Executive Functioning Issues and Learning: 6 Ways to Help Your Middle-Schooler

At a Glance

  • Some kids with executive functioning issues have trouble thinking flexibly.
  • The more complicated schoolwork of middle school may feel overwhelming to your child.
  • Your child may have trouble remembering information and checking her work—but you can help her improve these skills.

If your child has executive functioning issues, learning difficulties may become more obvious in middle school. It’s a bumpy time for kids anyway, so the more help and support you can offer your child, the smoother the middle school years will be.

Learning Challenge #1

Your child has to write a book report, but after an hour of working on it, she’s still stuck on the first few sentences.

The role of executive functioning issues: Kids with executive functioning issues can have difficulty creating a plan for getting from the beginning to the end of the assignment.

How to help: Show your child how to use a graphic organizer, such as a concept tree or mind map. She can use these tools to put thoughts on paper before beginning to write.

Learning Challenge #2

You try to help with long division using a different technique than the teacher. Your child gets frustrated and insists it has to be done the other way—even though neither approach makes sense to her.

The role of executive functioning issues: Kids with executive functioning issues can have trouble thinking flexibly and changing the way they approach a problem.

How to help: Ask the teacher to show your child different ways to approach the same type of problem. Your child will then have a teacher-approved “bag of tricks.” It might also help to learn the teacher’s preferred technique and reinforce that strategy at home.

Learning Challenge #3

Your child reads a chapter of a book but is unable to summarize what happened.

The role of executive functioning issues: Kids with executive functioning issues can have weak working memory skills, making it hard for them to keep information in mind long enough to use it.

“Kids with executive functioning issues can have trouble thinking flexibly and changing the way they approach a problem.”

How to help: Use active reading strategies like highlighting key words and writing notes in the margins. Encourage your child to stop after every paragraph or two to take notes. Later these notes can be compiled to summarize the chapter.

Learning Challenge #4

Your child makes the same careless math error on every homework problem, even after you checked the first one and pointed out the error.

The role of executive functioning issues: Kids with executive functioning issues have trouble self-monitoring their work and recognizing when the same mistake has been repeated.

How to help: Help your child create a checklist of what needs to be double-checked on assignments. It can be as simple as asking herself, Did I follow all the directions on this problem?

Learning Challenge #5

Your child has long-term projects due in three different subjects. Instead of staggering the work, she tries to do them all a few days before they’re due.

The role of executive functioning issues: Kids with executive functioning issues can have trouble prioritizing tasks and estimating how much time a project will take.

How to help: Ask your child’s teacher to provide a project calendar that breaks down the project into smaller pieces due each week. A points system could encourage your child to complete these smaller steps on time. Eventually your child can create her own calendar and due dates.

Learning Challenge #6

The teacher reports that your child is rude and dismissive of others’ ideas when working in groups.

The role of executive functioning issues: Kids with executive functioning issues can have a hard time understanding other people’s points of view and opinions different from their own.

How to help: Role-play scenarios in which you pretend to be a classmate. Use active listening skills, such as making eye contact and asking your child to clarify things when necessary. Let her practice “I” statements: “I have trouble understanding people when they talk fast.” Point out when responses could be perceived as rude and help her rephrase.

Middle school involves a lot of juggling that your child may not have encountered before. It can be tricky for a child with executive functioning issues to adapt. But there are strategies you can try at home to find new ways to work around the difficulties she might have with organization, flexible thinking and other skills.

Key Takeaways

  • Your child’s teacher can work with you to come up with strategies for homework.
  • Calendars, checklists and note-taking can all help a student stay organized.
  • Role-playing can help kids learn how to successfully interact with others.

Source: Understood.org

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Improve Flexibility

Preschool Class Activities2 1Flexibility is the capacity to switch one’s thinking based upon the demands of a situation. It incorporates the ability to adapt and improvise one’s emotional and cognitive responses based upon changes and transitions in one’s environment. When using flexibility, one must recognize the need to utilize different problem-solving strategies and to take reflective, careful approaches based on previous attempts. Improve flexibility by trying new and novel activities.

Flexible thinking helps you learn from mistakes. Cognitive and emotional flexibility helps children to find effective problem-solving strategies and deal with uncertainty. Flexibility is important for a child to be able to transition from one activity to another and helps a child deal with new or different situations.

Home and School Situations Requiring Flexibility

  • Receiving constructive criticism
  • Trying out new activities or tasks
  • Shifting from playing with friends to going home for dinner or homework
  • Handling frustrations while attempting to complete a task
  • Losing a game or facing disappointment
  • Transitioning from one classroom activity to another
  • Adjusting to a change in routine, such as having a substitute teacher or babysitter

Hints and Strategies to Improve Flexibility

1. Practice trial-and-error learning. Do something with your child in which it is clear that there is no right or wrong answer. For example, rearrange the books on a bookshelf to see how they look best, work on a flower arrangement, or try variations in making a smoothie or ice cream shake.

