Understand Executive Functions and its effect on people.

This blog is for anyone who wants to understand more about the Executive Functions and the troubles that are associated with them.
You will find answers to the following questions:
• What are the executive functions?
• When to use them?
• How do they work?
• What happens when they are altered?
The executive functions correspond to the necessary capacities a person has to adapt to new situations, that are non-routine, for which there is no ready-made solution.
What kind of daily routine activities use our Executive Functions?
Our daily life is filled with them:
• lacing one’s shoes
• turning on the switch when entering a room at night
• putting the ignition key to start the engine
• making coffee and more….
Their realization is based on an automatic implementation: we are not required to think about it, it only requires very little attention.
What about non-routine situations?
Every day, we are confronted with new and complex situations, for which there is no ready, automatic or immediate answer.
Example: Every day, Lisa leaves the office and takes the highway to go home. One day, she follows a truck and sees that a ladder is about to fall from it. Lisa quickly looks in her rearview mirror and decides to get on the other band at the height of the driver. She makes gestures at him, pointing to the back of the car.
 ∞
This summer, John decided to go camping in Iowa. As it’s his first time, he wants to plan to avoid unpleasant surprises. So he inquires about different existing campsites. Then he chose his campsite taking into account distance from the village and the nearest shops, places to visit and existing transport (with their prices and frequencies). Finally, when he called to book his location, he insisted on the type of location desired.
In both situations, there is no ready-made solution. It is necessary to make choices, to make decisions. A plan of action must be developed and implemented.
How does it work?
The commonality between routine situations and new ones is to choose a course of action in a set of different choices.
A situation becomes routine when it repeats itself frequently in our daily life.
Therefore, the way we respond to it can become, by force of nature, automatic.
When faced with this situation again, we “activate” the pilot scenario expected in this case.
Ben returns home at the end of the day. It’s dark outside. He opens the door and presses the switch to light up the room.
 ∞
 Sarah comes out of the bathroom. She puts on a shirt and button it.
 ∞
Jess gets behind the wheel of her car and takes the direction of her work.  She gets on the highway.
All these actions are routine in the sense that their engagement is done automatically. Sarah does not need to think about the way she buttons her shirt.

In the psychologist’s jargon, we say that a set of actions has been selected and that you now work on auto-pilot.

It can also happen to be confronted with familiar situations in which two or more set of activities can be activated simultaneously:
Raphael repaired his lawn mower. His hands are dirty. He enters the bathroom, goes straight to the sink, runs the water and takes the soap.
In the bathroom, there are several accessories: toothbrush, razor, deodorant, nail clipper, toothpaste, … They can all be used to start an activity: brush your teeth, shave, wash, …
However, only one will be activated: wash your hands.
In this everyday situation, a system has selected the appropriate action and prevented inappropriate activities to be engaged.
In the psychologist’s jargon, this system is called the conflict resolution system. Raphael takes the soap and not the toothpaste.
On the other hand, new situations require that we grant them more attention and we respond in a more controlled way.
Mickael returns home at the end of the day. It’s dark outside. He opens the door and directs his hand towards the switch but at the same time realizes that the lamp is already on.
He quickly decides to interrupt his gesture. If Mickael could stop himself from pressing the switch, it’s because his attention was sufficiently focused on the surrounding elements.
He could detect that the light was already on and inhibit ( restrain) his movement towards the switch.
What allowed him to prevent pressing the switch is called in the psychologist’s jargon supervisory attentional system (SAS)
Scott comes out of the bathroom. He puts on a shirt and realizes that he is missing a button. In this case, he must make a decision: change his shirt, sew the button or put a sweater on top. It’s hot, Scott is in a hurry: he’s changing his shirt.
If Scott made this decision, it’s because he took into account the different constraints of the situation. Again, this is the S.A.S underpinning the decision process.
Today Sunday, Lisa decided to visit a friend. She gets behind the wheel of her car and takes the direction of her work.
As she is busy thinking about the news she will announce to her, she realizes too late that she made a mistake. She is on the highway.
What explains that Lisa took the wrong way? While driving, Lisa has her attention directed mainly at what she will tell her friend and not about the way she’s taking.
She behaved as in a routine situation: her conflict resolution system has selected the route she travels most frequently too.
This happened because she was thinking of something else and so her S.A.S was not oriented towards the selection of the route.
This is also due to the limited capabilities of S.A.S which cannot handle several tasks at the same time with the same efficiency.
As we have just seen, the S.A.S fulfills several functions. We will specify six: inhibition, working memory, flexibility, active recovery of information in memory, attention divided and planning.
Inhibition:
The ability to refrain from producing an automatic answer, to stop the production of an answer in progress and rule out irrelevant stimuli from the current activity.
Jess is in the office of one of her friends. She realizes that she is reading the mail. She stops doing so for the sake of discretion.
  ∞
Eva has made some changes to the storage space in her kitchen. She changed the cutlery’s drawer, and since a few days, she must refrain from going to get them in the old place.
  ∞
Lisa and Anna manage to stay attentive to their conversation despite the fact that they hear what is being said in the next room.
Working Memory:
This ability to refresh the contents of one’s short memory (memory in which information is maintained temporarily, the time to process other information) taking into account new information transmitted to it.
At a party at her house, Raphael takes aperitifs order from his friends. The first asks for a coke while the other asks for a sprite. By the time Raphael starts to prepare the two drinks, one of them changes his mind and asks, instead of his coke,
a tomato juice.
Mental Flexibility:

