2 Easy Ways to Help your Twice-Exceptional (2e) Child Develop Executive Function Skills

Executive function skills are those we use to manage ourselves and our mental resources in order to achieve a goal. In essence, executive function skills deal with output and execution. They are used from the moment we start planning to the moment we complete a task. They involve mental control, working memory, and self-regulation. They include focusing, organizing, remembering, filtering distractions, prioritizing, controlling impulses, and many more.

Many gifted children with autism or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD) have deficits in executive function skills. They may have difficulty with multi-step directions or instructions and adjusting or shifting the steps needed to carry out a task as well as estimating the amount of time and effort a project or activity will require. They may struggle with finishing a task despite having the knowledge or skills to do so, lose homework and study materials, or mix up assignments and directions.

So what can you do to help your twice-exceptional (2e) child develop executive function skills?

1– Make a Checklist…or Many:

Children with executive function deficits can have difficulty with simple tasks such as getting ready in the morning, getting ready to go to bed, getting started with homework, getting started with a project, getting started…notice a pattern? Those of us with executive function deficits struggle with small details. When it comes to breaking things down, we get stuck in the process.

You can help your child by coming up with a list of each of the steps to follow for various tasks or chores your child struggles to complete. Let’s use getting ready in the morning as an example. To accomplish this task, your child will need to:

-get out of bed

-have breakfast

-brush teeth

-shower

-get dressed

-pack

-leave the house

Create this list with your child, so they feel in control and include a checkmark next to each item so your child can check off each completed item. Because your 2e child may also have difficulty figuring out how much time is needed to carry out a task, it can be helpful to add information about how much time each step can take.

You can laminate the list and use a wet-erase marker for the checkmarks so you can clean them off each day. Find an area that is easily visible (fridge, mirror, door, wall, etc.,) to post the list and create as many lists as needed.

Every time your child practices a new behavior, new brain pathways are formed. As your child starts getting used to going through the list, your child’s brain will begin creating neural pathways with information about this routine. The more your child repeats a routine, the stronger these neural networks will get. There will be a time when things will become automatic, and your child will no longer need these lists. In the meantime, be ready to see lists everywhere around your house!

2- Reverse Engineer it:

For many 2e children, it can be overwhelming to complete a task or even to know where to start. As the parent of a 2e child, you’ve probably heard about the suggestion of “breaking things down into smaller steps.” But, what does it look like to break things down? One thing I like to do to make any task seem less daunting is to do some reverse engineering. When we reverse engineer something, we deconstruct it to analyze it and learn from it.

Let’s use completing homework as an example. Similarly to #1, have your child write down each task that needs to occur to complete homework. For example, your child may need to:

-switch tasks (stop previous activity)

-gather materials

-go to homework area (or find a quiet place)

-start the homework

Ask your child to list any other smaller tasks that will be needed to accomplish each item. For example, in order for your child to gather the homework materials, your child may need to:

-find textbook/notebook

-find fidgets (if any)

-find any homework instructions or written directions

-find any relevant notes

-find any other materials that will be used

If there were any smaller tasks for each item, your child would write those down in front of each item. This is an easy example your child can apply to more complex tasks such as large-scale homework projects or assignments.

If your 2e child is a visual learner, your child may also enjoy creating a mind map or diagram in order to organize the information visually. The main task would go in the middle, and each smaller task can branch out from the main task.

Reverse engineering tasks is a great practice to strengthen executive function skills. Combining checklists with reverse engineering can also be a very powerful approach to help your child improve these skills.

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About Day

Day Sanchez is a bilingual school psychologist, education specialist, and social-emotional intelligence facilitator. She collaborates with parents to guide gifted/twice-exceptional (2e) children in rewiring their brain for positive mindsets, developing positive behaviors, and building important habits and skills so they can experience success, improve their self-esteem and confidence, and explore their gifts and talents.  Her approach draws on social and emotional learning, positive psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive behavioral techniques.

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