How To Help Your Child With Executive Function Challenges

Michael is an amazing kid. I’ve said it time and time again. He has taught me so much about persistence, tenacity, having a sense of humor and never giving up. He has also taught me lessons about patience, both in showing it to him, others and towards myself. But one thing that I know is super challenging for Michael as it is for other kids on the spectrum and with different brains, are executive function challenges. Executive function challenges are basically planning out things in a smooth, logical way so that you are in sync with others around you. This is usually done seamlessly for most of us, but people whose brains work differently process information differently, so things do not unfold in the same way for them. Unfortunately, this often spells disaster for interactions with parents, teachers, friends and others in the vicinity. It’s not that the person with a different brain is trying to stress everyone out. They just don’t understand how you can read the environment so differently than they do. So, what can a parent do to try and avoid so many of the fights they have with their exceptional child over how they go about organizing their day? It’s called compromise both ways, and here are some survival tips that I have learned, and am in fact, still learning:

  1. Write It All Down: Yes, write down your child’s typical functioning day, or if they are older have them write it down. It’s important that they see the order of their day on paper and how long things take to do, so the time next to what is getting done.
  2. Ask For Your Child’s Input: It is SO important that your child has some say and control over their day at home. This does NOT mean that they call all the shots, but giving them choices over when they want to do certain things- i.e. do you want snack at 10 or 10:15? do you want to play with this toy or that? This can give them a sense of control and mastery in a world where they often feel they have little say or control.
  3. Tell Them What You Want Directly: This means listing the priorities of their day and what you expect from them- i.e. you need to get up, eat, get dressed, go to your activity and/or school, come home, do homework, eat dinner, shower, bed. The more clearly you can spell out what they need to do, the calmer they will feel as there is routine, and then the two of you can fill in the blanks for the details.
  4. Give Strategies For Stressors: Things that stress them out will make them shut down and not move, participate or do what is expected. This can look like defiance, not moving or talking , tantrums, dressing slowly, staying in bed or not going to bed. When your child is having a hard time no matter how hard it is or how late it is, take a deep breath, get down to their level and ask them, “is something wrong? how can I help?” Add, “I want to help and need you to tell me how.” This will usually give some sort of clue. Then besides talking offer: taking a walk, a fidget toy to squeeze, a massage, quiet music, etc.
  5. Have A Reward System and Use It: Finally, when your child starts to listen, uses strategies to handle stress and asks for help, reward them. Have a set of rewards that works- points system to redeem for a gift, a special treat at a store or eating out at a restaurant, a visit to a favorite place etc.

Exceptional Parents, how have you handled your Exceptional Child’s sequencing challenges in the past? If your system is not working anymore, think what you can use from the above or what else you can tweak. Remember, a successful behavior plan means compromise on both sides. Then there will be success and the love will be reinforced on both sides as each of you see the other one taking your concerns to heart. Until next time.

Are you the parent of an Exceptional Child struggling with how best to handle challenging behavior? Are you worried about development, anxiety, or doubting your abilities to help your child become the best they can be? I can help you find your confidence as a parent again. For more information about my journey and coaching programs, check out my website: Let me help personalize tools that will help your Exceptional family thrive! 

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