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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!

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!

 

keep your child organized this summer

Strategies to Keep Your Child Organized This Summer

Spring is in the air and with the warm temperature creeping in, this is a sure sign of one thing to come…school’s out for summer! For many, this is a time of year we look forward to, but it can also be a difficult time for our kiddos with ADHD that benefit from the structure and routine that school provides Monday through Friday. Check out these useful tips to help ward off the “I’m bored” summer bug.

Tips to Keep Your Child Organized This Summer:Keep Your Child Organized This Summer

  1. Keep them happy campers: There are many summer camps out there that range from 1 week to several months long. Figure out what would work best for your family. This allows your child time to burn off some energy and engage in social interactions in a structured, monitored environment. Contact your local YMCA or park district for local camps or classes offered near you.
  2. Keep morning routines the same: When kids know what to expect in the morning, it can help to limit meltdowns.
  3. Post a weekly schedule of activities: These can range from very simple tasks like chores and reading to more involved activities like an outing to the park or museum. Make your child part of this so they feel empowered too! This can also be helpful for your child’s sitter if both parents are working.
  4. Plan for at least one success a day: Let your child pick activities they enjoy doing (or do well J) and give praise for their work. Give them an opportunity to tell you about what they did, too!
  5. Join a sport: Many times a child with ADHD may do better in an individual sport. If you child has a low frustration tolerance, difficulty following directions, or acts before thinking, think about enrolling your kiddo in martial arts, golf or bowling!
  6. Dust off the old board games: Games like checkers, chess and UNO help with executive functioning skills. Uno helps kids practice switching between matching colors versus numbers helps to practice cognitive flexibility. Chess also can provide a platform for teaching impulsive children to slow down and think carefully before making their next move
  7. Cook together:Waiting for instructions (inhibition), trying to remember the directions (working memory) and measuring and counting steps (sustained-attention) all help to develop executive functioning skills.

Have a fun and organized summer!

executive functioning

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!

memory and adhd

Wait… What Did You Say? Memory in the ADHD Student

Making memories is an important part of being human, and our beloved camera phones seem to make the process that much easier! However… our cameras aren’t the only ones doing the work. What about when you have to remember that long 10 digit phone… oh wait… we don’t have to do that anymore either! I suppose a modern day challenge would be to remember all those tedious passwords we have to keep!

But that’s neither here nor there!

Our awesome brains deserve a little credit, too, actually a lot of credit for that (grey) matter (just a little brain joke for ya!)

While memory is a challenge for all of us, it can be an exceptional challenge for a student with ADHD. In order to understand this, we will look at the 3 basic stages of memory.

Three basic stages of memory:

Encoding: Information enters into our memory systemmemory and adhd

Storage:

  • Short-term memory (STM) : 20-30 Seconds: Information that is transferred from the STM enters into the HIPPOCAMPUS! When we repeat information over and over again it’s like sending it through the hippocampus several times!
  • Long-term memory (LTM): Can last a lifetime

Retrieval:

  • How you store depends on how you get those memories back OUT
  • Organization is key here (i.e. using the alphabet to categorize things or remembering numbers in chunks)

Something happens around you that you can see, hear and/or touch. This sensation lingers in our short-term (working) memory for about 20-30 seconds. For example, when you are having a conversation with someone and they are talking, you may be thinking of what to say next (thanks to your working memory).

Kids use their working memory all day in the classroom to follow instructions, remember where they need to be, and to keep track of their belongings and assignments (just to name a few). Kiddos with ADHD tend to struggle more with these tasks, which can make learning difficult, specifically reading comprehension.

Let’s say a teacher says, “Go to your desk, grab your book and a pencil, go the center, and finish the worksheet.” That can be a lot to remember for a child who has a deficit in this area and can be misinterpreted as purely inattention.

“How can you plan ahead if you don’t use working memory to keep your goal in mind, resist distractions and inhibit impulsive choices?” says Matthew Cruger, PhD, neuropsychologist with the Learning and Diagnostics Center at the Child Mind Institute in New York.

Here are 4 ways to help teach ways to integrate learning for kids with ADHD:

  • Teaching mnemonic devices: “Never Eat Soggy Waffles” : North, East, South,West
  • Creating visuals
  • Use songs or a melody to learn concepts
  • Ask follow-up questions

Sometimes it can be hard to tell whether a child has a memory deficit or if it is a by-product of ADHD or a Learning Disorder. Receiving formal testing can be beneficial to tease them apart or better identify how they influence one another.

smart strategies to build your childs executive functioning skills

10 Smart Strategies to Foster Your Child’s Executive Functioning Skills

Executive Functions (EF) refers to our self-regulatory behaviors needed to guide our behaviors to follow rules and reach our goals.

