How to Build Initiation Skills

UnknownStarting a task requires strong initiation skills. Students who struggle to begin their work may have weak executive functioning skills. Initiation of task is a key executive functioning skill and utilizes other executive functioning skills such as planning and organization. Some students who struggle with initiation are overwhelmed by the multiple possible solutions they envision, causing them to get stuck trying to pick which solution is the best; while other students are unclear on the instructions for the task and don’t fully understand what they are supposed to do, preventing them from being able to start the task. Below is an example of parent struggling to help her child with initiation skills.

 

I wonder if you could help me. After various tests my son (7, grade 2) was diagnosed with ADD (inattentive) and anxiety last year. He’s on Ritalin and though it helps a little, he still has major issues at school. One example: yesterday he needed to write 8 sentences with words like in, on, you etc. It took him over an hour to write. He would then first need to figure out which line to use, then where to start and then realize that the word needs to start with a capital (2 – 4 minutes have now passed). By then he needs to be reminded what the sentence is again. His handwriting is poor so he has the tendency to try and fix it (which obviously makes it worse). By the time he’s written the first word, the whole ritual has to start all over again. And if someone says just one word his concentration is completely off and he needs to be reminded from scratch. He has the ability to do everything that is expected, his reading is the best in his class and he remembers what he reads. His math verbally is very good, but when writing, he makes careless mistakes. He also needs a couple of seconds before answering a question, which he will do but when he’s expected to write or come up with his own ideas, his mind is a blank. Do you have any advice or ideas into which we can look further?

I recommend the use of a visual prompt that can be displayed whenever the students go “blank”. We use the STOP, THINK, PLAN, DO prompt.

stop think plan do jpeg

Using the STOP, THINK, PLAN, DO prompt you can start to build metacognition skills (thinking about thinking) so that your child has something to start with. ADHD (inattentive, hyperactive or combined) can make it harder for students to STOP AND THINK. The key is to stop and think long enough to create a plan that can be broken down into steps. It is then easier for the child to follow the steps without getting lost along the way.

We have had students create stop signs that the teacher can use when the student loses focus and needs to re-engage in the task. For Initiation you may need to write out the steps to follow, in detail, for each activity. Then teach the child to follow the list.

 

Here is an example for a writing assignment: Add steps to the list until every time the student is stuck the next step is on the list ready to guide him.

Done To Do
Get out a pencil
Read the instructions
Ask for help if you do not understand the instructions
Create a mind map to get ideas out
·      What is the main idea
·      What are 3 details about the main idea
Sequence the details: number the items in the order that makes the most sense.
Write the first sentence
Write the second sentence
Write the third sentence, and so on until all the sentences are written.
Re-read what you have written, and look for spelling errors or anything that could be written better.

 

Students will need help to learn the procedure, so prompting will be needed to remind the student to follow the checklist. Gently prompt the student by asking, “What do you do next?” whenever he loses focus or disengages in the task. You can tap the checklist to remind him that the answer is right there waiting for him.

It will take quite a bit of repetition for students to begin to internalize this system. So be patient. I also recommend building flexible thinking skills to help with initiation difficulties. Starting a new task requires analysis and problem solving to figure out the best way to do the task. For some students that is overwhelming. Building flexible thinking skills enables students to become problem solvers and active thinkers which is what is required for initiation of new tasks.

 

In the case of the student above there are more specific intervention that can help.

  • Use wide ruled paper and number the lines.
  • Use a ruler to mark which line he is going to write on.
  • Check with teacher if the student can write half of the sentences and dictate the rest.
  • Have him dictate the sentences and then copy them in his own handwriting.This breaks up the cognitive load by separating the thinking part of the task from the doing (writing) part of the task.
  • Start learning typing skills to decrease the handwriting portion of his work.
  • Consider a program that builds his fine motor skills, like Retrain the Brain, or occupational therapy.
  • Build his cognitive processing speed and attention, a program like Pay Attention!  or PACE: processing and cognitive enhancement program, something that uses a timer or metronome to keep him on pace. Even simply clapping along with music can help.
  • The Think, Talk, Laugh Program is designed to increase Verbal Processing Speed.
  • Build his working memory with a program like Cogmed.

 

Building new skills takes time and patience. A step-by-step approach with constant reinforcement will allow students to develop and grow towards their potential. It is important to pick one aspect to work on at a time so that the child can be successful. Success builds confidence and confidence builds motivation. Motivation and desire to achieve drive students to work hard and learn.

 

 

Time Management Tips

a big alarm clock on top of a pile of books and agendas

Work smarter not harder, is a great theme for time management. People who lack time management skills tend to run late and build up stress along the way. Time management skills are important for creating a balanced life. When you manage your time you can create space for both work and play. Without time management skills you are at the whim of the most pressing thing that needs to get done.

 

Time management requires planning and self-monitoring skills. Once you plan your time it takes self-control to stick with your plan and not spend work time on a more enjoyable task like talking to a friend. The Stop, Think, Plan, Do system can be helpful for learning time management.

