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Intro to Executive Function

January 11, 2010 · Filed Under Behavior, Parents' Corner, Teachers' Corner, Tutors' Corner · Comment 

When last we left our hero, she was about to attend a workshop on executive function (’way back before the holiday season)…..

Actually, I did attend the workshop, and have been rolling the information around in my brain since then, trying to distill it into manageable bits to share with you. The online workshop I attended was “Who’s Running the Show? Executive Dysfunction and How to Help the Disorganized Child” by Laurie Dietzel. All in all, Dr. Dietzel confirmed many things I’ve been thinking for years, gave me considerably more professional vernacular to use, and contributed many ’soundbytes’ that seem like I can use them to help parents make their advocacy cases for their children, and with school personnel who aren’t quite convinced that this is a real problem for some students.

How familiar does this sound to you? Does your student:

  • finish homework but forget to turn it in?
  • have problems with transitions?
  • make a lot of seemingly ‘careless’ errors that aren’t caught by proofreading?
  • need many more reminders and prompts than most his/her age?
  • have trouble remembering directions, possessions, assignments?
  • demonstrate wildly inconsistent performance on academic tasks, doing A+ work one day and failing work the next on the same type of assignments?

This actually sounds like a number of the students that I work with in my tutoring business, and several more that I know in their personal lives. Dr. Dietzel is convinced that they suffer from what she is calling Executive Dysfunction. That translates to an impaired ability to select, sustain and guide their own behavior within rules and expectations for the setting and their age level. It’s an impairment of the processes that guide, direct and manage cognitive, behavioral and emotional functions. Executive Function, when working properly, is what allows us to set goals, plan, organize, sequence, and note feedback on our behavior. It’s what helps us try different problem-solving strategies and also what stops us from acting on impulsive ideas. It has to do with memory, accomplishing complex tasks, and making judgments.

Does any of this sound like your student? If so, he or she may be having trouble with executive function. Executive Dysfunction is often comorbid with ADHD and similar concerns, but not limited to that population. It can also occur with learning disabled students, but again is not limited to them. It’s not officially a medical problem yet, though this presenter indicated that doctors responsible for naming and creating diagnostic criteria are considering including it in the next reference that is due to come out in a few more years.

So the long and the short is that right this very moment, your child’s school or teacher is quite likely to tell you that no such disorder exists, since it’s not in the reference books. They are likely to tell you that your child is lazy or inattentive, hyperactive, ADHD, or learning disabled. In many districts, they are likely to offer little in the way of tangible help. However, stay tuned! I’m planning to revisit this subject again soon and will share some of the strategies that Dr. Dietzel recommended to help these individuals. There is hope, and there are things you can do at home to minimize and compensate for the problem.

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Fun on a Snow Day

December 10, 2009 · Filed Under Parents' Corner · Comment 

Well, it’s nine degrees outside with blowing and drifting snow and every school district in our area is shut down. I’m well past the days of little children who need occupied, since mine are in college and the youngest is 17 and likely to sleep until noon, but I KNOW that youngsters get bored on these unexpected days. Here are some great (and not too parent-intensive) activities to suggest:

  • Put on a Play:
    Grab the favorite storybook and challenge the kids to turn it into a play. They’ll need to make props and costumes and if they’re literate enough, write out a script. You can suggest puppets, or dress up this activity by having them stage scenes from their story and photograph them to add voices to later.
  • Create a New Game:
    Sometimes creativity can be a real rush! Give the kids the tools they need to invent a new board game or card game. You can start from scratch or do a mash-up of family favorites. Borrow rules and even game pieces, boards, markers or dice from commercial and familiar games. If it’s fun, don’t forget to write down the rules so you can play again!
  • Try a Video Scavenger Hunt:
    It’s inevitable that the television will get turned on today, but if you can’t beat them, you might as well make it a learning time! Make a list of things to find in the video that you watch, or questions to answer about the content. See who can find the highest number of answers or make up a trivia game to play afterwards.

