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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!

 

Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder Visual System

Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: Visual System

Most people have heard the saying that their “eyes are playing tricks” on them. This is a very real phenomenon for everyone at one point or another, due to the complexity of our visual systems. The visual system uses light to detect information through our eyes and then interprets or makes sense of that information in the brain. It works closely with our vestibular and auditory systems to help us safely navigate our environment by orienting us to where we are in relation to other objects. There are many components of an optimally functioning visual system. This means that activities like reading, catching or hitting a ball, locating an object, or giving directions can be challenging even for those with 20/20 vision if there are deficits in ocular motor control or visual processing.

In addition to how clearly our eyes register images, our eye muscles play a significant role in how well weUnderstanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Visual System control our gaze to adjust to movement, shift between focuses, and how we use both of our eyes together. Without adequate ocular motor control, a child’s school work, balance, depth perception, and eye-hand coordination will likely be impacted. Another level at which a child may have difficulty with visual information is the processing of what they are seeing. The ability to cognitively process information we take in through our eyes can be broken down into several categories, called visual perceptual skills. Those with trouble in one area of visual perception may present with strong skills in another area, meaning that deficits in processing of visual information can take on many forms.

 

Red flags that may indicate difficulties with visual processing or ocular motor control:

  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Easily distracted by visual stimuli or difficulty sustaining visual attention to an activity
  • Frequently squints, rubs eyes, or gets a headache after visually demanding tasks such as reading, using a phone/tablet/computer, or watching television
  • Trouble finding things they are looking for, even when they seem to be “right in front of them”
  • Difficulty initiating or holding eye contact
  • Increased fear of or desire for being in the dark
  • Difficulty discriminating between similar shapes, letters, or pictures
  • Difficulties with handwriting such as letter reversals, sizing, spacing, or alignment of letters.
  • Frequently loses their place while reading or copying
  • Often bumps into things
  • May be slow or hesitant with stairs
  • Difficulty with visually stimulating activities, i.e., puzzles, locating objects in pictures, completing mazes, word searches or dot-to-dots
  • Trouble knowing left from right

Activities to develop visual skills:

  • Work on visual tracking skills by engaging with moving objects or with stationary objects while the body is moving. This could be catching a thrown or bounced ball while standing, walking, or swinging; using a bat to hit a ball on a T-stand or tossed in the air; identifying a series of letters, shapes, colors, etc. while jumping, rolling, crawling, or swinging
  • Crawling and rolling activities are great for development of eye control
  • “Spot the difference” or “hidden object” pictures
  • Activities such as puzzles, “I Spy,” “Where’s Waldo?” or word searches
  • Games such as Tetris, Speed Stacks, or the Memory game
  • Always encourage eye contact while speaking
  • Set up scavenger hunts or play “hot and cold” to locate items
  • Tap a balloon back and forth or see how many times your child can tap it without touching the ground
  • Blowing bubbles and popping them with one finger
  • Play flashlight games to track the light in a dim or dark room
  • Match or sort objects

More on the Subtypes of SPD:

  1. Sensory Processing Disorder: The Subtypes
  2. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Tactile System
  3. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Auditory System
  4. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Vestibular System


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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!

Strategies to Boost you Child’s Memory

There are two general types of memory strategies: Internal strategies refer to ways to retrieve information more easily by thinking child memoryabout something in a different way, whereas external strategies refer to ways to compensate utilizing mechanisms outside of your brain to help you remember information. Depending upon the situation, one strategy may be more beneficial than the other.

Try the following strategies with your child to encourage retrieving and storing memories:

Internal Strategies:

  1. Repetition: repeat information aloud or in your head
  2. Visualization: create a mental image of what you are trying to remember
  3. Association: link information to prior life experiences
  4. Chunking/Grouping: link similar items together by category. For example, link items on a grocery list by departments located in the store
  5. Acronyms: create a word or phrase comprised of the first letter of all the letters to be remembered. For example, “ROYGBIV” represents the order of the colors in a rainbow

External Strategies:

  1. Daily planner/Calendars
  2. Organization: keep important objects (e.g. backpacks, school supplies, technology) in the same location
  3. Stick with a schedule: encourage memory by completing routine activities in the same order every day
  4. Alarm clocks
  5. Voice memos
  6. Highlighters/colored pens

Signs That Your Child May Need Occupational Therapy

Young Girl Writing in Her Exercise Book in the ClassroomAt school, you or your child’s teacher may be noticing difficulties in your child’s school performance. Although you may not be able to see your child work in the classroom, there are some things that you can look for outside of school that  suggest your child could benefit from occupational therapy services.

