You Mean There’s a Name for That?

Being unorganized. Losing things. Feeling overwhelmed by daily activities. Difficulty managing your responsibilities at home and work/school. There is actually a name for the set of skills needed to be successful in these various areas and more – Executive Functioning Skills.

If I were in a room with you right now, I would ask for a show of hands as to how many of you either 1) have heard of them 2) understand what the phrase means or 3) feels confident that you have the knowledge and understanding to teach them to others. Based on conversations I’ve had with teachers and parents over the years, my guess is that more people would raise their hands for the first choice than they would for the third choice.

According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, executive functioning skills are the skills necessary in order for a person to “plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.” These are the vital life skills we need to organize our day, create and work toward goals, and live successful, rewarding lives. All individuals with ADHD struggle with their executive functioning skills, but there are others out there who don’t have ADHD who also experience difficulty in this area. People who struggle with their executive functioning skills experience difficulties in many facets of their lives.

1) Organization – while this is an area of difficulty for many people, individuals who have weak executive functioning skills struggle even more. It is hard for them to sift through all of the information they receive on a minute by minute basis, manipulate it, process it, pull from it what they need, store it in memory to pull from later, or even realize it’s information that can just be dumped altogether. This disorganization can appear to others as just sloppiness or a lack of caring on the part of the individual, but that is far from the case.

2) Starting tasks – because an individual with poor executive functioning skills struggles to be organized when presented with tasks, it is that much more difficult for him or her to even begin a task. While a neurotypical individual can get right to it, a neurodiverse individual will often become stressed or anxious just trying to determine where to start. This in turn can cause that individual’s family, friends, co-workers, and boss to assume that the individual is indifferent or unmotivated.

3) Prioritizing – in addition to the difficulties that a person with executive functioning struggles has with just organizing and starting tasks, he or she also struggles to prioritize them. Therefore, what often happens is that the budget report which is due by 5pm is given the same amount of attention as the presentation that is being given in a few days. While these are both important tasks, a person with executive functioning skills has a hard time discerning when and how much effort to give to each project.

There are a myriad of other ways that a person struggles when they have poor executive functioning skills, but the good news is that there also a myriad of different strategies for overcoming these challenges. If you desire more information for yourself, a friend, co-worker, or loved one – I can help! Visit my website for more information or to request a consultation.

I Can Help

I’m official! I am proud to announce that my website is now live. I am setting forth on a new venture as an educational consultant providing services and support to individuals and families with special education and mental health matters. Before I tell you what services I can provide, let me tell you a little bit about myself.

I started my professional career working with adolescents with severe emotional and behavioral disabilities in the late 1990’s. At that time, I worked at a therapeutic residential treatment center in Florida where I used to live. The work there was hard. We served clients that most other facilities wouldn’t take. We weren’t quite a psychiatric hospital, but we were close. I have plenty of stories from my time there that most people would be hard pressed to believe were true. Yet, I also have so many memories of the good work that was done there – kids who were helped, families that were reunited, and lives that were changed. My time there is actually what started me on my current career path, although I didn’t really realize it at the time.

My entire childhood and adolescent years were spent with me dreaming of becoming a lawyer. I wanted to be a fancy corporate lawyer with all the perks that profession would entail. Seriously. As a kid I would flip through my step-father’s law books (he was a lawyer), and imagine my future self. However, due to a series of life-altering events, I realized I wanted to use my career to help troubled youth. So, I set out to be a social worker with a plan to get my law degree and eventually work with the juvenile and family courts.

While attending my local community college working towards my Associate’s degree, I began substitute teaching. I looked at it as a way to be around kids and continue building my resume while bringing in a little bit of income. Substitute teaching changed everything. I loved being in the classrooms with the students. I worked in a middle school that served a neighborhood that was in distress. Families often lived in poverty with many qualifying for public housing. The neighborhood was the heart of the drug business for that town, so there were the challenges of high violence and crime rates as well. I valued my ability to build relationships with the kids, even though I wasn’t their “regular” teacher. I often was at the school 3-5 days per week, and the more I worked the more I realized this was something I wanted to do. I wanted to be that teacher that impacted a student in a positive way he or she would remember years down the road. When I finished my AA degree, I had completed all the prerequisites for admittance into the Social Work program at the University of Central Florida. The problem? I no longer wanted to be a social worker. I wanted to be a special education teacher. So, I spent my summer taking the four prerequisite courses I needed so that I could be admitted into the Exceptional Education program at UCF instead. The rest, as they say, is history.

