What are....Executive Functions?

My biggest takeaway from a special education workshop was so simple that I smack my forehead for not realizing it sooner. I was expecting my child to mature faster than he is able to.

Special needs parents are always looking at milestones. "When do they occur?" "What should my kid be able to do at this age?" "How far behind is my child?" "When can we catch up?" Sometimes these questions just circle around in my head in an endless loop, often without an answer in sight. That anxiety was exacerbated by the pandemic and our struggle with remote learning. It bought me to the stark realization that my son was lagging in his independence skill.

That was when Dr. George McCloskey stepped in and it couldn't have been a more perfect timing. Dr. McCloskey is a national expert on executive functions, and having him as a

speaker was a big "get" for us, and me, as the co-president of our small SEPTA (special education parent teacher association). Among the many practical advice that he gave us, my biggest takeaway came sometime during the meeting when I was confounded by the chart below. (#executivefunctions, #independence)


Independence skill...it is not just 1 skill.


Executive Skills ---> Independence

Independence skill is needed for life and learning. So becoming independent is a common goal for all parents. Yet it is an elusive one for special needs parents. That is not a surprise considering that independence is not a singular skill, but a set of 7 executive functions. Yup, 7!

So you can imagine my letdown when I saw this big chart. As I mentally went through the items on the chart, red "X"s popped everywhere. My son either does not possess these skills or performs them inconsistently. Where can I start when we have so little?

Different skills develop at different times. Don't try to work on all of them at once.

Just as I was feeling deflated, the lightbulb moment came. It is not possible for a child to possess all of these skills, or even be able to make progress on all of them at the same time. That is because different skills develop at different ages. For example, do not expect a 2nd grader to have impressive problem solving skills. That is a a skill that will develop from adolescence into early adulthood. This doesn't mean that a young child can't solve problems. They can! There are some ingenious 8 year old's out there. But the true problem solving skill that we are thinking of, the one that will allow a person to function independently in the larger world, that takes YEARS to develop.


An 8-year-old should be working on skills that are appropriate for his or her age group, such as attending to task, engaging with peers, and monitoring his or her own work. For special needs children who develop differently from their typical peers, this age-by-age breakdown of skills may not be a perfect match. So each parent will have to adjust the training schedule accordingly. And focus on 1 or 2 skills at a time.



What should I do?

Are you having a hard time deciding which one or two skills, out of the many, you and your child can begin to work on? Watch my video below to find out if your child, like mine, should be working their sense of time.

Sense of time is not the same as telling time.

Sense of time is not the same as telling time. Telling time relies on the child's skill in reading the clock. Sense of time is his or her internal clock. In the video, I explain how a poor sense of time affects my son, and how we are improving that skill at home. (#distancelearning #remotelearning #specialneeds)


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