  1. Difficulty Focusing – If your child is having trouble focusing on her homework, it may be a sign that she’s also having trouble focusing in class. If she gets distracted by noises or people moving about at home, she might also have difficulty paying attention at school and may not be getting the most out of her education.
  2. Difficulty Starting Homework – Your child may have trouble with task initiation if she needs help from you to start her homework or if she   can’t start without having someone present.  Occupational therapists (OT), can help your child work on task initiation so she can be independent with her schoolwork.
  3. Math Problems Don’t Line Up – If your child is consistently getting the wrong answers with math problems, it may be because she has a hard time lining up the numbers correctly. This may be an issue with organization or spatial organization.
  4. Typing Difficulties – Does your child have trouble remembering where the letters are on the keyboard, moving her fingers, typing quickly (in comparison to her peers), or staying error-free when typing? These are all components of manual dexterity and visual memory, which occupational therapists can help improve.
  5. Handwriting Issues – If your child has a hard time writing quickly and neatly, reverses letters, doesn’t form letters correctly, adds too little or too much space between words, or confuses upper and lower case letters, she may need OT to improve her handwriting skills.
  6. Messy Backpack or Folders – This may be a sign that your child has decreased organizational skills, which can affect her ability to complete the correct homework each day.
  7. Forgotten Homework – Your child may benefit from using a planner or calendar system to help keep track of when her homework and projects are due, as well as dates of tests and quizzes. An occupational therapist can help assess her organization and planning deficits and find specific strategies to help her manage her homework.
  8. Lack of Time Management – Does your child have difficulty scheduling her time? Does she spend the majority of her time on leisure activities, while not leaving enough time for homework and getting to bed at a decent hour? If your child is in middle school or older, she should be able to manage her time with little help from her parents.
  9. Poor Fine Motor Skills and Coordination – If your child has difficulty holding a pencil correctly, erasing completely, cutting, folding, or coloring, this may be an indication that your child could benefit from OT. Read our blog addressing daily activities for fine motor strength

These are just a few of the things that may indicate your child could benefit from occupational therapy. Occupational therapists can work on fine motor skills and handwriting, time management, manual dexterity, organization, spatial relationships, memory, and more. By improving these skills, your child will have a greater chance of succeeding in school!

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Executive Functioning Activities At Home

Many kids have difficulty mastering skills such as problem-solving, organization, sequencing, initiation, memory, attention, and breaking downgirl with homework books tasks.  These skills (and many more) fall under the category of executive functioning.  As children get older and begin middle school, these skills are expected to advance quickly.  It is usually in about 5th grade where teachers and parents start to notice their child may be having more difficulty than her peers in executive functioning skills. Academic specialists, occupational therapists, and neuropsychologists are just a few of the professionals who address challenges in these areas, but there are also a variety of activities that can be done at home that are both fun and target the development of certain executive functioning skills.

Here is a list of activities that build certain aspects of executive functioning and are fairly easy to orchestrate in the home:

  • Using Playdoh, blocks, or Tinkertoys, build a figurine and have your child build an exact replica in size and color.  This works on multiple skills, including initiation, breaking down tasks, sequencing, organization, and attention.  If you are unable to build an example, or if you have an older child who enjoys playing independently, there are often pictures of structures to build that come along with block sets or images online that can be printed.
  • Have your child go through a magazine and make a list of all the toys/items wanted. Then, have her organize the list in some sort of order (most wanted at the top, alphabetical, price, etc.).  For older kids, you could also have them write a description of the item, cut the pictures out, and type up a list with descriptions and pasted pictures, or even plan a presentation.
  • There are many board games that target executive functioning skill development.  A few of the games used in the therapeutic setting that would be easy and fun options for home use include: Rush Hour (a problem-solving and sequencing game involving getting a specific car out of a traffic jam when the other vehicles can only move in straight lines), Mastermind (trying to determine what the secret code is by process of elimination), and Connect 4 Stackers (a game of attention, organization, and planning to be the first to get four in a row, like the original, but this game involves different dimensions).
  • There are many resources that can be printed from the internet. Logic puzzles come in many different levels of difficulty and involve taking given clues, making inferences from those clues, and eventually solving some sort of problem through the use of the clues. There are often charts that accompany these puzzles and require attention, organization, sequencing and problem-solving.
  • Have your child choose a recipe from a magazine. After verifying that it is a realistic recipe that can be made in your home, have her write a grocery list containing everything needed to prepare that dish, create a list of the necessary cooking supplies, and for older children, have them look up the price of each item at the store and create an estimated budget. If possible, let them be part of the entire process, and take them with you to the grocery store. Again, with older children, you could even put them in charge of pushing the cart and finding the items in the store. For older kids, they may also act as the “head chef” and be responsible for completing most of the cooking. For younger kids, if there are safety concerns, assign specific tasks as their job in the cooking process.

