Fixing executive function

Fixing executive function

February 17, 2015 - 9:00 am

How to help your child learn how to manage time and space and maybe even homework!

Thanks to twitter follower @cuddlesoap for suggesting this topic.

Executive function is the process that helps you function in daily life.

It is your ability to make actions goal directed and behaviour purposeful.

Executive function describes your ability to plan, organize, strategize, pay attention, recall relevant details and manage your time and space.

Executive function evaluates how you are doing with a task; allows you to adjust your response during it and manage multiple tasks.

It uses self-awareness and judgement.

Executive function also needs memory and attention.

Wow!  Executive function is complicated, isn't it?



What does it look like when someone has problems with their executive function?

  • Intolerance to change.

  • Distractibility.

  • An inability to modify behaviour to respond to new information.

  • A failure to complete a task that then does not result in an attempt to do differently the next time.

  • Executive function problems do not improve without help.

As an occupational therapist, I assess and treat children, adults and seniors who have difficulty with executive function. This includes people who have a learning disability, traumatic brain injury, concussion, or dementia as examples.
Strategies I share with clients, their families and educators are designed to interrupt what the person is doing unsuccessfully, to execute a brain-and-body reset in the “right” direction, and then to make that “right” direction innate the next time.

Strategies to help: top down

Top down strategies are cognitive.

  • They include increasing self-awareness and self-monitoring.

  • They require rehearsal and repeated practice.

  • For example:

    1. First talk your child through a challenging task with a script of prepared, helpful words or phrases.

    2. Then you and your child say the script aloud together throughout the task.

    3. Then teach your child to talk himself or herself through the task following the script.

    4. Finally, teach your child to whisper himself or herself through the task with the script and end by your child internalizing the script into silent self-talk.

Use this 5-step cognitive strategy too: Stop-Goal-Plan-Do-Check.

  1. Stop may need a bottom-up strategy – such as an adult reminder – to help stop and take notice of self and the environemnt,  and only then proceed with Goal-Plan-Do-Check. The stop feature interrupts the habits that are ineffective. Remember, even though your child knows what he or she is doing is ineffective and is motivated to change, she or he doesn’t know how to change.  That is where Goal-Plan-Do-Check comes in.

  2. Establish a Goal.

  3. Make a Plan.

  4. Do it.  And Check-In!

  5. How did it go?

Strategies to help: bottom up

Bottom-up strategies use external cues.

  • An example is a visual schedule. Visuals can be paper or electronic. A laminator is your friend.

  • Develop a checklist with your child that is meaningful and makes sense to your child. Does your child like to check things off? Does he or she like to receive a sticker for each completed task? Cross out the line for each step?

  • Smart phones come with a variety of timers, alarms, and calendar alerts that help.

  • Watches do too. Hunting watches have vibrating alarms which are unobtrusive and quieter.

  • Write out directions for “How to do my homework” on a recipe card.

  • Make an audio recording speaking the reminders.

  • Make a video of “The things I need to do to study for a test” with the tools to study!

Bottom-up strategies can also be more tactile or involve movement. Do you have an “in-box” and an “out-box” for homework?  That is a bottom-up strategy that is more tactile and also involved movement as you handle the homework.

If you are on twitter, follow me @tOTal_ability; tweet more article suggestions anytime!

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