 

 stop think plan do jpeg  
STOP

·       Look at your planner.

·       Review your short-term assignments (the ones that are due the next day) and long-term assignments (any projects, tests to study for, etc. that need to be worked on over several days) and write them under tasks.

·       If you don’t know the homework from one of your classes, call that friend whose number is in your planner.

 THINK  
·       What is due tomorrow? – make sure these come before assignments that are due later in the week

·       Which assignments are the hardest? Which are the easiest? – do the harder ones first and save the easier ones for later

·       Number the assignments in the order that you plan to do them in.

·       Estimate the time it will take for each assignment, asking yourself:

·       How many problems do I have to complete?

·       How long does homework usually take for this class?

 PLAN   
·       Write the amount of time you think each assignment will take under “Estimated time needed.”

·       Add up the amount of time you estimate your homework will take overall.

·       Look at the clock and plan when you are going to start and when you will take breaks. Then estimate when you will be done with your homework. Look at your daily schedule to see how much time you had set aside for homework tonight – do you estimate that you will have enough time to finish it all?

 DO   
·       Set the timer when you start each assignment and stop it when you are finished.   Record the actual time for each assignment on your chart. What was the difference?

·       Cross off each assignment when it’s done!

 

Additional tips:

  • Don’t be afraid to say “No”.  Your time is valuable and limited, make sure you say “no” to anything that is going to take you away from achieving your goal.
  • Create a dedicated time to study. Turn off your phone and focus on what you are doing, you will find the work will go much quicker.
  • Stay with what you are working on. Don’t allow yourself to get sidetracked with ideas that cause you to procrastinate.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Sleep is important for your brain and energy level.

 

Learn more time management and executive functioning tips in the 

Executive Functioning Workbook.

Have fun learning about your executive functioning skills with the EF Quiz.

Contact us to learn about our Executive Functioning Coaches.

We now offer Skype sessions.


 

Take this TIME MANAGEMENT self-test quiz  from Mind Tools to identify the aspects of time management that you need the most help with. The results will point you to the specific tools that will help you to work more efficiently.

image004


 

Seven Steps to Help Your Beginning Reader

Teach reading skills

A child who can read is a child who can learn. And a child who can learn is a child who can succeed in school and in life.

Secretary of Education, Margaret Spelling.

Margaret Spelling reminds us that learning to read is one of the foundations of life success. Learning to read can be challenging for young children. Many parents and volunteers wonder how the time they spend reading with children can be more productive. The following suggestions are aimed to help parents and volunteers make reading more fun and successful for beginning readers.

1. SET THE STAGE Use the title and cover picture to create enthusiasm for the story. Discuss the picture and how it relates to the title. Ask the reader ,”What do you think the book is going to be about?”

2. LOOK FOR CLUES If this is a phonics-based book, review the phonetic rule for the book. Often the rule is on the inside back cover of the book. Spend a moment with the child playing with the rule. Write the rule down and add sounds. For example, if the rule is long /a/. Write ___a___e and then fill in letters to make words: date, late, mate, kate. Let them have fun, don’t worry if it’s a real word or not, just enjoy the process.

3. WATCH OUT FOR BUMPS IN THE ROAD Scan the book for difficult words before you start reading. Write the words on index cards and read them for the child before you start reading. Pull out the card if the child has trouble reading the word in the text and read it to her again. Then let her read the sentence on her own. This process will help with reading fluency and increase the motivation and enjoyment of reading.

4. GREEN LIGHT, GO! Ask the child to start reading.

5. RED LIGHT, STOP TO CORRECT ERRORS When a child makes an error, break down the word into smaller parts. Ask him to identify the first sound, and then the vowel sound. If he doesn’t know either, give him the sound. If there is a rule, follow the sound with the rule. For example, magic E jumps over one letter to make a vowel say its alphabet name, so late has a long /a/sound. Remember, most beginning reader books have the rule in the back or front of the book.

6. YELLOW LIGHT, CAUTION! Prep for success. If the child has a repeating error, write it on an index card in large letters and show and read it to the student each time she makes that error. This builds sight word vocabulary.

7. WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT? Use visual cues in the book as frames of reference to make sure the student understands what he reads. Question the reader, Why is this picture in the book? Ask comprehension questions such as: What do you think is going to happen next? Who is your favorite character, and why ?Was this a funny story? Why or why not?

Reading is a complex skill that requires strong visual, auditory and attention proficiency. Many times, beginning readers need more developmental time to acquire these skills.

Read the characteristics below and when one is true of your reader check                        all the boxes to the right of that item.

chart Column A measures auditory processing skills. If your reader is weak in this skill, she is struggling to match the sound of the letter with the letter symbol.

Column B measures attention skills. Close attention to the details of the letter symbols is needed in order to learn to read.

Column C measures visual skills. The eye muscles need to work together to track the letter symbols on the page fluently. If the eyes are weak, reading will be challenging.

