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Executive Functioning Skills for School Success

Executive Functioning Skills for School Success

Executive functioning skills are behaviors that guide and complete actions.  They are the skills we use, independently, to help us to complete tasks and achieve goals.

Think of them as not the individual skills of a task, but the behaviors needed to complete the task.

Executive functioning skills are crucial for academic success. These skills are not directly taught in school, through are expected to be utilized in the classroom setting. The independent use of skills, including initiation, problem-solving, working memory, inhibition and organization, is difficult for both adults and children.

Executive functioning concerns are seen in a variety of conditions and diagnoses including ADHD, Learning Disabilities, Anxiety, Depression, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and a variety of medical conditions. However, there are no specifics of what is necessary for a diagnosis of Executive Functioning Disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th Edition (DSM-V).

Executive Functioning By Age:

During the preschool years, prefrontal brain systems undergo rapid changes such as making newExecutive Functioning Skills for School Success neurological connections and speeding up how fast messages are transmitted in the brain. It is the time in which executive functioning skills, specifically inhibitory control, rule use, working memory, and motor persistence, play a critical role in the development of socialization and readiness for academic learning. The early years of schooling are learning how to be a student.  There are many inherent structures and routines in place to help ensure the child completes work.  As children get older the natural scaffolds of teacher interference and organization are removed, stressing the need for independence.

As children reach school age, executive functioning skills are central to successful acquisition and efficient use of academic skills, particularly in efforts to overcome learning problems of all kinds. At this age, children are expected to integrate multiple executive functioning skills as a means to complete longer tasks.

As these children age into adolescence, the demands of executive functioning skills increase tenfold. At this age, executive functioning difficulties are seen with spontaneous use of skills, strategic initiation of tasks, and mental flexibility. Meaning concerns are no longer with regard to impulse regulation but rather with initiating action on work/time management as well as developing organizational strategies to complete work.

Interventions for Executive Functioning:

A major component of intervention for executive functioning is that the techniques have to be in real-life contexts. Teaching skills during tasks that mimic academic and life demands results in better carryover of skill. This systematic approach to teaching problem solving with everyday activities is best.  Familiar tasks should be used to learn skills initially. The use of novel tasks in the learning process will prove difficult due to perceived difficulty, stress or anxiety around possible failure.

Specifically, as the child learns to complete a multi-step task following a set sequence of steps (with multiple opportunities to practice the routine), the task becomes less novel. The child is then able to improve functional activities with less reliance on external cues.

Interventions must be rehearsed, coached, and practiced to support overlearning or automaticity in the environment in which they will be needed. This will explicitly support the “how and when” skills associated with the child’s unique areas of problem behavior.

There is also an emphasis on developing a child’s metacognitive skills.  Metacognition is essentially thinking about thinking.  You are teaching the child to think and plan ahead before diving into an activity or task.

A fourth principle involves structuring the child’s environment by establishing simplified, consistent routines for daily tasks.  Teaching and carryover is most effective with accommodations and interventions across each environment. These accommodations could include verbal cues, nonverbal gestures, schedules, check-lists, alarm clocks, timers (auditory or visual), and/or environmental modifications.

Additionally, a motivational reward/consequence system, and/or self-talk methods can also be used to ensure success.

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!

The Benefits of Increasing Therapy Over the Summer

Summer is the time of the year when children engage in more free play and physical activity. Therefore, summer is the perfect time of the year to improve upon skills that children need in order to be active, successful, and independent children!Little girl jumping a rope

Here are some of the best reasons to consider starting therapy or increasing the number of therapy sessions for your child over the summer:

Maintain and improve skills for school – Since school is out for the summer, it is important that children do not lose the fine motor, problem-solving, planning, and organizational skills (and more) that are necessary to be productive students at school. Although summertime is a great time to provide opportunity for free play, it may create academic issues for your child once school starts back up if he or she does not engage in challenging tasks  during their 3 month break from school.

Practice physical activities, such as bike riding, climbing, and jumping rope – During the summer, children are often playing outside for hours on end. It may become noticeable that your child is not keeping up with their peers. Activities with which you may notice some difficulty are often when children have to coordinate their arms and legs, such as jumping jacks, climbing the jungle gym, and learning to ride a 2-wheeler. By participating in therapy over the summer, therapists can address these specific concerns in order to help your child stay up to speed with their friends while performing these activities.

More availability over the summer – Since your children are out of school for the summer, they may have a lot more time and availability during the day to participate in more therapy. Summer camp and extra-curricular activities often only take up part of the day, so there may be more times you are available to schedule therapy appointments. Furthermore, although camp and extra-curricular activities are great options for staying active, they do not necessarily offer the same therapeutic benefits as therapy.

Provides structure to their day– Oftentimes, summer can be a season of unstructured play time in which children can do anything they would like. Sometimes the choices are so overwhelming that this can often lead to hours of playing video games, watching TV, and other sedentary activities. Therapy can provide structure to your child’s day to make them feel like they are being productive by spending their time doing valuable tasks.

Opportunity for peer interaction outside of school – Once school is over for the summer, some children may only spend their time with the same friends every day. Therapy sessions can provide the opportunity to make more friends in the clinic and learn how to engage in social situations with other people.

These are just a few of the many benefits that therapy can provide to your child over the summer! By making your child more actively engaged in goal-directed activities, you are setting your child up to be productive students the following school year and active children during the summer!

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