2. Play games that are strictly chance. These include flipping coins, playing “war” with a deck of cards, or playing any number of board games that do not rely upon skill, such as “Candy Land” or “Chutes and Ladders.”

3. Ask your child to help you learn how to use a new cell-phone, a new game, or piece of software that you have just bought. Compliment your child’s willingness to make errors, try new things, and learn from his mistakes when engaged in this type of activity. Engage in a discussion as to how this applies to many other things in the real world.

4. Try new things. For example, have everyone in the family try something new at a restaurant, take a new route to school, or try a new routine at home. Discuss with your child the pros (e.g. broadening one’s perspective, finding a better way) and cons (e.g. discomfort, fear) of new experiences.

5. Turn your day upside-down. Have chicken, salad, rice, and vegetables for breakfast and cereal and milk for dinner. Wear pajamas during the day and sleep in jeans and a T-shirt, all the while laughing and being comfortable with this unusual routine.

6. Encourage thinking about things differently. For example, see if you and your child can generate alternative uses for common household items. Discuss how many ways you could use a telephone book, (such as a seat booster, a doorstop, a fire starter, or to look up phone numbers).

7. Encourage game play that requires flexibility of thinking. Many games, such as “Risk” or “Blokus,” involve strategies that require cognitive flexibility in response to changes on the board and the actions of one’s opponents. Similarly, many single player video games change the skills needed from one level to another. For example, during the first level of a game, one may simply need to run and jump to get from one place to another, however, on subsequent levels this method may be inadequate and one will need to think of alternative strategies to be successful. Encourage your child to recognize the need for change in strategy in these games and discuss together how he can apply this sort of flexibility to his daily life.

8. Ask your child for help while you play a video game that requires changing strategies. Many online video games, such as “Diner Dash,” require changing strategies as one moves along in the game. These are relatively simple games for parents to use, but may become difficult as the game progresses. You will need to find new solutions to different problems, and this is an opportunity for your children to help you. The goal is to get your child not only to help you, but to explain how and why he shifted his thinking from one set to another. The focus is to help your child recognize the changing of thinking sets in game play and how this may help them in the real world.

9. Model flexibility in your daily routine. Everyone experiences the common occurrences of running out of an ingredient for a recipe, having plans ruined by the weather, or being called to stay late at work during an emergency. These are all opportunities for displaying flexibility of thinking and approaches. When these circumstances arise, model your capacity to adapt and change. For example, while you adapt, talk about how you will make something different for dinner or how you will find something to be happy about when you change your plans from going to the beach to a movie.

Games and Activities That Can Practice Flexibility

“MadLibs” Books – This interactive game helps your child to both practice grammar and to recognize that sometimes nonsense and silliness are acceptable.

“Big Brain Academy” – Big Brain Academy offers your child the opportunity to test his/her “brain” abilities in five different categories by playing 15 mini-games. This allows him/her to practice adapting to varying routines.

“Bejeweled” – This puzzle game (commonly available on the Internet) allows your child to practice trial-and-error learning and problem-solving skills in order to perform well in the game.

“Chess” and “Checkers” – Traditional board games, such as “chess” and “checkers,” will allow your child to practice flexibility when he must react and adapt to his opponent’s moves.

“Charades” and “Guesstures” – The traditional word guessing game and its modern-day equivalent, “Guesstures,” will allow your child to practice laughing at him/herself, use trial-and-error learning, and constantly adapt to the situation at hand.

Cooking – Cooking, especially when one does not follow a recipe, allows your child to practice problem-solving and trial-and-error learning as he/she creates a hopefully edible concoction.

Construction around the house – Like cooking, construction around the house, particularly when one does not have a kit or detailed set of instructions for a project, allows for your child to practice problem-solving and trial-and-error learning.

Rearranging the furnishings in a room – By rearranging the furnishings in your home, your child will have the opportunity to try and adapt to new things.

 

Source can be found here.

What are Executive Functions?

 

Executive function is like the CEO of the brain. It’s in charge of making sure things get done. When kids have issues with executive functioning, any task that requires planning, organization, memory, time management and flexible thinking becomes a challenge. The more you know about the challenges, the better you’ll be able to help your child build her executive skills and manage the difficulties.

Executive Functioning Explained and 20 Strategies for Success

Many students are now being diagnosed with executive functioning problems, and schools are scrambling to meet the needs of this population of learners. Because many teachers and administrators don’t understand the difficulties associated with this problem, countless students with these difficulties are mislabeled as careless, lazy, or unmotivated. Unfortunately, these misunderstood learners often become discouraged, and many experience feelings of helplessness, depression and anxiety.

So What Can We Do to Help?

First, we need to understand the complex nature of executive functioning. Then, we need to educate teachers and administrators on what they can do to accommodate these capable learners.

What Is Executive Functioning?

Executive Functioning (EF) is the command and control center of the brain. Much like an air traffic controller, EF manages and manipulates information traveling in and out of our consciousness. It’s a place where learned experiences and present actions connect. Another appropriate metaphor is to think of EF as the conductor of cognitive skills. EF directs the cognitive performance played by our senses.

How Does EF Impact a Learner’s Cognitive Performance?

  • Slows processing speed
  • Impairs motivation
  • Undermines stamina
  • Sabotages goal-directed persistence
  • Impedes one’s ability to hold and manipulate information
  • Blocks one’s ability to retrieve information
  • Triggers impulsive behaviors
  • Minimizes one’s ability to sustain attention

How Does EF Impact a Learner’s Emotional Regulation?

  • Minimizes one’s ability to manage frustrating situations
  • Triggers an overall negative attitude
  • Sparks feelings of anxiety
  • Blocks one’s ability to prioritize
  • Inhibits one’s ability to self-regulate

How Does EF Impact Schooling?

All of these internal difficulties can have a profound impact on a learner’s educational experience. Common manifestations include:

  • Difficulties initiating schoolwork
  • Problems recording assignments
  • Issues locating and handing in assignments
  • Problems maintaining an organized book bag, locker, and homework space
  • Trouble arriving to class on time and keeping appointments

What Are Some General Strategies that Can Help Those Who Struggle with EF?

  • Participate in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Embrace meditation and mindfulness training
  • Pursue cognitive remedial therapy in areas such as working memory and emotional regulation
  • Maintain a structured daily routine
  • Use planners and PDA technology

What Are Some Academic Solutions?

  • Create a structured routine for completing homework
  • Make to-do checklists
  • Help student motivation by offering incentives and positive reinforcement
  • Create and use graphic organizers for writing
  • Use technology, such as a smartphone, to create reminders
  • Work with someone who can help:
    • Set and monitor priorities
    • Break large assignments into manageable chunks
    • Demonstrate note-taking skills
    • Teach study skills and test-taking strategies
    • Generate memory strategies
    • Teach metacognitive skills by thinking through the process aloud

Academic Tools for Success

There are a number of tools on the market that can help support the needs of students with executive functioning challenges. Here are some free sample pages from my publication, Planning Time Management and Organization for Success. If you want to strengthen executive functioning while having fun, try my Executive Functioning Card Games.

 

Source: http://minds-in-bloom.com/executive-functioning-explained-20-strategies-success/ 

Development of our Executive Functions

Executive functions develop gradually and slowly from birth to the end of adolescence or early adulthood.

If the first manifestations of executive functions are visible from the first year of life, the process of maturation is slow and the development of these abilities also involves learning. It is therefore normal for children to have difficulty in controlling themselves, to focus their attention for a certain time, to adapt to changes, to stop an activity to start a different type of activity, to follow rules, to manage complex tasks, to give up immediate gratification …

The progressive development of executive functions explains that one or more EF deficiencies exist during childhood and persists partly in adolescents. The development of executive functions is rapid during the preschool years and accelerates again in adolescence. It must be emphasized that individual variations are common.

  • At 3 years, children are able to perform tasks that have two different rules (for example: if you see a red apple on the screen, press such button, if you see a green apple, press another button). They are able to focus their attention on one of the two rules the time necessary to reach the goal and to inhibit the other rule, the two instructions being maintained in the short-term memory.
  • While it is difficult for 3-years-old to consider several representations of the same object, from 4 years old, children can recognize an object for what it is and its resemblance to another (it is a sponge, it looks like a pebble).
  • After the age of 3, the efficiency of the inhibitory control increases, the child gradually becomes able to defer a reward to obtain a greater one. He controls his desires and emotions.
  • At age 5, the child can inhibit one rule to activate another even when it concerns two characteristics of the same object (if the red object is round, press a button, if the red object is square, press a other button). He can successfully resolve a conflict and inhibit an action that has become routine (after pressing a button several times for the red object, it must change the button if the object is also square). As memory develops, the child remembers the places and objects he has already explored, and he can think of different strategies and imagine alternatives.
  • The executive functions of 7 years old children approach those of adults, if we stick to what can be visualized in brain imaging, ie concerning the development of neural connections involved in executive control. Children of this age can focus their attention on a task. The self-regulatory capacity continues to develop between 10 years old until the end of adolescence.

The development of executive control also implies a diversification of the processes involved, a specialization (the child is gradually able to remain focused on a goal and choose the behaviors best adapted to a situation) and a control more and more self-directed ( it depends less and less on the adult and the context to self-regulate) and anticipated (he is capable of more planning).