So, here I am after close to twenty years as an educator. I have spent most of this time as a special education teacher working with students who have had a myriad of disabilities: Autism Spectrum Disorder, Specific Learning Disabilities, Cognitive Disabilities, and Emotional/Behavorial Disabilities such as ADHD, Depression, Anxiety, and more. As you will see from my website, I provide services to both individual and families in the areas of special education and mental health awareness. Need help understanding your child’s disability and how you can best support him or her both at home and in school? I can help. Trying to navigate your way through your child’s IEP? I can help. Are you an adult with a disability that wants support in identifying ways to be the most successful in your professional and personal life? I can help. Perhaps you’re a business wanting to ensure you are providing a workplace that is focused on positive mental health and equity for all employees. I can also help. While I am not a licensed mental health professional, I am a licensed teacher who has spent years helping others achieve to their fullest potential. I am excited to offer that same expertise to you. I look forward to hearing from you soon!

It’s All About the Balance

As a (mostly) single parent to my two now adult children, I have spent most of my professional career working two jobs, seven days a week. When my kids were in middle and high school, I actually taught, was the head varsity coach for multiple sports, and worked as a bartender on the weekends. Even now, I still work as an educator and a bartender – insert the myriad of jokes I’ve heard about this here. In all seriousness though, I think the one question that I am asked the most when people hear about my work hours is, “How do you do it?” The answer I always give is, “It’s about finding balance.”

The phrase “finding balance” is used quite a bit these days. Just google the term and the hits that pop up vary from websites that have the term in their name to articles, books, and counseling services all designed to help you find balance. However, I cannot emphasize enough how important this concept of balance is to your overall mental and even physical well-being. Our lives are comprised of three distinct aspects: body, spirit, and soul. Just as a 3-legged stool requires all the legs to be of equal length and spacing in order to provide secure seating, our lives require these three aspects to be equally tended to in order to feel that balance we all desire.

  • Body: Our physical body needs proper care in order to stay healthy and feel well. Eating well, drinking enough water daily, getting exercise, and allowing time for rest are all necessary for our health and well-being. However, don’t feel pressured to follow the latest fads or do something just because everyone else is doing it. The only way you will be successful in taking care of your physical body is if you find what works for you. I honestly have never followed any particular dietary plan such as paleo, keto, intermittent fasting, or the like. However, I tell people all the time that I try to balance out my bad choices. I love food, and I love to eat. Trying to restrict myself to a certain dietary plan is a sure fire way to set myself up for failure and negative feelings about myself. Therefore, if I want pizza or a bacon cheeseburger, I’m going to eat it. But then I’m also going to decide to do that burger without the bun, skip the ice cream that day, or run a few extra miles. In regards to exercise, you absolutely must find what works for you. Can’t stand going to a traditional gym? Do you dread the thought of going out for a run? That’s okay. You can go for a walk or a bike ride instead. Maybe playing tennis or golf is more your thing. Take a dance class or join a recreational league and try something new. Whatever you set out to do, the more enjoyable you feel it is, the more you will consistently engage in that activity – and ultimately that consistency is what matters the most.
  • Soul: Another added benefit of finding physical activities that we are passionate about is that is one way we can in turn feed our souls. Our soul consists of our emotions, our heart, our mental selves. We need to find out what we love and dedicate time to that. Creating art, listening to music, curling up with a good book, watching our favorite TV show, volunteering for a favorite cause, spending quality time with our family members and friends – these are all ways we can feed our souls. Just as you have to find physical activities that you enjoy in order to ensure you will engage in them consistently, you need to determine what activities make you feel the most alive and allow yourself the time to participate in them.
  • Spirit: This word means different things to different people. Simply put, our spirit is that part of us that is in tune with something outside of ourselves. It is the connection we feel to other living beings and to life outside of us. Finding balance here means that you are taking time to nurture that connection in ways that are personally meaningful to you. It could be through attending church or synagogue, prayer, meditation, or practicing whatever your faith is in whatever way you choose.

The common denominator in all this is that you have to find what works for you. Just because I love running and yoga, spending time with my family, and attend church on Sundays doesn’t mean that is what is going to balance out your life. You might have bad knees, are estranged from your family, and are an atheist. The principles don’t change, though. Until the legs of your stool are evened out, you will continue to feel wobbly. If that is your situation right now, feel free to contact me directly as I would love to help you in your quest for balance. Together, we can help you build your best stool.