    Heading to a Conference

    December 7, 2009 · Filed Under Parents' Corner, Teachers' Corner, Tutors' Corner · Comment 

    I’m actually pretty excited this week-on Friday, I’m going to a teleconference about Executive Function and how to help children with these types of issues. It’s really applicable to my work with tutoring and with consulting for parents who have students with special needs.

    The presenter is Laurie Dietzel, Ph.D. I don’t know much about her, but her website was very well done. She’s a neuropsychiatrist from the east coast, and specializes in working with children having these sorts of difficulties.

    We’re off on the right foot already-I was sent a packet of information and handouts related to the class first thing this morning. I’ll let you all know what happens after the end of the week, and hopefully will have some new insights to share with you.

    Strategies to Help Your ADHD Student

    January 18, 2009 · Filed Under Academic Areas, Behavior, Parents' Corner · Comment 

    I just spent one of the longer hours of tutoring that I’ve had in quite a while with a new student who is pretty severely ADHD.  He’s a middle schooler who’s totally overwhelmed right now, and failing three classes.  Of course it is the end of the semester, and his parents are looking for a quick fix.  I wish I had it for them.  What I do have, however, are some practical suggestions that might help some other family keep it from getting this bad.  Let me know if you try any and how they work out for you.

    • Stay in Close Contact with the Teachers.  You’re all in the same boat and you all have the same goal.  You want the kid to succeed.  If you stay in close touch with the school personnel, you can find out about problems before they become insurmountable.  Be proactive here.  Some teachers will give a shout out if they get worried about your kid, but many are struggling to keep up themselves.  Don’t expect the school to let you know there’s trouble until it’s way too late to do anything about it.
    • Get a List of Assignments.  Your child has ADHD.  That means that he or she is simply not going to grow into academic responsibility as quickly as peers.  YOU need to help him or her get organized and stay that way.  See if your school has a homework hotline system or other means of communicating what assignments are due and when.  Use it. 
    • Buy Your Child Organizational Tools.  Get those notebooks with lots of sections.  My girls always preferred a five-subject theme book with pockets on the pages between the sections.  At least one manufacturer makes a version with plastic dividers instead of the usual lightweight cardboard.  Teach your child to keep everything of the subject: notes, papers, assignments, in the correct pocket.  Don’t tolerate loose papers anywhere.
    • Find out the policy about late work and extra credit.  You’ll need to know details about what can and cannot be turned in late.  Don’t take your student’s word for it; check with the teacher to confirm.  And find out if there are extra credit options.  Frustrated students often skip over these opportunities, thinking their grade is just fine, then discover that they need every point they can get.

    It takes a lot of practice to go to school with ADHD.  Show your child that you are on his or her side.  Be proactive and see what you can do to help.  There’s time to remove these supports when grades are under control and stable.


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    (c) 2009 Sandy Fleming

    Get in Gear for Learning

    August 7, 2008 · Filed Under Parents' Corner · Comment 

    School’s right around the corner for most of us, and it’s time to switch on those mental gears and get the kids back into the swing of learning.  You can help everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, get back into school mode by challenging the brains a bit during these last few weeks of summer break.  Here are some fun ideas that won’t seem like school, but will get the brains fired up.

    Play Family Games

    Nearly any game from your game closet will help kids learn something important for school success. Whether they get to practice math facts with dice, learn about modular math with game boards that go in circles, count play money, or plan strategy, it’s all working toward the goal of getting ready to hit the books.

    Plan a Shopping Trip

    Use catalogs or the newspaper sale flyers and send your group on an imaginary shopping spree.  You can have them shop for anything they want: cars, groceries, toys, whatever.  Give them each a set amount of pretend spending money and have them find advertisements for things they’d like to buy.

    Want Ad Stories

    Nearly every newspaper has a personals or a lost and found section in the want ads.  Choose an ad and have your young writer make up the story to go with it.  What happened to cause this ad to be placed?  What happened after the ad was in the paper?  How did it all turn out? 

    Try Some Science

    You don’t need a school to tell you to do science projects.  How about setting up a family-wide science fair?  The internet is loaded with experiment ideas if you need them, and every student will benefit from the logical thinking, writing and presentation practice. 

