Sometimes you just have to laugh…
My fourteen year old and his Dad are both challenged with similar executive function deficits. Last night I had a particularly busy night, so asked them to take on a project for French class: making quiche. It involved going to the store to buy the needed ingredients, assembling and baking. It was a great exercise in how to support deficits in executive function (EF), and a reminder of how specific I need to be!
EF Support Strategy #1: Understand the details so you don't miss anything.
They both had baked quiche many times before, so I wasn't too worried, but it's always an adventure. I prepared them well. Before I left, my son and I found the recipe, wrote down the missing ingredients, and reviewed them with his Dad.
EF Support Strategy #2: Write things down to remember.
Not only did my son and I write down a grocery list, we were even careful to write down brand names and sizes of ingredients to avoid confusion at the store. The instructions included cooking times and temperature.
EF Support Strategy #3: Loud or blaring reminder systems.
When I got home, I could hear the beeping of the oven going off – good sign, even if no one was quite paying attention to it (yet!) Beautiful quiche comes out of the oven, looks like a victory for the executive function twins…
EF Support Strategy #4: If you aren't sure, overcompensate.
… Dad leaves to head back to his house, and carries out with him several types of pie-crusts to return to the store. Buying more than you need to accommodate a working memory challenge is a good strategy, provided you remember to return what isn't needed. It's also a useful strategy when they get to the store and discover they've lost the list, which is what happened.
EF Support Strategy #5: Have a back-up support to help you remember. (Particularly when you are tired.)
…Bedtime, and I come out of my office after the fabulous Executive Function Webinar with Dr. Mark Bertin. I notice the quiche on the counter and remind my son to wrap it up and put it away before he goes to bed. I head upstairs as I hear the foil come out of the drawer.
I go to sleep with a confident smile and a sense of satisfaction. With adequate structure and support, even those challenged with EF can find success. For those of us who are providing that support, we just need to remember to be very specific.
Sometimes, more specific than we realize.
So here's the tag: This morning, I come downstairs to see my son smiling, ready to head out to school, the quiche wrapped nicely on the counter…in the same exact place it was when I went to bed the night before. A moment of panic kicks in. In support strategy #2, I left out an important detail – “put the quiche away IN THE REFRIGERATOR.” The quiche, filled with eggs and cheese, sat on the counter all night.
Careful to throw in a bit of lightness so as to not devastate my son, I point out what has happened and. quickly offer an easy solution. I will bake another and get it to school before French class. Note to reader: my son has very thick skin, and yours may not, so be careful how you handle this step. Sadly, the quiche goes in the garbage…
Some of you might think that he should be responsible for this mistake. I can see where you're coming from, but here's how I look at it. When you're dealing with challenges of executive function, you want set realistic expectations, and take it one step at a time. I knew he was tired the night before, and as his back-up, I own some of the responsibility. I also want to reward the success he DID have in making the quiche, rather than have him only remember the failure because he missed the last step in the process. When I help him see what he CAN do well, he can build on that success. Next time, because we didn't make it a crisis, he's more likely to remember to put it in the refrigerator, too!
So that brings us to the last step in supporting executive function:
EF Support Strategy #6: Try to keep your sense of humor (and some extra eggs!)