How to strengthen executive function in your kid

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How to strengthen executive function in your kid

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I like to say something about the term executive functioning because we read about and hear about it a lot in the schools and the newspaper and so forth. Executive functioning really means the skill we have to organize our life. If we're a student in school, executive functioning means to use our brains to help organize the task that we have to do. To think about what's involved in completing a task; to plan a strategy, to follow that strategy, to evaluate our performance when we finish doing the task and to use that knowledge that we gain the next time. Executive functioning lives right here in our brain. It's pretty much a frontal lobe function, it involves our whole brain of course but if we have good executive functioning skills the frontal part of our brain is working very well. There’re some kids with ADHD who have poor executive functioning skills because they’re impulsive. They may, when asked, be able to tell you how to do a task in alphabetical order, A, B, C, D or in sequential order. But under the gun, when there’re working under the pressure of school work, their executive functions may shut down because they're feeling nervous, they're feeling scared. So the executive functions may be okay when you test them individually. But on the ground, in school, this child may lack the organizational skills that he needs to do well because of the combination of ADHD and the anxiety of not being able to do well creates in the brain. So executive functioning has been likened to orchestra conductor. The orchestra has lots of various pieces to it, the conductor is the one who keeps things in order and that's a good way to think about executive functioning. Kids with learning disabilities may have weak executive functioning skills too. Some people talk about executive functioning deficit as if it's a separate disability. It's not really a disability but it's a characteristic of how all of us learn and how all of us think. If we have weak executive functioning skills we are less efficient to student. Can those skills be strengthened? Sure they can. It’s like playing a piano. The more you practice the better you get. Some people are a lot better than others. You have concert pianist and you have cocktail party pianist. We’re trying to get more basic skills developed when we work on the executive functioning. People might want to know if all kids with ADHD have poor executive functioning skills and the answer is absolutely not. Some kids have poor executive functioning while doing certain tasks but not at others. Think about the kid is really successful when you using a video game. You have to have good executive functioning skills to make that game do what you want it to do in order to win that game. So it’s not a necessary conclusion that all kids with ADHD have poor executive functioning skills. It’s variable from kid to kid. I think there’s a real problem today in that. Lots of times kids are pulled out to be taught executive functioning skills in isolation. I think that’s a mistake. I don’t think it could be done well and I know it can’t be done easily. I rather have schools that have classrooms that are setup to teach all kids about how they think about thinking so that the idea of process that’s involved in the education becomes part of the education. It’s a skill that kids need every year of school and if teachers build it in to their classroom not only kids with LD and ADHD will be helped but everybody will be helped by that lesson.

See Jerome Schultz, PhD's video on How to strengthen executive function in your kid...

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Jerome Schultz, PhD

Clinical Neuropsychologist

Dr. Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is a former middle school special education teacher. He is currently in private practice as a clinical neuropsychologist and is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School in the Department of Psychiatry.  For over three decades, he has specialized in the neuropsychological assessment and treatment of children with learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other special needs. He was on the faculty of Lesley University in Cambridge MA for almost 30 years, and served there as the Founding Director of a diagnostic clinic called the Learning Lab. Before returning to private practice, Dr. Schultz served as the Co-Director of the Center for Child and Adolescent Development at the Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard Teaching Hospital.

Dr. Schultz received both his undergraduate and Master’s degree from The Ohio State University and holds a Ph.D. from Boston College. He has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology. He currently serves on the Editorial Board of a journal called Academic Psychiatry, and is on the Professional Advisory Boards of a website called Inside ADHD.com, and the Learning Disabilities Association of America.

In addition to his clinical and educational work, Dr. Schultz serves as an international consultant on issues related to the neuropsychology and appropriate education of children and young adults with ADHD & LD and other special needs. In his current role as neuropsychological consultant to several large school districts in the Boston area, he is on the ground, in schools and working with kids and their teachers several days each week.

Dr. Schultz created an award-winning video called “Einstein and Me” about living successfully with a learning disability, and has written extensively about children with learning, behavioral and emotional challenges. He has a special education and psychology blog on the Huffington Post. His book, called Nowhere to Hide: Why Kids with ADHD and LD Hate School and What We Can Do About It, (Jossey-Bass/Wiley) which examines the role of stress in learning, has received international acclaim.

 

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