Dr. Christopher Kaufman, a licensed psychologist, spoke with us the morning on The Inclusive Class Radio Show about Executive Functioning skills. Those are the skills that we have to keep ourselves organized, transition from one task to another, and control our impulses. For some children (and adults!), however, executive functioning skills are underdeveloped or absent altogether. It is important for parents and teachers to be aware of the warning signs that a child’s executive functioning skills are problematic, in order to avoid labeling the child as lazy, absentminded, disorganized or have behavior problems. As Dr. Kaufman mentioned, some warning signs include:
1. Inability to plan and strategize
2. Difficulty attending to the task and completing it
3. Unable to follow through on a sequence of steps
4. Difficulty controlling impulses outside the norm of expected behavior ie. hitting other children on the playground
Between the parent, teacher and even the student, underdeveloped executive functioning skills can be identified and thus intervention can take place.
Both Teri and I agreed with Dr. Kaufman, that it is highly important for teachers and parents to become aware of and accommodate for students who have executive functioning challenges. In the school system today, most of these executive functioning skills are not taught. It is just assumed that children come to school able to plan their day, organize their work and get along with others at all times. If a child struggles with this, he/she is often penalized for “bad behavior”, disorganization, inattentiveness and suffer from social isolation.
In a student-centered, inclusive classroom the teacher not only makes accommodations for these children, but sets the child up for success by teaching skills related to organization, social interaction and impulse control. For example,
1. Planners are used daily to record homework. There is a time set aside at the end of the day for the children to write their homework in their planner, take their homework out of their desk and put it all into their backpack. The teacher monitors the class to see that everyone completes this task. The reverse happens the following morning.
2. Subject material is kept in different colored folders and not all in one binder. Ie. The red folder is for reading, the blue folder is for math. The folders are then kept in different bins on a shelf in the classroom. In my own classrooms, I rarely let any work go into a child’s desk – because it usually never came back out again!
3. Transitions between subjects and events were highly managed. For example, rather than asking the students to line up at the door and then having a big rush of bodies tripping, falling and bumping into one another, the students are given the task in steps. Ie.
a) Stand up and push in your chair.
b) When I say “Go”, Row 1 will quietly walk to the door. (Note: In some classes I have even taught “quietly walk”)
c) “Go” (Then repeat until entire class is at door.)
If the students are unable to transition as expected, they are asked to do it again. Repeated, modeled behavior is key to developing impulse control.
4. An older buddy or adult is available at recess/lunch to monitor and cue the child to behave appropriately. Social stories can be read in class and there are social programs available for teachers to use to teach children how to interact with one another.
Fortunately, there are many books available now to parents and teachers that bring to light the challenges that a child with underdeveloped executive functioning skills might have. Educate yourself so that you can help provide the best possible education for your child/student!
To learn more about executive function skills, listen to our interview with Dr. Kaufman here.