Thursday, February 29, 2024

Episode #71: From Chaos to Control: Navigating Executive Function Challenges

Executive Function Coach Insights
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Show Notes:

In this interview, Tonya discusses executive functioning skills and their impact on students with ADHD with Chris Fugelsang, an executive function coach and founder of Exceptional Path. They delve into the challenges faced by students with ADHD and the strategies that can be implemented to support them effectively.

Chris emphasizes the importance of executive functioning skills in students’ lives, as they play a crucial role in academic success and overall well-being. He explains that executive functioning skills encompass a range of abilities, such as planning, organization, time management, attention, and working memory. These skills are essential for students to navigate the demands of school and everyday life successfully.

They explore the specific challenges faced by students with ADHD, which can include difficulties with time management, prioritization, and task initiation. Chris highlights the impact of these challenges on academic performance, as well as the emotional toll they can take on students.

Chris shares valuable insights into strategies that can support students with ADHD in developing and strengthening their executive functioning skills. He emphasizes the need for structure, routines, and clear consequences to help students stay on track. Chris also advocates for individualized accommodations and support based on each student’s unique needs and strengths.

They discuss the misconceptions and misunderstandings surrounding executive functioning skills, noting that some people may mistake ADHD-related challenges for laziness or behavioral problems. Chris emphasizes the importance of understanding ADHD and providing appropriate support to help students thrive.

Throughout the interview, Chris highlights the significance of communication and collaboration between parents, teachers, and students to create an inclusive and supportive learning environment. He shares that executive function coaching can be a valuable resource for students with ADHD, providing them with the necessary tools and accountability to succeed in academics and life.

The interview concludes with Chris sharing information about his coaching services at Exceptional Path, where he offers executive function coaching for students with ADHD and executive function delays. His coaching aims to help students become more self-aware, develop executive functioning skills, and thrive academically and personally.


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Music Used:

“LazyDay” by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.


Meet Today’s Guest:

Chris Fugelsang is an executive functioning coach and the owner of The Exceptional Path based in NYC who helps kids with unique learning profiles learn how to create habits and routines and develop skills that can help save them from unnecessary pain in the future. Chris has over 16 years of experience teaching in public, private, and international schools and uses that knowledge to help the students he works with today.

About The Exceptional Path:
Exceptional Path provides executive function coaching for students with ADHD, other learning disabilities, and /or executive function delays. They help students achieve academic success by addressing the root causes behind their struggles at school. They work with students who lack skills in planning, prioritizing, time mgmt., self-awareness, working memory, attention, flexibility, self-control, study skills, and task initiation. They provide accountability, structure, and consistency for their clients. Their one-to-one coaching identifies the students’ areas of weakness and creates an individualized and customized plan to develop the skills, techniques, methods, and routines necessary to find success in school and in life.


Episode #71: From Chaos to Control

Navigating Executive Function Challenges

(Recorded June 6, 2023)
A graphic image with a dark teal background. On the left is a photo of Chris Fugelsang. He has short wavy hair and a very light beard and mustache. He is looking at the camera with a slight smile on his face, and his right hand is held up to his chin as if his chin is resting on it. He is wearing a long sleeve button down shirt that is black. Above the photo are the words, "Episode #71, From Chaos to Control, Navigating Executive Function Challenges." Below the photo are the words, "Special Guest Chris Fugelsang," and the bottom right of the image has a round light green logo for the Water Prairie Chronicles Podcast with a capital "W" in the center.

Full Transcript of Interview:

Tonya: So Chris, welcome to Water Prairie.

Chris: Thanks so much, Tonya. It’s really nice to be here.

So we’ve been playing a game with all of our guests this season, um, called Two Truths and a Lie. And I’ve asked Chris to bring in three facts about himself with one of them not being true.

And listeners, your part of the game is to go to social media, to go to Instagram and Twitter, find the post that matches this episode and put in your guess of which of the three you think are the two truths and which one you think is the lie. And then a week after we post this, we’ll come back and post the answer to it.

If you’re watching this on YouTube, feel free to go down in the comments and leave your guess there as well. So we’ll, we’ll, we’ll check on all of those to see how many of you are getting the answers right. But Chris, do you have your facts ready for us?

I do. My number one is I was once mistaken for a Swedish astronaut. My number two is I live by the beach in New York city. And number three is I used to race dirt bikes.

