Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Book Review #4/ Executive Functioning / Skills

Dear Friends:
Hello again! I want to share another book with you that I found to be a valuable resource. The book is Smart, but Scattered by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare. It was published in 2009 by the Guilford Press in New York. In order to get through a day successfully one needs to be organized, focused, use their time wisely, learn from mistakes, be resourceful and resist impulses. These skills along with a few others fall under the category known as executive skills. There are eleven executive skills in total. **Everybody uses executive skills on a daily basis. Some individuals develop these skills slower than others. 
Having a learning difference can sometimes complicate and delay these skills. According to the authors, on average these skills fully develop in late adolescence and young adulthood, up to around the age of twenty. While children are in elementary and middle school more support is needed to foster the development of these skills. Simple tasks around the house such as chores, saving money for a wanted item or following multiple step directions are developmental tasks requiring the use of executive skills.
     The part of the book I found particularly useful was the section where the authors discussed ten principles for improving executive skills. An overview based on their work is below:
#1) If a child is deficient in a specific executive skill teach it directly. Provide the child close supervision and then fade the guidance in stages.
#2) Consider the child’s developmental level. One needs to understand what is typical at that particular age and match the task to the appropriate level.
#3) Move from external to internal – which means at first a parent or teacher may need to control the environment in order to build up the child’s confidence and understanding of the skill. Slowly, the executive skill will be internalized so that independence can be reached.
#4) Encourage the development of executive skills by changing the environment, task or the method in which one interacts with the child. The way you learn a skill may not be the way your student/child needs to be taught the skill.
#5) Children innately want to control the situation - use this to YOUR advantage. This means design the situation so that the teacher or parent is in control, but the child is learning some executive skills (and thinking they are in control). This can be accomplished by establishing routines and schedules, building in choice making opportunities, guiding them on how to negotiate (do this to get this) and practicing hard or demanding tasks in small steps.
#6) Modify tasks to match a child’s effort level. This aids on maintaining a sustained effort. For instance, complete an easy step, then reward, and then build upon each step slowly.
#7) Use incentives to foster development. Find what is rewarding for your child: praise, stickers, extended bedtime, etc. and use this to entice them to push themselves.
#8) Provide just enough support for the child to be successful. This will avoid the child from becoming dependent on the teacher or parent.
#9) Keep support and supervision in place long enough until the skill is mastered.
#10) When the decision is reached to stop supports, incentives, or supervision make sure to do it slowly.
**The eleven executive skills are: response inhibition, working memory, emotional control, sustained attention, task initiation, planning/prioritization, organization, time management, flexibility, goal-directed persistence, and metacognition. At a future date I will be doing a more in-depth look at each of the individual executive skills.

Have a wonderful day and think of all the executive skills you use to accomplish even the smallest of tasks.
Kim Turse, M.Ed.
Learning Specialist