    These are just a few ways to get the mental muscles back in shape for the coming school year.  Give it a try!  You will find that your kids will be more willing and efficient students if they get some of the rust out of the brain in August.


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    © 2008 Sandra Fleming

    Enrich Your Child’s Education

    July 30, 2008 · Filed Under Parents' Corner, Published Work · Comment 

    Check out my latest article at How To Do Things.com:  How to Enrich Your Child’s Education.  You’ll find tips and ideas about all of the easy things you can do during your everyday life to help your child get ahead in school.  There’s really nothing to it!  Check it out today!

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    Stress Relief for Children

    July 21, 2008 · Filed Under Behavior, Parents' Corner · Comment 

    Many times, parents and other adults sadly underestimate the amount of stress that children are under.  Kids often don’t have the language skills or the self-awareness to let us know when they feel too tense.  Instead, they may complain of physical ailments or act out with symptoms that can easily be mistaken for behavior problems.  Adults often respond with over the counter medicine like pain relievers or antacids, or they implement behavior management plans.  They might even shrug off the symptoms as unimportant or simply childish whining and complaining. 

    Stress management skills are perhaps even more important for children than they are for adults!  It is in childhood that many life-long habits are developed.  Teach your child how to cope with stress and how to reach out for help when it’s needed.  Get the details in my article on How To Do  Things at How to Help Your Child with Stress Management.

    Let me know what you think by leaving me a comment, too!


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    © 2008 Sandy Fleming

    Advice for New (and Experienced) Moms

    July 9, 2008 · Filed Under Behavior, Parents' Corner · Comment 

    I attended a baby shower last weekend for one of my daughter’s friends, and of course, we played all of the silly games that people do at those events.  One activity, though, got me to thinking quite a bit.  I’ve never actually done this one before, but I hope it catches on.  I was really impressed.

    After the silly games were over, several pieces of note paper were started around the circle with brightly-colored gel pens, and all of the guests were asked to write down their best advice for the new mom-to-be.  There was a wide range in ages of the guests, from other young girls her age (22ish, I think) to grandmotherly-types and everyone in between.  Some of us had numerous children and loads of experience, and others were just as new to the mothering game as the guest of honor was going to be.  Still, I’m sure she ended up with several pages of keepsake snippets that will remind her of her friends and family for years to come. 

    I hope I gave her good advice.  I just sort of wrote off the cuff, the way that you do when you’re not planning to write. 

    On her paper, I wrote about the importance of being careful what funny baby actions you allow.  What’s cute at six months, I wrote, may not be funny when the child is still doing it at two years old.  Things like spraying the beets by blowing raspberries when eating are hilarious at the time, but if we applaud or smile or show approval, baby can easily get the wrong idea and repeat the performance ad nauseum.  Then parents have a hard time breaking a bad habit.

    So what else would I say to new moms if I could?  Like all experienced parents, I suspect I could write a book.  I’ll limit myself to a post instead.  Here are some of the top things that came to my mind.

    Children begin to learn responsibility for their behavior as soon as they can do things voluntarily.  So we adults need to begin teaching the word ‘no’ just as soon as they try to choose unexceptable actions.  And it’s important to teach the word ASAP, preferably on something that’s not life-threatening.  For this reason, I told my babies “no-no” for tearing books and taking things that didn’t belong to them.  They tried these things long before they tried to mess with outlets or pull cords or touch hot stoves.  By the time they were tempted to put themselves at risk, they already knew the meaning of the word NO and what consequences awaited disobedience.  It worked.  No one was seriously injured whilst toddling.

    I really hate the trend of ‘baby-proofing’, too.  I removed the really dangerous hazards, like put plugs in the outlets and moved the cleaners higher up, but I didn’t ‘baby-proof’ the house.  Number one, I saw way too many friends who became complacent about safety that way.  They felt that their home or room was baby-proofed, and so they didn’t need to keep as close of an eye on the little one as they should’ve.  One particular mom scared me to death when she suggested we leave our toddlers alone in the other child’s bedroom.  After all, it was ‘baby-proofed’, she said.  I was far more used to watching for hazards and one look told me it wasn’t a good idea.  She didn’t notice that the small trash can near the changing table had a plastic diaper sack in it.  It was just right for suffocating or choking.  But because she had babyproofed, in her mind, the room was safe and didn’t need any further inspection.  Whew!  The second problem I had with the practice was that it limits where you feel you can take your children.  Your babyproofed house is one thing, but how will you manage when you go to visit Great Aunt Sylvia whose house isn’t one bit baby-proof?  Watching out for your little one is a habit that needs to be developed.  You can’t turn it on and off like a light switch.

    My last bit of advice to parents would be to follow through on consequences.  If your child misbehaves and you promise a certain outcome, you had better be prepared to make sure it happens that way.  That’s the only way to build credibility, and the only way to end up with well-behaved kids.  If you’re not willing to ‘throw all the toys in the trash,’ then don’t say it.  If you can’t follow through with ‘we’ll leave here this instant’, then don’t say it.  Whatever you DO say, be sure to follow up with action. 

    Just my two cents, but I hope someone benefits.  Good luck, parents!


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    © 2008 Sandy Fleming


    Write On!

    July 5, 2008 · Filed Under Parents' Corner, Tutors' Corner, Writing · Comment 

    Keep those kids writing!  Next to reading every day, this has to be one of the most important things you can do to help your child succeed in school.  Written expression skills form the basis for many large projects in school, and if your child can write comfortably, he or she will have the tools to get the grades you desire.

    Practice makes perfect with writing.  Encourage your child to write each and every day.  Write letters, write stories, write opinions.  Request permission for outings or get-togethers in writing.  Hold “Five-Sentence-Days” at your house (have everyone drop what they are doing and write five sentences about the topic you throw out).  Write directions and sequences of events. 

    The more writing you have the kids do, the better.  Writing fluency and the ability to put pen to paper productively will improve with practice.  Timed free writing, where you require writers to keep a pencil moving for one to twenty minutes without stopping, can be a fun way to write, as well.  See who can get the most words on paper in the given time can add a fun twist for competitive spirits.

    No matter which activities you choose, get those pencils moving!


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    © 2008 Sandra Fleming

    Study Skills Start in Preschool

    July 4, 2008 · Filed Under Parents' Corner, Readiness, Study Skills, Tutors' Corner · Comment 

    As a tutor, I often work with high schoolers who are behind in their studies.  They come to me with concerns about grades in their classes, test anxieties, and difficulty learning the material that they are expected to master.   It’s hard to help them.  Most of the time, I feel we just barely keep their head above water and have a goal of trying to prevent them from dropping out before they get that all-important high school diploma.  I wish I could’ve seen them years ago.

    If I had known these kids in preschool, and had some influence with their families, I would’ve had a message for them.  When your child is two, three and four years old, you are building the foundations for the skills that kids need for successful high school learning. 

    Perhaps the most important gift you can give your young child is a love of and appreciation for learning.  This attitude can only be fostered by example.  You have to show, every day, that learning is a huge part of your life and your child’s life.  Make it a priority to answer questions, to teach skills the kids are interested in, and to let them see you using learning skills whenever you can.  Read and read to them.  Fill your home with learning materials, like books, references, newspapers, magazines, and learning toys.  No matter what you thought of school, make it a point to stay positive with your child.

    Encourage reading and math and science and writing-not with formal “lessons” or “practice,” but through play and life experiences.  Take your child to parks, museums, historical sites, and stores.  Look things up at the library and on the internet.  When your child expresses interest, help him or her to accomplish the goal.  There’s no need to sit around a table using flashcards to help your child learn.  He or she will gain so much more by DOING things.  Try experiments, put on a play, build a carnival in the back yard, design an obstacle course, or write a story.  Hands-on is the best way to learn.

    The preschool years are also the time to train memories and build language skills, which relate directly to study skills in high school and beyond.  Encourage your young child to retell stories, to relate events in sequence, to describe and to converse.  Play memory games that require recall of increasingly larger chunks of information.  Play word games and number games. 

    The long and the short of it is that the preschool years are formative, not just for character and physical development, but also for later learning.  Give your child every chance to succeed-lay the foundations for school success!


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