Behavioral Therapies,  Education

Executive Functioning Workshop Sarah Ward-Style

In mid-March, like many other parents of school-aged kids, the guarantee of my son being *Someplace OK Other Than Home* crumbled before my eyes, just like that.

It was welcome to Mom’s Living Room Elementary School, Ltd. Class is now in session! Within days we were buried in Zoom meeting invites and assignments due by Friday. 

I thought I could buy myself a few more months of simplicity before the scattered schedule of middle school started in September. But never mind all that, there we were!

Judging by how I squeaked through juggling multiple classes in high school myself, my guess was that the multiple class digital format was going to be kind of a wreck…and it was. I futzed around E’s various Google Classrooms and Learning Boards, attempting to prioritize his work while he lounged on the couch playing Roblox. It got old fast. There had to be a better way!

The name Sarah Ward surfaced in my panicked brain. I had heard about the speech therapist’s executive functioning training programs in 2019. Executive. Functioning. Where the Executives Function…with big desks, rolling chairs, conference rooms, and pants suits. I didn’t like the sound of it—no, not at all—not until mid-March.

Suddenly I was all about Sarah Ward…where could I buy her materials? Go to her classes? Get a consult??? PLEASE and NOW!

Not soon enough, I found a 5-hour seminar on facilitating executive functioning skills during remote learning through her website https://efpractice.com. It was one of the best $79 I’ve ever spent. 

The goal of the seminar was to help kids and adults who have challenges with things like:

  • breaking down projects into smaller chunks
  • estimating how long tasks or projects will take
  • staying on task
  • remembering what the task was in the first place!

Climbing a sheer rock faceAccording to Sarah, the thing that helps most (besides having a personal assistant) is to be able to “see” and “feel” yourself doing the project or task in advance. 

A TALL ORDER

The exercise of picturing and sensing myself interacting with something I want (like counting out five million dollars) or picturing doing something I want to do (like Dancing with the Stars?) to make it a reality is familiar enough. But I thought it only applied to BIG GOALS. BIG THINGS. Like Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” types of things—not your average, every-day, piddly things, like cleaning a room, or better yet, managing a morning routine.

But, surprisingly, there are people out there who DO picture and feel themselves doing such things…even little things, BEFORE doing them, even if it isn’t conscious. In her webinar, Sarah quotes Russell A. Barkley, a clinical professor of psychology famous for his studies of ADD/ADHD:

“Repeatedly practice self-monitoring, self-stopping, seeing the future, saying the future, feeling the future, and playing with the future so as to effectively ‘plan and go’ towards that future.”

For example, getting ready in the morning. You could fumble around, you could wander, pick things up and put them down again, and find the right things through the process of elimination or muscle memory. Or you could have, even if subconscious, a sequential plan—not in words, but in pictures. 

………………………………………………………………………..

And if a person can’t picture or feel into the future (yet), she suggests that we can help them do just that by supplying them with the images they need, like so:

“Why not just write a nice, colorful list?” I ask. Because a word list isn’t enough.  It’s too far removed from the “doing.” Before writing, we IMAGine. We have an image, and we write about the image. Who knew? 

“How about an icon list of actions, then? That has pictures!”

No, even that won’t be as effective, because the person taking the actions needs to be in the picture. For example, if a person is given a series of photos of themself taking all the major steps of brushing teeth, it will be much easier to follow than an ADL list (pictured). The brain will see the photos as a whole action, like a movie clip, and not a bunch of little, difficult-to-remember-parts. 

I saw a few of her visual aids before I went to her workshop. They resonated much more with me when I saw her teach and demonstrate them—when I saw the whole picture. She is a fun, dynamic, clear speaker. The tools she offers are very user-friendly. Of course, it takes patience and tenacity (read: doggedness) to use them over and over again and make a real difference.

If you don’t have photos at the ready, you can ask “Ok, what do you picture doing next?” or “What are you doing next?” This can help the person start “seeing” and “feeling” into their next action.

And now with COVID and technology, you don’t have to go anywhere fancy or far to attend one of her workshops!

Sarah Ward’s techniques break down anything from simple tasks to complicated long-term assignments. She offers a simple formula to accurately estimate time on all kinds of projects. She also goes over exercises to help develop time-consciousness.

I hope you get to experience one of her workshops. It’s well worth it!

 

 

Photo credits: www.thecoffeeapple.com, www.anglofiles.com, Tommy Lisbin for unsplash.com, Arina Wong for unsplash.com, istockphoto.com

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