In our last post, we started discuss Executive Function Disorder and how it can impact on our children’s behavior.. We talked about how Executive Functions encompass the following areas, Inhibition, Working memory, Organization of Materials and Self-Monitoring. This impacts on a child’s ability to:
• Make plans
• Keep track of time and finish work on time
• Keep track of more than one thing at once
• Meaningfully include past knowledge in discussions
• Evaluate ideas and reflect on our work
• Change his mind and make mid-course corrections while thinking, reading and writing
• Ask for help or seek more information when we need it
• Engage in group dynamics
• Wait to speak until called on
Today we are going to continue the discussion by understanding that Executive Function Disorder strongly relates to deficiencies in crucial emotional and physiological development, referred to as Executive Skills.
Executive Skills encompass the following areas:
Language Development, Language Processing, Emotional Regulation Skills, Cognitive Flexibility Skills and Social Skills.
In todays post we will cover the Executive Skill: Language Development
Language helps us in so many ways. Children who have trouble in this area will have difficulty shifting cognitive sets, organizing and planning, and managing separation of affect.
a. Shifting cognitive set is the ability to shift mental gears quickly in order to move from one mindset to another. It can mean moving physically from one environment to another or transitioning from one activity to another. Children exhibiting difficulty shifting cognitive sets, for example, may not be able to leave their Lego toys to get into the car to go to school. At school they may not be able to close their books and take out the material needed for another activity.
They may also have trouble shifting from the rules and expectations of one activity to another. For instance, they may pick up on the subtle rules of “I can run and yell on the playground, but in therapy I need to talk quietly and concentrate.”
Even simple transitions can be complicated. At mealtime, moving from the soup course to the main course can be challenging. Parents, teachers and peers often become angry with children, not understanding the cause of their behavior. This creates a cyclical pattern of frustration, resulting in defiant behavior and power struggles.
b. Organization and planning. Children lacking skills in organizing and planning have difficulty maintaining a coherent plan of action to deal with problems and frustrations. Ross Greene in his book “The Explosive Child” explains it this way: “When you are frustrated you need to solve the problem that frustrated you to begin with. That in itself requires organization and planning.”
Step 1: Identify the problem that is frustrating you.
Step 2: Consider possible solutions to the problem.
Step 3: Anticipate possible outcomes of the solutions so you can determine which solution is best.
This is a complicated thinking process that children develop as they mature, and many have difficulty with it, even as they become adults. Many times children exhibit difficulty even identifying their problems because they are so overwhelmed by frustration. They often pick the first solution that comes to mind, sometimes that means choosing to fight or even refusing to comply.
• A child is upset that his teacher did not call on him for an answer. Instead of going over calmly at recess to speak to her, he might put his head down on his desk and refuse to participate further or do his work.
• A child having trouble completing his homework and refuses to do the work instead of telling his parent, “I am frustrated and need help figuring this out.”
c. Separation of affect. Solving problems becomes easier when a person detaches himself from the emotions caused by frustration. Human beings must separate from their emotional responses to a problem so they can engage in constructive thinking of solutions in an objective, logical manner. This is similar to emotion regulation skills, which will be discussed in a later post.
Many children have difficulty in this area, which requires a certain level or maturity. Some children are more intense because their bodies react more physiologically than those of calmer children. They experience more physical stress. When they experience emotions, their bodies produce more hormones, signaling the brain to impose the “flight or fight” response. Because of this surge of hormones, it is harder for them to turn off their stress response. Children who are intense have trouble managing their overwhelming emotions, further compromising their ability to think clearly about their problem. This causes them to lash out and sometimes act defiant. These children need help learning how to work through their emotions so they can calm themselves down. They often need extra time to think of their problem in a rational manner so they can come up with effective solutions.
In our next post we will discuss the Executive Skill of Language Processing.