction and have an active status for remaining work.
  3. Check assignment notebook/online database for assignments. Model for your child this essential step prior to engagement in homework. When your child comes home from school, make a habit of sitting down during snack time to discuss the requirements for the day. Encourage collaboration for prioritizing tasks through review of syllabus, assignment notebook, and any information posted on line to get the most comprehensive picture of tasks. This may not just include homework but money for hot lunch, filling out consents for field trips, and keeping track of other important information. These items can all be housed on the big visual schedule.
  4. Open communication. Encourage open communication in a non-punitive forum. Let your child know that he can still receive tablet time, play dates, and movies throughout the week even if they have a lot of work to complete. Scheduling down time and fun can also help to debunk irrational, negative thoughts about having to complete work if the child can see that fun and leisure is being factored in too.

Click here to set-up a routine for homework happiness.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Executive Functioning Skills for School Success

Multi-tasking seems to be the norm of the everyday lifestyle. When you think about it, in order to multi-task, your brain needs to be able to focus on two different types of stimuli, organize two sets of information, plan for two different motor movements and remember two sets of “to-do” lists. Sounds like a lot of work! The ability for your brain to do this is possible with executive functioning skills. Executive Functioning Skills or School SuccessExecutive functioning skills are the higher-level brain skills that allow a person to complete tasks throughout the day. These skills include memory, initiation, inhibition/impulse control, shift, and organization. Executive functioning is best understood by listing specific skills, however, it is not a unitary skill. Often times, these skills build upon one another and are used in conjunction to complete complex tasks.

School places executive functioning demands on children on a daily basis; from reviewing the daily schedule to written work. Some children find the school day to be more cumbersome due to difficulty in utilizing one or more executive functioning skills. When these executive functions are not working effectively, the individual, despite strong abilities, can experience significant problems in many aspects of learning, getting work done, social functioning, and self-esteem. These children, with or without an executive functioning or attentional difficulty diagnosis, can appear confused, become frustrated or angry easily, or refuse to complete work.

As the demands of school increase with each passing year, having well-developed executive functioning skills is critical to academic success. Below is an overview of each of the before mentioned executive functioning skills, along with, activities to help promote these skills at home.

Executive Functioning Skills Overview:

Executive Functioning Skill Definition Activities to Try
Memory Ability to retain and manipulate distinct pieces of information over short or long periods of time Sequential tasks of 3-5 steps with or without use of visual aides.Memory card games

Recall the events of the day in order from waking up to dinner time.

Initiation Ability to begin a task or activity and to independently generate ideas, responses, or problem-solving strategies. Utilize a “to-do” list of 3-5 items. This will encourage the completion of each task.Minimize distractions: encourage work to be completed in a specific location in the house with minimal visual and auditory distractions.

Create a weekly schedule for house-specific initiation of tasks (i.e., chores). Each day should have its own specific task to decrease the amount of demands presented.

Inhibition/Impulse Control Ability to stop one’s own behavior at the appropriate time, including stopping actions and thoughts. Teach social rules for a variety of settings: “When we walk into the store, first we will look at mommy’s list, and then we can look at bikes”.Redirect your child when they are interrupting you: “I am talking on the phone, I can talk to you as soon as I am done”.

Make sure to praise your child immediately after you direct your attention back to him.

Incorporate a fidget into daily activities, especially sedentary tasks, to provide a means to “get the wiggles out” without needing to flee from the task.

Shift Ability to move freely from one situation to another and to think flexibly in order to respond appropriately to the situation. Create a cognitive obstacle course: create 3 stations in which the child is to complete 3 different tasks (ex. gross motor, writing, puzzle) with 3 minutes dedicated to each station. Rotate between the stations until all 3 tasks are completed.Encourage multi-tasking in a structured manner. Sedentary tasks for multi-tasking can include a game-play scenario mixed with writing.

Use of a picture schedule to promote ease and regulation during transitions between activities.

