Google can only provide so much. For example, no matter how you rearrange key words, searches on the order of “how do I help my gifted kid with a bunch of ADD get through the day with something done correctly and without ruining our relationship or stripping him of much-needed independence” yield no useful information. I don’t need to get my child off the refrigerator, but I do need to find a way through what are becoming more and more discouraging, tear filled days. He’s miserable, too.
I don’t have ADHD. I don’t know what it is like to set out each morning with great intentions only to be thwarted by a wandering mind by 10 am. I don’t recall learning how to take notes, study for a test, or organize my study time. Heck, I don’t recall ever being asked if my homework was done. I had (and generally still have) intact executive function skill paired with a large desire to please. While the latter has its pitfalls, the pair brought me beautifully through school. The ADHD mind is foreign territory, despite living with a child with that mind for over a decade. I’m still on the outside looking in, while he’s on the inside looking out.
I’ve blogged about planners (twice), dropping out of a class, and incorporating study skills into homeschool curriculum. When I don’t write about what’s not working, I read about what might. No Mind Left Behind graces the nightstand, along with Brain Rules. In the cracks, I’ve called professionals of several sorts, picking brains and examining options. I still don’t know where to start.
Executive function skills include all the brain power we use to plan and execute our lives. The National Center for Learning Disabilities puts it this way:
Executive function allows us 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 our minds 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 we’re called on
Without strong executive function, it’s hard to figure out what to do, when to do it, how to start, when you’re finished, and how good the final product is. This makes school work, especially higher level school work, nightmarish. Oh, and you still need to process new information and retain information at the same time. That’s quite a bit going on, especially if you have ADHD.
The basics to developing theses skills makes sense: take one skill at a time, break it down, and practice it. In theory, that follows. In reality, homeschooling high school, it seems near impossible. For example, if we decide to start with the skill of finishing work on time, let’s see how many skills go into successfully reaching our goal. We tried working on this one over the last few weeks, so it’s familiar to me. First, one must the due date somewhere in view. From there, one must make plans (backward!) to find a starting date or time. This requires breaking the assignment up into parts and evaluating what part happens. Keeping track of all those parts (the when to do and the where to keep) and evaluating if the final product is indeed complete are next. Finally, comes our goal: finishing work on time. That’s a bunch of executive function skills going into make one executive function skill happen.
No wonder we both feel defeated. Perhaps we started on the wrong skill. Taking notes, another goal this year, has fared a bit better, although it required other skills to test the target skill. Taking notes in a vacuum (notes with no purpose beyond pen pushing against paper) is a pointless task. It is effective note taking we desire, so testing the notes with an actual test seemed reasonable. My son agreed, and I wrote tests. There is one pesky problem. Studying from notes is another skill for which executive function is needed. Seems we needed to work on that along the way, since the best kept notes are no good unless studied. And remember the fifth step above, evaluating ideas and reflecting on work? That’s what a strong student does after taking a test, checking that the questions asked correspond to what the test-taker wrote down (this is a real problem). Argh. Another tangle of skills.
The challenge becomes to find the keystone: the skill that helps hold the others in place. I’m wondering if number five, evaluating ideas and reflecting on work is that stone. Starting there, perhaps insight into the other challenges is possible and real change can occur. It’s an easy skill to model, which some of the others aren’t. (Organization, for example, is pretty personal — what works for me might not work for anyone else). We’ve talked about it before, and I wonder if coaching that one skill would lead to seeing a need for the others. While I’ve touched upon self-awareness and monitoring before (yesterday, last year, most days in between), it has always been often in concert with other challenging executive function skills. Perhaps just that one skill could be our keystone.
So, since a wise friend recently told me that no meeting should conclude without an action plan, after a long, teary meeting with myself, I’ve created my list:
- Evaluate his outcomes with the lens of self-evaluation and reflection, largely considering where better awareness of process and product would have brought more success. Note: Keep this from spilling out my mouth.
- Model self-reflection and evaluation (in moderation).
- Create short lists of questions he could consider before calling a task done or making a decision about how to use his time. These need to be task specific and brief.
- Coach with reminders to check the appropriate card for the task.
- Praise copiously when appropriate. (He does NOT want praise for the obvious everyday stuff and smells saccharine a mile away.)
- Re-evaluate efficacy with him each week (at least).
I’m off to make those lists. Updates to follow.