Communicating an “Invisible Disability”

We are aware of the challenges of communicating an “invisible disability” with a teacher, administrator and even a relative.  What do we mean by “invisible disability?”  This refers to a disability other people can not easily see, and often times, they will unknowingly bear judgment towards the parent and/or child.  The disability may be ADD/ADHD, anxiety, Asperger’s Syndrome, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, etc.  Unfortunately, we may hear teachers or relatives imply the child needs more discipline or will offer an opinion about how to parent.   Usually there’s a “therefore…” thought that follows. People who don’t deal with invisible disabilities on a daily basis often want the child to perform to their expectations. Their individual awareness of what the child struggles with becomes apparent. If you pull back and look at the situation, often these statements from other adults are coming from a place of their personal awareness, social expectations and individual experiences they have had in their lives.  Often, as adults, we struggle seeing beyond our own personal experiences.

So, how do we communicate with people who do not “see” the disability? This is especially important if they have an influence in the child’s life (such as a relative or teacher).

As a parent, you are in the role of helping your child succeed.  First, you are gaining information about your child and his or her disability.  As you work with other professionals, attend classes, and build your child’s team, you are creating a shift of awareness within yourself.  Understanding where your child’s strengths and weaknesses lie and setting goals to further help your child will create a shift within your family.

As awareness increases you will be setting up expectations and goals at home.  What do you expect as a parent?  How do you communicate and help your child with these expectations at home?  What are your expectations and goals for yourself? A plan will begin to form based on your new knowledge. Your parenting style may change.

Hold true to your plan even if a grandparent, aunt or uncle can not understand it.  Remember, they have awareness based on their experiences.  You may choose to give information to a family member along the way, but we recommend doing so with an open heart instead of a goal of creating a shift in them.

When working with teachers and school staff, understand two things: one, they are working with your child from their experiences and training, and two they may see your child in a different light. Difficulties you experience at home may not be the same as what they are experiencing  at school. Share your knowledge; but listen to theirs as well.  Share evaluations and your home experiences but also remember to be open to  hearing about situations from school.  You both may have different perspectives, but work towards coming together for the benefit of your child.

With your child’s teacher, come up with a plan for school.  Be specific in your expectations.  Are you hoping to have your child’s teacher gain more awareness of how your child thinks socially?  Or are you wanting them to help your child experience more academic success?  We have found that you will have more success  communicating with your child’s school when you have one or two specific goals in mind.

In closing, we are aware that “invisible disabilities” are very real.  They affect our children differently in different environments.  The level of impact one of these disabilities has on a child can be significant in all areas of their life.  Ultimately, you are creating a shift in thinking within yourself, creating goals and expectations for your family, bridging a gap with your child’s school, and holding true to your plan when around extended family.  Although these areas can be challenging, consistency with your overall plan will reap the greatest reward.

With Appreciation,

Christina and Wendy

 

Executive Functioning Skills

Executive Functioning Skills are important in helping a student successfully navigate his or her school day.  So, what are they exactly  and how do they look within a classroom? Collectively, these skills are what helps a student regulate his/her own behavior.  Here is a breakdown of the skills: planning, organization, time management, working memory, and metacognition.   Let’s talk in detail about each one a little further.

Planning is what we use to decide what is important to focus on and what is not important to focus on.  This is what helps a student reach the completion of an assignment in school.  When a student is weak in this skill,  a teacher will frequently say that he/she is unable to complete classroom assignments independently.  He/she may possibly be working on a different task (such a drawing or writing) during math time.

Organization is shown when a student can easily locate all of his/her materials needed for an assignment.  For example, a student who is strong in this skill will be able to independently find the writing notebook, a pencil, collect a new graphic organizer, and overall be prepared for the assignment.

