By Gabi Guillory
Most of us do not realize how truly skilled we are in the area of executive functioning. We use daily planners and calendars. We know what we’re having for dinner over the next several days. We have a mental map of the grocery store and can efficiently navigate it to avoid backtracking or retracing steps. We have a flight booked 6 weeks from now and we know what time that flight departs. We have a ride to the airport already scheduled and we have budgeted for that. When we enter a room, we take note of the exits, we understand who is in charge of the space, and we manipulate our own role in accordance. (I am the employee. She is the boss. Everyone is holding a piece of paper.) We know approximately what time it is right now. We do all of this without thinking!
Students with executive functioning deficits do not have a grasp on those seemingly simple tidbits of daily life, and that is why they struggle to complete assignments or turn them in once completed. They cannot get out of bed, eat breakfast, shower, and get out the door to arrive at school on time without countless prompts from parents. They enter the classroom when everyone else does, but when the other students have begun their morning work, these students are tying their shoes or making additional trips to their locker, or maybe sharpening 5 extra pencils. These students are often frustrated with being constantly prompted by teachers, parents, and peers.
Many students with ADHD and autism spectrum disorder struggle to function in a socially acceptable way in many spaces, and the STOP strategy provides them with an opportunity to evaluate a space before entering it. With the STOP strategy, we are helping them to strengthen their time management and social skills muscles independently.
Before entering a new space (a classroom, the office, a bathroom), these students look at their stop sign and answer the following questions in the STOP: Read the Room strategy.
S: Space. What space is this? What are the zones in this space? What path should I take get to where I need to go?
T: Time. What time is it right now? How long will I be in here? How is the time divided? What is the order of events?
O: Objects. What are people holding? What are people using? What do I need to have? What should I put away? Do I have objects that will distract me?
P: People. Who is here? What is each person’s role? Who is in charge? What is my role in this instance?
Deficits in executive functioning are like any other deficits. They require direct and explicit instruction and lots of practice for improvement and generalization. They require parents and teachers who are patient and kind, and who refrain from getting frustrated at something they themselves can perform so easily. Does your student fit the above description? If so, try this strategy running errands or going to church, as some Horizon families have. See if it makes a difference in the way your child behaves or feels in the given space.