Typically in children, there are 3 basic components of Executive Functioning:smart strategies to build your childs executive functioning skills

  1. Working Memory – being able to hold information in their mind and use it (organizing, planning)
  2. Inhibitory Control – being able to control (stop, pause) thoughts and impulses while being able to resist distractions, temptations, and habits, while also thinking before acting
  3. Cognitive Flexibility – being able to switch gears and adjust to new rules, demands, and perspectives

The simple of act of ‘turn-taking’ addresses all of these components of EF. Help your child stop what he is doing and let another child take control (inhibitory control) – when it is his turn again, he needs to remember what he was supposed to do (working memory) – initiate play again and in the instance of a new child joining the group and the rules changing, help him adjust again (cognitive flexibility).

Research has shown that early childhood experiences build the foundation for fostering productive members of society!

Here are 10 activities to help your child blossom his Executive Functioning (EF) skills!

  1. Peek-a-boo: This challenges baby to remember who is hiding (working memory) and teaches self-control in waiting for the adult to pop back up!
  2. Pat-a-cake: Predictable rhyming develops working memory as he gains familiarity with the rhyme and inhibiting (pausing) his anticipatory reactions
  3. Freeze dance: This requires active inhibition.
  4. Narrate your childs’ play: This helps your child understand how language is connected to actions and how asking questions about what is next can help him to plan his next move (planning and organizing)!
  5. UNO: Switching between matching colors versus numbers helps to practice cognitive flexibility.
  6. Cooking: Waiting for instructions (inhibition), trying to remember the directions (working memory) and measuring and counting steps (sustained-attention) all help to develop EF skills.
  7. Sports: Rule following, and quick decision making (cognitive flexibility) make this a great EF skill building activity.
  8. Music, singing & dance: Holding music/choreography in mind (working memory) develops EF skills.
  9. Puzzles: This develops EF skills for all ages by encouraging thinking about shapes and colors needed (planning & organizing) to complete the puzzle.
  10. Storytelling & imaginative play: Older children may naturally use ordinary objects as something creative (i.e. using a block as a car)- (Cognitive flexibility).

Resources: developingchild.harvard.edu

The Basics of a Math Disorder

Mathematics is much more than adding and subtracting.  In reality, there are several factors and components that compose a child’s mathematics achievement.  Children’s mathematics skills are found to develop in a hierarchical fashion.

Stages of mathematics development:

  • The first stage of mathematics development is observed in young children and consists of skills such as understanding of one-to-one correspondence, classification, seriation, and conservation.
  • After theses skills are developed, children are able to learn addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
  • Finally, after these skills are developed, advanced skills such as algebra and geometry are able to be learned.

Teachers can watch to see if these skills are developing as they should be.

Once teachers have identified a child as struggling with mathematics, one or more of the following factors would likely need to be addressed:

  • Visualspatial skills
  • Linguistic abilities
  • Working memory

Visualspatial skills are necessary for aligning numerals in columns for calculation problems, understanding the base ten system, interpreting maps, and understanding geometry.  Linguistic skills are needed when performing word problems, following procedures of how to carry out operations, understanding math terminology, and knowledge of math facts.  Working memory capabilities are used for the manipulation of numbers and operations.

From here with a plan from the teacher and/or a neuropsychologist, the student can get back on track with his or her math skills.

Click here for more information on Learning Disorders.

Executive Functioning Skills- Critical for School Success

The task of being a middle or high school student has become overwhelming.  In addition to demanding academic work, students have many extra activities, sport and other obligations to balance. Even the most engaged and focused students can become overwhelmed and miss important work or commitments due to weak executive functioning skills:  the skills that allow us to manage ourselves and our time with the resources we have. These skills are critical for school success, but are often not taught in the classroom.

The following are the Executive Functioning skills:Little girl sitting on a pile of books

  1. Emotional Control– the ability to regulate emotions in order to stay productive and complete a task
  2. Initiation– the ability to start a task independently
  3. Planning/Organization– the ability to plan and organize one’s time, assignments and activities effectively
  4. Shift– the ability to move from one task to another
  5. Working memory– the ability to hold information in the mind for completing a task
  6. Inhibitions– stopping impulses at the right time in order to stay focus and accomplish the task at hand

If you find your child struggling in any of these areas, consider a specific course or tutor to teach these important tools for classroom success. North Shore Pediatric Therapy offers both one-on-one tutoring sessions and an Executive Functioning Skills for School Success workshop (9:30-11:30 a.m., August 13-17) to help your child learn these critical skills.

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