The ability to move from one behavior to another depending on the requirements of the environment.

Sarah prepares the ingredients for a chocolate cake using her scale and scoop.
She follows the indications of the recipe. She first weighs .5lb of chocolate then measures 1 cup of milk and then weighs 2 cups of sugar …
  ∞
Eva is a sixth-grade student. She does her math homework and is being asked to perform alternately an addition followed by subtraction.
  ∞
Ben is a teacher. He puts away his exam’s sheets. He throws the question sheets into the bin, makes a pile in front of him with the copies and insert, in the other direction, between each copy, the corresponding draft sheets.
Active recovery of information in one’s memory

The ability to actively and effectively search information contained in your memory.

Ruth made a list of things to buy at the supermarket. In the store, she realizes that she forgot to take it with her. Some things come back to her right away. But on the other hand, she has to make a big effort to remember the rest.
She remembers that while writing the list, her husband told her about a meatloaf, but she does not know why … she remembers the ingredients she needed to make it happen.
Now she is almost certain to have everything but one thing … but which one? Since she does not know what it is anymore, she walks the different aisles of the store, hoping to find what she misses. She goes past the tomatoes, stops: she ended up
finding what she was looking for.
Divided Attention:
The ability to be attentive to two activities at the same time, which allows you to do both simultaneously.
Steve can hold a conversation while watching TV news pictures.
  ∞
As usual, Laura prepares the meal while having an animated discussion with one of her children.
  ∞
John repeats his history class while playing on his computer.
Planning

The ability to organize a series of actions in one optimal sequence to achieve a goal.

Kenny invites 25 people for dinner in his home. He plans to serve an appetizer, a dish, and a dessert. The goal is for the dishes to arrive hot at the table. While preparing, he will have to take into account the cooking time of the different dishes, the time of arrival of his guests and time they will spend on the aperitif …
  ∞
Meryl has a dentist appointment at 4 pm; it is 2 pm. She decides to run some errands: she must go to the dry cleaner pick up some shirts, get some milk from the grocery store and buy a book for her brother’s birthday. To lose as little time as possible and to be on time for her appointment, she decides the order in which she will carry out her errands.
ALTERATIONS OF THE EXECUTIVE SYSTEM
People suffering from a breach of the executive system meet, daily, difficulties to adapt to the family, social and professional life and to manage new situations.
However, some alterations may occur in people without brain injury but to a lesser extent.
Below you will find an illustration of the difficulties in Executive Functions that can be met by people who had a cerebral accident, cranial traumatism or degenerative disease of the nervous system. In healthy people, system malfunctions of the executive functions occur much less frequently. Their intensity is lower. Therefore, occasional malfunctions are less disabling.
Alterations of one’s inhibition
These are manifested by difficulties in preventing oneself from having inappropriate actions.
When she visits her friends, Pauline cannot help but read the mail she sees on the table.
  ∞
John is in a supermarket with his wife. He takes a loaf and goes to the machine to cut the bread. His wife asks him not to cut it. Johns continues his action: he advances towards the machine.
  ∞
Ben is at the restaurant with his wife. They plan holidays. Many times, Ben intervenes in the conversation of the table next to them.
  ∞
Jess has finished preparing the dinner. She throws peelings of potatoes, carrots, the stalks of celery, take the packet of butter to store it in the fridge but throws it into the bin.
Alterations of the working memory
They manifest themselves by the absence of a replacement of the old information with new information
The information that was stored in this memory a few seconds ago is not replaced by current information. In this case, the person continues to act in function of old information and not new information as she should.
Rob receives a phone call from his friend Charles, who gives him an appointment next Saturday at 7:30 pm He tells him about his son’s sports activities. He then remembers that he has to pick him up at 7 pm at his basketball training. He proposes to Robert to postpone the appointment to 8 pm. After hanging up, Robert notes in his agenda 7:30 pm.
 ∞
The secretary announces to Steve that she is exceptionally on leave the next day. They discuss another matter, and while leaving, Lucas tells her to see you tomorrow anyway.
Alterations to flexibility

