What’s Next for Helping Students with Executive Dysfunction?
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What’s Next for Helping Students with Executive Dysfunction?

The following is a special needs program update from College Living Experience | CLE | Choose Your Future

By John Kelly, Academic Coordinator & Jennifer Griffith, Director

What’s Next?

Maddie - learning executive functioning at CLEAs students transition out of high school, they face this question—and it’s a big one. While it can be exciting to entertain the new possibilities and opportunities at this time, it can also be daunting. For life as an adult after high school comes with many hard decisions: What college should I go to? What should I major in? What career do I pursue? What schools and jobs are even available to me? How do I pay for school? Do I work on the side? Where will I live? How do I support myself?

instruction in executive dysfunctionWhat’s next?
This seemingly simple question can quickly become scary for any student. This is why we, whether parents, teachers, coaches, mentors, counselors, or religious leaders, tell our students to set goals, plan out their steps, and problem-solve along the way. That’s straightforward enough, right? Maybe not so much if you’re a student who struggles with executive functioning. With its activity located in the frontal lobe of the cortex, executive functioning is a set of higher-level cognitive processes that enable one to coordinate, control, and carry out—hence, execute—behaviors to achieve goals. Executive functioning includes skills such as: initiating; organizing; planning; problem-solving; being flexible; focusing and shifting attention; managing time; self-monitoring thoughts and behaviors; regulating affect; controlling impulses; and noticing salient features of an environment. Air traffic controllers, CEOs, and symphony conductors are all useful metaphors to think about how executive functioning makes these many and complex processes work in concert. In this light, setting goals for life after high school is a serious operation, cognitively and behaviorally speaking.

In the secondary setting, many students who experience deficits in their executive functioning—or executive dysfunction—receive help in a highly supported environment, whether with an aide, in a designated class, or in a special school. In the postsecondary world, however, these supports can dramatically change; sometimes, they diminish in kind or degree or even fall off altogether. Just like their typical peers as adults, students with varying exceptionalities are expected to do much more of their goal-setting independently. How can we bridge the gap?

Above all, we can make executive functioning explicit for our students. Many students are already implicitly engaging in activities throughout their school day that help repair their executive dysfunction, be it color-coding assignments, chunking texts, or setting alarms. However, we might increase the efficacy of our supports by educating our students expressly on executive functioning.

We can:

CLE executive dysfunction instruction

1. Teach students what executive functioning is and why they are learning it

2. Deliver hands-on, experience-driven learning opportunities (such as puzzles, simulations, scenarios, and other contrived exercises) to help students identify their strengths and weaknesses

3. Reflecting on the activity as it relates to their own lives

4. Working with a professional to design interventions accordingly. In this way, keeping a planner or using a visual checklist, for example, isn’t simply another assignment, but a strategy that can help them meet their needs and desires.

Explicit instruction in executive functioning, then, can help increase a student’s investment in the very interventions designed to help them.

So, what’s next?
For families and faculty helping high school students with executive dysfunction who are addressing this question, the answer isn’t necessarily the name of a school, a particular major, or even a specific job title. The answer just might be learning how one sets, plans for, and problem-solves for a goal: executive functioning training.

Newsletter Articles – March 2015

Getting help with transition to college

Beginning the discussion about what happens after graduation can start as early as middle school, but will most definitely coincide with the student’s first transition IEP plan. It should be a discussion between students, parents and guidance staff from high school. Students can contribute information about their interests, strengths, challenges, and career of choice. School guidance counselors can contribute information about college or technical school options, potential academic courses of study, entrance requirements, and the admission process including SATs and other standardized testing that will be required. School counselors might also have information about other types of post-secondary programs including gap year programs, apprenticeships, and internships. Parents can contribute by encouraging their son or daughter to take an active role in this process, being open to their ideas, and providing constructive feedback to help guide their decisions.

Rachel at CLE Austin

All parents who have sent their children off to college can relate to the excitement and anxiety surrounding this life change. As parents, we never stop worrying about them even when we’re confident that they’ll do well. In this article, Trudy, one of our current parents, shares her experience with her daughter, Rachel’s transition.

Academic Supports at CLE

For many students, the most challenging aspect of college is identifying what academic supports are available, and how to find them. College students must take the initiative to find and apply for the support services that will be beneficial to their academic success. Each college campus has various offices that are designed to support students academically, some offer services that are available to all enrolled students and some can only be accessed by specific students based on need.

Drew at CLE DC - culinary student

“Going from high school to college was a big transition. The transition to the “real world” was a bit nerve-wracking, but I made a choice to be excited to move onto something big,” says Drew. That something big was moving to Rockville, MD to attend college and join College Living Experience. Since joining CLE in 2012, Drew has made significant strides toward his ultimate goal of independence, including taking classes at college, participating in three culinary arts internships, living in his own apartment and making new friends in a new community. Based on his experience, Drew gives advice to students about how to make the transition to life beyond high school a good one.

CLE Locations

With 6 centers around the nation, people often ask us, “What are the differences in your centers?”, and “What makes each center unique?” We would love to take the time this month to highlight each of our centers’ educational options, housing information, and some fun student and center facts.

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