Time management is when a student shows they know how to judge how much time he/she needs to complete an assignment or a classroom project.  It’s typical to see a teacher help with this area during class by posting how much time the students have for an independent assignment or group work.  If a student is weak in this skill, you may see him/her struggling to pace the time to finish all parts of the assignment to completion.  When the time is up and the teacher transitions to the next subject on the classroom schedule, a child who is still working on the beginning of the last assignment would be showing a weakness in time management skills.

Working memory is how our brains hold information in our minds while performing a more difficult task.  We do have the ability here to “pull up” past learning experiences and apply them to a task or an assignment.  For example, we see this in the classroom when a student is asked to write a narrative.  While writing, the student is putting the idea down on paper while remembering to use punctuation, correct use of grammar, and spelling.  All of those tools are working together.

Metacognition is when a student has the ability to have a “bird’s eye view” of himself or herself.   When this skill is strong, a student would be able to observe how he/she is problem solving and even question himself/herself in how he/she did.

There are more executive functioning skills that we use when we face a new problem or want to achieve a goal. They are: response inhibition, emotional control, sustained attention, task initiation, flexibility, and goal directed persistence.

Response inhibition: This is basically the skill of thinking before you act.  When a student is able to “pause” and think before saying or doing something, than that student would be strong in this skill.

Emotional control:  This is when a student can manage his or her own emotions so he/she can complete a classroom task or assignment or successfully reach his/her own goal.

Sustained attention:  If a student has a strength in this skill, then he/she is able to attend to a task within the classroom even with distractions around him/her and feeling tired or bored.

Task initiation: This is when a student can successfully start an assignment without procrastination.  You may see a weakness in the classroom if, after the teacher has given directions to begin a task, a student is walking around looking for a pencil, sharpening the pencil, asking to go to the bathroom, talking to a peer, etc.

Flexibility: This skill involves a student being flexible in a change in the classroom routines, a mistake in his/her work, or any setback or change that may occur during their day.  A student who may show weaknesses in this skill would become rigid or upset if a change occurred suddenly during an assignment or in the schedule.

Goal directed persistence: This skill involves a student having the ability to follow through to finish a goal that he/she set for themselves or possibly by the teacher without  getting discouraged with a competing interest.

Honestly, we could talk for days on this topic.  🙂 When a student is weak in one of these skills, it affects his/her overall school day as well as at home.  It’s important, as parents and educators, to recognize where a child’s strengths and weaknesses are in relation to these skills so we may help support and strengthen these skills.  When we allow these skills to continue to be weak without any support,  it’s common to see an increased problem in school as the child grows and attends higher grades.  For example, “organization” in first grade may look like a child leaving behind a parent letter or forgetting to unpack his book bag at school (or when he comes home from school).  Leaving the skills to continuously be weak, in high school, “organization” will look like a messy book bag with a lot of difficulty finding assignments, turning in assignments, and forgetting about assignments. If these skills are strengthened over time, we will see a child who can manage time, projects, and maintain sustained attention. Additionally, once our children understand why they have trouble turning in assignments, keeping track of materials, or finishing activities then they can begin to work to change these behaviors to new behaviors with which they are happy. This enables students, parents, and teachers to partner together to teach the whole child.

If you would like to read more about executive functioning skills, we have a few recommendations.

Here are a couple of fantastic reads:

https://www.amazon.com/Executive-Skills-Children-Adolescents-Second/dp/1606235710/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1475534746&sr=8-1&keywords=executive+skills+in+children+and+adolescents

https://www.amazon.com/Smart-but-Scattered-Revolutionary-Executive/dp/1593854455/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1475534746&sr=8-2&keywords=executive+skills+in+children+and+adolescents

https://www.amazon.com/Coaching-Students-Executive-Practical-Intervention/dp/1462503756/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1475534746&sr=8-3&keywords=executive+skills+in+children+and+adolescents

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/brain-based-teaching-strategies-judy-willis

http://adayinourshoes.com/measurable-iep-goals-address-executive-functioning-deficits/

With Appreciation,

Christina and Wendy