They are manifested by difficulties in passing from one behavior to another depending on the environmental requirements.

Stephanie attends a meeting. The debate is lively. She is unable to follow the thread of the conversation disturbed by the rapid changes of interlocutors.
  ∞
Saturday afternoon, Rob goes to midtown to shop. He visits several shops and pays each time with his credit card. At the end of the afternoon, he goes to the market. He hands his credit card. He knows, however, that you can only pay in cash at the market.
  ∞
John corrects his dictation while Bert and his mother translate sentences into French. When Lou asks how a word is spelled, his mother translates it into French, instead of spelling it in English.
Alterations of active information retrieval in long-term memory
They are manifested by significant difficulties in remembering events from the past, most often close. However, it’s possible to remember to find these events with some hints.
These difficulties may also concern general knowledge acquired formerly.
Ted talks with his wife. She talks to him about the last weekend with the family in the mountain. Ted says first that he does not remember it. His wife then describes the house
that they had rented for the occasion and the fountain that Ted had noticed. Ted can then remember who was there, what they had eaten at the evening meal, and the Sunday afternoon walk.
Alterations of divided attention

They are manifested by difficulties in performing two tasks at the same time while each of the tasks can be performed individually without difficulty.

Joan likes to walk in the forest. Since his accident, walking requires more concentration, but he can do it when he’s not disturbed. When he walks with
other people who talk to him, he tends to stop to answer; he sometimes loses his balance or stumbles. If he stays focused, he cannot keep up with the conversations
around him or answer the questions correctly.
  ∞
Rina goes to the park with her children. She settles on a bench. Her children run on the playground, she watches them. A lady sits next to her and starts a conversation. After
10 minutes, Rina realizes she was not looking at what her children were doing anymore.
Planning alterations

They are manifested by difficulties in organizing a series of actions in an optimal sequence to achieve a goal.

The alterations can be found at different levels:
Maintaining one goal: It’s time, Pierre goes to the kitchen to prepare dinner. He looks out the window and notes that the lawn is not mown. He takes out his clipper and cuts the grass.
Plan and choose the different plans of actions that will achieve the goal: Since his accident, Sean is no longer able to plan his appointments. He does not program his alarm correctly and doesn’t wake up according to the first activity of the morning. He can not manage to calculate the time needed to be ready on time and the time it takes him to his activities: toilet, breakfast, getting dressed, ride, …
Choose the best course of action:
Johns starts by preparing the main course. It’s a simmered dish for which the preparation takes 25 minutes and 60 minutes cooking time. During the cooking time, instead of preparing the entrees(30 minutes), he waits until the 60 minutes are up.
Initiate an action plan while taking into account the changes and incidents for achieving the goal
Julia goes to the movies with a girlfriend. The session is at 5:15 pm. They decided to meet at 5:10 pm in front of the cinema. She is waiting for the 4:55 pm bus. Not seeing it arrive, she consults the schedule and finds out that it is the summer schedule. The next bus is at 5:10 pm. Instead of calling her friend so that she would already take the tickets, she sits down and waits for the next bus.
For more information on Executive Functions and tips on how to improve them, follow us on http://www.MrMizrahi.blog
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Working Memory

Imagine a teacher reads a word problem in math class. Kids need to be able to keep all the numbers in their head, figure out what operation to use and create a written math problem at the same time.
 