All right. So listeners go in and leave your guess, but listen to the rest of the podcast first. Then go and leave your guess. So, um, today we’re going to be talking about, um, a topic that I think. I think you’ll find it really interesting. To me it’s very interesting. And it’s one that had that applies to my family personally. So, so we’ve done a lot of research on this ourselves, but, um, but Chris, I’m really looking forward to hearing more about not only executive functioning skills, but just how they relate to some students and some of the children that our listeners may have. To start out with though um, I’d like to, cause I mentioned that, um, That you’re an executive functioning coach, but you work with different types of students, um, both ADHD, 2E students, …. Are there other students that you work with?

Yeah, um, there’s definitely other other students with different types of struggles that I work with. Some don’t even have a, you know, diagnosed disability per se, but for the most part, it’s many of my students are ADHD or 2E or, um, have Issues with executive function delays.

Okay. So, for those that are listening that may not be familiar with some of those, um, I guess it would be an acronym or the, the abbreviations maybe, um, can you just tell us briefly what ADHD means and what 2E means?

Sure. Well, ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and which, um, you know, can be defined as in its simplest terms. It affects our ability to get things done, right? So it affects our ability to perform actions, sustain attention and resist distractions. So, um, oftentimes we see, sometimes we’ll see hyperactivity very present in younger students and sometimes we won’t see that hyperactivity and that’s more in line with like an inattentive type.

ADHD, ADD or ADHD. Um, so the hyperactivity can be there. And usually as Children get older, the hyperactivity can, can slow down or change or adapt. And they, they find ways to kind of, uh, a lot of students find like that, that hyperactivity aspect kind of decreases with, with maturity. Sometimes the hyperactivity sticks around and it’s hyperactivity of the brain and difficult.

It’s difficult to pay attention and focus and maintain attention for long periods of periods of time. But what I love what Dr. Russell Barkley said the most when he said it’s a performance. ADHD is a performance issue. We know what to do. We know how to do it, but we can’t act on it. So it’s, it’s not, it’s not a matter of intelligence.

Oftentimes, my students aren’t either exceptionally gifted, which is what 2E is, if two, twice exceptional, meaning on both ends of the bell curve. So, um, exceptionally gifted, intellectually speaking, and exceptional in terms of their, they have a disability, a learning disability, which affects how they learn as well.

So, as I was saying, many of my students are either average, above average, or exceptionally intelligent, but they struggle with a lot of these peripheral things. And this is what the executive functions are. The executive executive functions are controlled by that front part of our brains called the prefrontal cortex, and it controls things like organization, attention, focus, planning, time management, study skills, working memory and a variety of other skills as well that are not really taught in school.

So that’s why a lot of times these students struggle academically because they’re not taught a lot of these peripheral things around learning, which prevents them from either accessing the content, getting things done on time or meeting deadlines all these things that we kind of just mentioned.

So you, you got into what I was about to ask you about what executive function is. Um, but, and, and actually even what it’s, why it’s important to us. So without those skills being fully developed, um, it sounds like it’d be really hard for an adult who’s holding a job to be able to meet those requirements of of work and even daily life.

Yeah, that’s a great point. I think. I tell a lot of my parents and my students that these are life skills that we’re developing in these students. When I work, when I, when I do my coaching, I work one on one with students and, uh, we’re, we’re using school as the platform at a young age, but. Really, in reality, we’re developing life skills for students to be able to perform in their careers or later on in their, and the things that they need the things that they need to do to maintain a fulfilling and successful life as an adult, which might be like getting your chores done and, or, you know, washing the car or getting your taxes done. It could be a variety, it could be simple things that we take for granted that neurotypical people don’t have much trouble with, but people with executive function delays might struggle dramatically with, and can I just make one more point about the brain and its development, uh, that oftentimes with executive function delays where we experience an asynchronous development.

So some of these things might be developed normally, and others might be behind. So, although it’s a web, they’re all a web, and they all affect each other, that development of the brain often doesn’t fully, the front part of that brain, the prefrontal cortex, often doesn’t develop until the mid twenties. So, although there are young people, many young people struggle, there is still development taking place and the earlier we can address some of these issues, the earlier we can start to, you know, identify that these are executive function delays due to an ADHD diagnosis.

Or some other disability. Learning disability. Then we can put a plan in place and help these students to have a much more fulfilling life later on because they’re going to have these skills and a variety of skills and tools to pull from to, um, fall back on when they start to struggle.