How to build Auditory Processing Skills

  • Help with phonics.
    • When students have trouble with auditory processing, they have difficulty knowing the sounds that go with each letter.
    • Therefore, they rely on their visual memory to read unfamiliar words. When students come to a word they have not memorized they will guess because they don’t know how to sound out a new word.
  • Help sound out new words.
    • Write down the new words used in a story and review them before reading.
    • Refer to the new words with the child while reading.
  • When a child is stumped and starts guessing:
    • Ask her for the vowel in the word and then the sound of the vowel, because it is usually the hardest part of the word.
    • If the child has not mastered a sound, pronounce that sound for her. This allows her to hear the proper sound and make an association between the letter and the sound.
    • Write the challenging word on a piece of paper. First ask for the vowel sound, then ask for the letters that come after the vowel. Write these down and have the child read it. Then ask for the letters before the vowel and write them on the word and have the child read the whole word.

How to build Attention Skills

  • Keep reading periods short. Readers who have trouble paying attention find it difficult sitting still while reading, and staying focused. This can cause them to rush and make careless errors such as skipping words and missing meaning.
    • Begin with 10-15 minute intervals and increase time as skills increase.
    • Slow the reader down.
    • Remind her to focus on the letters.
    • Remind her it’s not a race.
  • Get the reader involved
    • Help build meaning for the story and enjoyment for reading.
    • Look at the cover of the book and read the title.
    • Discuss the picture and how it relates to the title.
  • Keep attention as you read
    • Look at and discuss the picture on each page prior to reading the page.
    • Have the child point to and name the characters.
    • Ask questions about the characters.
      • Do they look happy?
      • Is he nice?
      • Do you know anyone who likes to do that?
  • Ask questions about the topic.
    • Have you ever done that?
    • Do you know anyone who has?
  • Ask questions about what the child thinks will happen next.
    • What do you thing is going to happen next?
    • Why do you think that is going to happen?
  • Create a focus chart
    • Divide the session into 5 minute intervals. At each interval, give the student 1-5 points for careful reading. (1 unfocused, 5 very focused)
    • Ask the student to rate himself or herself. This helps the reader learn about his/her reading behavior.

How to build Visual Processing Skills

  • Make sure the reader can see the text clearly. When students have trouble with visual processing, they have trouble recognizing fine differences in visual symbols like letters and numbers. This causes them to misread words that look alike.
    • If they have glasses make sure they are wearing them.
    • Begin with larger print books and avoid visually confusing texts.
  • Help focus the reader’s eyes
    • Use an index card to hold under the line being read.
    • When a student has difficulty with a word, use your fingers to isolate one letter at a time to help him read the whole word.
    • Make sure the child can tell you the name of the letter and then ask for the sound of the letter, then go back and help him put the letter into the word.
  • Teach new words.
    • Write the word in big print on a 3×5 card, or another piece of paper.
    • These words can be put in a file box to build the student’s sight-word vocabulary.
  • Help with reversals.
    • Fluent readers must be able to distinguish the visual difference in the letter symbols, such as P vs Q, B vs D, M vs W.
    • When students make reversal errors, write the letters out on index cards at the beginning of each reading session.
    • Have the student trace each letter to increase awareness of the proper formations.
    • Refer to the cards while reading.

Most Common Reading/Spelling rules

The Vowel

  • Most errors are due to the reader not knowing the sound of the vowel.
    • Review all vowel sounds and make sure the child knows his vowel sounds, both long and short sounds.
  • Often, a child does not remember what makes a vowel long or short. Here are the rules:
  • Short vowels need protection from other vowels. Every short vowel is followed by a consonant and there must be two consonants between vowels in two-syllable words.
    • At, it, hat, bat, nut, shut, hot, hut, long
    • Batting, hotter, hitting
  • Long vowel needs to be “tapped” by another vowel to say its alphabet name.
    • Magic “E”: its only purpose is to “tap” the vowel to remind him to say his long sound. The magic “E” can jump over only one letter.
      • Make, date, phone, bone
  • Two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.
    • Each vowel has a best friend who she like to walk with. The best friend “taps” the front vowel and /ea/: mean, dean, bean
    • tells her to say her alphabet name.
    • /ai/; bait, wait
    • /oa/: boat, moat
    • /ui/: suit, fruit
    • Exception: /i/’s best friend is the silent /gh/: night, sight, light

Silent letters

  • Silent letters come after short vowels, you can think of them as protection from the end of the word or from another vowel.
    • /ck/: sick, nick,
    • /dge/: fudge, judge
    • /tch/: switch, ditch

Blends

  • Blends can be challenging for beginning reader because there are more letters to visually process and the mouth movement is harder.
    • R blends: /tr/   /sr/ /cr/ /br/   /dr/
    • L blends: /bl/   /sl/ /cl/ /pl/
    • Triple blends: /str/

 

Bossy R’s

  • A /r/ after a vowel sound is so bossy he doesn’t let the vowel say its name.
    • /er/ /ir/ and /ur/ all say the sound of /r/: her, sir, hurt.
    • /ar/ says /r’s/ alphabet name: car, star, bar.
    • /or/ says same as the little word “or”: born, torn, sort.

There are many more rules, these are just some that often trip up beginning readers.

 

 

Great Book on Processing Speed

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Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up by Ellen Braaten, Ph.D. and Brian Willoughby, Ph.D. (2014) is the first book I have found that gives both an overview of processing speed and advice to help parents and schools provide intervention. The authors have done a great job of explaining a very complex issue. Here are excerpts from the book that I think can help you gain an understanding of processing speed. I highly recommend the book.

 

 

Processing Speed Overview

In general processing speed involves the amount of time it takes a person to perform one or more of the following functions:

  1. Perceive information
    1. This can be to any of the senses, but is usually through visual and auditory
  2. Process information
  3. Formulate or enact a response.

* Simply put processing speed can be defined as how long it takes to get stuff done.

Kids and adults who are slower at these types of processing tasks are sometimes assumed to be lacking in intelligence, but this really isn’t the case. However, processing speed does interact with other areas of cognitive functioning by negatively impacting the ability to quickly come up with an answer, retrieve information from long-­‐term memory, and remember what you’re supposed to be doing at a given time. In other words, it’s possible that someone with slow processing speed will, as a result, be impaired in other areas of thinking and may even score lower on tests of intelligence.

How do I know if my child has a slow processing speed?

To assess processing speed deficits a formal assessment by professional is recommended. Many times students with processing speed issues will also demonstrate signs of another underlying problem, the most common being attention problems. The second largest category of children with processing speed deficits are those with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, nonverbal learning disabilities, language-­‐based learning disabilities, and autism spectrum disorders (including pervasive developmental disorder and Asperger’s syndrome). Other children may suffer more transient processing speed deficits with psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, or psychosocial stressors. A final category of children with processing issues are those who don’t fall into any of these categories but who perform poorly on time tests as compared to untimed tests. This category of children has are sometimes diagnosed with something called a “ learning disorder, not otherwise specified”. More recent terminology refers to it as a learning disability with this specific impairment in reading, writing or math fluency.

Types of processing speed

Processing speed isn’t a one-­‐dimensional concept. It’s not just how fast we see, how fast we write, or how fast we can process what we heard; it’s really a combination of all those factors. In fact processing speed deficits can be observed in visual processing, verbal processing, and motor speed. Problems in one or more of these areas can manifest in problems with academic fluency and general difficulties.

 

Will my child ever get any faster?

 

  1. Changes in processing speed are likely related to the impact of practice and experience. Research on processing speed has shown that the more time someone repeats the task, the more automatic and thus quicker the response becomes.
  1. The speed increases are also due to structural changes in the brain that happen naturally as it develops during childhood.

 

These two factors, experience and growth, are crucial to increasing processing speed during the childhood and adolescent years.

 

Processing Speed and Executive Functioning

 

Processing speed is considered an important executive function skill. Executive function skills allow us to successfully use our intelligence and problem-­solving abilities. These skills include abilities such as goal setting, planning, organizing, prioritizing, remembering information in working memory, monitoring our behavior, and shifting back and forth between different tasks are typically. Imagine that executive function is the car and processing speed is the engine. Having a faster engine or more powerful engine means the car can go faster, good executive function depends on the quality of the engine. More efficient engines allow the car to function at a higher level of efficacy.

 

Is processing speed just another term for reaction time?

 

The answer is no. Reaction time is part of processing speed. Processing speed also includes how quickly a child can integrate new information, retrieve information from memory, and perform certain tasks. It can be visual, verbal, motoric, or a combination of all three; and it can be content specific in reading, writing, motor, or math. Although a child with slow processing speed will often show problems across a number of areas.

 

Practical strategies for accommodating slow processing speed at school

 

  • Advocate for extra time
  • Teach time management skills
  • Keep an extra set a textbook at home
  • Take advantage of technology is a timesaver
    • Use of the computer
  • Ask for examples of completed homework for your child to review before doing a assignment
  • Make sure assignments are clearly structured and uncluttered
    • Clear beginning and end points
    • No redundancy: allow students to only do enough problems to demonstrate that they understand the concepts rather than do many practice problems after they understand.
    • Simple uncluttered visuals
  • Avoid multitasking
    • Ask for alternatives to notetaking during lectures: getting notes in advance, getting an outline, getting an auto recording

 

Processing speed in social relationships

 

There is a big association between processing speed and social skills. Regardless of any diagnosis, children with slow processing speed are at greater risk for social deficits. They have higher rates of social and language delays in early childhood. We also found that nearly half of children with slow processing speed had some problem with communication in early childhood i.e. being slow to talk. This combination of slow processing speed and language delays is a recipe for social problems at an early age. The most frequently reported problems were difficulties with social communication, social awareness, and social cognition. These problems included things such as difficulty spontaneously complementing others, problems quickly picking up on social cues from peers, and a reluctance to join group activities.

 

How does slow processing speed affect the child’s friendships?

 

  • Children with slow processing speed take longer to pick up on social cues in general, thus missing the point of the social exchange
  • Interactions can seem stilted or awkward because it takes them a long time to figure out a response
  • They lose track of what’s happening during pretend player games, causing their peers to become frustrated with them
  • They are disorganized in relating stories are reporting events, causing peers to lose interest in what they are
  • Reactions to jokes and sarcasm can be just a few seconds behind, which can make them seem a bit off to their peers
  • Slow work performance makes it difficult when working with a group and on group assignments

Provide support for organization and communication

In addition to general interventions, kids with slow processing speed often need help organizing their thoughts so they can communicate better. They frequently have difficulty expressing themselves clearly and concisely and may make comments that are poorly organized and sequenced. Their frequent problems with quick word retrieval and verbal organization cause them to talk around the subject and make it difficult for the listener to know what they’re trying to say.


Read the book to learn more about processing speed. I found the information to be thoughtful, relevant and easy to understand. The area of processing speed and how it is impacting students in the classroom needs to given more attention.

Working Memory and Processing Speed

 

boy working

Working memory skills are used for all learning tasks. A child with weak working memory skills has to work harder than other students to keep information in mind, as rather than being able to both hold and process the information, the child is working hard just to hold the information. Many students with weak working memory skills lose new information before it can be processed, making learning difficult. When a child also has a slow processing speed, it becomes even harder to hold on tothe new information before it is lost.

My favorite theory of working memory is by Baddeley and Hitch (1974). They created a multicomponent model of working memory. This theory describes two “slave systems” for short-term storage of information, and a “central executive” which integrates and coordinates the slave systems. The slave systems include the phonological loop and the visuo-spatial sketchpad.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baddeley%27s_model_of_working_memory

The phonological loop stores phonological information (that is, the sound of language). The visuo-spatial sketchpad stores visual and spatial information. The important information presented by the current theories is that working memory can be strengthened with mental training. That is why a program like Cogmed can be effective for people with working memory weakness. However, in addition to building working memory skills, students need to learn metacognitive strategies to help them learn how to learn. Students who have weak working memory skills usually also have poor executive functioning skills, using metacognitive strategies can help build executive functioning skills. Here is a link to an article I wrote about metacognitive strategies.http://bitsofwisdomforall.com/2012/02/05/metacognition-helps-build-self-regulation-and-executive-functioning-skills/REPLY

Classroom Recommendations and Accommodations:

For students with Weak Working Memory Skills

  • Help students organize the information they hear in meaningful ways, including chunking the information into shorter steps or connecting new information with previously learned information.
  • Preview new concepts with students so they know what to expect – this will decrease stress and help with attention and engagement in the classroom.

For students with Weak Executive Function/Memory Skills/Processing Speed

  • Build strategies to help students analyze, prioritize, and execute specific steps in a given assignment.
  • Encourage students to think through responses and take their time; many students with processing speed issues develop a compensatory strategy to rush through in order to finish work in time; these students would benefit from slowing down to process the information more deeply.
  • Teach students to stop and read directions carefully prior to starting a task.
  • Break down tasks and follow the order-checking work along the way.
  • Build memory skills by building associations to preexisting knowledge.
  • Rehearse new information to help encode it.
  • Encourage students to visualize what they are going to do before they begin a task.
  • Teach students strategies to increase engagement such as use of reminders (which can be set on devices such as the iPhone) to help build attention, awareness, structure and independent work habits.
  • Teach students to use self-talk to organize learning and performance strategies and to focus attention on tasks.
  • Teach students strategies to help recall information, such as PAR:
    • P= Picture it.
      A= Associate it
      R= Review it.

For students with Weak Visual-Perceptual Strategies

  • Use of graphic organizers to depict information visually and increase retention of ideas.
  • Note-taking techniques that will present and summarize heard information visually.
  • Exercises to sharpen the ability to attend to visual detail and to express similarities and differences between images.

For students with Weak Processing Speed/ fine motor skills

  • Allow extra time for tests, usually time and a half.
  • Provide extra time for students to complete in-class assignments.
  • Train students in time management techniques to become aware of the time that tasks take.
  • Teach typing skills to enable students to type as fast as they think.
  • Allow students to use the computer for all writing tasks.

For students with Weak Organization of Language

  • Students may have excellent ideas but have difficulty organizing their thoughts. Building pre-writing will help them express their ideas more clearly.
  • Review of writing formats (Narrative, Expository, Descriptive, Compare/Contrast, Persuasive) would facilitate and structure written expression.
  • Reinforce the writing process for students in a systematic manner (Brainstorming or clustering, writing, editing). The Inspiration Program is a creative computer tool that helps students brainstorm and organize their ideas before writing.

For students with Weak Reading Comprehension Skills

  • The SQ3R approach is recommended as an approach to studying information from text books
  • Teach students to preview reading material
    prior to class to ensure they are able to follow along during class time
  • Teach students to take notes at the end of each chapter of books they read. This will not only aid comprehension but assist in studying or finding information quickly when writing an essay
  • Pull out keywords and main ideas while reading to help put what students are learning into context

Hopefully students’ academic achievement will improve as they build strategies to help overcome areas of challenge. Building the student’s ability, and developing strategies to understand directions is the first step to helping students start tasks. Teaching how to break down and organize the steps to complete tasks will allow students to finish the tasks they start. As these skills are developed, it is hoped that students will be able to complete tasks in a timely manner, thereby increasing their processing speed.

 

 

 

“I want to be like him!”

Communication is the key to success in Middle School

soccer player

 

Bryce wants to be like his friend who is excellent at soccer, can memorize anything quickly and always has a witty comment to share. So he asked me to explain how his brain works and what he can do to be more like his friend. We discussed his strengths and weaknesses and how they affect his processing of information. In my explanation to Bryce I realized that he is not as worried about his academic levels as he is about his ability to interact with his friends. The same processing difficulties he is having learning new information in the classroom are hindering him in his social interactions.

Helping Bryce process information quickly will make all learning and social interactions easier for him. Once the brain is smoothly processing new input; social interactions along with reading, writing, and math skills will be mastered more easily.

Many students come to the K&M Center with diagnoses of a processing disorder, a developmental delay, dyslexia, processing speed issues, ADHD, executive functioning disorder, dysgraphia, language processing issues, and auditory processing issues. Each diagnosis identifies a difficulty in absorbing new information, effectively storing information and/or retrieving the desired information efficiently. The question changes from, “ How do I teach a child to read?” to “What neuro-pathways need to be developed so this child can read fluently?”

How do we build new neuro-pathways? Memory and learning are related but different and it is important to understand their relationship. Memory is dependent on learning because memory takes learned information and stores it so it can be retrieved at a later time. Learning is dependent on memory because the stored information in memory provides the framework used to create associations and inferences to further learning and strengthen memory.

The Process of Creating New Neuro-pathways:

  • The memory/learning process starts with perception and attention, which cause neurons to fire.
  • Once the neurons fire a trace memory is created and the consolidation or stabilizing of a memory begins.
    • This is considered the encoding or storage of information.
    • During this process synapses increase in strength and number.
  • When a group of neurons frequently fire together they form a pathway and the brain “re-wires” itself rearranging its organization.
    • These neural pathways are what make learning possible.

The brain is designed to process information along the path of least resistance. Pathways that are frequently used become stronger and faster, so information that is learned and practiced allows that information to be retrieved more quickly.

Frequent use of neurons builds quick, strong neural pathways. Educating students with learning disabilities requires finding activities that stimulate the desired neurons to develop new pathways. Finding the right activities for each student is the key to successful learning.

How frequently the pathways need to be stimulated is not clear. Most research indicates that intensive intervention requires 60 hours, with daily sessions.

Bryce has a unique and wonderful brain. In our discussion we talked about how every person has strengths and weaknesses that make them valuable. Bryce wants to learn and he is willing to do the work, therefore his brain will continue to build new neural pathways that will help him in his social interactions. We also discussed that he will most likely never be exactly like his friend and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Learning to accept ourselves, while continuing to improve ourselves is what makes life interesting.

Writing Workshops for Students with High Verbal Skills and Slow Processing Speed

Writing Skills

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Many parents have written to me in response to my post about the Frustration Profile: High Verbal Skills with Low Processing Speed.   That article was written four years ago and remains my top post. I have worked with many students with this profile and spoken to numerous parents about their children who match the profile. Today I was talking to a mom of a 19 year old who is working at our center. She made the comment that we should offer summer workshops so people can come and spend time with us to work on writing skills.

We actually do offer summer workshops for students. A few years ago a high school student came from Washington D.C. to spend a week with us right before school started. He came to the office from 9 to 4 every day for a week. Here is what his mother wrote after the experience:

 I am so fortunate to have run across your blog, which led me to you and your wonderful organization.  Sam  (who is sometimes allergic to work ) didn’t complain once about using a whole week of his summer to write all day.  Your staff made the difference by connecting with him, and helping him to believe that he could succeed at doing something that had become painful for him.  Please convey my thanks to them. 

He said (and says) that the strategies were extremely helpful, and he has specifically mentioned using them already. You guys really are the best, and it was well worth the trip to California to give Sam the chance to work with you! 

You have made a real difference in his life, and we are so very grateful. 


Here is a sample of one of our executive functioning/processing speed/writing sessions. These are progress notes from Ben, one of our academic coaches, summarizing a two-day intensive he did over winter break with Evan, a college student.

DAY 1:

Evan already had Inspiration set up on his computer and picked up the basics of the program quickly. After a short introduction, we started using Inspiration to go through the writing process step by step. We chose Othello as our work for literary analysis, ­­something Evan had already read. This allowed us to jump right into the writing process. The first step is to brainstorm — get ideas down in writing. For literary analysis, Evan should always start with three clusters or bubbles on his mind map:

  1. Characters
  2. Plot
  3. Themes

It’s usually fairly easy to start filling out details in these three areas. Evan was able to come up with many details as he reflected back on the story. This process helps to collect ideas in organized clusters. The key is to get started with the basics and keep jotting down ideas.

Once Evan filled out each of the three main components, I had him step back and examine his ideas. As he worked through the process of writing about characters, plot and themes, he slowly started focusing more and more on one particular theme: power. Part of the beauty of mind mapping / brainstorming is that it takes many disparate ideas and gradually arrives at a more focused topic.

Once it was clear he was interested in the theme of power, we focused only on this particular “cluster” of his mind map. He developed this point until he had it refined to a few topics / concrete details. The final step in the planning process is to find all the specific details and quotes to support each point. I walked Evan through the process of adding quotes to his Inspiration mind map.

DAY 2:

Today’s primary focus was on finding quotes and adding them to Evan’s Inspiration mind map. When done correctly, this step further refines and focuses the thesis and topics. As Evan added each quote to the appropriate group in his mind map, he further organized and refined his ideas. Each quote in his mind map had a separate bubble with analysis.

Once Evan had all his quotes and topics, we switched to outline format and revisited his thesis and topic sentences. Evan was able to write out a thesis that was really close to being good, but he needed a nudge in the right direction. Once I made a suggestion, he was off and running.

The writing process is closely tied to strong executive functioning, so we took some time away from writing strategies to discuss time management. It is not uncommon for students to need a nudge when writing a thesis. College professors are a great resource, and I strongly encouraged Evan to discuss his future theses with his teachers. In order for this to be effective, Evan should organize his ideas using Inspiration and develop a rough thesis. Evan has met with his professors in the past, but it’s not particularly effective if he comes into meetings empty handed.

Time management is key. Ideally, Evan should brainstorm ideas on one day, search for quotes on another, meet with his professor on a third day, draft his essay the next day and allow even more time before going back and revising. Evan knows this but still struggles with procrastination. I gave him the following recommendations:

  1. Set small, easy goals. Larger goals can be intimidating and may lead to more procrastination.
  2. Reward yourself when you meet your goals.
  3. Create deadlines (by setting up a meeting with the professor for example).
  4. Study in a new, less distracting place (like the library)

For the last part of our session, we put all our work together into the writing of the rough draft. Evan used the map we created in Inspiration and did an amazing job of drafting his essay. He wrote two pages of organized content in fifteen minutes and felt great! I was really pleased with his work. More importantly, Evan was amazed and excited by how well the writing process worked. He described the feeling of writing as similar to “driving a fast sports car!”


It is so hard for me to describe how we work with students to be successful, but I think the notes above give a good overview of the process we use. If you are interested in setting up a Spring Break or Summer Intensive please let us know. You can contact Jessica at 310-582-1563 x102 or at Jessicat@kandmcenter.com and she will  be happy help you.

Executive Functioning Workbook

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Here is a video showing what our Executive Functioning Workbook can do. You can find out more about executive functioning and take a free executive functioning quiz  at www.executivefunctioning.com

How do you teach executive functioning skills to a rigid child?

Backpack with school supplies
Backpack with school supplies

Executive functioning skills

Today I spoke to a mom of a 10 year old boy who is struggling in school. This student, Ben, is a bright boy who had been diagnosed with ADHD and a processing speed disorder. Ben’s reading, writing and math fluency scores are below his achievement in each area. While Ben has the accommodation of extra time it doesn’t help him, as he won’t use the extra time available to him. Ben has trouble organizing his thoughts, so he has a difficult time starting a task. Additionally, his working memory skills are weak making it hard for him integrate new ideas with previous knowledge. Ben would rather do things the way that he has always done them making it hard to teach him new strategies. Ben tends towards having a meltdown when he doesn’t like someone or something.

My suggestions to Ben’s mom were:

  • Continue working with their medical doctor for interventions for ADHD.
  • Start with an educational coach or specialist who understands executive functioning and rigid thinking.
  • Begin the intervention with full homework support and slowly begin pointing out areas where a plan would help him.
  • Developing Ben’s awareness of his thought processes through discussions of what he is thinking, along with using metacognitive strategies will allow him to begin to build the skills needed to begin new tasks. The metacognitive strategies can also be designed to help him with his behavioral regulation.
  • Once Ben is comfortable with his new helper, the educator can begin using the STOP, THINK, PLAN, DO mantra to help Ben begin to figure out how to approach a task. Learn more about using this mantra and building flexible thinking skills at Flexible Thinking Skills.com

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    flexiblethinkingskills.com

As Ben begins to learn how to approach a task and becomes willing to consider options that will help him learn better, he will be ready to learn the executive functioning skills of organization and time management.

Slow Processing Speed…is it due to weak motor skills, weak auditory processing skills or weak executive function skills?

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Slow processing speed can be due to more than just weak motor skills. Sarah’s experience highlights some of the more complex factors that should be considered for a child with slow processing speed.

Sarah is a diligent, athletic and caring 15-year-old girl. Sarah has always done well in school, but not without support. When Sarah entered ninth grade at her new high school her study skills deteriorated and she began to have trouble completing her homework and turning it in. In spite of Sarah’s best intentions she was not able to pull up her grades and complete her work. Based on recommendations from her school Sarah was evaluated to see if any learning issues were hindering her progress. The results of the evaluation demonstrated that while Sarah has an overall cognitive potential in the average range, her Processing Speed Index was significantly below her Verbal Comprehension and Working Memory Index scores.