One of the most important aspects of doing therapeutic activities at home is that your child is having fun. These are just a few of the many activities that can be done at home to develop executive functioning skills and are also engaging and enjoyable for school age kids.




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Differentiating Between Sequencing and Memory

Oftentimes sequencing and memory can look the same. However, there are some activities that require memory and not sequencing. It is important to memory gamepractice both skills, as both are required to complete tasks at school and at home, and in order to learn new skills.

What is Sequencing?

Sequencing involves completing an activity in the proper order (e.g. following a recipe). It might also look like a routine (e.g. getting dressed: first undergarments, then shirt/pants, then socks/shoes). Sequencing helps a child to complete an activity from start to finish in the correct order. It also helps a child to know how to do new activities (e.g. first _____, then ______).

All sequencing activities require memory:

  • Creating a pattern (e.g. beads on a necklace/bracelet)
  • Recalling a color pattern (e.g. blue, green, yellow, green)
  • Steps to shoe tying

What is Memory?

Memory requires auditory and visual processing to hear and/or see the directions of an activity (e.g. recalling steps to an obstacle course; memorizing facts for a test). Memory helps a child to remember what he should be doing and why. It also helps a child to do the task the same way each time.

Memory is required for sequencing:

  • Memory game (finding matching cards)
  • Listening to directions and repeating them back
  • Studying a picture, and recalling items in the picture (when picture is taken away)

Sequencing and memory activities are important for people of all ages, young and elderly. These skills help to keep our minds sharp and active. Stay tuned for my next blog on creating a ‘Treasure Hunt’ to incorporate both sequencing and memory into one fun child-friendly activity!

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We are Going on a Treasure Hunt!

As I mentioned in my previous blog, sequencing and memory activities are important for people of all ages. These skills help to keep our minds sharp and active and allow us remember old skills as well as learn new patterns and routines. A “treasure hunt” is a fun way to work on these two skills, all wrapped into one child-friendly activity!

How To Create A Treasure Hunt For Your Family!

Parents help son with handwriting

Materials: construction paper, markers, equipment needed within treasure hunt (e.g. ball; scissors etc)

Directions:

  • First, talk out loud together with your child about how many steps you are going to include in your treasure hunt.
  • Next, determine what these steps are going to be (e.g. dribble a tennis ball 10 times, cut out a circle, copy a block design, balance on one leg etc).
  • Make sure that you include age appropriate tasks that your child needs to be working on.
  • Some of these tasks should be ones that are easier and your child can be more successful with, and some should be more challenging to help work on a novel skill and/or skills your child has a harder time with.
  • After you have verbally determined what will be in the treasure hunt, have your child repeat these steps back to you, first verbally, and then by copying the steps onto construction paper in a treasure map format (e.g. working towards the “X” which signifies the ‘treasure’ and the end of the treasure hunt). Lastly, help your child to implement the treasure hunt by having him tell you which step he will be completing first (e.g. first I will ______, and then I will ______).
  • If your child is having a hard time recalling which step comes next, have him refer to his treasure map to visually study the steps again, and then have him state the steps out loud again to help the information stick in his mind. Feel free to do this as often as needed throughout the activity.
  • Your child will show progress in his memory and sequencing skills by requiring less and less visual and/or verbal cues for the sequence of activities. Provide a small reward of your choosing for the “treasure” that your child will enjoy after he has completed the hunt!

Skills addressed in a Treasure Hunt:

  • Fine motor (to draw/write out the treasure map)
  • Auditory processing and memory (to listen to and repeat back the steps of the treasure hunt)
  • Sequencing (to complete the treasure hunt in the correct order)
  • Following directions
  • Attention (staying on task throughout the activity)

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