Executive Functioning skills: it’s a phrase we hear about a lot when it comes to students with ADHD and other learning disabilities. Executive functioning skills can make or break us when it comes to being able to properly map out and execute a plan. There’s a lot that goes in to these skills. However, it is not just individuals with learning disabilities that struggle with these skills. Our students with autism can very well struggle too!
When I first learned about executive functioning a few years ago, I was fascinated. It took me a while to really understand what executive functioning was. In a way, I think it was a little too abstract for my ABA geared brained to conceptualized. It took me a good while to really be able to explain these skills and be able to teach them to my lower-support students with autism. I knew these students were extremely capable, but I saw the difficulties they had with task initiation, preparing themselves to work, and ensuring they stay on task. Having been in a low-ratio self-contained classroom probably didn’t help, as they were used to having staff assist them in finishing tasks. They could multiply and write paragraphs, but still needed the skills to be able to complete their work independently. I made it my mission to help these students succeed.
There were many ways I made these skills ABA friendly, but one easy strategy was using visuals. Of course, visuals are an awesome way to make the not so concrete, concrete.
A big part of executive functioning is the ability to plan. This is a visual I used all the time in group work as well as independent work. Students were able to see what items they would need to complete a task.
I had a student that had challenges with voice modulation and self-monitoring his voice level. We introduced this visuals by referencing it often. We were eventually able to fade out prompts and have the student use it independently.
What are my top tips for using these visuals?
- They need to be explicitly taught. Fade prompting.
- Start small. When it comes to executive functioning skills, choose objective goals. It can be really overwhelming to teach these skills. Start one at a time.