The findings from Sarah’s evaluation indicate that her processing speed deficit is due to her difficulty with visual discrimination, auditory processing, and weak executive functioning skills. While inattentive ADHD was not completely ruled out, the examiners felt that Sarah’s main area of challenge was in the area of executive functioning rather than ADHD. Observation of Sarah during testing demonstrated her difficulty with task initiation. Sarah’s auditory processing weakness resulted in a difficulty understanding directions. Without a complete understanding of directions Sarah often did not know what she was expected to do on the tasks presented. Sarah’s response to not fully understanding the directions given to her, was to stop and try to figure out what she was supposed to do before she began working. This delay significantly impacted the time that it took her to complete the tasks. In addition, without a full understanding of directions Sara often did not complete the tasks fully.

 Sarah’s challenge with executive functioning skills was evident in her difficulty starting tasks, as well as her difficulty organizing her thoughts and language as she listened to instructions. The combination of weak auditory processing skills along with weak organization and problem solving skills made it extremely difficult for Sarah to begin a new task.

 Sarah’s fine motor skills, reading skills and language skills were in the average range. Her slow processing speed affected her performance on writing and math tasks. In addition, Sarah needed extra time for reading comprehension tasks due to the complex language and organization processing required to comprehend the material.

 Recommendations to help students like Sarah

Classroom Recommendations and Accommodations

  • The following recommendations are suggested for use in the classroom:
    • Students will benefit from cueing so they know what to expect – check in with them periodically and preview what is to come.
    • Help students organize the information they hear in meaningful ways, including chunking the information into shorter steps or connecting new information with previously learned information.
    • Preview new concepts with students so they know what to expect – this will decrease stress and help with attention and engagement in the classroom.

 

Executive Function/Memory Skills

  • Build strategies to help students analyze, prioritize, and execute specific steps in a given assignment.
  • Encourage students to think through responses and take their time; many students with processing speed issues develop a compensatory strategy to rush through in order to finish work in time; these students would benefit from slowing down to process the information more deeply.
  • Teach students to stop and read directions carefully prior to starting a task.
  • Break down tasks and follow the order-checking work along the way.
  • Build memory skills by building associations to preexisting knowledge.
  • Rehearse new information to help encode it.
  • Encourage students to visualize what they are going to do before they begin a task.
  • Teach students strategies to increase engagement such as use of reminders (which can be set on devices such as the iPhone) to help build attention, awareness, structure and independent work habits.
  • Teach students to use self-talk to organize learning and performance strategies and to focus attention on tasks.
  • Teach students strategies to help recall information, such as PAR:

P= Picture it.
A= Associate it
R= Review it.

 

  • Teach students study and memory strategies such as:

o   “Chunking” information into more manageable units

o   Rehearse new information to help encode it

o   Use notecards to review information

 

Visual-Perceptual Strategies

  • Use of graphic organizers to depict information visually and increase retention of ideas.
  • Note-taking techniques that will present and summarize heard information visually.
  • Exercises to sharpen the ability to attend to visual detail and to express similarities and differences between images.

 

Processing Speed/ fine motor skills

  • Allow extra time for tests, usually time and a half.
  • Provide extra time for students to complete in-class assignments.
  • Train students in time management techniques to become aware of the time that tasks take.
  • Teach typing skills to enable students to type as fast as they think.
  • Allow students to use the computer for all writing tasks.

 

Organization of language

  • Students may have excellent ideas but have difficulty organizing their thoughts. Building pre-writing will help them express their ideas more clearly.
  • Review of writing formats (Narrative, Expository, Descriptive, Compare/Contrast, Persuasive) would facilitate and structure written expression.
  • Reinforce the writing process for students in a systematic manner (Brainstorming or clustering, writing, editing). The Inspiration Program is a creative computer tool that helps students brainstorm and organize their ideas before writing.
  • Build students expressive lanuage skills by:

o   Building language categorization skills

o   Building rapid naming skills

o   Teaching them how to organize new information as they learn it to create associations they can use later to recall the information

o   Building flexible thinking skills

 

Increase reading comprehension

o   The SQ3R approach is recommended as an approach to studying information from text books

o   Teach students to preview reading material prior to class to ensure they are able to follow along during class time

o   Teach students to take notes at the end of each chapter of books they read. This will not only aid comprehension but assist in studying or finding information quickly when writing an essay

o   Pull out keywords and main ideas while reading to help put what students are learning into context

 

Hopefully Sarah’s academic achievement will improve as she builds strategies to help her overcome her areas of challenge. Building Sarah’s ability, and helping her develop strategies, to understand directions is the first step to helping her start tasks. Teaching Sarah how to break down and organize the steps to complete tasks will allow her to finish the tasks she starts. As Sarah develops these skills, it is hoped that she will be able to complete tasks in a timely manner, thereby increasing her processing speed.

 

 

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