It's that time of year again - final papers are nearly due. The end of the semester is busy and difficult for everyone. For people who struggle with executive function skills, it can be even more so. Breaking down assignments into manageable pieces and planning to do them over a period of several days can help prevent overwhelm and procrastination.
How do you break down assignments? Let's say your professor has asked you to write an essay comparing two books. Follow these steps:
1) Read over the assignment and highlight the most important parts. What is the professor really asking you to do? There might be a lot of unnecessary information on the essay description. Try to get rid of that and focus on what's really necessary. You can go back and check the details after you write a draft of an outline.
2) Make a list of what the final paper should include. For example: 7-8 pages, compare the themes of 2 books we read in class. 2 sources.
3) Work backwards on a calendar. Here's an example. If the paper is due on December 20th, you should have an outline by the 16th. This means you should have all of your notes done by the 14th. You should, therefore, go through the books again and take notes (if you haven't already) starting on the 8th. Put each of these dates on a calendar.
4) Write on your calendar how long you plan to work on the paper, and what, specifically, you will do each day (e.g. December 15th, 9-10am Take notes). Some days, you may work for just 30 minutes. Some days, you may work for three hours. It's better to overestimate how long things will take you.
5) Do this for each of your classes. Write how long you plan to work for each class on every day of your calendar. You may work from 9-11 on one paper, then take an hour long break, then work from 12-1 on another paper for another class. It will all depend how much work you have to do and how much you have to do outside of schoolwork.
Because anxiety comes into play, these tasks aren't always so easy. But breaking down assignment can help with the anxiety. It will help you to manage your time and not feel totally overwhelmed by assignments.
People have different feelings about meeting with professors. Some love it, some hate it, and some don’t really care one way or another. What is true for everyone is that meeting with your professors is an important part of college. Developing a relationship with them can be beneficial in so many ways. Here are a few examples of how knowing your professors well can help you out:
So how do you get to know your professors? Walk with them in the hallways after class or go to office hours. Ask them questions about the topics you’re studying. Tell them your thoughts on those topics. Professors really appreciate students who care and who go out of their way to learn more about their fields.
Executive function skills are largely controlled by the prefrontal cortex in the brain. If our prefrontal cortex isn’t working well, our executive function skills will suffer. It’s, therefore, vital that we take good care of our brains! Here are three ways to strengthen our prefrontal cortex:
Many people with ADHD and other executive function issues have a hard time starting tasks. Starting boring tasks can feel particularly difficult, bordering on the impossible! Unfortunately, we all have to get ourselves to do uninteresting things sometimes. Next time you feel stuck, try one or two of these strategies to help you get going.
Before you start, do something relaxing. Many people have trouble initiating tasks because they feel overwhelmed by them. Something as seemingly mundane as doing the dishes can feel like climbing Mount Everest (but way less fun). Before you start, then, do something calming. Blast some music that makes you feel good, go out for a run, or call a friend. Whatever makes you feel better. Feeling a bit calmer and more pumped can help you get started.
Set a timer. Perhaps you have to read a book for your history class. A whole book. Even opening the book can feel daunting. Setting a timer and, therefore, limiting the task to a small amount of time can make reading feel manageable. Try setting the timer for fifteen minutes. At the end of that time, close the book. You’ve done it! You’ve started your task! Later that day, set a timer again and do 15 more minutes. Keep doing it until the book is done.
Only do five things. This one is similar to setting a timer but seems to work better for some people. Say you have a sink full of dishes and the last thing you want to do is clean them but you know it has to be done. Tell yourself that you only have to clean five dishes. If you decide to clean more, great. If not, you’ve done five. Hooray! Like with the timer, you can do five more later in the day.
Provide yourself with an external reward. Some tasks don’t feel particularly rewarding in and of themselves so finding motivation to even begin them can be difficult. Some people find external rewards are helpful in these cases. For example, if you start your English paper and work on it for 30 minutes, you can take a break and play with your dog, eat some ice cream, or buy a comic book.