So you mentioned that the frontal cortex doesn’t finish developing until the mid twenties. That’s in a typically developing child, young adult?

I think it’s in most, I think there’s a variety of, I’m not, I’m not fully, you know. No, abreast of all the science, but I think there’s probably a window of time in, in that mid twenties. But I would say like most people would, brain would develop in sometime around that, that time. I don’t know if ADHD brain takes longer to develop or …

It’s what I was going to ask. If you, if you knew that or not,

I’m not quite sure about the answer to that. If it takes long, if it’s. If it’s an older age, I don’t think it is. I think it’s about that time. That’s when the brain stops to develop. In the ADHD brain, that part of the brain would probably not have fully developed to be able to perform the certain tasks that they would need.

I know that you, I mean, we have children, young children who have developed a lot of those skills already. When, when they’re in elementary school, and then you have others that around middle school, you start seeing a, a change where there’s like a drop off where there’s some who, especially those who may have an ADHD diagnosis seem to be lagging in some of the skills, um, where if you’re, if you’re watching, um, you know, a group of kids, you’ll see the one that has their binder that’s this night and nice and organized and all. And then, then you have the ones that have exploded that are coming through. And some of it may not be ADHD or executive functioning lack. It may just be, um, interest in something else and don’t, don’t really care about their, their notebooks.

But, but, um, but I, I do know when my kids were coming through, that was about the point where we started asking more questions, um, for, for my son, especially. Um, and. And you had mentioned that in school, they’re not teaching those skills. We actually brought it to the school and ask, you know, can you evaluate and can you help us with this?

And, um, they didn’t say no, they just never did anything with the information. And, um, so as a parent, and I’m sure a lot of our parents are listening, it gets, it gets frustrating because you want help and you don’t have the answers yourselves. So, um, so trying to, to help that developing child gain those skills.

And we, as parents don’t always have the tools that we need to be able to teach them those skills. We noticed the difference, but, um, but trying to get in there. So that’s, that’s why I really appreciate this conversation because you’re bringing some information for our parents to be able to understand, maybe understand what’s happening, but then where, where, where can they go with this too?

Yeah. Yeah, just to respond really quickly. I think some schools do do notice the need for this and they try their best to kind of approach it. But what it really takes in my experience is a lot of one on one support, which schools are lack resources and time to time to address these kinds of issues. So, as good as their intentions may be, and as much as they would like to kind of provide this type of support, it’s often very difficult for them to do to do that.

Um, the second thing I want to just quickly say is that you’re exactly right. It’s around, it’s oftentimes around that. Sometimes it’s picked up on a little sooner, but it’s oftentimes at that middle school age where the content starts getting a little bit more difficult and the expectations are getting higher and.

When you could kind of just go previously on your intellect or like your ability to kind of like think through things now you need these other skills to kind of support you when middle school starts to come around. So that’s when the beginning signs often start to pop up. So that’s a great observation.

Well, I was thinking too that at that point. In elementary school, um, the teachers, and a lot of times there’s an assistant teacher that’s in the classroom, they’re able to kind of help walk the kids through processes, step by step instructions, and the students are starting to be more responsible for that themselves by the time they get to middle school.

And my, my guess is that’s why that, that disconnect starts happening, is because they lost the support that was built in to the classroom when they were in the younger grades. And um, because, because as kids are getting older, they are getting more responsibility on their own. And, um, and yeah, and I, I don’t, I don’t want to be misunderstood. I don’t know a single teacher who would not want every child that is lacking in these skills to have those skills.

Um, so I don’t know any teacher that would say no, no, we shouldn’t teach this, but you’re right. It is a matter of the funding and, uh, the resources that the school would have to be able to, to help with that. Um, so that, that being said, I’m hoping that, that we’re going to give at least a little inkling of support to our parents through, through this today.

Yeah. That’s the hope.

So speaking of which, what are some strategies or interventions that can help improve those executive functioning skills?

Yeah, that’s a great question. And I think, I think we touched on this a little bit before. Like, it’s very individual for each student. You know, like, when I talk to parents, it’s very interesting because a lot of their, the learning profiles of most of my students are almost identical in a lot of ways.

Like, they’re really bright. They can really, they, they can, it’s not a matter of of them understanding the content, although the content can be a challenge at some time. It’s usually these peripheral skills that we’re talking about. Right. And for me, what I’ve noticed is the fundamental skill that we can teach our kids is the planning and the organization and writing things down and getting things out of their head.

So when we have ADHD we think we like to, a lot of times we think we can rely on our memories, but oftentimes we already have poor working memories. And we’re wasting that valuable space when we, uh, on, when we could be putting it into a planner and I don’t care what kind of planner my students use. I tell them, you don’t have to use my system, but you need a system, right?

Like, so you need, we need systems and routines. So it does. And to me, the most fundamental 1 is, is that planner calendar, writing things down, getting things out of your brain. Stop using the, that valuable brain space for trying to remember dates and times and what exact and page numbers and things like that and get it all down and have a system for putting it in one place.

And a lot of my students will say, well, I can just look at the Google classroom or I could just look at the school Canvas. Why do I have to write it down all in one place? And it’s like. You can, but that’s actually really bad for someone with it. Those, those programs are usually set up really poorly for people with ADHD because they’re very compartmentalized.

So once I go into one of these assignments, I might get lost in this, in this class’s assignments, instead of like having the, the, the foresight to be able to pull out and go back into another class and check it, check that assignment. So what this does is it pulls everything out and we’re not just planning.

We’re not just planning homework. We’re planning schedule. Scheduled events, um, meetings, sports, sporting events, games, practices, and then we have another section for to do items. So, what I, I really like to use that as our fundamental skill and use the time in these coaching sessions to really just teach my students, how do you plan?

How do you get things out of your head and onto paper in a way that’s visually, like, easy to understand? Straightforward and you can focus on one thing at a time and you can break things. It helps you break assignments down into smaller chunks and be a lot more productive because when we see the whole picture, it’s a lot easier for us to make little, little, little bits of progress throughout instead of working endlessly at the last minute, letting everything pile up and which so many of my students love to do is procrastinate.

So they let everything to the last minute and then they’re overwhelmed and stressed and anxious and trying to get everything in at the last minute. So we try to avoid that. By using a planner.

I know too. It’s, um, using something like that, the way, the way that you described it, excuse me, it gives you the opportunity to be able to mark things off and to see that you are making progress as, as you go.

Where if you’re, if you’re jumping in, like have, having two in college right now, they have different online systems, but each, each professor has the class assignments. You have the overview calendar and the temptation is to say, you know, I’m just going to go by the school calendar that’s there. It has all my assignments, but both of my kids are finding that unless the professor put it in there right, it’s not going to show up.

Like if you have a 12 page paper coming up. It’s only going to show up the day that it’s due. It’s not going to show up a week ahead of time when you need to start your planning and breaking it down. So, um, so we, we’ve, we’ve worked on those conversations here as well. Just, you know, how you have to break it down into the chunks and to know, to know what’s happening.

But, um, so there’s, there’s, there’s some good points there. And I think, I think that’s something that I know with my kids, they were, they were both in public schools. Their schools always had some type of planner, even back in elementary school where the kids were. Slowly learning how to use that a little bit. Um, didn’t really work with either of my kids, but no, but the opportunity was there for them to use it.

I would say no to the most, almost 99% of those planners that the schools give out, they all, once again, they have a great intention. But I maybe know in my, in all my years of teaching, I maybe see like two or three students in my class who could actually maintain and use that the whole year.

Like those, those, the way they’re set up, the, they’re not being used properly and they’re not effective, especially for a student with ADHD or executive function delays. I think they’re more often than not, not a great solution.

So, um, so there, there are others out there that, that would be better situations, or do you create your own for each student?

Uh, I think everyone has their own thing that they like. I’ve kind of created my own system that I think really works well, uh, for most, for most of my students. Sometimes I have students who reject it and they kind of create it and we come up with a better system for them and that’s fine too. But I think, um, you know, something that I stumbled upon is inclusive of a lot of different things.

It’s very visual. It’s not weeks and weeks out. It’s just this week and the next week, and it’s just really straightforward. So it’s, and easy to read. So I think a lot of my students like it and, uh, find it to be effective. But there are definitely other… There are definitely other tools and systems for planning that are probably, you know, probably much better.

Right. Well, I think, I think like, like, like everything, we kind of have to pick, pick and choose what, what fits right for, for the moment and the task that’s, that’s there. Um, what are some ways that parents, um, teachers and other professionals that are supporting students, how can they help them, um, in strengthening their executive functioning skills? Or even developing them to begin with, and then strengthening them as they’re starting to develop.

Yeah. I would say that, you know, I talk about controlled failures a lot. With my, with a lot of parents and a lot of my, a lot of my, I don’t really talk too much about it with students, but what I’m doing with them is. You could, I mean, it’s, it’s a hard question to answer because there’s so many different approaches and so many different types of parents and so many different types of schools and ways of learning that kids are experiencing in education these days.

But what I would say is the number one thing is structure. A lot of times with when we have, uh, students with ADHD, they, and, and, and unstructured time, that’s a recipe for not a good, not a good situation to happen. So what we’re looking for is structure, routines, predictability, and having clear and set consequences.

I know that that that in and of itself might be but appropriate consequences to behaviors. Right? So, like, oftentimes my students love video games and they all they want to do is play video games. But I mean, that should be kind of like the reward for getting their things done. Right? So when I go back to.

So, so sometimes it depends on the parenting style and what, what works for that individual student. But I would say that kids with ADHD need really straight, uh, not, I would say really specific boundaries on when they get to use certain things when they get rewards because then they, then they start to learn bad habits and they kind of fall into traps of not thinking and it just feeds into their procrastination and pushes things back more and more.

So, let’s say bringing in structure, routine, organization. And, uh, you know, clear, clear and set consequences is really important for, for all schools and parents. To bring into their lives of students who have EF delays.

I think a lot of parents could understand that too, because as adults, we, um, we don’t start our day with playing, uh, what, what, what is a game on Facebook?

Maybe what is it? What is it that can’t Candy Crush? I think was, you know, it’s like if you, if you spend all your time on social media. You know as an adult that you’re not getting things done. And so, um, so a lot of times you’re putting that at the end of the day or at the, at your lunch break or something because you’ve kind of, um, naturally set those, those routines for yourself.

So it does make sense that if we can set that up for our kids and to teach them that, you know, this isn’t a no that we’re saying you can’t do this. But we’re saying when this is done, then this is, this is a time to just kind of relax and enjoy.

So a big, big factor is absolutely right. And a big factor of ADHD is impulse control.

So they’re always going to choose more often than not going to choose the preferred task over the non preferred task. So as the adult in their life, we have to kind of. Restructure that and put back in the reward, right? Like that’s what discipline is to put to do the hard thing first and then get the reward at the end. But if we’re it we’re sending mixed messages if we allow I mean it’s hard It’s hard for parents too because like it’s like a lot of times these kids are doing their homework on their computer, and like the distraction is one click away and how do you tell them not to do that when it’s so, so there are blocks and things you can use on your computer.

There are programs you can, you can put up there that I, you know, that I’ve used successfully with kids. But for the most part. It’s it, you know, it’s comes from the parents and it comes from maybe separating, maybe giving them an opportunity to work in a, uh, more common area, a common area where they have to kind of show their screen and see.

And so parents can do a lot of things that aren’t that invasive into their child’s life, but still kind of hold them accountable. So that accountability factor, and that’s what I. That’s why I do a lot of my coaching and that’s why I think it’s so effective is the accountability factor is high because we meet not just once a week, but we meet a second time to kind of follow up. Are you, are you, are you, were you able to do A, B, and C?

Right. When, um, I’m gonna go back to when, um, when we first started talking about this, this topic, um, you used the word “Discipline” and, um, and my brain automatically went to punishment discipline, but you were talking about discipline as far as being organized and being, um, thorough in what you’re doing.

Um, and so I just wanted to point that out to parents that we’re not saying to punish your child with this, but to offer it as a reward so that they can become disciplined in how they’re doing things.

Exactly. Right. So it’s almost like a self discipline, right? It’s like, or teaching, teaching self discipline, which is, which is doing the hard thing first and then, then receiving the reward at the end. So I think, yes, that’s exactly what I meant by that. Thank you for clarifying.

Oh, no, I just, I’m just going where, where my brain was going at the time. So, um. Um, with executive functioning skills, we have, um, you know, we, we have the, the mentality that every kid by this age should be able to do this.

Every kid by this age should be able to do this. What are you finding in your work with other kids? And just from your own experiences, what are some of the common misconceptions and misunderstandings about executive functioning skills?

Oh, that’s another really good question. I think, I think, I think a lot of people will think that a child with ADHD, someone who’s uninformed might mistake it for laziness, lack of intelligence, oftentimes behavioral problems. Um, they’re think like, oh, they’re a bad kid. They don’t know how to behave, or they don’t, they don’t know how to control themselves. But this is all part of not knowing what ADHD is.

So like a really important thing about this conversation and what I do with my students too is my job is to shine a light on and bring awareness to these ideas so we can educate people and understand that no, this is not this child being lazy. They want to do it. They, they’re trying to do it, but they, they have an impediment that.

That, that holds them back from doing that, from completing that task or doing that thing. And, um, can, instead of, instead of getting frustrated or upset with the child in the classroom, maybe we can ask a better question, ask better questions such as, what can I do to support this child? What can I do to make my classroom more inclusive of them, more, uh, suitable to allowing them to, to learn?

And maybe giving them the lead or giving them tasks, which are which you wouldn’t typically give to one of your students to do that gets them engaged in different ways because they are eager to learn and they do want to complete it, but they might need a slightly different way to go about it and they might need better support with different supports. That is not often that are not often. given in a traditional classroom setting.

I know, um, looking back to, um, again, with my son when he was in middle school, we, um, we had a lot of, a lot of misunderstandings that were happening because, because of these reasons. And, um, and the one thing that I kept coming back to with some of his teachers was, um, before assuming fault. Um, and I’m not saying that, that my child was, was without fault. I’m sure there were times where it was just misguided, um, choices that were being made. But, um, but if you could ask the why behind the action, a lot of times that’ll tell you more information than assuming something. Because sometimes the behaviors are very well meant, but they come across the wrong way.

And so if you can get the child to tell you, you know, why they did such and such, or what, what, not, not what were you thinking, but, but what were you thinking when you did this to hear their point of view? You see a whole different side of of all of it and and nine times out of ten I find that the kids they actually really meant well. They had they had a heart of gold. They just it just came across the wrong way the way it was going

I think it’s a great point. And I think I think kids often when they, when they, when they are able to do that and advocate for themselves and understand and, and understand who they are as learners, then they can make decisions to change and see once they see why I know, I know it’s a lot of times my students, they’ll, they’ll until they take ownership of it.

And they see why they need to change. They’re not like, it doesn’t matter if it’s just coming from me, it doesn’t matter. So a big point of this is like, yeah, if we ask these, if we ask our children, why. And we listen to them, and we can help them to make better choices and change their behaviors for future, future times that problems might come up or those similar types of situations might come up.

Yeah. Well, like, like, like with everything else, it’s a matter of education, you know, we, we need the adults are working with our kids to understand some things, but we also need to help. Teach our children how to understand that there are reasons why certain things have to be done a certain way and as frustrating as it may be, because it can’t be the way that they want it to be.

And I, I, I tell, I tell my students sometimes I was like, you got to learn the, the, the rule, like, uh, sometimes I like to think of school as like a game and. Once you know the rules of the game, then you can bend the rules slightly. And once you know how your strengths and weaknesses, then you can use your strengths and not to break the rules, not to do anything illegal.

Not to co pro to to do, do anything that that’s against the, but you can find your way through this game of school. And if you know the rules, you can, you can do things. Like to benefit you. So, um, so part of that is that I think, I think kids like that because it’s a little bit of the gamification concept there, but it’s also like, I’m not going to leave any points on the table.

Like, why would I skip that assignment? If I know it’s, it’s really easy just cause I don’t feel like doing it. Oh, that’s free points. I want to get that. I want to take that out. I want to scoop that up and make, and make sure that I get every point I can. Oh, can we add a little bit of competition in here as well? So I, so it depends on the child, but you try to use the, their strengths and there’s their individual strengths to make them, uh, perform right. Help them to perform.

So just, just to interject here a little bit. So I’ve talked about my son’s son through this during those middle school years. Um, for the parents that are listening, who may have a middle schooler, Christopher’s now, um, he’s going into a senior year in college and these are still challenging areas for him to work through, but his mindset today, unlike that seventh grade kid that he was, um, is he wants to make the highest grade possible just to prove that he can do it. And, um, and so he may not take the easiest route to get there, but he will get there every time. And just, um, made President’s List this past semester with a 4.0. A lot of work went into it, but you know, if, if we can help our kids learn those skills and the reasons why they want to do them, it can help push them to to be who they can be and to learn, to learn how to do it on their own as they’re coming through. So, um, so whether that’s an encouragement to somebody or not, we’ll, we’ll see, or, or, or just a, a, a proud mom moment there.

No, I think there’s more to it than that. That’s an amazing story. Yeah.

So, um, Accommodations, support strategies, um, what are just some basic ones that, that you see maybe more common?

Cause we know every child is going to be different in what they need, but what are some things that you’ve seen be effective in the schools and the environments that your kids are working in?

Yeah. I would say that, um, you know, in reading hundreds of, uh, and psych evaluations from the neuropsychologists over the years.

It’s very individualized, like you said. But, um, so depending on the student, like some things are necessary. Others are not. Some, some kids have these accommodations and they don’t even use them. Like extra time can be like, a great accommodation for certain students, but some they have it and they don’t like the first ones finished every time.

Um, no taking the same thing. It’s like, I think, I think. Evaluating which accommodations are working for you and which aren’t and finding your individual kind of accommodations that you need and making sure they’re accurate is the most important thing. Um, like, for some, some students, like, I think. You know, having the deadlines pushed back or like being able to hand things in late for a lot of students with ADHD.

I think it’s, it actually doesn’t work because it teaches them that they can hand things in late. And then in the real, and when they, when they graduate school or when they go to college and then they can’t hand in something late, then they’re in for oftentimes a rude awakening. So I think having the deadlines, I like the natural consequences.

I like the kind of like. Uh, you know, like I said, I’m not looking for my students to to experience pain and suffering, but I do think that it teaches them a good lesson on how to kind of maintain deadlines and stick to things. And if they don’t feel any kind of pain, then they’re not, they’re most likely not having any incentive to change.

Um, I would say preferential seating is often important, an important one where you can sit close to the, close to the teacher or close to the door or away from the window, wherever you feel uncomfortable, but it’s all all of these are very individual and it depends on the student and what they need individually.

Okay. Well Chris, we could, we could continue talking for a lot longer on this cause it’s such such a big package, but, um, but I wanted, um, to wrap it up just so the, so we can can go in. Cause I know you have a couple of things and I’ve got some things too. Um, but before we go. What is the best way if, if those that are listening, if they want to get in touch with you, if they’re in the New York area or if they wanted to check your online information, what’s the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Uh, yeah, thank you, Tonya. They can get in touch with me through my website, EXCEPTIONALPATH.COM. That would be the best way to contact me through my contact on that website.

Tell us a little bit more, um, about your actual business, some, any projects that you’re working on. Um, and just, just if parents did want to work with you, what, what is it that you have to offer?

Yeah, sure. So, um, like I mentioned, I offer a coaching service, so it’s for. It’s called Executive Function Coaching. It’s for students with ADHD, 2E, other executive function delays. And I support them in this process of kind of becoming more aware of their difficulties, supporting their executive functioning, building up their skills.

I tell parents often that like I’m providing them with a toolbox of strategies because oftentimes we’ll get tired of using the same strategies or they will stop working or something like that. So. Oftentimes, my students with ADHD need a variety of tools to kind of approach different things. And then I provide the accountability and support that’s needed to.

So I teach these skills, such as, like I said earlier, planning, prioritizing organization, time management, attention and focus, study skills, working memory. But I also provide accountability around that and support and a trusting environment where students can learn to practice these skills in a, in a supportive, um, environment where they can, uh, excel and use them in the school environment where they can, uh, improve their grades.

And like I said earlier, it’s not just school that we’re working on. We’re using school as the platform, but this is like life skills that they’re developing, um, for ongoing success throughout their life.

Excellent. Excellent. Well, Chris, thank you for spending some time with me today and talking through the executive functioning skills and understanding that better, uh, understanding a little bit more on ADHD as well. And um, I just really, really appreciate the information you’ve been able to share with us. Thank you.

Thank you so much. It’s been really fun. I really appreciate it.

Tonya Wollum


Tonya Wollum is a disability advocate and host of the Water Prairie Chronicles podcast which connects special needs parents with resources to help them navigate parenting a child with a disability. She is the mother of 2 college-age children who have each grown up with a disability. That experience, along with a background in education, led her to create the Water Prairie Chronicles to help share what she has learned with parents of younger children to help them know how to advocate for their children.

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