Kids with weak working memory skills have difficulty grabbing and holding on to that incoming information. This means they have less material to work with when they’re performing a task.
 
Working memory is key to learning. Having weak working memory creates obstacles to learning. But there are ways to get around these obstacles. With help from you and supports at school, your child can build up working memory skills so learning is less of a struggle.

Improve Response Inhibition

Who's Turn Is It? 94

 

Response inhibition is the ability to cease or delay an action and to be able to reflect rather than display impulsive behavior. Simply put, response inhibition helps individuals to stop and think before acting. It also helps one to ignore outside interference. This skill allows a child to plan and display appropriate behaviors. Response inhibition is imperative in tasks such as maintaining safety, problem solving efficiently, and behaving in a socially appropriate manner. This skill is also needed for focusing on the task at hand, rather than reacting to other situations in the environment. Follow our recommendations below to improve response inhibition.

Home and School Situations Requiring Response Inhibition

  • Raising one’s hand before answering a question in class
  • Waiting for one’s turn to play in a game or to speak during a conversation
  • Ignoring distractions while working on homework
  • Putting a helmet on before getting on a bike
  • Reading the directions before starting an assignment
  • Being patient with a younger sibling
  • Completing a long, multi-step task
  • Waiting in line at school or at a store
  • Keeping oneself from falling back asleep in the morning
  • Not talking back to one’s parents when upset

Hints and Strategies to Improve Response Inhibition

1. Have your child think about their answer to a question a few seconds before they verbalize the answer. Teach your child to count to 10 before acting. Practice this by counting together out loud before making a decision.

2. Arrange for your child to play games with other children that require them to wait for their turn. An example of a game that involves patience can be “Chutes and Ladders.” An example of a game that involves both patience and concentration, (when counting the number of spaces to move) can be “Trouble.” “Chess” can also be helpful to improve concentration and patience because the game requires the player to be constantly thinking about their next move.

3. Take a break. Let your child take a break from a situation that is upsetting to them. Doing so will keep your child motivated, as well as keep them from growing upset and irritable. Your child may tend to become angry or upset, and possibly give up on a difficult assignment if they are being forced to complete it all at once. For example, if your child has to write a lengthy paper, giving him/her a 10 minute break will allow them to remove him/herself from the stressful situation and begin with a fresh start again after the break. Model the same procedure by showing your child how you take a break to handle a difficult or frustrating experience. Display your own strategies by walking away but later returning to solve a problem.

4. Model response inhibition for your child. Talk to your child about the strategies that you use to exhibit response inhibition and self-control and then model these strategies. For example, you may tell your child, “I really would like to watch TV… but I know I have to clean the basement first.” This will help show your child how to develop a form of response inhibition and structure.

5. Review homework assignment directions with your child so that they know what to do before starting. Discuss what needs to be done and help show your child how to follow the directions. If a teacher assigns a worksheet, have your child read the instructions to you and discuss them, rather than allowing your child to dive in without reading.

6. Encourage your child to play puzzle-based video games. Examples of puzzle-based games include the following: “Bejeweled,” “Tetris,” and “Bubblicious,” in which your child can earn bonus points by delaying a first response. Many of these puzzle games will reward patience when the player is able to combine a number of shapes that match or create a larger pattern rather than simply pairing the first two that fit with each other. Most importantly, ask your child to describe to you how (s)he can earn the maximum number of points; engage in a discussion about how inhibiting or delaying an action results in a higher game score.

7. Encourage high levels of activity during leisure time. Children who struggle with response inhibition often find themselves in trouble due to too much movement. Encouraging your child to exert him/herself when it is appropriate may help in getting your child to sit still when necessary. Teach your child basic yoga, meditation, or breathing techniques. Learning one or more of these strategies can be very useful for children who act before thinking. Regular practice of one or two small techniques is something that can be used in a situation where the child tends to respond quickly and get into trouble. Teaching one or two yoga stretches may be particularly helpful for children with movement-based response inhibition difficulties. For example, learning the “mountain” and “sun salutation” poses (which essentially consists of standing with one’s hands extended above the head and breathing) can be very useful for delaying actions. Further information about a number of yoga poses can be found on http://yoga.about.com.