Break down tasks so you know where to begin. To start a task, you need to know where to begin. And knowing where to begin can be extremely difficult for people with ADHD and other executive function challenges. Sometimes, there isn’t one definite place to begin and you can just choose one. Alternatively, a parent or friend can help with this. But if this is difficult for you on a regular basis, you may want to work with an executive function coach. Where do you begin when you have to write a research paper? Or how do you organize your room so you stop losing your work? Executive function coaches can help you learn to break down tasks so you know where to begin and how to follow through.
There are a variety of ways to help manage ADHD symptoms including medicine, supplements, exercise, and executive function coaching. One method that is less well-known is called neurofeedback.
While many people have never heard of neurofeedback, it is used widely. Currently, about 10,000 children in the US are receiving neurofeedback treatments. Though this method has not been studied as much as some others, there is a solid body of research that shows that it can alleviate some of the symptoms of ADHD. Numerous studies have found that it helps with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Even better, these benefits continue even after the treatments are completed.
How does it work? During a neurofeedback session, electrodes are placed on a client’s head. The client then watches a video or plays a video game while the person performing neurofeedback monitors brainwaves. “When the brain responds appropriately to the visual or audio stimulation, positive feedback is given, and when it responds inappropriately, negative feedback is given, which, over time and with plenty of repetition, helps to retrain the brain to respond appropriately more often and on its own.” - https://www.mychildwillthrive.com/podcast006/
In other words, neurofeedback helps the brain learn to self-regulate. Again, this can help people with ADHD become less impulsive, calmer, and more able to focus.
One of the downsides to neurofeedback is that it is generally not covered by insurance. Additionally, it is a relatively slow process that can take 40 or more sessions to be completed. Nevertheless, if you are looking for another treatment for your or your child’s ADHD, you may want to give it a try. Countless people are happy that they did!
For more information on neurofeedback, check out the links below.
Do you think your child (or maybe you) has ADHD? Take the following quiz. If you answer yes to many of the questions, you may want to talk to his pediatrician or school counselor about having a more formal assessment.
Again, if you answered yes to many of these questions, you may want to talk to your child's doctor or school counselor. These can be signs of ADHD, anxiety disorders, or other executive function issues.
Many children with ADHD also struggle with anxiety that can be quite debilitating. Doctors often treat both with medication but this can be tricky. Stimulants, often used to treat ADHD, can increase anxiety. Simultaneously, some medications used to treat anxiety can increase some symptoms of ADHD such as impulse control. Some doctors, therefore, recommend treating the most debilitating condition first. Other doctors treat ADHD and anxiety simultaneously. Because treatment with medication can be so tricky, finding a doctor who specializes in these areas is ideal when possible.
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Hooray! Your child’s hard work and persistence (and your hard work and persistence) have paid off and she is off to college! This is certainly a time to celebrate.
In addition to celebrating, you may be helping your child set up any extra learning supports that she may need in college. That is definitely an excellent idea. But it may not be all of the support she needs.
Many young people with executive function challenges have a tremendous amount of help at home with self-care. Parents often do their laundry, cook their meals, buy their toiletries, tell them when to shower, when to wake up, and when to leave the house. When your child is off at college, she will need to do most of these things by herself.
If you haven’t already started doing so, the summer before college is a great time to teach your child these skills. Have her practice setting her alarm and getting herself out of bed. Teach her how to do laundry. Send her to the store to buy toiletries. Sit together, make schedules and lists of things to do and buy, and have her follow them.
These skills, of course, are quite difficult for most people with executive function challenges. If you find your child leaves for college without them, consider getting her an executive function or life skills coach when they get to school so they have the support they need.
A great resource on transitioning to college is On your own: A college readiness guide for teens with ADHD/LD by Patricia Quinn and Theresa Laurie Maitland.
You may have heard that people with ADHD and some learning differences have difficulty with executive function skills. So what are executive function skills anyway?
Executive function skills are related to three main functions of our brains - mental flexibility, working memory, and self-control. More specifically, people with executive function issues:
The good news is that most executive function skills can be taught. Medication can also be helpful. If you’re concerned about your child, you may want to visit the sites below for more information. Also, your pediatrician and/or your child’s school can often assess your child for ADHD and other learning differences.
To learn more about executive function skills, visit: