My #2 at AK is Laura, Vice President of Executive Functioning. Sure, I may be the Chief Executive – but without some support, this exec will NOT function. Fine, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. I will function….it’s just that I’ll probably miss a deadline or discover my missing car keys in the refrigerator. And, ok, I might’ve once boarded a plane on the way home from a keynote….only to discover, while taxiing down the runway, that I’d left my laptop at the conference center.
Typically-wired brains have a “Devil Wears Prada” style secretary at the helm 24/7. She manages the boss’s day-to-day activities. She keeps the focus and resources pointed where they matter most. She manages time allotment, organizes priorities, filters phone calls, guards against incoming distractions, and plans the calendar. She’s in charge of task completion, mapping out and monitoring every step from planning stages to final deadlines. And her name is Executive Functioning.
Minds that are wired-differently — those with ADHD, sensory challenges, Aspie/autism, certain learning issues — are no less capable of accomplishment. It’s just that our secretaries are on vacation. So we have to accomplish….differently.
Envision an Apple Store rather than an office suite. It’s a 360-degree view of movement and space. It’s bells and whistles, fantastic worlds, creativity, and lots of hyperlinks, all leading down infinite bunny trails….great stuff, until you look up and three hours have gone by without actually finishing any one thing.
Enter stress and anxiety (which we either take out on ourselves or on everyone else around us) – which lead to (and feed off of) consequences at school or work, in friendships (when you tend to be chronically late), and even financial penalties (forgetting to pay bills on time, missing doctors’ appointments).
Our secretaries are on vacation. So we have to accomplish….differently.
Then come battles over homework or chores, meltdowns, characterizing parents as “bad guys,” temper blowouts, plummeting self-confidence, OCD-type perfectionism, and/or kids who give up before even starting.
When kids have issues with executive functioning, any task that requires planning, organization, memory, time management, and flexible thinking becomes a challenge. (We tackle them ALL in “The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules.”) For instance:
Organizing thoughts and materials
Planning and prioritizing
Getting started (task initiation)
Staying on track
Remembering what to do and when to do it
Reflecting on past behavior and outcomes
Managing feelings and emotions
Here’s the good news:
SUMMER IS THE BEST TIME TO TRY OUT NEW WAYS TO BUILD THE SKILLS YOU AND/OR YOUR KIDS WILL NEED ALL YEAR (and all life) LONG!
Here are three simple EF-pumping tools, besides sunscreen, to pack into your summer vacation:
- 30/30: 30/30 helps you get stuff done! You set up a list of tasks, and a length of time for each of them. When you start the timer, it will tell you when to move on to the next task. That’s it! is an app designed to help prioritize and track the amount of time users spend on individual tasks or smaller parts of a larger undertaking. Choose from short “have to do” tasks (anything from putting away laundry to writing thank-you’s to practicing math facts) OR chunks of a larger task (like attacking that summer reading list). THEN, build in breaks to alternate with work time (like 30m on/30 min off, for example). Once the app starts, the 30/30 timer won’t let you get lost in a favorite video game or scrolling through Facebook.
- AWESOME THINGS: Ask your kids to suggest some “awesome things” that you will agree to doing together over the summer — maybe a concert or a road trip or laser tag or a Minute to Win It Night. Anything goes. Here’s the scoop: make a simple chart and distribute to the family. Set a daily countdown reminder on any shared calendar app, and give everyone 3 days to research (online or by calling & asking). They should fill in the following information about any activity they’d like considered:
- FOOD FIGHT: Read the snippet below. Then throw pasta at the wall. (Then just throw more! Because, why not?) OR…..wrap your noodle around THIS awesome challenge:
News Flash: Good leaders are not always the people who have collected the most facts or put in the most time; they don’t waste time showing why they are right. The best leaders can listen to others’ ideas, respect and include them, and never ever say, “You’re wrong.”
In short, they are wet noodles. Wait. Doesn’t being a wet noodle mean you’re a wimp or pushover or something like that? Well, yes, in some cases, that’s true. But for our purposes, it means a being flexible thinker. You’ll see.
Aspies’ thinking is, as I said, usually a tad rigid. We don’t mean to be bossy, we’re just sure that we are right. That is our most natural thinking style — and it has definite advantages. Shutting out the details and stress of endless options is calming — like shutting out bothersome “noise.” It’s easier, for example, to choose one position: for or against, yes or no. Answering either “A” or “B” is faster. It’s more efficient. It’s less tiring!
But it doesn’t guarantee we’ll find the best — or only — solution.
Rigid thinking is what I mean by “being uncooked spaghetti.” Go to your pantry, and grab some — just look at it. Rigid, straight and narrow. Bend it too far out of shape and SNAP! It breaks. Bend us too far and SNAP! We break down.
The alternative is the wet noodle. It’s stretchier, bendier, and all around more adaptable. Flexible thinkers — the cooked spaghetti folks — are more able than we are to adapt to changes in routine, invent solutions to new problems, and change their goals as possibilities change. In other words, no breakdowns. They twist and turn, but stay whole.
For more GREAT ways to boost EF skills, explore the bestselling award-winning The Asperkid’s Launch Pad and The Asperkid’s Game Plan – both are brimming with FUN executive-functioning strategies that work for ALL ages.
And check out the bevy of downloads in The Shop of Awesomeness.