Games and Activities That Can Practice Response Inhibition

“Choose Your Own Adventure” Books – Encourage your child to read any books in the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series, which will allow him to recognize how each decision made can lead to a distinct consequence.

Playing board games (e.g. “Trouble,” “Chutes and Ladder,” “Candyland”) – These, or similar games, will allow your child to practice waiting for their turn to play, while other players count spaces or play out their own turns.

“Dance Dance Revolution” and “Guitar Hero” – Both of these games enhance response inhibition in that the player must really concentrate and think about which note to play or square to step on in order to achieve success.

“Simon Says” – The traditional game of “Simon Says” will allow your child to practice delaying an action until the appropriate cue is heard.

Freeze Tag -Playing freeze tag with your child or having them play this game with friends or siblings will encourage the stop-and-start action of appropriate behaviors as well as the delaying of impulsive action.

Reading with a partner – Read with your child, alternating turns, to allow for practice in waiting for one’s turn and patience.

Websites and Articles on Response Inhibition

LearningWorks For Kids: The premier resource for executive function information, offering a detailed explanation of response inhibition, tips for parents, and activities to improve this skill.

Education.com: This site offers examples and techniques for parents to use when helping their children to develop self-control.

Illinois Early Learning Project: This site provides tips for instilling impulse control in their children, as well as links to other informative sites on related topics.

National Association of School Psychologists: This handout describes important step-by-step strategies and skills for parents and teachers who are hoping to teach self-control skills to children.

Books on Response Inhibition

Cooper-Kahn, Joyce, Ph.D. and Laurie C. Dietzel. (2008). Late, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parents’ Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House. [Chapter 11]

Cox, Adam J., Ph.D. (2007). No Mind Left Behind: Understanding and Fostering Executive Control–The Eight Essential Brain Skills Every Child Needs to Thrive. New York, NY: Penguin Books. [Chapter 9]

Dawson, Peg, Ed.D. and Richard Guare, Ph.D. (2009). Smart but Scattered. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. [Chapter 11]

Kulman, Randy, Ph.D. (2012). Train Your Brain for Success: A Teenager’s Guide to Executive Functions. Plantation, FL: Specialty Press, Inc. [Chapter 7]

Richard, Gail J. and Jill K. Fahy. (2005). The Source for Development of Executive Functions. East Moline, IL: Lingua Systems.

Schwarzchild, Michael. (2000) Helping Your Difficult Child Behave: A Guide to Improving Children’s Self-Control-Without Losing Your Own. New York, NY: Authors Guild.

 

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.

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).

Divergent Thinking

The goal of divergent thinking is to generate many different ideas about a topic in a short period of time. It involves breaking a topic down into its various component parts in order to gain insight about the various aspects of the topic. Divergent thinking typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing manner, such that the ideas are generated in a random, unorganized fashion. Following divergent thinking, the ideas and information will be organized using convergent thinking; i.e., putting the various ideas back together in some organized, structured way.

To begin brainstorming potential topics, it is often helpful to engage in self analysis and topic analysis.

Self Analysis

Ask the following questions to help brainstorm a list of potential topics.

  1. How do I spend my time? What are my activities during a normal day?
  2. What do I know about them? What are my areas of expertise? What am I studying in school?
  3. What do I like? What are my hobbies? What are my interests?
  4. What bothers me? What would I like to change in my world or life?
  5. What are my strongest beliefs, values and philosophies?

Topic Analysis

Ask the following questions to help narrow and refine a broad topic into a specific, focused one. Substitute your topic for the word “something.”

  1. How would you describe something?
  2. What are the causes of something?
  3. What are the effects of something?
  4. What is important about something?
  5. What are the smaller parts that comprise something?
  6. How has something changed? Why are those changes important?
  7. What is known and unknown about something?
  8. What category of ideas or objects does something belong to?
  9. Is something good or bad? Why?
  10. What suggestions or recommendations would you make about something?
  11. What are the different aspects of something you can think of?

Techniques to Stimulate Divergent Thinking

1. Brainstorming. Brainstorming is a technique which involves generating a list of ideas in a creative, unstructured manner. The goal of brainstorming is to generate as many ideas as possible in a short period of time. The key tool in brainstorming is “piggybacking,” or using one idea to stimulate other ideas. During the brainstorming process, ALL ideas are recorded, and no idea is disregarded or criticized. After a long list of ideas is generated, one can go back and review the ideas to critique their value or merit.

2. Keeping a Journal. Journals are an effective way to record ideas that one thinks of spontaneously. By carrying a journal, one can create a collection of thoughts on various subjects that later become a source book of ideas. People often have insights at unusual times and places. By keeping a journal, one can capture these ideas and use them later when developing and organizing materials in the prewriting stage.

3. Freewriting. When free-writing, a person will focus on one particular topic and write non-stop about it for a short period of time. The idea is to write down whatever comes to mind about the topic, without stopping to proofread or revise the writing. This can help generate a variety of thoughts about a topic in a short period of time, which can later be restructured or organized following some pattern of arrangement.

4. Mind or Subject Mapping. Mind or subject mapping involves putting brainstormed ideas in the form of a visual map or picture that that shows the relationships among these ideas. One starts with a central idea or topic, then draws branches off the main topic which represent different parts or aspects of the main topic. This creates a visual image or “map” of the topic which the writer can use to develop the topic further. For example, a topic may have four different branches (sub-topics), and each of those four branches may have two branches of its own (sub-topics of the sub-topic) *Note* this includes both divergent and convergent thinking.

Source: Faculty of Washington

Executive Functions – In deepth

Processing Skills

Cognitive Processing Speed

Cognitive Processing Speed reflects how quickly and efficiently a student is able to perform mental tasks. For many students, the intellectual portion of schoolwork isn’t the challenge – it’s how quickly they can process and express the information that they know. This set of skills becomes particularly important in time-limited scenarios (including standardized tests) and in managing tasks that require multiple steps, such as higher-level math and critical reading activities. Processing speed challenges are also linked to delays in other processing skills and improvements in Cognitive Processing Speed generally result in improvements across a number of other processing skills.

 

Working Memory

Working Memory determines how well new concepts and information can be integrated and used in simple tasks building up to more complex tasks. Critical to academic success, working memory is often implicated in mathematics as it affects how well a student can hold multiple pieces of information in his or her mind while solving a problem or conducting a complex analysis. Similarly, in reading comprehension, simultaneously keeping multiple ideas or pieces of information in mind is critical to a student’s understanding and success. Working Memory skills are crucial in any course of study that values more complex analytical, scientific, mathematical or financial analysis.

 

Visual Processing

Visual Processing correlates with a student’s ability to process and manipulate visual stimuli efficiently to perform various tasks. Challenges in Visual Processing can make upper level math and sciences more challenging as many of these classes use diagrams to demonstrate concepts. For university students, science, engineering and higher-level financial modeling, in particular, are heavily visual subjects that require strong visual processing skills. Students who struggle with Visual Processing may find that they rely more heavily on other forms of input – such as language – to compensate for visual challenges. Visual Processing challenges may be linked to underlying physical challenges, such as visual tracking or convergence challenges.

 

Language Processing – Reading, Written and Oral

Language Processing requires a foundation of being able to decode words effectively, associating strings of symbols (letters) with the appropriate sounds. As students go through school, they are constantly being asked to learn vocabulary and use it in context. Challenges in Language Processing make acquiring new vocabulary difficult, which then means that applying new words they encounter to other higher-order critical reading and thinking activities will be more difficult. Auditory Analysis determines how well information presented in oral formats will be received and processed – particularly when listening to lectures in an academic setting. Auditory processing skills prove important for skills as simple as following directions (particularly multi-step directions) all the way up to retaining content presented in lectures, the predominant instructional format in high schools and universities. Many students with Auditory Analysis challenges become quite adept at APPEARING as though they understand what is being said even if they don’t completely understand. As a result of the extraordinary effort these students must apply to processing auditory input, school can be physically draining and emotionally stressful. For many students, alleviating the effort and energy diverted to accurately processing and comprehending auditory input can result in increased attention across the board.

 

Logic and Reasoning

Logic and Reasoning is the core skill used in problem solving and strategizing. Logic and Reasoning skills impact a student’s ability to plan and prioritize a strategy for multistep problems, especially as teachers assume a base level of conceptual understanding and assign problems that require a higher degree of inference. For any discipline that involves mathematics or written work which requires logically organized, persuasive arguments, logic and reasoning skills are crucially important and can be strengthened with the proper support.

