Executive Functioning is Crucial to Success

In a blog I read, written by Byron McClure, a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and author of the Blog Fligher Education, Understanding Executive Functioning, this blog cites information from a book Assessing Executive Functions: A Life-Span Perspective, by Cecil Reynolds.  In this book, Reynolds states Executive Function is  “associated with the frontal lobe of the brain.”  Reynolds states, the importance of the frontal lobe is that it “involves self-regulatory behavior, generative behavior, meta-cognition and working memory” (Reynolds, 2008) http://flighered.com/2012/05/13/understanding-executive-functioning/.
How does a school assess if a child has an Executive Function deficit?  One of the questionnaires that School Psychologists use is called Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning (BRIEF). According to McClure, the “BRIEF consists of two rating forms, a parent questionnaire and a teacher questionnaire, which is designed to evaluate and measure executive functioning in the home and school settings. The BRIEF is useful in evaluating children with developmental and acquired neurological conditions.”  In addition, McClure discusses a second assessment.  It is called “Conner’s – Third Edition Behavior Rating Scale.  This assessment is used for students who may have ADHD.  The assessment has a subset that rates Executive Functioning.”

On the www.ncld.org website, Dr. Sheldon Horowitz, defines Executive Function as the student’s ability to complete the following:

  • Make plans
  • Keep track of time and finish work on time
  • Keep track of more than one thing at once
  • Meaningfully include past knowledge in discussions
  • Evaluate ideas and reflect on our work
  • Change our minds and make mid-course corrections while thinking, reading, and writing
  • Ask for help or seek more information when we need it
  • Engage in group dynamics
  • Wait to speak until we’re called on
  •  
 Students with Learning Disabilities have difficulties organizing their time when working on a project.  More importantly, these students have difficulties asking for help.   Here is the link for further information.  http://www.ncld.org/ld-basics/ld-aamp-executive-functioning/basic-ef-facts/what-is-executive-function
Here are some strategies used to help students with Executive Function Deficit suggested on http://www.ncld.org/ld-basics/ld-aamp-executive-functioning/basic-ef-facts/what-is-executive-function
General Strategies
  • Take step-by-step approaches to work; rely on visual organizational aids.
  • Use tools like time organizers, computers or watches with alarms.
  • Prepare visual schedules and review them several times a day.
  • Ask for written directions with oral instructions whenever possible.
  • Plan and structure transition times and shifts in activities.
Managing Time
  • Create checklists and “to do” lists, estimating how long tasks will take.
  • Break long assignments into chunks and assign time frames for completing each chunk.
  • Use visual calendars at to keep track of long term assignments, due dates, chores, and activities.
  • Use management software such as the Franklin Day Planner, Palm Pilot, or Lotus Organizer.
  • Be sure to write the due date on top of each assignment.
Managing Space and Materials
  • Organize work space.
  • Minimize clutter.
  • Consider having separate work areas with complete sets of supplies for different activities.
  • Schedule a weekly time to clean and organize the work space.
 Managing Work
  • Make a checklist for getting through assignments. For example, a student’s checklist could include such items as: get out pencil and paper; put name on paper; put due date on paper; read directions; etc.
  • Meet with a teacher or supervisor on a regular basis to review work; troubleshoot problems.
  •  
My husband and I use many of these strategies with our son.  It is very helpful.  We have our son create an assignment calendar using iCal. Nico’s calendar syncs with my husband’s and my calendar.  This way we can also keep an eye on his schedule.  In the calendar we have him schedule time for projects.  We have our son work a little bit each day.  This helps chuck the assignments in to small digestible bites.  We use the timer to help us transition from break time to the next activity.  We also allow Nico a choice as to what assignment he will do first.  On the weekends, we ask him what time he wants to start his homework, he tells us the time, and for the most part he sticks to his promise.  Was life always like this?  No, it sure wasn’t.  My husband and I realized we needed to help our son with executive functioning because the school wasn’t going to provide any assistance. Please trust me, for every two steps forward, sometimes we take one step back.
  In today’s school system, the students either sink or swim.  The school’s excuse is that their isn’t enough funding, or the teacher has too many students.  My question to the school is “How many of those student in the class have an IEP?”  This is a contract between the parent and the school to ensure your child swims and doesn’t sink.   In reality, it is up to the parents and the parents alone.  The notion of it takes a village to raise a child doesn’t hold true in most public schools today. 
Here is my advice, identify and understand whether your child has an executive functioning deficit is crucial to the success of his/her school and future life experience. 

