Executive dysfunction



These are my faces of executive dysfunction. They are watching explosions with rapt attention in this shot, and they can build with LEGO and snap circuits for hours. When their brains and bodies are highly engaged, they are amazing people. They are smart (we call them the "Brain Trust"), but certain tasks baffle them.

Yesterday, we were cleaning up after dinner and Sawyer, the one in the back, was responsible for the snow clothes that seven children had shed through the garage. He knows his job under typical circumstances--gather clothes, hang on hooks or shove in bag. Easy. Knowing which pieces go together is sometimes difficult, but that is simply solved with a clarifying question. Yesterday was part of the start to mud season here in the great white north. So, the snow clothes were covered. As were the under clothes due to the quick, somewhat careless shedding of the snow clothes. This changed the routine.

Executive dysfunction means I can carry out tasks planned for me most of the time. It also means I struggle with planning and deciding what to do when the circumstances change on me. The following is the conversation Sawyer and I had regarding his responsibility.

Sawyer (irritated): What am I supposed to do with the outside clothes?!

Me: What do you normally do?

S (increasing irritation): UGH! I hang them on the hooks, but they're all covered in mud!

Me: Or...what do we do with muddy clothes?

S (approaching head explosion): GAH! I don't know!

Me: Watch your tone. I hear you, but you still have a responsibility. What do you think we should do with the muddy clothes?

S (attempting calm tones): ugh...I don't know!

Me: What did you do to your muddy face?

S: Washed it...

Me: So, logically, what should we do with the clothes?

S (becoming annoyed again): wash them...but I don't know how!

Me: Sure. I am not asking you to wash them. Please take a breath. Where do you put clothes that need to be washed?

S (attempting calm but clearly struggling): put them in the washer...but I don't know how...

Me: again, I am not asking you to do the washing. Take a step back. Where do we put clothes that need washing but aren't ready to be yet?

S: In the basement laundry room.

Me: BINGO. Please do that with yours. You can put ours in our bag. Thank you.

It might seem like I could have eliminated his frustration entirely by simply telling him what to do with the clothes. But that would not have helped him in the long run. My interests aren't in doing what's easy right now because I will simply continue doing the thinking for them. I very rarely tell my kids what to do or how. I almost always have a Socratic discussion with them. I see a significant difference in their overall ability to recall what we've discussed when I access that part of their brains. Sawyer was VERY frustrated with my by the end of this discussion, but the next time there are muddy clothes, I hope he will remember what he ought to do with them.

I operate in a similar manner when reminding them of math steps and writing guidelines. I try hard not to tell them the next things, but work with them to find the right direction to go. Eventually these kids won't have parents helping them through every step. It is our job to walk them along and help them learn to do it without our help. If YOU need help using this method with your own kids, schedule a session with me!

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