 

Selective Attention

Selective Attention describes a student’s sensitivity to distractions and the ability to sustain attention despite other competing stimuli. Selective Attention is also strongly correlated with a student’s ability to prioritize information and tasks, manage time and stay organized. Selective attention is what allows students to sift through the overwhelming amount of auditory and visual input in their daily environment and interactions and prioritize this input effectively. For example, a lecture may be challenging to attend to due to the sounds of a classmate tapping his pen or the construction site next door. Similarly, a page full of dense text may be challenging to sift through for important information. Ultimately, Selective Attention links strongly with a student’s Executive Functioning skills, which we also address in our program (see below). In the absence of strong Selective Attention skills, a student’s ability to take in and organize information can be seriously constrained. This often means that he or she will have to work extra hard as they attempt to attend to everything instead of just what is most important.

 

Academic Skill-Building and Executive Functioning

Learning Efficiency’s programs cover a number of key academic skills and executive functioning processes, including:

  • Time Management
  • Task Analysis and Prioritization
  • Organization and Note-Taking Skills

Read on for an in-depth description of what each of these skills includes:

Time management

Time management is a bedrock skill needed for academic performance—particularly as students reach middle school, high school and university, when demands on their time rise sharply. Students who struggle with time management often procrastinate and complete their schoolwork very close to the due date, usually the night or morning before. Part of this dynamic is that their workload leaves them little room to get ahead. With more efficient planning, however, they can regain lost time and feel more in control of their work and lives. Mr Mizrahi coaches students in developing a variety of habits and techniques to strengthen behaviors that will help them manage time more effectively. With targeted guidance and coaching, time management can become a more natural part of their lives.

 

Task Analysis and Prioritization

Difficulty breaking down large tasks, such as term-long science projects and research papers, is a problem experienced by many students across a wide range of ages. Larger tasks, especially those with fewer explicit instructions, can give even the most organized students difficulty. Students who struggle with task analysis and prioritization often show tremendous work ethic but have difficulty tackling large tasks or prioritizing a number of competing obligations. When given step-by-step directions, these students possess the technical skills to complete each task, but identifying those steps without direction proves harder. Practicing this skill, just like others, involves pursuing a variety of new and multi-stage projects. Mr Mizrahi provides an excellent opportunity to work on these skills through projects that build on a student’s existing interests. As we work on their chosen projects, we focus more on the process and less on the specific content to reduce the number of stressors inherent in building these skills.

 

Organization and Note-Taking Skills

A student’s ability to be successful in school is not purely academic. For most students, in fact, a far greater component of their academic success is whether or not they can maintain the level of organization required to keep track of the many things they need to do and the information they need to do it. Students with challenges in organization often find themselves spending more time than necessary to complete their work. Mr Mizrahi works with students to build an organizational system they can use to structure their tasks and environment, improving efficiency while offering the comfort that comes with having a predictable structure. For older students (middle school, high school and university), Mr Mizrahi also includes exercises related to note-taking, including HOW to take notes and tools for prioritizing information. Students with enhanced organization and note-taking skills will be able to complete more work in less time – reducing stress while improving academic performance.

 

Left/Right Brain and Brain/Body Integration

Like the building blocks in our physical development (e.g. crawling before walking) neurodevelopmental systems are the building blocks for academic, social and behavioral learning. For a variety of reasons, some of these systems develop less well in some of us than in others—this simply means some of our kids must work harder to support these underlying systems.
When students experience challenges with neurodevelopmental systems, they may appear anxious, distracted or fatigued in class. It takes a great deal of effort to support suboptimal systems that are working hard to keep the body still and upright while also staying focused on the teacher. The extra pressure can overtax a child’s system and leaves little room for attending and learning. For some students, this sense of feeling overtaxed can lend itself to impulsive or even explosive behavior when stress levels rise.
An overview of the most crucial systems includes:

