Monday, May 20, 2013

Executive functioning

Executive function is a product of the frontal lobe involved in the ability to plan, manage time, relate stories, decide what is important and consider consequences. Presumably having early superior executive functioning is more predictive of later success than early displays of cognitive abilities. This is a term that I never came across while dealing with my own young children and furthermore, I didn't encounter it when discussing special education options for one of my children even though it is now clear to me that was the primary problem (not 'language processing').

In the past, preschools in order to develop skills useful in later years focused on academic skills: knowing colors, counting, simple math, letter identification and what sounds they made, etc. Yet what some researchers are finding is that pure knowledge is not all that useful in the general scheme of things. How to teach kids to organize, sort through what is important, control one's impulses,etc. The key to self-regulation is:
Specifically 'mature dramatic play' involving other children, role playing  and in general, just playing pretend

So in my little family, I have two extremes of executive functioning and lack thereof.

Kid one: spoke early, wrote early, could sound out words, knew colors, obsessed with spelling, read fluently at 6

Kid two: Not an intelligible word until two or three. Needed speech therapy at 4. Could not hold a pencil, did not know colors, not interested in which letters are what or what they sounded like.

 Conventional wisdom would indicate that kid one would have an easier time in school and then life than kid two (not necessarily their birth order btw..we are not even going to discuss kid three). However things turned out the opposite.

Some of this is genetic; some of it is environmental and thus changeable. I did try to raise my kids similarly. I read to them, I grilled them on body parts and what sounds do what animals make. I tried to fill their little lives with enriching experiences but I did not get the same results.

When kid two was 15 or so, he was paired up with a soccer teammate for a day performing community service. Ordinarily they would not speak to each other, My child was a 'cool' kid, very popular, good looking and athletic. The other was not any of that. He was kept on the team because of his good attitude. But he had a life plan which he shared with my child who came to me later that day wanting a life plan too. We discussed several options and one plan was adhered to.
Much later, child two was devastated by some personal news. How to get through this? By the time I could get there to comfort, already a plan was put in place. (item one: power washing a deck)

Kid one is floundering and it is painful to watch. There is no life plan, just a series of fulfilling impulses. I suggest a plan which is followed briefly but then abandoned  I do not know what to do any more. Furthermore, child one insists that they are an adult and resists all sorts of help.

Kid one has been tested quite a bit over the years. superior math ability but poor reading comprehension. What part of each story is important? Too hard to tell. There have  been no tests on executive functioning which I see now, that there are. How does one teach one to organize one's thought? Write lists?

I had a friend once my age who had extremely low executive function. Never finished projects, always late due to poor planning, always losing general, one hot mess. Yet this person had talents but never was able to apply them. Fortunately this individual was not dependent on earning a living.

I do not want this for my child.

It is almost 90 out and has not rained for ages. I ran very early in the morning. However for our minivacation this week, it will be cold and raining.

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