On October 19, Dr. Gina Cosgrove presented “Executive Functioning: Strategies to Support Individuals with Autism and Related Challenges” at Transitions’ “Strategies to Build Independence for Students with Autism, ADHD and Other Learning Differences” conference. Her presentation covered the basics of how to evaluate a student’s executive functioning needs and reviewed research-based strategies to help with planning interventions and implementing them in different settings. We would like to share what we learned from Dr. Cosgrove in this series of posts.
Teaching the Skills: Verbal Scaffolding Strategies
These verbal scaffolding strategies aren’t just meant to explain what a student should be doing. The goal is to help them understand how the brain is working when they perform preferred behaviors.
- Teaching the concept of “thinking bubbles” is very helpful for getting students to brainstorm why their brains work in certain ways and what others might be thinking. You can even do this for fictional characters – while you’re reading a story, ask the individual, “What do you think the character was thinking when she made that choice?” Thinking bubbles are great ways to break down thought processes and teach empathy for other people.
- Thinking out loud is a similar way to nudge individuals toward what they should be doing without outright telling them. Thinking out loud in phrases such as, “Looks like people are lining up now,” or, “I’m thinking I should turn in my paper when I’m done” points individuals in the right direction while still allowing them room to make that connection themselves. It’s very important for people to learn by doing rather than just waiting for someone to tell them what to do, because that way the behavior becomes engrained in their brains and grows into a natural process.
- Another strategy is verbalizing cause and effect. Making predictions about the consequences of, for example, failing to study for a test, will help the individual understand the importance of performing the task in a concrete way. This method can also be used to encourage individuals to develop interventions for themselves. For example, if you verbalize that forgetting to pack all their school materials in their backpack could lead to them getting poor grades on homework assignments, it could lead to the student coming up with ways to remember to pack up on their own.
- Teaching self-talk can be very helpful in many aspects of life. People on the autism spectrum don’t tend to have an internal dialogue going in their minds at all times like most others do – this is a skill that has to be taught. You can demonstrate strategies and coping methods by talking to yourself in front of them, saying calming and self-affirming things in appropriate situations. Topics can include anything, from how you started your work to the fact that you’re having trouble focusing. You should say what you want the person to see and feel, especially when they get stressed out. It’s important that you focus on teaching that everyone experiences certain feelings and can overcome them, and to teach being kind to yourself.
- Developing ways to help students remember things is always a beneficial practice. Self-talk can also take the form of verbal rehearsal of things the person needs to remember, because they won’t instinctually internalize that sort of thing. Having the person echo you is helpful as well – repeating instructions back to you will help them remember and ensure they understand.
- Problem-solving mantras – rhymes and songs – are very effective for kids on the autism spectrum, since such individuals often love and have an affinity for music. Mantras are very versatile and can be used for anything from academic problems to self-monitoring and self-regulation goals.
We hope these tips and strategies are helpful to you. Good luck and check this blog again next week for the next installment in this series.