Interhemispheric Integration

The strength of the integration between our left and right brains depends on the efficient functioning of all the other neurodevelopmental systems. Interhemispheric communication makes it possible to reason and strategize, process and retain information, express our thoughts as written words, mentally and physically organize, respond when simultaneously doing another task, manage academics, and play sports. Organized rhythmic activity helps to organize the brain. For students whose integration is inefficient, their processing is often not supported by efficient differentiation and lower level sensory-motor systems. These inefficiencies then leave less energy in reserve for integrating information between the left and right sides of the brain. For many students, interhemispheric integration is linked to challenges in working with word problems and higher order reading comprehension questions. As the demands increase over the years, this challenge may manifest in ways such as essays/reports/homework not being representative of what a student knows or is able to articulate. You may also find that a student avoids expanding beyond his comfort zone of strengths so as not to overload his system.

Vestibular Functions

Our vestibular system, located in the inner ear, forms a foundation for almost all of our other neurodevelopmental systems. The inner ear supports hearing, vision, muscle tone, proprioception, kinesthesia, awareness of gravity and barometric pressure, balance, knowledge of starting, stopping, accelerating, decelerating, motor planning and movement. It is the vestibular system that allows us to do more than one thing at a time. When a student’s vestibular system is working inefficiently, the disorganization can contribute to difficulty in attending to and retaining auditory information when no visual or kinesthetic support is provided. In social situations that are dynamic and unpredictable, many individuals with vestibular challenges may likely seem more reserved or they may prefer to do things on their own rather than be in a more chaotic group setting. Students with vestibular inefficiencies often fidget or need to shift in their chair, feeling a need to get up and move around a room. Rather than asking a student to “sit still,” our program focuses on helping them learn how to monitor their own need for increased vestibular stimulation in order to be able to focus. We give them strategies for coping and perform more successfully in school.

 

Visual Tracking

Beyond visual acuity (e.g. 20/20 vision), our eyes also need to work TOGETHER to focus on a single point (convergence) and move smoothly over information (visual tracking). Strengthening this system allows for improved reading, spelling, attention and eye contact. Ocular motility (visual tracking) is interdependent on the vestibular system and muscle tone. Auditory processing is directly linked with vision through the workings of the colliculus, which means that when one system is stressed so is the other. Roughly speaking our ears follow our eyes in the sense that our auditory attention is guided by what we are looking at. If it is hard for our eyes to maintain focus for an extended period, then we are more prone to auditory distractions as well as auditory miscues. For some students, visual tracking challenges may manifest as skipping occasional words as they read, sometimes missing written details or instructions or miscomprehending what they have read. Irregularities with visual tracking sometimes have an impact on reading fluency due to disruptions in the thread of ideas as sentences have to be re-read or are not fully understood. This may make it so that students struggle to get the big picture when reading more complex literature, affecting skills such as inferring and judging validity.

Proprioception

Proprioception is our own sense of our body in space as well as our sense of self in relationship to our surroundings. Our proprioceptive system is interrelated to our vestibular system, tactility, muscle tone, kinesthesia, vision, smell and hearing. Proprioception has an impact on vital activities such as sleep, attention, and social interactions. Proprioception also supports the development of visual functions, in particular visual-spatial awareness. Students with proprioceptive inefficiencies will sometimes report not feeling rested, even after having slept. The academic and social implications range from difficulty taking notes or copying off the board, challenges with summarizing readings, remembering and following multi-step directions, understanding social cues and social boundaries, and feeling comfortable learning a new game or sport. For students with proprioceptive issues, we build in targeted exercises to strengthen their underlying systems while also providing families with interventions they can do at home to continue supporting proprioceptive optimization and efficiency.

Growth Mindset Enhancement

Students with learning challenges receive a great deal of feedback from the school system about how they are NOT doing well. In addition to the fact that most unique learners would actually do quite well with a little bit of targeted support, the metrics that the system chooses to use are often not fair representations of a unique learner’s true ability. Over time, the feedback from school can result in challenges with self-esteem and damaged self-confidence. Our program for unique learners helps address these challenges by incorporating “Growth Mindset” exercises. These exercises allow each student to rebuild and strengthen their self-esteem and confidence by placing their personal challenges in context and transforming current challenges into future opportunities for learning, growth and joy. Students who move from the traditional “fixed” mindset to a Growth mindset will report less stress, improved self-esteem and a greater willingness to try and explore new activities and social settings.