Editor's note: This week, we feature guest blogger Dr. Joseph Moldover, a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Wellesley, MA. Read his full bio below.
Uncertainty is one thing that is guaranteed to create anxiety. Uncertainty can come from several different places for parents who find out that their child is struggling with executive function challenges. Let's explore 3 main concerns I commonly hear from parents I work with - and 3 ways to address those worries.
Worry #1: “Will people understand that my child has a real issue, or will they think that he/she is just lazy/unmotivated/untalented?”
It’s a fair question, because many people don’t know what executive functioning means. Plenty of people don’t really trust it as a concept; even some educators and mental health professionals can make the mistake of thinking that executive functioning is a catch-all phrase that means everything and nothing at all.
Worry #2: “Is this really about executive functioning, or is there a lot more here for me to be concerned about?”
Just like the first issue, it’s sometimes a fair question. Sometimes executive function deficits are free-standing problems, but they can also be part of a much bigger picture. Children and adolescents with psychiatric disorders, autism spectrum disorders, language disorders, and global developmental delays all commonly present with executive functioning problems.
Worry #3: “What do I do about this? Is there a way of addressing my child’s executive function challenges (other than my standing over him/her every minute of every day)?”
Again, just because a thought causes anxiety doesn’t mean that it’s not reasonable! Many educational programs which are wonderful for academic skill deficits (such as problems doing math calculations or reading grade-level material) offer little for the child who has intact or advanced skills but can’t independently harness them.
One of my first graduate school professors had a saying: “Activity is the antidote to anxiety.” In other words, while uncertainty lends itself to anxiety, taking action alleviates it. Are there ways that you can address the above concerns? There are, and in so doing you will be both helping your child and addressing your own anxiety. Here are three ways to take action.
Action item 1: Education and Advocacy
Learn about executive function challenges and how they play out in a child’s day-to-day life. Check out the resources tab on this website as well as the many blog articles available here and don’t keep them to yourself; make sure that the other adults in your child’s life – family, teachers, tutors – understand what you’re dealing with.
Action item 2: Assessment
Teachers, tutors, and therapists are increasingly aware of executive function as a concept and are identifying red flags. There are some good screening tools out there, such as parent and teacher questionnaires. Nonetheless, in many cases a child identified as presenting with executive function challenges significant enough to require intervention should be seen for a neuropsychological evaluation by someone with pediatric experience in order to understand any larger context. Again, check out the resources tab to get started.
Action item 3: Intervention
You don’t have to be the executive in your child’s life. Executive functioning is a skill, and just because it’s not emerging on its own as quickly as one might wish does not mean that it can’t be cultivated. Take a look at a baseball field on the first day of little league. Sure, some kids are naturals. They see the coach swing the bat and they just “get it.” For many others, though, the skills that they need require more direct, explicit instruction – or, simply put, coaching. And, with good coaching, most of those kids can become perfectly competent players. The same is true here: your eight-year-old, or thirteen-year-old, or twenty-one-year-old with self-management challenges can be coached. They won’t learn by having you stand over them and tell them what to do, just as that little leaguer wouldn’t become a good player if his coach lets you pinch hit for him. But it can happen with good support - and if you’re reading this you’re already on your way to getting it.
Self-advocacy is a critical skill for all students to develop - especially so for students with learning differences. Take action and download our Self-Advocacy Checklist of specific skills that students need to be successful in school and beyond.
Dr. Joseph Moldover is a clinical psychologist with specialty training in developmental neuropsychology. He is board certified in clinical neuropsychology. Dr. Moldover specializes in developmental assessment and consultation for children, adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities, ADHD/ADD, and cognitive disabilities, as well as neurological and psychiatric challenges. His work focuses on building a complete understanding of an individual’s learning and behavior through the use of psychological and neuropsychological assessment techniques, psychotherapy, and school consultation. Follow Dr. Moldover on Facebook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.