Surviving the Executive Functioning Demands of High School
By high school, academic performance is highly influenced by executive function skills. These skills are needed to learn or complete assignments, making some schoolwork very challenging for students with Asperger Syndrome (AS). Helping students with the executive functioning aspect of assignments is the kind of support that helps students complete their assignments successfully.
What is Executive Functioning?
Executive functioning is the capacity to control attention, to recognize the relevant and not be distracted by less relevant or irrelevant details. Attention, organization and generalization are possible because of executive functioning (Jacobsen, 2005). Executive functions are multiple, complex, directive capacities of the mind that cue the use of other abilities, and direct and control perceptions, thoughts, actions and to some degree emotions (McCloskey et.al., 2009). The illustrations below provide a visual representation—a kind of organizational chart of executive functioning of the brain. The first, a simplistic model, can easily lead us to think that simple interventions and strategies might be effective to address executive functioning challenges. The complexity of executive functioning is somewhat approximated in the second model, but is even more powerfully captured in the third.
Figure 1: EF as the Conductor of the Brain's Orchestra
Figure 2: Self-Regulating EFs as the Co-Conductors of the Brain's Orchestra
Figure 3: Co-Conductors in a Hierarchical Model
How Do Problems with Executive Functioning Impact Learning?
Because of executive functioning challenges, traditional school standards and curricula are often not a good match for some students with AS. For example, to function adequately in most schools requires a student’s awareness and acceptance that “doing school” may not be the same as learning. Generally, “doing school” means finding out what is expected and doing it, even if the student already knows it and thinks it is “stupid” or “a waste of time.” Students with AS who cannot adjust to these expectations often struggle in school. These students may require a program that includes a high degree of acceptance and flexibility that supports the student’s interests and abilities.
Many students with AS want to do well in school, if they think that is possible. Some are so determined to excel that only perfection is acceptable, resulting in stress for themselves, their parents and their teachers.
Reprinted with the permission of the Autism Society.
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