Steve Kurtz interview on ADHD

I have found this most fabulous site.  The Coffee Klatch is a remarkable site that interviews many top notch professionals who work in the fields of Aspergers, OCD, ADHD and many other disorders.  
This afternoon, I listened to The Coffee Klatch.  I heard the interview with Dr. Steve Kurtz.  “Steven Kurtz, PhD, ABPP, is one of the nation’s leading clinicians in the treatment of children’s behavioral problems and disorders, particularly attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the social anxiety disorder selective mutism (SM)”  

Here is a brief summary of the interview.  I have a link below to click to listen to the entire interview.

What causes ADHD?  ADHD is difficulty with attention, materials, staying on task.  In addition, ADHD also includes, Difficulty with impulsivity not able to sit in seat.  There are two categories: inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.  There are differences.  As a teacher and a parent, it is important understand that the child with ADHD is painfully uncomfortable sitting still.  Dr. Kurtz compares a child having ADHD to wearing a straight jacket.  It is uncomfortable, frustrating and painful to wear.  Because ADHD causes a child to stand out, this affects the child’s self esteem.  The children tend to have low self-esteem.

How do children get ADHD?  According to Dr. Kurtz,  ADHD is about 77% genetic. Most of the time it is passed through the genes of the parent.  Other factors that can cause ADHD include, low-birth weight, and exposure to alcohol, nicotine or drugs. 

Students with ADHD have low executive functioning.  A recent intervention “Cog med”, http://www.cogmed.com/, is a new computer assisted program.  “Cogmed” is about training your working Memory.  The idea of “Cogmed”, computer assisted program, is that it retrains the brain.  It is targeted for students about age 8 and up.   The primary intervention is still using medication.  The children  who improved in executive functions had a combination of psycho-pharmacology and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), and medications have made the most growth. 

In regards to CBT,  it is different from play therapy.  In the interview, Dr. Kurtz discusses that CBT is about providing the “parents and teachers skills to prompt, monitor and reinforce appropriate behavior, they do significantly better.”  It is important for the teacher and parent to know the behavior they are targeting.   It is important to reward for the appropriate behavior in order to support the child.  Dr. Kurtz said, “The child needs the adult to point out the behavior.” With older children, CBT works a little differently.  According to Dr. Kurtz, the teens are taught how to be there own monitors.  They teach the teen “how to organizer their world”.    Basically, teaching the young adults to advocate for themselves. 


As a teacher, I loved the idea about recognizing the ADHD student at least three times for something that child did well before I have that child change his/her clip (a very common behavior plan in many classrooms) for making a bad choice.   This is forcing the teacher to recognize that child for making good choices.  According to the interview, when teachers have the behavior plan and certain children change their clips for bad behavior, we, the teacher, are stigmatizing the child.  I had never thought of it in this way.

Click here and listen to the entire interview.



 http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thecoffeeklatch/2012/05/07/child-mind-institute–adhd-and-selective-mutism


www.childmind.org

Child Mind Institute – Anxiety Disorders and OCD 05/06 by The Coffee Klatch | Blog Talk Radio

The link below is an interview with  Jerome Bubrick, PhD, is a nationally renowned cognitive and behavioral psychologist who specializes in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

I really enjoyed this interview.  This interview talked about OCD and anxiety issues.  In addition, Dr. Bubrick discusses what the root of the anxiety.  He discusses how these are genetic and through the brain as well as, learned.   The most important part about their work is to teach parents, teachers to be proactive and intervening to help the children through the anxiety. Most important tip to remember is never be dismissive about a child’s anxiety.  It is not a good decision to say, “It is all in your head.”   The recommendation for treatment is CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).  Through this therapy helps teach people how they think, feel and do.   CBT is not just therapy where people talk about their anxiety.  The person talks about how they think, how it makes them feel and then what the person can do about the feelings.   It is a structural approach that moves at the individuals pace. 

Click on the link below and take some time to listen.

Child Mind Institute – Anxiety Disorders and OCD 05/06 by The Coffee Klatch | Blog Talk Radio

For more information visit: www.childmind.org

Reduce Anxiety Naturally

I loved this article on reducing stress.  My favorite idea was when Amy set the timer and wrote her worries, that really troubled her, on a piece of paper.  When she was done she tore the paper in shreds.  In addition, Amy practices yoga three times a week to help relax her.

Now, I don’t think I can get Nolan to practice yoga.  We are still trying to get Nico to run on the treadmill at least once a week.  But, I do think I can start having Nolan write down his worries on paper and tear it up.

Please click on the link  Reduce Anxiety Naturally  and read the article.