Organization Ability to manage current and future-oriented task demands. OR Ability to impose order on work, play, and storage spaces. Create a “school ready” system to promote organization of school materials. This can be done in multiple ways: folders, binder system, use of a weekly planner.Use of graphic organizers for academic success: outline templates, Venn diagrams, idea webs, 3-5 step sequence graphs, main idea organizers.

Create a map of the school: utilize this map to establish a routine for navigating the hallways in an efficient and timely manner, including stops at either the bathroom or locker.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

 

transition to summer

Transitioning from the School Year to Summer Break

Another school year is coming to a close before we know it. By this time of the academic year, your child has most likely become accustomed to his routine, the structure of the school day, the set-up of the classroom and the schedule of the day from breakfast to bed. Just as the beginning of the year was a hard change, the beginning of summer can bring its own challenges.

While children are excited for the beginning of summer break, many parents experience anxiety. This is because the school year provides nine to ten months of structured activities, allowing your child to build academic skills, executive functioning skills, and social skills. The summer, in turn, provides the perfect time to practice and perfect these skills.  With the proper preparation and planning, the transition to summer can be eased.

Here are a few tips to transition from the busy school days to the relaxing days of summer:

  1. Create a daily schedule: this can be visual or verbal, providing your child with the overview of the day. Thetransitioning to summer daily schedule can include the morning routine, daily activities, camps, a menu for dinner, and the bedtime routine. Providing this schedule helps to mimic the routine that the school day offers, allowing a child to process the idea of consistency. This can also assist in self-regulation and executive functioning skills, including attention, memory and sequencing. Implement the idea of a schedule during the last few weeks of school as to get your child accustomed to it as they separate from the school year.
  2. Plan play dates: Play dates are essential to childhood development. The planning of these social get-togethers can be easier during the school year as parents often see each other during drop-off/pick-up times or during school sponsored events. The planning can seem more daunting over the summer but make sure you keep in contact with the families of your child’s friends. This will allow a child to still feel connected to their school year and help to build excitement for the year to come. In addition, play-dates with same-aged peers allows for sharing of skills learned at school, the peer modeling of skill, and continued practice of social skills.
  3. Organize summer academic activities: The summer is a great time to look into library programs, create summer crafts that work on fine motor and executive functioning skills, and create children’s reading clubs. Just as the academic year is meant for brains to grow and blossom, the summer is an opportunity to build on those skills. Turn math problems into summer themed scavenger hunts, take coloring and writing activities to the sidewalks, read a book about a child experiencing the school year and encourage imaginative thinking, fine motor skills and problem-solving skills.

And remember, have some fun in the sun!

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

New Year Resolutions

New Year Resolutions: 5 Steps to Promote Executive Functioning Skills

New Year Resolutions and goal setting is an excellent way to foster executive functioning skills because it requires planning, organizing, managing time, and self reflection. What better time to set meaningful goals than the start of a new year?New Year Resolutions

5 steps to creating New Year Resolutions that also promote executive functioning skills:

  1. Set the foundation of the activity by reflecting on favorite moments or proud accomplishments of the previous year. Help your child think about and identify at least 3 milestones they achieved.
  2. Identify key areas that the child would like to improve upon in the upcoming year. Include both personal goals of the child as well as family goals. Goals should be specific, measurable, and attainable. For example, “I will complete a month-to-month 2014 family scrapbook by June 1, 2015.”
  3. Break down each of these goals into smaller, more achievable parts. (i.e., if a goal is to keep a scrapbook of the year, you’ll want to identify steps to achieve that goal such as creating an outline for the organization of the scrapbook, buying the supplies, keeping a memory box for pictures or other memorabilia, a schedule or timeline to create sections of the scrapbook, etc.)
  4. Make a plan to achieve each step! What do we need to do? When does it need to be done? Who will help and what is everyone’s responsibility?
  5. Celebrate accomplishments! Provide reinforcement with a progress chart, journal, or checklist. Discuss what will happen when a goal is achieved (small gift, family night out, trip to a favorite store, etc.)




