Professional development is a key component of every mentor’s career at Thinking Organized. At our December staff meeting we were joined by Dr. Dan Shapiro, who discussed with us some of the issues present in our students’ lives and how to effectively guide them toward success. Dr. Shapiro is a highly regarded pediatrician in the DC metro area who focuses on developmental and behavioral pediatrics. The topics that he discussed with us are useful for anyone who is looking to learn more about supporting students with executive functioning weaknesses, and we wanted to share some of his wisdom with you here!
First, Dr. Shapiro reminded us that executive functions take decades to develop. Often, students are expected to perform when they really cannot. Parents can look at actual photos (the New York Times has an awesome webpage for this here) to help explain what is occurring in a developing child’s brain. It helps to demystify what is going on since it is very clear that the prefrontal cortex, where executive functions reside, continues to develop and mature well into early adulthood. Once this understanding is in place, it becomes much easier to meet the child where he is and provide reasonable expectations. Of course, students do need to experience gradual release of responsibility, but it is important to be aware of what is occurring internally that is out of a child’s control.
Another key takeaway from the meeting was Dr. Shapiro’s explanation of the complexity that underlies any difficulty that students are experiencing. Factors such as executive functioning skills, learned avoidance behaviors, and the family environment all play a role in determining how a student is performing in school and daily life. Dr. Shapiro talked about how change comes about with a mutually respectful, collaborative process. He explained that the student needs to be involved in evaluating the situation and brainstorming possible solutions in order to find a strategy that works best. Once students recognize an area where they want to improve and they are in the brainstorming phase, it is important to leave judgment at the door. No possible solution is unacceptable and every idea deserves to be seriously considered. Once brainstorming is complete, rank each possible solution on a scale from 1 (terrible) to 5 (excellent) and look at the results. Ask the child to choose a course of action and try it using a time-limited trial. Make sure to evaluate the results and revise the plan if needed.
We certainly learned a lot from speaking to Dr. Shapiro, and we appreciate his willingness to speak with our group! He currently runs a variety of courses along with Dr. Sarah Wayland dedicated to helping parents navigate raising a child with a difficult temperament and/or developmental differences. To sign up for any of the courses and receive more information, check here: http://raisingyourchallengingchild.com/index.html