Thursday, November 10, 2016

Consistency and Maintenance: Thoughts from an Executive Functioning Conference

by Matt Marenghi

This past Tuesday, November 8th I had the opportunity to attend the conference "Beyond Lazy and Unmotivated: Practical Strategies to Boost Any Student's Executive Functioning Skills" with Dr. Peg Dawson. In addition to my role as Guidance Counselor, another hat I wear at Blake is being the Student Support Team Chairperson. This conference provided me an opportunity to hone my proficiency in both roles; understanding how neurological development affects students at varying rates and developing supportive interventions for those students who might be adversely affected by deficient executive functioning skills.

Executive Functioning skills can broken down into subsets that can range from 12 to upwards of 25 different "executive skills." It's important to note that the use of the term "executive" is not referring to organizational hierarchy (i.e. CEO), but rather the ability to literally "execute" tasks. Some of these "executive skills" would include: response inhibition; working memory; emotional control; flexibility; sustained attention; task initiation, planning/prioritizing; organization; time management; goal-directed persistence; and metacognition (self-evaluative skills).

It is understood that the capacity for the brain's executive functioning skills are located in the frontal lobes (just behind the forehead). Connecting that to the fact that we understand that the actual brain develops from the back to the front serves to rationalize why developmentally adolescents can struggle with skills associated with their frontal lobes -- these skills are in development. Anecdotally, Dr. Dawson remarked that this is why parents and educators must act as "surrogate frontal lobes" for adolescents who are significantly impacted by their executive functioning skills.

Managing executive skill weaknesses can be done by intervening at the environmental level or intervening at the level of the child. Strategies for modifying the environment should include 1. changing the physical or social environment, 2. modifying the tasks we expect the student to perform, and 3. changing the ways adults interact with the student. Strategies for intervening at the level of the child, or helping students figure out how to grow their own executive skills should include 1. the creation of a common vocabulary and a set of clear definitions, 2. helping kids see how people rely on these skills in everyday life, 3. teaching kids to assess their own skill strengths and weaknesses, and 4. helping kids generate strategies they can use to raise efficacy of their executive skills in situations that are important to them.

The complexities that come with issues relative to Executive Functioning are certainly vast and admittedly a bit daunting, so here is a more light-hearted video on the topic:

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