Now that you’ve had the chance to “meet” Laura Koerner, LCPC, we’re very excited to introduce her new blog series with Autism Home Support Services. Each month, she’s going to share her expertise on topics relevant to YOU. We’re so proud to have her on board as an integral part of AHSS with her Family & Individual Counseling Services treating those with anxiety, ADHD, ASD, depression and more – but also as a valuable resource for the autism community and beyond.
You may be hearing a lot of talk nowadays about a set of mental skills called “executive function.” These are the skills that facilitate organization, focus, attention, initiating tasks, sustaining tasks, regulating emotions, and self-monitoring. These are the skills that help your kiddos put down their phone to do their homework and help us get out of bed to go to work in the morning.
I wanted to take some time to describe three of these skills, but first I’ll share a secret tool I learned from a mentor about how to develop them from as early an age as possible (ideally 2-3 years old). The secret tool? ASKING QUESTIONS – meaning instead of telling your child to “Hang up your backpack!” seven times (which annoys the both of you), ask “Where does your backpack go?” Instead of saying “Sit up at the table!” ask “How do we sit at the table?” This is a less confrontational way of cueing our kids that seems less like nagging and more like letting them know you have the confidence that they know the answer and will follow through.
Now this is a very brief overview of Executive Function skills, but they’re so important in the cognitive development of our kids. There are simple ways you can help develop these skills at home, and it is never too late to start!
The most important thing to remember is that we need to meet the child where he or she is in these skills – not where a book, a teacher, or a professional says they need to be based off their age. So if a child can only wait two minutes for a snack, we start practicing at two minutes and 15 seconds, not five minutes “like the other kids.” And if he or she can only remember one direction at a time, then we only give them one direction and cue them with the second to build the skill until it is mastered. Mastered means doing it consistently and independently – until that happens they need our help!
In my therapy office, I use a collaborative approach with parents to teach you about these skills and how to develop them. I work with your child/adolescent to learn the skills and the importance of them through multimedia, role-plays, games, art, and hands-on activities. I also work with your child’s school to access appropriate accommodations taking any deficits or challenges into consideration.
Through learning to meet the child where he or she is in these skills – and not where his/her age “says” they should be – progress and growth will follow. Each skill develops differently for each child and many of them build off the others. With education about the skills, practice in building them, and patience and praise for your child’s growth, we can collaboratively develop these important executive functions!
Laura M. Koerner, LCPC