Don’t stop setting goals! This is a great habit to keep year round. As goals are met, continue to create new ones!

teens and transitions how to help your child

Teens And The Transition To Adulthood: How To Support Your Child

If you have a teenager at home, then you know how exciting of a time adolescence can be. With the excitement, however, brings a variety of challenges. As boys and girls begin their journey of becoming young men and women, parents are faced with having to constantly respond to the changing needs of their sons and daughters. Parents of teenagers will often notice that their relationship seems to change with their child during these years. While young teenagers are eager to separate from their parents and make their own choices, parents feel the pull to ensure that their teens are making choices that will be beneficial for their future. How do you support your teen as he/she transitions to adulthood?

We know that adolescence is a time of change. Physical, psychological, and social changes can create some real discomfort for a young teenager. Although it is no simple task, parents can do a great deal to support their young ones through these changes. The following are some tips for parenting your adolescent child.

How to Support Your Teen as He/She Transitions to Adulthood:

  • Encourage your son or daughter to speak to you about the changes he/she notices including the desire toteens and transitions how to help your child be more independent.
  • Allow your child to make mistakes so long as safety and long-term future are not at risk. Talk to your teenager about the consequences of his or her choices in an empathic and understanding way.
  • Set clear and firm limits but allow for your teenager to have choices when possible; children of all ages need to have some say. Parents should collaborate with their children to set parameters and still allow for some “supervised” autonomy.
  • Help your child develop routines and structure to stay organized, especially when it comes to school. Teenagers are continuing to develop executive functioning skills and need your support to create and maintain solid systems for balancing home, school, and social life.
  • Be comfortable asking for help. If your teenager’s transition into and through adolescence seems especially difficult, be assured there is help available. Working with a social worker or other mental health professionals can provide you with support that is specific to you and your child’s situation.

 

Who’s putting the “Work” in “Homework?”

Many parents can relate to the struggles that homework can create each and every night. Although, at times, it may seem more frustrating than anything else, homework provides an opportunity to practice and integrate what your child has been learning. It also lets the teacher see how your child is doing…so resist doing it for him! 

What is your role as the parent during homework time?

Your child has a better chance of being successful during homework time if he feels you are interested in what he is doing. It lets him know that what he is doing is important. You can show your support by doing the following:

  • Demonstrating organizational skills
  • Doing your own work with them (i.e. paying bills, reading, etc.) Read more

Why Did My Child’s Speech Therapist Recommend Occupational Therapy?

It’s not uncommon for a speech therapist to also recommend that a child receive other therapies in conjunction with speech therapy, such as neuropsychology, physical therapy, counseling, social group therapy, and occupational therapy.  Although your speech therapist is working on your child’s communication, they are also concerned with the “big picture” of your child’s overall development and how other aspects of development may impact speech and language.  Occupational therapy is a commonly made referral.

What is speech-language therapy?

Speech-language therapy is a specialized field that addresses a very specific aspect of development: communication.  This includes how we understand and use words to communicate.  However, the human brain is a highly complex system, with many different sub-systems working together to help us function efficiently.  For example, our speech and language system also depends on our attention system, our memory system, our visual system, and our auditory system (to name a few!).  Weaknesses in one system are likely to impact other systems, much like a domino effect.  Therefore, a “team approach” to therapy is often warranted to help children achieve their greatest potential. Read more

ADHD and Learning: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder’s Impact on Learning

Many children with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder exhibit significant concerns with regard to their academic

ADHD and learning diability

achievement.  Research has demonstrated that a lot of children with the diagnosis also have a co-existing diagnosis of a learning disability.  However, even children without a separate learning disability diagnosis are also at risk for struggling with their academic achievement.

The hallmark feature of ADHD is inattention.  If a child has significant inattention and distractibility, he or she is unable to listen to the teacher and follow directions.  These children often present with impulsivity or hyperactivity, which can result in concerns with behavioral functioning in the classroom environment.

Another area of concern for children with ADHD is poor executive functioning which could have an impact on a child’s academic performance.  Executive functioning is the child’s ability to organize work, transition between tasks, develop effective problem solving strategies, and monitor one’s work.  Read more