My personal and professional worlds have been on a collision course for at least five or six years, but I didn’t see it coming until I was right there in the middle of the BIG bang.

My daughter, a gifted student, was twice-exceptional.  Though she spent her entire school career in the gifted and talented program, she also struggled mightily with Attention Deficit Disorder.  Six years ago, we realized that all our interventions and structures at home were not adequately meeting her needs, so we started exploring medication and attempting to involve the school system in also recognizing her as a truly differently-wired learner.

Unfortunately, medication was not an option for her due to extensive physical side effects, and the school wasn’t enthusiastically on board about individualizing or accommodating her needs.  It’s a long story.

Fast forward to present-day.  She graduated.  She’s adulting and loves her job.  She opted to forego continuing her education because it just didn’t fit.  I had a hard time with that at first, but I can see now that it is her life, and she knew what she needed in order to live it happily and successfully.  I am proud of her for resisting and for self-advocating.

We have seen the signs for years that her younger brother is walking down the same path. Inattentive is what happens on a good day. Otherworldly is where he typically resides. He’s sharp as can be, but it doesn’t show in the papers of his academic record just like it was often noticeably absent from hers. His shining moments happen in the one-on-one conversations in the car and in the random moments when my King of the Introverts opts to share.

We moved a bit more hastily on our second ride on this Please Help My Child Merry-Go-Round.  As the (different) school considered interventions, some of the same words were uttered that I had heard with my daughter’s formal diagnosis: Executive Function Deficits.

Six years ago, the internet didn’t have a lot to offer as I looked for solutions to address those words, but the Internet has grown up a bit. Now it has a universe of information to digest, and I am in the middle of a learning explosion as a mom and as a teacher.

I mostly teach general education and class-within-a-class (special education) English. When confronted with writing tasks, many of my students are simply flummoxed. They are overwhelmed.  They flounder and thrash and wave for help as they attempt to make their way through the ocean of words and the crashing waves of expectations. (Grades are the evil undertow.)

In reading to learn more about my son, I was reminded that executive functions skills include:

  • time management
  • prioritizing
  • organizing (materials and thoughts)
  • focus and concentration
  • task initiation (This is not motivation.  It’s how to actually get the ball rolling.)
  • task persistence
  • metacognition
  • emotional regulation (Not giving in to being overwhelmed.)

And on the incredibly helpful website I learned that students who have these deficits may struggle with writing.  (My son is the poster child for this.) 

  • They have trouble organizing ideas.
  • Their ideas go in countless directions.
  • They struggle with editing effectively.
  • They have trouble clarifying ideas.
  • Writing takes a noticeably longer amount of time than it should. (In my household, it takes an eternity.)
  • They can often verbally convey their ideas, but when it comes time to write, NOPE.

I thought about my son one day as I stood in the middle of my classroom, observing my students.

They. Were. The. Same.

These were not lazy, apathetic, disengaged students who were sitting staring at screens and notebooks, doing little work and choosing to fail.

These were kids who were quietly struggling.  They were lost and overwhelmed and didn’t know where to begin.

I had modeled.  I had given guidance and structure.  I had coached and talked and helped.

I had not met their needs.

And I knew.

I must understand this more, and I must share what I learn.

Adolescents may look like adults, but their brains are still at very much at work– both learning and developing. The parts of the brain responsible for these skills aren’t “fully cooked” until true adulthood. There is a wide range of what’s developmentally normal, and those who are lagging a bit NEED us to recognize the invisible.  They need us to see that they are trying but require more than we’re offering for support if they’re going to be successful. They need us to see that they actually do care but will hide behind apathy because caring is scary when you know you’re probably not… enough.

My son needs that too.