Getting Ready for the Transitional IEP

Our IEP is on May 21st.  My husband and I are already butting heads with some of the school’s IEP team members.  My husband and I would like the school and teachers to honor the spirit of the IEP with regards to testing accommodations.  Instead, the school is saying things like “It is difficult for the teacher.”  So, my question is, “When did IEP’s become about what is best for the teacher and not the students?” 
If our son wants to take an exam in the general ed setting, so that he gives the appearance of a regular student, then fine.  However, he should be allowed to retake the exam if he fails.  He should not be penalized because he is trying to find his way in the mainstream classroom.  Just so everyone is aware, my son does study for his tests, but usually fails because of his anxiety and other related issues.  The school is not willing to provide support for him when this situation occurs because it is inconvenient for the teacher.  So, the message from the school to my son is, “It is okay to fail and no we won’t help you.”  This is so encouraging. NOT!!!!!!!!!!  It is depressing.  It is ridiculous.  Where is the accountability?  Where is the understanding that the IEP is a contract between the district and our family to provide support for the students with disabilities? 

In my school district where I work, the teachers collaborate and would find a way to make the accommodations work.  At the school, where my son attends, the Special Ed. Dept. is afraid to ruffle feathers and do their job.  This Special Ed. Dept.  needs to advocate for the exceptional learners with IEP’s.  The IEP’s are in place so these kids will be able to be successful in the least restrictive environment.  THIS IS THE LAW!!!!!!!!!!!!!! FOLLOW IT!!!!!!!!!!!

Is Motivating a Teenager Similar to Training a Dog?

Let’s just start off by clearing the air.  I don’t think my son is a dog.  It is figurative language for all of you who are in a panic and thinking that I think my son is a dog.  This is not the case. 

Anyway, we are in the middle of training Aka, our lovely demented puppy.  He can’t walk on a leash to save his life.  He sometimes becomes aggressive and territorial with other doggies while walking.  My husband and I have been injured too many times because he sees a squirrel or another dog and bolts after him.  Just on a side note, we have spent a fortune training this beast.  This last time my husband was injured, I just said, “That’s it!!! I am calling a trainer.”  Aka does great during the training sessions.  Why is that?  I’ll tell you.  Aka does well because there are incentives.  There are treats after each time he does what we ask him to do.
So, how is motivating a teenager like training a dog?  Just this morning, my husband asked our son if he would play violin at this temple function we are going to next weekend.  Nolan said, “NO!!!!”  Then, a few minutes later, my husband replies, “Well if you had said yes, I would have provided an incentive.”  Ahhhh!  Now, Nolan’s ears were at attention.  “Incentive! What kind of incentive?” Nico asked.  
You see it is the treat that is the leverage or motivator to entice the teenager to do the task you want him/her to do.  That is why I think motivating a teenage is similar to training a dog.  

The Battle Begins!

This time the battle was not with me.  This battle was for alpha male of the Robinson house.  Who would win?  Would it be Dad or Nolan?.  Boy, did it get heated!  David and I were trying to explain the clubs and activities that Nolan might enjoy in high school.  We asked him to keep an open-mind.  Well, he just didn’t want to hear anything about clubs or high school.  I think it overwhelmed him.  Dad enlightened Nolan that sometimes, he can be close-minded.  Nolan then replies.”If I had the bravado, I would slap you.”  Well that’s all it took for Dad to demand Nolan leave the table.  I never thought it would happen.  David has never asked him to leave the dinner table.  Nolan refused to leave.  Dad was ready to physically move him out of the room. Oh boy, I could believe my eyes and ears.  Usually it is Nolan and I going head to head.  This time it is Dad and Nolan.  As this entire scenario is playing out, I am hiding my face behind my hand.  I kept laughing.  Why was I laughing?  This was not funny.  I realized this wasn’t about high school.  This was the fight for the “TOP DOG.” The  alpha and wanna-be alpha were challenging the boundaries.  This is like what animals do in the wild.  It was crazy.  I finally had to jump in and yell “TIME OUT!”  I had everyone go back to their perspective corners to chill. 
This time I was the “good cop.”  I went up to Nolan’s room and we had a great talk.   He realized his empty threat was not the best choice.  He understood he needed to apologize.  He felt that his dad had wounded his pride.  
Then, as a good ref, I went to Dad.  I explained that Nolan felt that his pride had been hurt.  I told Dad that he too needed to apologize.  For once, I was not at war with Nolan.  I was the peacemaker.
The boys each apologized and talked it out.  No one went to bed angry.